View Full Version : Devdasi System Continues to Legitimise Prostitution

Sep 10th, 2001, 12:25 PM
Devdasi System Continues to Legitimise Prostitution

“Thirty six years old Jayanma is an illiterate Domara woman belonging to Rajapet village. She and her three sisters, who were dedicated to the temple, are all now in trade. She, presently, lives with her three sons and a daughter and practices prostitution. She also travels to other cities like Hyderabad and Vijyawada for ‘work’. Jayanma’s aspiration is to turn her only daughter into a high class prostitute for handsome income.”


This is not an isolated case. Thousands of women are victims of the devdasi system which literally means ‘dasis’ of the gods. The two epic Indian epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabhrata, refer to the practice of prostitution but they don’t specifically mention the practice of devdasi. Manushri Bahukhandi reports.

Some scholars guess it was during the 6th century that the devdasi system began to expand in India. Many Indian mythologies had references of dance and music that were performed by the girls at the time of worship in the temple.

Devdasi: A pan-Indian practice
What is common between Bhawani of Goa, Nati of Assam, Venkatasani of Andhra Pradesh? Well, the answer is that all these are identities of devdasis. The devdasi system is not just concentrated in one part or region of India - it can be found all over India.

The famous Lord Jagannath Temple, in Orissa, has been associated with the Devdasi system for several hundreds of years. In Orissa, the history of the Devdasi system can be traced back to the 6th and 7th century during the reign of Sailadbhawa dynasty. The queen Kalawati had employed many devdasis for serving the Lord Jagannath. There was a time where devoting oneself in the temple was considered to be highly prestigious. At that time, girls from even rich, aristocratic families were also offered.

According to tradition, a devdasi is a woman married to a god, and thus sadasuhagan -- at all times married and hence at all times blessed. In reality, she becomes the wife of the powerful in the community.

At that time, the devdasis had to maintain strict discipline. They were considered a personal possession of the temple and were not allowed to mingle with the rest of the people. They were not allowed to keep in touch with men.

However, in the course of time discipline declined and the devdasis came to be viewed as objects of desire by the rulers and the priests.

Modern devdasi: A giant step backwards
“ Chief minister J. B. Patnaik said that he is not averse to the idea of giving more incentives to the existing devdasis in Jagannath temple in Puri to keep the tradition going”
(Indian Express: 22.9.95)
It was only as late as 1975 when awareness of this deplorable act came to the fore. Around five hundred women gathered in Kohlapur to discuss and find solutions to this problem. In 1985, a conference was held at Nipani which gave strength to the voice demanding the abolition of the devdasi system.

Gradually the demand to end this practice increased and compelled the Karnataka government to pass an act banning the Devdasi system. Some of the provisions in the Karnataka Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act of 1982 are:

Anyone found guilty in helping a girl to become a devdasi or even attending the ceremony is liable to get 3 years prison term and would be fined upto maximum Rs 2000/-

Parents and relatives would be fined upto maximum Rs 5000/- if they are found guilty encouraging the girl to be dedicated

But these are just few of the preventive measures. At times the arm of law falls woefully short in protecting the unsuspecting girls.

As a result, the devdasi tradition is still prevalent in many parts of the country and, according to Farida Lambey, vice-principal of the Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work, it continues to "legitimise" child prostitution. In some Nat communities in Rajasthan, many families openly usher their young daughters into prostitution, insisting that it is part of the community`s tradition.

But as Ms Shubhadra Butalia of Karmika says “The devdasi system is a form of open prostitution. Poor people dedicate their daughters to the system in the name of appeasing the gods.” But how many more girls will be sacrificed for the sake of appeasing the gods.


Sep 10th, 2001, 01:14 PM
Gomantak Maratha Samaj

Devadasis in neighbouring states still languish in humiliation. But over the past seven decades this caste group, euphemistically termed "slaves of god" has triumphed over adversity and become a major success story in Goa.

Like in neighbouring Karnataka and Maharashtra, Goa too had a system of temple-artists, which degenerated into

But concerted efforts by the community to extricate themselves from this plight has made the Gomantak Maratha Samaj, as they are now known, a professionally and well-educated, prosperous Goan community. Quite a few famous
Goan names in science, business, medicine and art and even in politics, where it has produced two chief ministers and a former president of the Goa Pradesh Congress (I) hail from this community.

Kalavants (or artists as they were known) who migrated
out of Goa did well for themselves and distinguished themselves in music. Some of the biggest names in Indian music trace their roots to this community in Goa, though the stigma unfairly attached to them probably compels them to play down these links.

Prominent Gomant Maratha Samaj campaigners say Goa's former devasdasi and Kalavant class of temple artists
were never temple dancers, but actually dancers in the then flourishing temples.

Portuguese colonial rulers called them "balladares"
(singers). Later, with the religious intolerance of the
Portuguese rulers, the temples shifted and lost their

Kalavants fled to the neighbouring Bombay province, where
they had joined the music gharanas to perfect their art.
A few fell into prostitution, others became the
mistresses of the rich. Kalavants who remained in Goa
bitterly complain that they were exploited by temple mahajans and dominant castes. But they began organising themselves after the post- 19 1 0 liberal period of Portuguese rule, when the Gomantak Gayan Samaj (Goa
Singers Society) was formed. It was broadened to include other categories of temple workers and sub-castes.

In Mumbai and Goa, a kind of social reform movement gained wind. Educated youngsters from the community were keen to open nursing schools to rehabilitate women. Ibis
trend was particularly visible as Goa's first two chief ministers, affluent mine owner D.B. Bandodkar and his daughter, Shashikala Kakodkar, hailed from this community. "There is a trend in the younger generation, those who are better educated do not want to accept their origins anymore," says writer Archana Kakodkar.

Dil he Pakistani
Sep 10th, 2001, 01:46 PM
durango, Most Indians HAVE been BRAINWASHED by HINDU PRIESTS into accepting devadasis as a ANOTHER aspect of HINDUISM. Corruption is widespread amongst the Priests (note: what you call CORRUPTION and EVIL in western Society is considered ESSENTIAL AND Honourable by the PRIESTS and their followers (How Sad .... !) The Indian Government turns a BLIND eye to these EVIL practices. I wonder how many THOUSANDS of young women are FORCED into marrying an IDOL called Yellamala for the sake of PROSTITUTION. http://www3.pak.org/gupshup/smilies/disgust.gif

note: there is a thread about yellamala in religion forum.

[This message has been edited by Dil he Pakistani (edited September 10, 2001).]