India is known for its diverse religion and culture. It has Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Muslims all of which are based on the concept of Karma, Dharma and Ahimsa. And every religion has diversity in their culture and traditions. Out of which DEVADASI is one culture which used to be followed in southern and eastern parts of India.
Who is she?
DEVADASI is a female servant (dasi) of God (deva) which means they were dedicated to god and were considered as married to god which means they can’t marry any mortal. DEVADASI culture can be traced back from the early 7th century majorly in southern parts of India, during the period of Pandavas.
What they Do?
They learn music, dance, religious rites and rituals. They dance and sing in temples in front of God. They dedicate their whole life to God and stayed without a partner all through their life. They were well treated and respected in the society. They get invited to be present at or initiate sacred religious rituals. These women can even have children by high officials or priests as they were free to choose partners but in no way they were economically dependent on their partners.
DEVDASIS are also called as JOGINI. But during British rule most Indian kings who were even patrons of the temples lost their power. In result of which, DEVDASIS were left without their traditional means of support and respect. And with time it all resulted in disappearance of the whole DEVADASI practice. And slowly with the time it resulted in inhuman and just superstitious practices of Devadasi system. And eventually it lost its respect and dignity and turned into a despicable trade. The system had its roots in the ancient temple dancers who were supposed to entertain the devotees. And this system even got more perpetuated with the time and it changed as a means for sexual gratification of a powerful section of the society. And slowly it turned in sex trading.
The DEVADASIS are called as Basivi in Karnataka, Matangi in Maharashtra and Bhavin and Kalavantin in Goa.
Modern DEVADASI do they still exist??
At present DEVDASIS are dedicated to the goddess Yellamma at Sundati temple in Karnatka and Bijapur district of Karnatka.
According to the studies Bijapur district is a home to almost 15000 Devadasi’s. Although the DEVADASI system has been banned by the government of Karnatka since 1982 but it still continues to stay in certain villages.
Now a days, several NGO’s organises self-help groups for devadasis and their children. They even organise programs to create awareness and eradicate this evil.
During my recent visit to Kerala, i met few DEVADASI’S and here i am sharing the story of a DEVADASI-
Her father and mother got separated; her mother went to her parent’s house. Her mother had three children-one boy and two girls. Her brother went with her brother leaving both of the girls. They were then made DEVADASI when they were quite young and were sent to Bombay. In Bombay they were stayed in a Garwali’s House as a sex trader for 5 years and those 5 years were the most difficult period of her life. Then she somehow managed to make her free. And here they work on daily wages and they even joined sex workers aid Mahila Jagruti Sangha in Bijapur.
This system completely portrays patriarchy values. As in this system we only see men using women for their gratification and entertainment. However in the last couple of decades, DEVADASI system had drawn attention for health reasons too. It had been seen through research that some DEVADASI’S were infected with HIV.
Now, these DEVADASI’S make sure they will provide better education to their children so their children don’t have to struggle in their life or have to work like them ever for poor economic conditions.
Now even there are many non-profit organizations that are doing a commendable job in dealing with this injustice Devadasi system and they are focusing on giving the help to their children by giving proper education and identity.
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