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Devadasi system in India: Kissing in temple is wrong but prostitution is right

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Devadasi System in India: Vikram Seth’s best selling novel ‘A Suitable Boy’ is creating a storm for  Netflix in India. After the British-made series depicted a girl kissing a boy in temple premises which hurting the religious sentiments as many argued. Kissing in temple is wrong, but prostitution is right?

What is Devadasi system?

The Devadasi system is a Hindu Religious practise which offers prepubescent girls in marriage to deities. As servents ordained by deities, Devadasi’s are ritually forced to offer sexual service upon attaining puberty. Their virginity is sold and they are paid a pittance for their services, if at all. Devadasi means ‘Servent of God’. These women are dedicated to God and are considered  given in marriage to God, meaning that they could therefore not marry  any ‘mortal’. Nevertheless they are free to choose partners, from among married and unmarried men alike. These relationships could be long and stable, or just for a short period of time.

The tradition of Devadasi culture can be traced back to as early as the 7th century, particularly in southern parts of  India during the reigns of the Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas. Devadasis are nothing more than sex slaves or child prostitutes. The Devadasis of modern India  are largely concentrated in parts of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamilnadu and Telangana. They are called Mathangi in Maharashtra, Jozini or Mathamma in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Devadasi in Karnataka and Mathammas in Tamilnadu.

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After centuries of Traditionally imposed prostitution, young girls in Wadia village near Palampur are getting ready for a  mass marriage. Wadia is known for being the village of prostitution in Gujrat, where young girls are trained to provide sexual services as soon as they attain puberty.

The caste system is in Hindu religion has many manifestations. It has not only divided the socity into various layers of graded hierarchy but has also created inhumane practices in the name of God. One of them is the Devadasi system prevalent in different forms all over India with some regional variances. The barbarism of the tradition reflects in the very rituals it involves. The initiation ritual is said to include a ‘Deflowering Ceremony’, known as Uditambuvadu in some parts, where the priest would have intercourse with every girl enrolled at  his temple as part of his religious ‘duty’. So much so that a Marathi saying states,

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“Devadasi devachi bayako, sarya gavachi” meaning “servent of God, but the wife of the whole town”

. There are various myths around this inhuman practise. This system is based on the traditional belief in Andhra Pradesh that evil over the family or the village can be avoided by dedicating a girl in the family to the temple deity. As soon as she reaches puberty, she becomes a concubine for the feudal gentry in the village.

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In Maharashtra these women are made to sacrifice their first born daughters, when she becomes of marriageable age, she is formally married to khandoba, the deity and becomes his ‘nominal wife’.

In Karnataka, there is a traditional belief that when there is famine, drought or an epidemic, to appease Gods and Goddesses, a girl is dedicated to the local Goddess Huligamma. It is generally marked by muttu kattuvudu, a ritual in which a neck chain with beads is tied to the girl. The  Banchhada, Rajnat, Dommara and Bedia tribes in Madhya Pradesh also practice this tradtion which forces women into lifetime sexual slaves.

In Tamilnadu , Vellalur village of Madurai district organises a 15 -day festival for deity – Ellai Katha Amman. The custom of this festival emphasizes on the priest of the temple to select seven adolescent girls in the pre–puberty stage, from age 11 to 14. After the selection the bare–chested minors live in the temple for a fortnight. The girls  are forced to remain topless and cover their upper body only with jewellery and flowers till the festival ends. On the last day of the festival, women from the village and the seven girls are asked to carry pots  of liquor as an offering to the goddess. While doing so , women are not allowed to wear blouses.

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Devadasis, becoming the sexual servents to the villages’ upper–caste men after their  first  menstrual period. In some villages, men who buy them to keep as concubines. In others, they are public chattels who are used by men free of charge. Socially, they are outcasts and they do suffer from venereal and sexually transmitted diseases. A majority of Devadasis after reaching a certain age, migrate to towns where they join brothels and become commercial sex workers.

Some of the states where the Devadasi practice are still prevalent have tried to eradicate it  through state laws like the Bombay Devadasis protection Act,1934, the Prohibition of Dedication Act,1982 of  Karnataka and the Andhra Pradesh Prohibition of Dedication Act, 1988.

Move out of the traditionally prescribed structure cannot be without obstacles. Nevertheless, there is a ray of hope. The women of the community have built a support system for themselves and are determined to move out of the sexual exploitative system, they have been caged in for centuries now. The hypocrisy of the society is what is supposed to be noted here, where women are worshipped by the day and assaulted by night.

WRITER IS ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AND TRIBAL RESEARCHER AT DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH, P.K.R ARTS COLLEGE FOR WOMEN, ERODE DT.,TAMILNADU

RAMYA

Ramya

Assistant Professor and Tribal Researcher
Mail – ramyaindia1947@gmail.com

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