The devadasi tradition has deep roots in Indian culture. Despite bans on the practice, it still continues to exist in various parts of the country. Here’s more about it:
1. The word ‘devadasi’ means female servant of God. It is a tradition that dates back to ancient India. A devadasi is also called a ‘jogini‘.
2. The rise of the devadasi is linked to the fall of Buddhism. There is a belief that early devadasis were Buddhist nuns who were turned into prostitutes once Brahmins captured their temples.
3. The devadasi system is believed to have been set up by the feudal class and priests, who came up with this idea of acceptable and religion-based prostitution.
4. Earlier, poor girls from lower caste communities were sold off; after the devadasi system, they became full-fledged prostitutes.
5. The devadasi tradition is part of the phallic (male genital) worship that has always existed in India; but it is also believed to have been promoted as an alternative to human sacrifice.
6. During the time of Raja Raya III, inscriptions dating back to 1230-1240 AD, use the word ‘emperumandiyar’ for dancing girls.
7. This sacred prostitution was not only a way to further exploit lower castes, but also to indulge in sexual acts in a free manner.
8. Earlier, rich patrons would keep devadasis in good homes and provide them all necessary comfort. The times have changed now. It is now a way for poor parents to get rid of unwanted girl children.
9. This custom still persists in many parts of India. It is, however, more prevalent in south India, specially Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra.
10. Pre-pubescent girls are ‘married off’ to a deity in a temple and left to live there. They are then sold to the highest bidder once they start menstruation.
11. Once married to a god, no mortal man can marry a devadasi. They have to live a life of service.
12. If the girls become pregnant, they are often sent off to work as prostitutes in red-light areas. This tradition also ensures that most devdasis are young and ‘unburdened’.
13. Once older, devdasis become ‘jogathis’ – intermediaries between gods and the people.
14. The practice is now banned but it still takes place in secret. Mostly priests are paid to come to the home and perform the rites.
15. Yellamma, the goddess of fertility, is one prominent deity to whom little girls, as young as four-years-old, are devoted. She is also known as Jogamma, Holiyyamma, Renuka, etc.
16. Yellamma’s followers have to visit her temples either fully nude or just barely covered with neem leaves or rags. Thus, there’s always a crowd around the temples, to get a good look at nude people.
17. Yellamma’s devotees have protested against the banning of devadasis as they see their acts as social service and not prostitution. Now, even full nudity of Yellama devotees has been banned.