Those who are familiar with the history of India know that people used to worship temple ‘goddesses’ despite the fact they were prostitutes. The Hindu religion has many manifestations and one of them is ‘sacred prostitution’ (religious prostitution). Here are some facts that you should know about it:
1. What is sacred prostitution?
Sacred prostitution is basically a sexual ritual which includes sexual intercourse performed in the name of religion or religious worship. Some scholars prefer the term ‘sacred sex’ in cases where a payment for services was not involved.
2. Parts of sacred prostitution
While there are various arguments on the classification of prostitutes, tradition distinguished sacred prostitution into two major parts – (i) those who would work lifelong as sacred prostitutes and (ii) temporary prostitutes who were unwed girls.
3. Beliefs about sacred prostitution
Many scholars believe that the culture of sacred prostitution was first established between the King of a Sumerian city state and the High Priesteness of Inanna, the Sumerian goddess of sexual love, welfare and fertility. However, there is no proof that sexual intercourse took place at that time.
4. Practice of sacred prostitution in ancient India
In some parts of ancient India, sacred prostitution took place in a unique way. Women all around the city used to participate to win the title of ‘bride of the city’ or nagarvadhu. The most beautiful woman was chosen by the kings and was respected like a goddess. Then she served as courtesan and the price for a single night’s dance was extremely high. The dance of this beautiful woman was only within the reach of king, princess and lords.
5. Sacred sex in the Hellenized world
In the Greek-influenced and colonized world, sacred prostitution took place in Cyprus, Sicily, Kingdom of Pontus and Cappadocia. Earlier, the Greek rulers of Jerusalem desecrated the Jerusalem temple by bringing prostitutes and having sex with them. The gentiles used to fill the temple with prostitutes and had intercourse with them in the sacred court.
6. Sacred prostitution in Nepal
Deuki is a traditional custom practiced in most parts of Nepal. The practice includes bringing young girls to the local temple and then making them serve as prostitutes. The system is similar to the devadasi tradition in India. However, the practice is declining now.
7. According to Western culture
In early 1980s, some religious cults practiced sacred prostitution as an instrument to recruit new coverts. They termed this ‘flirty fishing’ and later abolished the practice due to the spread of AIDS.
8. Sacred prostitution practiced in Hinduism
Maithuna is a Sanskrit word which means tanta (sexual union), which is the main part of tantra – known as panchmakara, mahabuta, and tattva chakra. Maithuna refers to the divine union of male and female; the woman becomes shakti and the man becomes shiva. In Hinduism, the union is carnal and sinful unless a spiritual transformation occurs.
9. In ancient Greece
Sacred prostitution was popular in the city of Corinth in ancient Greece. In Corinth, the temple of Aphrodite employed a large number of female servants and they were used as prostitutes in the sacred court.