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1 Devadasi system. 2 Parallel traditions abroad: Such a cult is not unique to India alone. Examples of Mylitta, Isis, Aphrodite, Venus or Ceres in the.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Devadasi system. 2 Parallel traditions abroad: Such a cult is not unique to India alone. Examples of Mylitta, Isis, Aphrodite, Venus or Ceres in the."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Devadasi system

2 2 Parallel traditions abroad: Such a cult is not unique to India alone. Examples of Mylitta, Isis, Aphrodite, Venus or Ceres in the West. In fact, Herodotus has recorded the sacred fertility cult prostitution that was rampant in Assyria and Cyprus. St Augustine has recorded existence of a similar practice in Phoenicia where parents offered virgin daughters to Venus temples. Lucian has also recorded the practice of women shaving off their hair while mourning the death of Adonis. In cases where they did not do so, they atoned for it by prostituting themselves. Writings of Socrates, Apollodorus, Plautus, Justin, Eusebius also give a wealth of information about ‘sacred prostitution’ in Greece, Egypt, West Asia and North Africa in those times.

3 3 Introduction of Temple Rituals & Devadasi Tradition: After the decline of the Mauryan Empire, the Sungas who were Brahminical by faith came to power. During the Sungas, the concept of Shiva started taking birth that ultimately found fruition in Nataraja of the 10th century AD. Concept of Shakti, the woman Goddess also started coming into prominence along with tantrism Developments reflected a male bias.

4 4 In the Gupta era (3 rd c AD – 5 th /6 th c AD), the Vedic form of worship by performance of yajna did not survive much. In order to make a synthesis with Vedic Hinduism, `yajna` or sacrifice was retained along with idol worship. Yajna lost its prominence in the form of image worship. Bhakti or the devotion of the worshipper became more important. Priests were needed to perform the worship, but the concept of priesthood lost its dominance due to the emergence of Bhakti cult.

5 5 Worship of god henceforth became personal matter of the worshipper. In this personalization, rituals involving serving the Lord as would the local ruler or nobleman. Herein seed of the devadasi system was sown. Altekar opines that, "The custom of the association of dancing girls with temples is unknown to Jataka literature. It is not mentioned by Greek writers; the Arthashastra which describes in detail the life of ganikas is silent about it" (Altekar : 1973:185). Jagan Shankaralso observes that “We have to assume that they were rare until the middle ages, [Jogan Shankar, "Devdasi Cult", p. 39]

6 6 With the rise of the Puranic period (4th c AD onwards when most of the Puranas were written) the practice of dedicating girls to temples and sacred prostitution seems to have become quite common. Several Puranas recommend that arrangements should be made to enlist the services of singing girls at the time of worship at temples. They even recommend the purchase of beautiful girls and dedicating them to temples."

7 7 The name ‘devadasi’ means servant (dasi) of the Lord (deva). In the initiation ceremony, the young girl before attaning puberty was married to the idol of God. In some cases, this was also preceded by the ‘seja’ ceremony of marriage with a dagger. They were then known as the ‘naikins’. There is a belief that in earlier times the ‘naikins’ had believed that celestial singers would come down eventually and marry them but when this did not happen because of the ‘kaliyug’ (the dark period), they agreed to get married to a dagger.

8 8 Deterioration of position of women- initial stages It is well known that at one time girls were allowed to undergo 'Upnayana', which was a 'right' to take education, but their position declined later. It started from Manu and went on deteriorating further. Altekar identifies the period of 500 A.D. to 1800 A. D. as one of further deterioration. During this period the 'Upanayana' rite for girls was banned, marriage remaining the only alternative. The age of marriages of girls was lowered and child marriages became the rule. Widow re-marriages were prohibited. 'Purdah' was observed leading women to a secluded life. Hindu sastras considered women as Shudras, and they were debarred from reading or reciting the Vedas and perform any Vedic sacrificial rituals.

9 9 Reason for adoption of Devadasi Tradition: Golden period of Hinduism and the consequent emphasis on temple activities, gave fillip to the institution of temple dancing girls in all parts of India. Ladies dedicated to the service of temples have been known by various names in the country, some of them being ‘devadasi’, ‘bhagtan’, ‘kalavangti’, ‘mahari’ to name a few. This practice has been derived from the cult of mother goddess, known as ‘Shakti’.

10 10 Domination of Brahmins: The Brahmins considered themselves to be the upholder of knowledge, faith, religious traditions and rites. Through this, political influence and economic power was sought to be concentrated in the hands of the Brahmins. Temples became an important source of revenue. Therefore having the presence of devadasis increased the attraction of temples.

11 11 Fairly large section of the Brahmins who gave sanction to this practice. There are suggestions that the Brahmin priests and the kings vied for the attention of these girls. The devadasis in temples had become the targets of the pleasure seekers among the brahmins and the kings.

12 12 Understanding between Brahmins & Rulers on Devadasis Brahmin priests claimed that they being the representatives of gods in heaven, the 'bhudevas', i.e. gods on the earth, they have the first claim, as anything offered to god belongs to brahmins, so also the girls offered to god must belong to them. The Kings retorted, that they make appointments of devadasis, they give them money and land and feed them, so they have greater claim. Ultimately the conflict was resolved by an understanding and devadasis were branded on their chest with emblems of 'garuda' (eagle) and 'chakra' (discus) for kings and 'shankha' (conch) for brahmins.

13 13 Views of Al-Beruni (11 th c AD) Al Beruni has recorded that the institution of devadasi was maintained by the kings for the benefit of their revenues in the teeth of the opposition of the Brahman priests. But for the kings, he says, no Brahmana or priest would allow in their temples women who sing, dance and play. The kings, however, make them a source of attraction to their subjects so that they may meet the expenditure of their armies out of the revenues derived therefrom. However, this statement of Al Beruni based on the few Brahmins he had interviewed seems to reflect only the views of one section of the community.

14 14 Justification for Devadasi Tradition: Meant for rituals. Provided an alternate patronage and way of life towards betterment of prostitutes. Borne out by the two following verses from the Bhavishyapurana and the Padmapurana. veshyamdabakam yastu dadyatsooryaya bhaktitah sa gachchhetparamam sthanam yatra tishthati bhanuman (Bhavishyapurana) krita devaye datavya dheerenaklishtakarmana kalpakalam bhavetsvargo nripo vaso mahadhani (Padmapurana) Both these verses exhort rulers to dedicate girls to temples so as to ensure their own place in ‘heaven’ (‘suryalok’).

15 15 Strong economic motivation lay behind such temple servitude because a girl's dedication to the temple ascribed a status to the household, through which it acquired rights to perform temple ceremonies. Fulfilment of a wish of the parents, poverty. Rescue of prostitutes from brothels. Some researchers opine that with the decline of Buddhism, former Buddhist nuns were forced to perform temple service as atonement for their previous heretic views. If the parents were childless, they vowed to dedicate their first child if it happened to be girl.

16 16 If there were no sons in the family, the girl child was dedicated as a ‘basavi’ and could not marry as she becomes a 'son' for the family (earning the family’s livelihood). Privilege of land grants was granted to the devadasi and her family. If the girl's family had some property, the family ensured that it stayed within the family by turning the girl into 'son' by dedicating her. Transmission of property was from mother to daughter. This matrilinear descent was known as ‘marumakkathayyam’ in southern India. It seems an alternative´´structure free from patriarchal controls. But the male gurus (teachers) and patrons exercised full control over the devadasis. Women folk of the defeated or killed were dedicated to become devadasis and practice prostitution.

17 17 Other reasons put forward by historians: Sacred prostitution sprang from the custom of providing sexual hospitality for strangers; and if such hospitality is offered by the living mortal wives of a deity, prosperity would bound to result. The devadasi cult simply represents the licentious worship offered by a people, subservient to a degraded and vested interests of priestly class.

18 18 Devadasi system is a deliberately created custom in order to exploit lower caste people in India by upper castes and classes as: –The upper castes have influenced the establishment of an order of prostitutes who are licensed to carry on their profession under the protective shield of religion. –The establishment of such system facilitates them access to low caste women to fulfill their carnal desire. Political influence and economic power was sought to be concentrated in the hands of the Brahmins. Temples became an important source of revenue and the institution of devadasi assisted the efforts of the Brahmin clergy.

19 19 Duties of devadasis Devadasis either led or followed the processions when idols of the Gods were taken out in a chariot. Devadasis were the chawri bearer fanning the Lord or singing and dancing. As part of temple rituals, they were assigned duties to wake the Lord, bathe the Lord, give the Lord his meals, dress the Lord and entertain the Lord. Devadasis were required to get revenues for the temples. Their attraction drew liberal support and grants from rulers, local feudal landlords and individuals.

20 20 The record ‘Prabandhachintamani’ reveals that King Siddharaja of Gujarat ( ) collected tax from pilgrims visiting the famous Somnath temple that housed over 500 devedasis who performed day and night before the Lord. This temple was ransacked and destroyed by Mahmud of Ghazni in The term ‘deva’ over a period of time came to have dual identification: Lord as God and Lord as the patron.

21 21 They were therefore forced to please earthly Gods and lords as well. Nuniz wrote: "Every Saturday, they were obliged to go to king's palace to dance and prostrate before the King's idol which was in the interior of his palace" Kings and princes treated the devadasis as their personal servants and forced them to dedicate every thing they possessed to them. Practice of sponsoring the devadasi cult emulated by other rulers, chieftains, feudals, officials, and moneyed persons

22 22 They also took advantage of this system and treated devadasis as objects of their carnal desires. Priests and religious heads of various denominations and temples supported the cult to continue and persist by bestowing religious sanctions. During early medieval period in western and south western India: Sule, Sani and Bhogam – sacred prostitutes drawn from groups in the lower hierarchy of society such as the Shudras and the ‘untouchables’.

23 23 Colonial period & Abolition of Devadasi System Colonial masters viewed the system as temple prostitution. Initially there was hesitation in imposing legal ban because of the perceived widespread sanction and support to the system by the landed gentry, local rulers, priests and the elite. With a rising momentum of Anti-Brahmin movement, they gathered strength. Leaders of the Anti Brahmin Movement had several grievances relating to inequality in caste, class issues and self respect. Besides the Brahmins being the educated intelligentsia had also cornered all government jobs, which placed them in an influential position denied to the low castes as the protagonists of the Anti-Brahmins perceived. Devadsi system was perceived to be Brahmin domination and furthering of class, caste inequalities and a loss of self-respect. Further support came from a section of Indian upper caste Hindu social reformers and a large section from within the devadasi community itself.

24 24 Parallel Movement to the Anti-Brahmin Movement With increasing anti-Brahmin sentiment, ripples in upper caste felt. Many left the state & migrated to neighbouring states; One section rebelled against the situation. There was fear that temple árchakas´would be dispensed with; that their domination would cease. Continuation of devadasi system was essential for Brahminical authority. Seroius concern was expressed about the vanishing traditions at the Madras Music Academy debate in January E Krishna Iyer cautioned against ´throwing out the baby with the bath water´. In the wake of social reform, this parallel movement got a new lease of life with the entry of a Brahmin lady, Rukmini Devi Arundale, wife of an Irishman of Theosophical Society. Rukmini turned her attention to ´sadir´dance of the devadasis after her encounter with Anna Pavlova who advised her to look into her own traditions. Rukmini´s entry changed the tenor of dance. It now became a Brahmin stronghold. There was studied construction of backward projection of the antiquity of the dance through ingenious change of name to Bharat+ Natyam and sanitising it, removing eroticism and imbuing it with devotion and equating the erotic references to the Lord (priest or noblemen) to that of addressing the Almighty.

25 25 Categories of Devadasis devadasi (who performed temple duties), rajadasi (who danced in the courts for the kings) and alankaradasi (who danced at the weddings). Various other local names/synonyms for devadasis – Bhogan, Sule, Sani

26 26 The Chalukya Kings (5th to 7th c AD) built a number (about 70) of temples at Aihole in Bijapur district. The temple at Kanchi built by Queen of Nandivarman Pallavamalla (8th c AD) had 32 dancing girls dedicated to it.

27 27 Position in Society: On one hand they were kept on the edges of society. However, some concessions were made for their integration as follows: Since they were considered ‘sumangali’ or ‘nitya sumangali’ (ie always married), their presence was considered auspicious for any celebrations. Despite being a typical ritual specialist, the profession of a devadasi failed to empower them in any effective, pragmatic sense. Instead they provided a terrain where the distinction between purity and pollution, typical of cultural ideology determining social relationships.

28 28 These women, usually endowed with beauty, were very well-versed in fine arts, social courtesies and grace. As most of the girls were endowed to temples at a very young age, they were known as ‘rudraganikas’ or ‘rudradasis’. The ‘prefix’ of ‘Rudra’ indicated the very ‘young’ namely those who had not yet achieved puberty. In Sanskrit, the term ‘Rudra’ though attributable to another form of Shiva also means a young berry of a tree that is used for making rosaries or prayer beads.

29 29 Since they were married to ‘God’, they could never be ‘widowed’ and therefore, their presence was considered acceptable on auspicious occasions. Perhaps, this was also one of the ways to balance out the imbalance in society. Much has been written on them and other categories of dancing girls by Hiuen-Tsang (Chinese pilgrim traveller, 7th AD), Kalhana (historian of Kashmir (12th AD), Abul Fazl (historian during the reign of Emperor Akbar, 16th AD), Domingo Paes (Portuguese diplomat), Fernao Nunz, Abbe Dubois (19th AD), Dr. Shortt, Mundy (English traveller), etc.

30 30 As they possessed beauty, talent and social grace, they caught the attention of quite a few Englishmen during the colonial rule, many of whom took them as mistresses. These women usually followed the matriarchal system. They could also retire from their professions in old age. Such a retirement was accompanied by an associated ritual.

31 31 Daughters of these women usually followed their mother’s footsteps whereas the sons ended up as supporting artistes with a few becoming teachers of dance. Daughters followed the mother’s footsteps while sons became teachers and musicians. Before puberty, the young maidens were married to god in a typical ‘tali-tyeing’ or the pottukattu ceremonies.

32 32 After attaining puberty, ‘candanku’ ceremony that included a symbolic consummation rite was performed in the presence of the local landlord, ruler and the temple trustees. Thereafter she was known as ‘nitya sumangali’ ie one who is free from widowhood. Thereafter she was free to choose her patron without marriage. They were usually the ruler, the local landlord, Brahmins, priests and the high-class non-brahmins. This sexual contract gave her neither the status of a wife nor any say in the family. Their sons had no inheritance rights. Property was handed down from mother to daughter.

33 33 The other male members whom she came into contact with were the musicians or her progenies who became musicians or temple attendants. They came to be known as melakkarars, nayanakarars, nattuvanars. Among them, the cinnamelam (playing small drums) accompanied the devadasi in her performance. Sexual contact between this group of men and the devadasis was prohibited.

34 34 The group that played larger drums (periyamelam) called the nagaswaram players, provided music for various other rituals. Hence they were not solely dependant on the devadasis. In addition to the sexual relationship between the devadis and her patrons, she also had certain ritualistic role to perform. At her death, the temple did not offer flowers to the deity for one day. The bier carrying her body was kept in front of the temple for a while before the funeral procession began. However these were rituals only. They did not translate into social status. They were dubbed and treated as impure women by both society and their own kind.

35 35 Even though they were granted land by the landlords, these were kept in the name of the temple and the devadasis only enjoyed income from these lands. She had inheritance right on this income as long as she produced a daughter to carry on the tradition. In case she had no daughter of her own she was allowed to adopt a minor girl child who would carry on the tradition. In case she wanted to marry or did not want to carry on the tradition through dedication of her daughter, she immediately ceased to be the beneficiary of such income. Thus her so-called economic independence had strings attached to it that was dependent on the male members of the landed household.

36 36 Devadasis had their own priests known as “Jangamas’ to perform religious ceremonies for them. Religion of the outcastes: –Religious practices differed significantly from those of caste Hindus for their worship centred on the ‘gramdevata’ (village deities) that were essentially female divinities.

37 37 According to the southern treatise, Natanathi Vadya Ranjanam, male dancers were not encouraged for they could not bring good luck as they could not be ‘married’ to gods. Daughters of devadasis usually followed their mother’s footsteps whereas their sons became accompanying musicians or ‘nattuvunars’. The existence of the word ‘kuttar’ in early Tamil works showed that there was a practice of male dancers. Perhaps, these male dancers participated in social, victory or celebratory dances and not as dancers dedicated to temples.

38 38 Even though, this practice has been essentially practiced by Hindus, yet Methwold, in his comments about the Golconda Kingdom in the Deccan has recorded that it was also accepted by Muslims for these women were considered part of rituals relating to circumcision, weddings etc.

39 39 Paradox: Records also indicate social acceptance in some cases The Rajtarangini (History of Kashmir) mentions that kings were free to marry devadsis. An incident is recorded of King Durlabhak Pratapaditya of Kashmir falling in love with an accomplished dancer Narendraprabha, wife of his merchant friend.

40 40 The friend offers his wife to the King in marriage. Was the intention of the merchant purely noble and above board – is open to speculation. Unnivacci Kuttathi, a devadasi in Kerala was taken in marriage by Kerala Varma, King of Venad. Krishnadeva Raya, Ruler of Vijayanagar Empire, married a devadasi.

41 41 In Assam, two devadsis in the temple of Joydal, by the name of Phuleshwari and Draupadi were married to the King and they became the ruling Queens. In eastern India, the wife of the great 12th c AD poet, Jayadeva was a devadasi. Biccabarasi, younger sister of Kunda Raja was donated to the temple of Jagadeka Mallesvara. Daughter of the Chera King Kulasekhara was dedicated as a devadasi.

42 42 Records/mentions relating to the Devadasi Tradition: 1st c AD: The Silahara Cave inscription relating to two caves of Ramagadh, Sitabenga and Jogimara, there are poetic verses one of which mentions the love between the devadasi Sutanka and Devadina, a native of Varanasi and banker by profession 4th c AD: Literary works of central India esp that of Kalidas. (Classics like Vatsayana's 'Kamasutra' (250 A.D.) deal in detail about courtesans. There is, however, no direct reference to sacred prostitution.) 5th – 7th c AD: Observations of Chinese scholars- travellers such as Fa-Hien, Hiuen Tsand, It-sing etc eg in the Sun Temple at Multan.

43 43 6th c onwards: Adopted by Pallavas and Cholas in southern India. The two literary works of 5th – 7th c AD Silpadikaram and Manimekalai, do not mention the devadasi institution but refers to dancers as courtesans. Jagan Shankar and Altekar place the rise of "sacred prostitutes" in India to have taken place in the ninth or tenth century AD. 7th – 12th c AD: Prevelance of devadasi in Kashmir as recorded in the History of Kashmir ‘Rajatarangini’ by Kalhana (7th – 12th c AD). Incident mentioned describes how King Jaluka gave away 100 women from his harem to dance and sing in the temple of Jyeshtharudra.

44 44 8th c AD: At Benaras in northern India, there are literary reference to a dancer Anangadevi for whom a mansion was built by Pashupata teacher Acharya Bhavashuddha (Reference: Kuttanimattam). She was tauntingly called ‘acharyani’ because she was always seen in the company of the Acharya. Since Pashupata sect are devotees of Shiva, it is inferred by historians that Anangadevi was associated with temple rituals at Benaras. 10th c AD: Bayana inscription of Chitralekha records. 10th c onwards: Mahari tradition at Jagannath Puri, Orissa

45 45 10 th c AD saw 450 in Brihadeswara Temple, Tamilnadu; 500 in Sorti Somnath temple Gujarat. 11th c AD: In 1047 AD, Biccabarasi, younger sister of Kunda Raja was donated to the temple of Jagadeka Mallesvara. Daughter of the Chera King Kulasekhara was also dedicated as a devadasi.

46 46 11th c AD: 400 devadasis in Tanjore Temple (inscription of 1004 AD). The devadasis have been referred as 'tali- cheri-pendugal' or 'women of the temple'. "They settled in the streets surrounding the temple and in return of their service received one or more shares, each of which consisted of the produce of one veli (26,755 sq. meters) of land, calculated at 100 Kalam of paddy".

47 47 Tevaradiyal (or thevadial) – slaves of God - a pejorative term for devadasis as prostitutes. Atumakal, kontimakalir, muthuvai pendir – some terms for devadasi in ancient tamil literature. They were also called virali and patini. 12th c AD: "Historians have also traced and inscription from the Chebrolu of Krishna District in Andhra Pradesh dating back to 1139 A.D.

48 48 The inscription records that some dancing girls were in services at the temple of Nageshvara right from the age of eight years old (Epigraphica Carnatic) 12th c AD: Ratnagiri Copper plate inscription of the Somavansi King Karna, Orissa records grant of a village made by the Somavansi king in favour of Rani Karpurasi (concubine) who was the daughter of Mahari Mahuna Devi and the grand-daughter of Udayamati. 13th c AD: An inscription of about A.D. in the time of Raja Raya III, in Tamilnadu the word Emperumandiyar has been used for dancing girls in Vishnu temples.

49 49 13th c AD: Angabhoga, rangabhoga, devabhoga were terms for the three categories of devadasis at Chabrolu in Guntur district. 13th c AD: According to Chau Ju-Kua (who catalogued experiences of travellers and sailors in 13th c AD), Gujarat contained 4000 temples that had over 20,000 dancing girls whose function was to sing twice daily while offering food to the deities and while presenting flowers.

50 50 14th c AD: Rise of Raas leela of Vrindaban (originally choreographed by Kathaks from Alwar) performed only by male Brahmin boys in Uttar Pradesh and the Bhagwad Mela dance dramas again by Brahmin boys in Andhra Pradesh. Sacred male dancers, Kathak, continued to perform in the temples of northern and central India. 15th c AD: Inscription from Orissa of Gajapati ruler, Pratap Rudradeva records dance by Oriya and Telugu dancers (‘nachuni’) performing Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda on the western side of the temple at Jagannath Puri. Siddehndra Yogi provided the resurgence to Kuchipudi in Andhra Pradesh.

51 51 16th c AD: Akbar’s period: Abul-Fazl records the condition of prostitutes, both sacred and secular, during Akbar's reign ( ) in his famous work Ain- e-Akbari, stating their number was so much that a 'Daroga' or a superintendent was required to supervise their activities, and their locality was called 'saitanpura' or 'devil's villa'. Abul Fazl has also given categorizations of the groups of professional dancers as natwa, nat, sehzdetali, bhugliye, kanjari, (Check further). 17th c AD: Sacred male dancers also continued to co- exist: Kathaks in the north and in central India, Koodiyattam in Kerala, goti-pua in Orissa, Maiba and maibi in Manipur, Sattriya in Assam.

52 52 17th c AD: "During the reigns of Emperor Jahangir ( ) and Shah Jahan ), the luxury, ostentation, extravagance and depravity increased". (Manucci : 1907 : 9). [Jogan Shankar, p. 40]. It was Aurangzeb ( ), who seems to have taken pity on the plight on these women and made many efforts to attempt to alleviate their sufferings, and at the same time, check the wastage which was slowly draining the resources of the country. He was a committed Mohammedan puritan who led a life of an ascetic.

53 53 During his reign thousands of Hindu temples were demolished by his order, and every effort was made to wipe out prostitution and everything pertaining to it. He even issued public proclamations, prohibiting singing and dancing; At the same time ordered all the dancing girls to marry or be banished from the Kingdom. (Elliot: 1867; 283). [Jogam Shankar, p.41]

54 54 19th c AD: Survey of Bihar by Francis Buchanan mention dancing and singing girls performing on special occasions such as the ‘bais’, ‘Gajoch’, ‘mirasins’, ‘rumzani’, ‘khelani’, ‘domni’ and the ‘nariyal. All of them followed the Islamic faith. The ‘kalavantis’ belonged to both hindu and Muslim faiths. The male performers such as the ‘bhaktiya’, ‘jhumariyas’ and the ‘kathaks’ were all Hindu Brahmins by caste who performed to religious themes in and around temples or on religious festivals.

55 55 This system was evident in pockets of Rajasthan even as late as In the areas of Hadoti Anchal and Keshavrai Patan area of Bundi district, the devadasis were known as ‘bhagtans’. The ‘bhagtans’ donated as offerings by their poor parents, usually performed in the Manik Chowk of Keshavrai temple. Richly bejewelled in silver and gold ornaments and owning about three thousand bighas of land, they danced not only to the Krishna devotee Keshavdas in the temple but also in the ‘rath-yatras’ (chariot journeys) during monsoon to autumn (i.e. ‘sawan’ to ‘Diwali’).

56 56 75 year-old B.L.Sharma mentioned that the ‘bhagtans’ did not entertain people in their homes but instead the ‘rasikas’ had to come to their performances. However, social sanction was not given to young boys to mingle with the ‘bhagtans’ or witness their performances mirroring the prejudices of society as is seen in the following verse: bol shankaryaa re, paatan ki peiya mein, bhagtanyan naache re, mamla mat jyave, bhagtanyan deewanon kar jyagi. (i.e. In the name of God, do not let the young men go the place where the dancers dance for they would succumb to their charms).

57 57 At the beginning of the twentieth century, Kesar, Kasturi, Saubhag, Vilas, Lal Kanwar Nanda, Ganeshi and Phoola were some of the well-known ‘bhagtans’. Western India: The practise of dedicating the first born daughter to Lord Khandoba is seen even today in the State of Maharashtra.

58 58 The girl eventually takes up dancing as her profession (Lavani-dancer). (The Lavani dances are influenced by Kathak and therefore it is not uncommon to find Kathak footwork and rhythmic patterns within their presentations). This practice is also evident in the Vaghya-Murli dancers of the state whose foreheads are smeared with turmeric. As turmeric has a symbolic significance in the context if a hindu girl’s marriage, therfore the Murlis, supposed to be the wives of Lord Khandoba apply turmeric (called Bhandara in the local terminology) on the forehead, denoting the fact that though they are married (to God) but are yet untouched by males.

59 59 Dasis and Devadasis are different: Many scholars including Shri Rajas, an active Ambedkarite, who has played an important role in the activities for the Abolition of Devdasi system, has confused a 'devdasi' with 'dasi' which simply meant a female servant. It must not be confused with the 'dasis', which were given in Yagnas to brahmins as gift. The famous dasis like Manthara of Ramayana fame, Uttara in Mahabharata, Mura in Maurya period or Panna of Rajput period were all 'dasis' and not 'devadasis'.

60 60 Why are there less devadasis in the North and the North-East: In the pre-Christian era, the dual practice of secular entertainment and sacred dancing co-existed. If there were several instances of women dancers such as Amrapali, Salvati, Padmavati yet there was also the practice of Kathaks performed by the male priests. (Reference: 4th c BC Prakrit verse). In the Jain tradition, there was also the practice of ‘devakaumar’ and ‘devakumari’- priests and nuns

61 61 With rise of Golden period of Hinduism, there were several instances of devadasis attached to the temples in Kashmir, Benaras and Ujjain (3rd c AD to 12th c AD). But they co-existed with the Kathaks as reflected in the historical record of Bana on King Harsha called ‘Harshcharitam’ (7th – 8th c AD). In the north these demarcations not needed. Religious rites were performed by male Brahmin dancers eg Vrindaban Raas leela performers and the existence of ‘kathaks’ (dance of the priests) whose presence always adorned temple rituals.

62 62 Purdah system in vogue because of the invaders and establishment of Mughal rule. Political and economic powers were in the hands of the new rulers and hence the Brahmin clergy were relegated to temples. Faith of the new rulers did not encourage performing arts especially dance as medium of worship. Therefore the group of temple dancers such as the Kathaks were confined to temples. (See footnote on their plight if asked to perform in court).

63 63 ‘The Miracle Plays of Mathura’ (1972) by Norvin Hein, New Haven & London, Yale University Press: Incident recorded by Priya Das, in his commentary on the Bhaktamol of Nabhaji written in 1712 AD on the first contact of a Brahmin Kathak dancer, Narayan Das, with the Muslim authority. When Narayan Das was asked to perform before the Muslim ruler of Hariya Saray, he was anxious for he was fully conversant with the consequences on refusal.

64 64 Used as he was to dancing in the temple in front of his beloved deity, in this case he certainly could not ask for an idol of his Hindu god being placed in the court before the idol hating ‘Mir’ (the Muslim authority). Finally, in desperation, he requested that an inoffensive ‘tulsi’ garland (considered sacred by the Hindus) be placed before him, so that he could dance to his Lord. Women dancers were entertainers who largely embellished their performances with Kathak nuances learnt from the Brahmin Kathaks. Thus no need was felt for intertwining the two roles (the religious rites and sexual needs).

65 65 In the North-east unlike the devadasis of southern India, women temple dancers of Manipur namely Maibees could simultaneously lead a normal married life even while sanctified as a temple dancer. It is customary in Manipur for all to participate in dance rituals and thus there is no separate class of dancing women who have an alternative life-style. In Assam, the devadasi was only required to dance twice a day at the time of ‘arti’. Hence the aberrations of southern Indian temples did not exist.

66 66 Conclusion Devadasi system reflects how a non-hierarchical principle of auspiciousness qualifies lower castes and out-castes for certain ritual status. Sacred prostitution (degenerated devadasi system) was linked to cultural hegemony and caste oriented feudal economy. Dedication of male child as Poturaju (prostitutes) was prevalent among outcastes and ‘lower’ castes in Maharashtra and certain regions of southern India. This practice also allowed conservation of space for the hermophrodites known as Jogappa or Jogya and Vagya in Maharashtra.

67 67 Control of bodies of lower castes, shudras and outcaste female sexuality served a dual purpose: –It allowed the concept of the ideal, pure, chaste and suppressed erotic identity of the caste Hindu women. –This in turn, allowed defining the caste Hindu female sexuality in terms of honour. Temples emergedas the arbitrator and alternative controller of respectable feminine identity. Temples assumed patriarchical control over the identity and sexuality of women outside the domestic sphere. Women reinforced caste norms and became symbolic of caste purity – much more than the men of the community.


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