Devadasi is a woman who is considered given in marriage to God. These women dedicated to God once held high social status and were well respected. But now they are nothing more than sex slaves.
Devadasi – Who is she?
Devadasi or Devaradiyar means “servant of God”. These women were dedicated to God and were considered given in marriage to God, meaning that they could therefore not marry any ‘mortal’. Nevertheless, they were 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. But in no way were these women economically dependent on their partners.
They learned music and dance, and as many as 64 types of arts. They would dance and sing in temples or in front of royalty and earn gold and land as a reward. Some chose to dedicate themselves only to God and stayed without a partner all through their life.
Devadasis of modern India – Who are they?
At present, Devadasis are nothing more than sex slaves or child prostitutes who are dedicated to temples when they are as young as four or five years old. Almost all of them are Dalits, with a majority belonging to the Madiga and Valmiki castes, two of the most underprivileged castes in India. The Devadasis of modern India are largely concentrated in parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra. They are called Mathangi in Maharashtra, Jogini or Mathamma in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, and Devadasi in Karnataka.
How does one become Devadasi?
A huge number of girls who become Devadasis are dedicated to the goddess Yellamma, who is otherwise known as Renuka, Jogamma, or Holiyamma. And the dedication happens most often in the Saundatti festival that takes place in the Yellamma temple in northern Karnataka.
The Saundatti festival, which is also known as the Yellamma Devi Fair, happens on many occasions from October to February, with the girls given in dedication from November onwards. Parents choose a day that is convenient for them and that they consider auspicious. On that day, the girls are fully clad in green during the ceremony, and older Devadasis give them in dedication to God.
What happened to the legal measures?
- Both before and after Independence, the government enacted laws prohibiting the dedication of Devadasis. It has been more than 20 years since the practice was banned across India.
- However, according to the National Human Rights Commission, in 2013, there were as many as 450,000 Devadasis in India. Another commission led by Justice Raghunath Rao revealed that there are about 80,000 Devadasi women in just Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.