Devadasi System: Prostitution in the name of divinity?

Devadasi System: Prostitution in the name of divinity?

Scrolling the mouse up and down in the most searched videos, a young girl in  blue outfit suddenly  caught my eyes. A devadasi in occupation, her bold moves before the idol was enjoyed by the larger scale of audiences. While the camera rolled down, the reality got struck between the men blowing whistles and throwing cash because everything is possible in the name of religious sanctions.

We human beings are just a mere part of the great institutions like family, marriage, education, religion etc. When we were born, we were actually ignorant of our surroundings. It was the society who constructed us saying ” You are a boy” and” You are a girl.” Gender is thus socially constructed and hence the roles assigned to each are manifested through this notion. Social Reformation forms a part of Nationalism. As you build up your narrative of “Nation”, you also feel obliged to reform your society. Hence, the question arises what does reforming a society actually mean? Simply eradicating evils? Or else bringing forth a whole new conceptof a  gendered construction of sex?


The in between space between a male and a female is a complicated issue. Therefore, when there is a deviation from the normative, then that individual ‘questioned’ is called a deviant. In an independent society like India, women had always been the worst of all the victims. Whether it is the ancient saga of the Devadasi System ( Divine Prostitution), or the modern woman in shorts( Prostitution),exposure to selling their bodies for fulfilling other’s desires can never be neglected. For culturally we have been trained to see when it comes to body markers.



Devadasi System: Prostitution in the name of divinity?

We often hear our elders say” The modern era has completely deteriorated. Girls aren’t safe anymore.” Thanks to media for highlighting issues in and around feminist violence which leaves us petrified. However does it mean that traditional India was free from all crimes?  Of  course not! Today we are so dependent on media, that at times we tend to forget that today’s India is the result of traditional India, for it is an ongoing process. Multiple incidents take place behind the public sphere. It is only when we keep our eyes wide open, that we realize that sexual exploitation can also take place within the four walls. Devadasi is considered as a social taboo, whereby women sexually devotes themselves to their idols and hence looked down upon in a low manner by the society. Since everything is judged in money,  these poor girl’s parents sheds off all their responsibilities by getting their daughters married to God. No wonder, it is a social constructed  issue and women who opted this were basically called prostitutes. A women’s role is thus socially constructed and a pure relationship between themselves and the idols sexually exploited by the powerful local interest.

Devadasi is an ancient social practice of South India, which today is obsolete in pen and paper. However, there are still few temples where this system still prevails. It has been seen that women below poverty line with an attractive face has been the ‘prey’ for offering ‘prayer’ in the name of God. The deity is imagined as the spirit, while the body of women pleases God. Since the spirit finds expression through the movement of the body, it is erotic in its own kind. Vidya Balan’s well-acclaimed movie ‘ THE DIRTY PICTURE’ has one of the most popular lines : ‘ENTERTAINMENT’ ENTERTAINMENT, AND ENTERTAINMENT.’ Well, this can be applied in case of a Devadasi too. By devoting themselves in the name of God, they were in turn “entertained” by the priests of the temple who manipulated these young girls both physically and mentally by bringing an “idol” as a connecting link between them. Since innocence governed their lives, the reality blurred the actual politics behind it.



Why do people forget that a Devadasi too is a human being? Just because they have dedicated themselves to the service of God should they be deprived of emotions?   One of the ancient myth stated that once a Devadasi fell in love with the sculptor of a temple. Due to societal issues the physical love took form into a metaphysical plane where the man while asleep would hear her say “ I am all yours.” Thus, though glamorous in outlook by decorating themselves with ornaments and flowers , a devadasi’s inner life is void, for her numbness arises due to the bondage within the four walls of the temple and living life like other’s demand. There was a social stigma attached to the dance form of a devadasi since it is considered as a “prostitute’s craft.” Therefore, the fine line between ‘performance’ and ‘performativity’ though sacredly performed is looked down upon as the so-called ‘other’ from the rest of the art forms.



Devadasi System: Prostitution in the name of divinity?

Most of the young girls didn’t like to become a devadasi. However they were compelled to do so  since other options remained  invalid. Therefore what used to happen is that in the process of acting like a ‘slave’ in the temple they were deprived of the minimum happiness which other girls in the same age group  expects. As the so called ‘ other’ from the rest of the society these backward class girls were the victims of rejection in the daily basis of commission. They too longed for a home, a family. But sadly, they were so blindly indulged at God’s service that these innocent souls forgot their real identity and walked the rest of their lives fulfilling a crime unknown to them.



Nothing seems more beautiful when people collectively participates for a better and healthy India. Condemning the illegal practice of a devadasi the Government of India has taken strict measures for eradicating the evil. As far as the law and order is concerned, the Supreme Court has executed laws in almost all the states including Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, etc. to check such unethical practices. Young girls should be given education and enable them to distinguish between the right and wrong deeds. The parents of these girls should be made aware of the fact that a child’s life is more precious than money. They shouldn’t compel their girls to walk the steps of evil, but rather participate in their happiness of living a peaceful life with their family members.


Today’s India is a reflection of the ‘then India’. With the passage of time ideologies change and so does behavioural patterns. Yet somehow domination and subjugation of women by the patriarchy seems to be  a never ending process. The crime began within the four walls of the temple, and today it takes place openly. Therefore raise your voice and fight against all the odds, demanding the minimum right and equality. Yesterday’s devadasi is a mirror image of today’s neglected woman. Therefore the question arises are we still rooted to our past? Or do we remain silent by pretending to be ignorant?


 Image Courtesy: Instagram Account:



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