View Full Version : The devadasis

Divine Kala
26 April 2012, 05:31 AM

Ever since learning about the Devadasis I have been deeply interested in them and their history. I have read that at one point they were highly respected artists who danced for God and, at the time, enjoyed many privileges (for example, any child a Devadasi bore was considered solely hers, she could own property and that property could be inherited by her offspring) but that with the invasion of Islam and then, eventually, the coming of the British they were more and more maligned until in the present day they are seen as little more than prostitutes.

Does anyone know much about them? Do you think it would be possible to elevate them to the high position they once held again or do you think it is too late for these beautiful women?

Eastern Mind
26 April 2012, 08:41 AM
Vannakkam DK: Well, Tanjore temple celebrated it's 1000 anniversary with 1000 dancers. So its a start. I think there could be a return to the glory days.

Aum Namasivaya

26 April 2012, 01:24 PM
Now that the devadasi system is abolished, it is illegal to run the system by any mandir . In olden days the kings were the sponsors and they looked after these women well ; kingdoms having disappeared, the devadasis have taken up Grihasta ashrama and moved out of the mandir premises.

28 April 2012, 02:03 AM
This is an excellent and frankly enjoyable subject to discuss in the forum, a good way to explore both the traditions and art that is living within religion. From my teenage days, I have been an admirer of the dance of Bharatnatyam which I see as probably the highest dance form, and in my single days I attended many Bharatnatyam performances and wanted to encourage my own daughter to take up the art but she turned to Karate instead. I consider Bharatnatyam dance a quintessential expression of the dance mastery of India and of Hinduism expression. I also love Kathak which actually is of strong Muslim influence and actually only a court dance and performance, however within Kathak (which also was foundational to Flamenco dance in Spain) is the majesty and art of India as well but not so much grounded on religious tenant and God possession as in Devadasi or the dance of Bharatnatyam.

The Devadasi (Deva - God - and das - Devotee- , dasi - female devotee -) system, that is the Devotee of God, existed in many religions, for example there was a devadasi system in Christianity in the Middle Ages where the devotee totally dedicated to God which was called the “nun” was married to the Son of God, or in some sects to Jehovah, the female would be totally celibate and devoted to God and she would shave her hair off and live in the church, monastery or temple full time. In fact, she would be married to God or to the Son of God and such. While she would not dance before God, these nuns definitely would sing before God.

In Hinduism, for me personally I am amazed at the riot of color and expression, of art and tradition which includes songs or bhajans as well as dance – and while ultimately the goal is either total devotion called Bhakti, or total liberation such as enlightenment and detachment as found in Yoga and yogis, never the less all five senses are greeted at the temple whether being hearing (the bhajans and bells and chants – and this includes as well the moments of total silence which only heightens the to song to God or the prayer or chant of the priest that will follow), seeing (the colors everywhere, flowers, the Murti, the lamps and everywhere a riot of beauty and color to the eye), smelling (the flowers and incense), tasting (the prashadam), touching (the holy items, or sacred water splashing on one, the feet of a great saint, touching the knee of Nandi and so many examples) that life itself becomes religion.

I have absolutely nothing against the traditional Devadasi system, and like the nuns of Europe, the girl who dedicates her life to God by marrying the Temple Murthi (or in the case of Devi temple being ready to be possessed by the Shakti powers of the Devi living in the Temple), and who remains celibate and is trained by the temple artists and priests in the best and traditional dance so they may perform a wonderful and ageless dance as part of the worship and service. The art involved, only heightens the respect shown to God and Goddess.

Yes, it is true, that corruption happened in some cases at some major and some village temples, or those who were led astray by bad people from the temple and into the service of some bad princes of the Raja and such. But these examples are just a commentary on all of us and society in general, and not on the true practice and religious dedication and love -- as was practiced in Jaganath Puri for example. Part of art in many ways is strictness and instructed practice - in my opinion one of the greatest artists of Western Europe was the Dutch artist of the 1500’s Jan Vanmeer, and we know that he underwent instruction and he used mechanical instruments under the wise counsel of instructors and while there is nothing wrong with so-called “free expression” in art, "doing it on your own" well that was not his genre and he was definitely systematic and traditional in his orchestration. And the results were stunning and timeless. And when art is used to touch into the vital chords of religion and with God, the results are even more stunning.

Yes when devadasis are turned into prostitutes, then the law must be used to stop the prostitution. But to practice devadasi system as sanctioned in the sacred texts, and by great devotees, saints and gurus of all traditions (not only by Shaiva, but we see Vaishnava as well such as Chaitanya who sanctioned devadasi system), then it is not right that some government leaders, dictators, politicians or otherwise to outlaw all of it because of the wrongs of those who stray from the value and benefit and growth of the human soul as in the dance of the devadasi. In my opinion, many of these same politicians and dictators are the biggest prostitutes of all. I am not putting down them all, for there are the good among them as well, and among many a good Maharaja and King. Art is intrinsic to religion. Do not kill art. You may be trying to kill religion. And then you are really only killing your soul with pain. A flower is a wonderful thing, even more so when given to God. A devadasi is a wonderful thing, when given to God.

28 April 2012, 02:51 AM
Opps! Jan Vermeer, sorry (just in case someone wants to look him up)

10 June 2012, 03:47 PM
An interesting video on Devadasis below: