The Sacred mask of prostitution – Devdasi system of India, development, causes and its continuity through the eye of religion
Abstract- Devdasi system is a mal practice which targets women in the mask of religion. Though legally prohibited but this system still prevalent in many parts of India. It’s causes are deep rooted. There is an interplay of gender, religion and caste. As this system is a kind of religious prostitution, to understand it’s continuity one needs to understand it’s religious roots in detail. This paper discusses it’s deep religious roots that are available in variety of literature and explain how religion as a core factor make its institutionalization possible and sustain its continuity.
Introduction- India is the resident of variety of religion. Religion is that reality that controls the major sphere of life in this subcontinent, as it regulates, rejuvenates of common people but it also gave birth some mal practices that have targeted women from the very past and still prevalent in this modern day of age. One of them is devdasi system, which is mainly prevalent in south India but also found in Maharashtra and Gujarat, A system which have its birth 4000 years back. The term devdasi simply means the women servant of god. In this system women , specially girls from the low caste get married with the god or deity and not with a human being. The girl generally gave her service to the temple and deities. Devdasi system perpetuates faith to the larger population of the society. With the rise of Bhakti movement Devdasi system gets its strong foot hold in the southern India. The Jagannath temple of Orissa with the long time practiced this system. In the historical time period women from the wealthier and affluent families also sacrificed themselves for the service of the gods. but with the flow of time only Dalit women are subjected and this practice results more victimization and marginalization from the women of dalit community. Devdasis have different name in different region. They named Murali in Maharashra, Jogin in Andhrapradesh, in Karnataka devdasis are called basavis. Basav means bull and Basavi is a feminine version which symbolizes degraded women of the society. Devdasi system provide religious sanction to the humiliation of women. It is elieved that it is the duty of low caste people to serve the people from the higher caste. The feudal system , the temples, the religious sanction, the power of priests played vital role in survival of this system. In remote villages priests already exercise their power on common man, from the very past day priests hold powerful position and control the life of common people. Thus by exercising their power priests also declare the prostitution as sacred and attached faith and devotion with this practice.
In devdasi system when young girls attain puberty they are sacrificed y their parents in some temple in the name of god, to serve the god which consider very sacred according to the local upper Hindu males. There is a popular saying that the devdasi is a servant of god but the wife of the whole community.
Devdasi act 1934 and 1980 have banned this system and declared it as illegal, but this system is very much prevalent in many parts of India and getting survival elements from the very religious system of India. For example in Saundatti village of south India this practice is still going on. Every year many girls sacrificed to goddess Yellemma. This practice going secretly from the underground. Though government and several NGOs takes many measures to eradicate system but the success rates is not very overwhelming. One needs to understand it’s origin, religious back ground and religious function one needs to understand it’s roots. So, one can take due measure to eradicate appropriate measure to eradicate this evil, exploitative system.
This paper analyze It’s back ground of development through historical and religious approach, will consider religion as a major social factor responsible for origin and development of this system through epistemologically analysis of different literature and researches available in this field.
Birth and development of Devdasi system- If we want to look at the birth of any social phenomena we should consider it y the historical approach. Same if we want to know about the devdasi system we should analyze ift from the historical perspective. In Indian temples there are many sculpture available indicating towards the origin of this system. Devdasi system’s origin can e trace back to the Vaisnava temples. The fall of Buddhism eventually contributed to the Devdasi system as it is said that most of the devdasis are the nun of Buddhist temples.
Prostitution is simply means selling sexual pleasures in terms of monetary gain. Though Hinduism can’t directly linked with the prostitution with caste hierarchies but caste hierarchies using religion to justify their actions and using religion as an apparatus of exploiting dalit women. Devdasi system according to the religious views is a matter of great honor because the women were married with the deity. she is consider as a replica of devi Laxmi. Secondly they can control the natural human instincts so they considered divine, third, as they are married with the deity who is immortal they will never be widow. Which consider very auspicious in Indian tradition. They need to learn classical Indian dance and have to take care of the temple but with the glory of past eventually the devdasi system became a mere weapon of sexual exploitation of women. It is worth to remember that devdasi system is not very similar of prostitution which we generally find in society rather it is a kind of forced system which constitute by the mixture of religious believe and social system. There is a one sided relationship between the religious belief and sexual exploitation. The religious and the societal feature of this system make it distinctive from the other type of prostitution and sexual exploitation. The religious system and tradition sustains its existence.