Religious Prostitution - Sacrifice to tradition - Part II

Religious prostitution in ancients times can be overlooked with awe by certain youths today. However this human sacrifice to tradition is still practiced in certain parts of India. Here is an insight to such a tradition the talks about sexual practice as a sacrifice to the almighty with love. Read it to explore some of the unbelievable facts.

Religious prostitution in India
Devadasi is a religious practice in parts of southern India, including Andhra Pradesh, whereby parents marry a daughter to a deity or a temple. The girl is married before she reaches her puberty. She is then labeled as sex worker for upper caste community members. Such girls are known as jogini. The practice of religious prostitution is known as basivi in Karnataka and matangi in Maharastra. It is also known as venkatasani, nailis, muralis and theradiyan. These practisces are distinct from caste-based prostitution in northern India, where prostitution amongst certain tribal communities is believed to have religious sanction.

Religious sex workers cannot marry any men but they have to satisfy sexual desire of men who come craving for it. Joginis are recognised by their copper bangles, the band they wear round their necks with a leather pendant and a long necklace with several pendants which have the image of Goddess Yellamma.

Th practice was legal in India for certain period. However, various state governments in India have enacted laws to ban this practice. They include Bombay Devdasi Act, 1934, Devdasi (Prevention of dedication) Madras Act, 1947, Karnataka Devdasi (Prohibition of dedication) Act, 1982, and Andhra Pradesh Devdasi (Prohibition of dedication) Act, 1988.

The legal laws seems to be inactive even today as you still find the news updates that state the practice in small villages especially in Southern India. The local police do not enforce the law and the villagers themselves make no effort to abolish the grievous practice.

A recent survey states that women practicing Devadasi system or former temple prostitutes for more than decade are suffering from HIV positive. Many social organisation have come forward to eradicate this custom but in vain they exist to devour the sexuality of most young girls.

To escape detection, today the "weddings" often occur in the middle of the night or in private homes. Humanitarian organizations estimate as many as 5,000 Indian girls become devadasi each year. Some of the families happily give their girl as a temple servant as they make as much as 5000 rupees ( 0) for a day's work, which easily trumps the few dollars they could make as a seamstress. It is a hard to seek alternate employment for them as they will never be offered one at least in the village they serve as temple women.

Origin and Fall
The origin of such a custom is a an interesting story. Originally, devadasi were celibate dancing girls used in temple ceremonies. They were credited as professional dancer who entertained members of the ruling class. Around the 6th Century, the practice of "dedicating" girls to Hindu gods became prevalent. By the end of 10th century, the total number of devadasis in many temples was in direct proportion to the wealth and prestige of the temple.

During the medieval period devadsis were regarded as a part of the normal establishment of temples. They occupied a rank next to priests and their number often reached high proportions. At this period a devadasi had to satisfy her own soul while she danced unwatched and offered herself to the god.

The popularity of devadasis grew only around 10th and 11th century. However their popularity was devolved with the fall of Hindu temples. The destruction of temples by invaders from the northwestern borders of the country, which spread through the whole of the country later devoured their prestigious life. As the temples became poorer and lost their patron kings, and in some cases were destroyed, the devadasi's were forced into a life of poverty, misery, and later to prostitution.

The saga of religious prostitution in India seems to never end. The sexual practice between two individual which is considered sacred and a bond that strengthens love relationship has been put to shame and distress.

Story first published: Wednesday, June 27, 2007, 19:05 [IST]

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