Temple Prostitution: Devadasis
In India, temple prostitution was a requirement for all Santal girls at Telkupi Ghat, who were under the obligation to be a public prostitute at least once in their lives; similar to the duties prescribed for all women of Babylon. Among the caste of weavers in Tamil Nadu, it is regarded as proper and normal that at least one daughter of the family be dedicated to the service of the god as one of his hierodules, and the girls are vowed to such service from birth. Southern India also knows the bayaderes, or nautch girls, who are part prostitutes’ part temple dancers similar to the Devadasis; all of which are so-called wives of god - and/or the king. The word ‘Devadasi’ might connote ’Servant of god’, but in reality a girl child who is dedicated to the goddess is no more than a prostitute. For centuries the repressive tradition of Devadasi system has been prevailing in many parts of India.
Despite the fact that most devadasi girls are “untouchables,” from the lowest caste in India, the priests do not hesitate to sleep with the young girls - some have not even reached puberty. The priests prey on the poor, telling parents that dedicating their daughters to the temple will help family members be reincarnated as high caste Brahmins in their next life. And they offer family members of devadasis the right to enter sacred temples normally closed off to the lower castes.
Rich landowners also exploit the poor by paying for a girl’s dedication in exchange for the right to spend the first few nights with her. The money often includes large loans to parents as an incentive to dedicate their daughters.
Although devadasis are not prevalent across the country, most men know where to find them. In the south central state of Karnataka alone, one of six states in India, there are an estimated 100,000 devadasis. A few are paid to stay close to the temple to sleep with priests or other men their parents have struck an agreement with. Some return to their homes to be auctioned off as mistresses for as long as men will have them. Most of them wind up in the brothels of India’s major cities.
India’s government is attempting to end the practice. But its 1982 law, which imposes a five-year prison sentence and a 5,000-rupee fine for parents of relatives who dedicate a girl to a temple, is difficult to enforce. Remote villagers remain ignorant of laws handed down in city centers hundreds of miles away. And in the major cities, some of the very politicians who make the rules keep devadasis mistresses themselves. Many who know of the law stubbornly cling to old superstitions to justify their decisions.
Temple prostitution is perpetuated by poverty as well. Many devadasis have between five and eight children usually by different men. Often the boys leave their mothers as soon as they are grown. A devadasi’s career is over by the time she is 35 and, too old to attract men, she is faced with the option of begging on the streets or dedicating her daughters as a devadasi.
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