Of Cabbages and Kings

August 6, 2008

The Decline of the Devadasis

Filed under: Across the Universe, Random musing — Tags: , , , , , — Chinmayi @ 10:16 pm

Devadasis were extraordinarily powerful women years ago. Meddling reformers destroyed the status, respect and place that they held in society by having them outlawed.

For centuries the women that were not obliged to marry, the women that sang and danced and made love with whoever they chose, were very powerful and rich and had rights (such as the right to inherit property) that married ‘moral’ women did not have. This did not go down very well with the Europeans that ruled India or with the Indians who having received a western (christian) education failed to recognise the Devadasi system for the unique power and independence that it conferred on women and were obsessed instead with the ‘immorality’ and ‘promiscuity’ involved. Determined to regulate the Devadasis’ sexuality, they systematically wrecked the entire system and managed to reduce the most powerful women in India to exploited sex-workers.

William Dalrymple has written a beautiful piece in the New Yorker on the Devadasis. It rises from the current day wretched state of the devadasis (who are now regarded as prostitutes) to the glory and power that they once enjoyed, and comes back again to the wretchedness and the hopelessness that these women live with and to how they try (with little success) to cling to old social position of the Devadasis.


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