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Devadasis Of India- Married To The Lord

Posted: September 2, 2015

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The Devadasis of India always had a hard life. Constant sexual exploitations, with no education or skills, they end up mostly as beggars later in life. 

“Rayaru bandaru Maavana manege Ratri Aagithu, Hunnime haraside banina naduve chandira bandittu” -(When the groom reached his father-in-law’s house it was late at night. In the moonlit night, the moon rode high)

We sat on the straw mat listening to this old Kannada melody. The light of the full moon enveloped the entire sky, and I could see its radiance reflect on Sarayu’s face.

I had met her just that morning outside Yellamma Guda temple, at Saundatti village, Karnataka, India. It was the first day of the Yellamma Jatara Festival, where every year over two lakh people take part to worship the deity Yellamma Devi (or also known as Renuka). I spotted a demure Sarayu, with moist eyes, it seemed. Despite the sea of people around, our eyes met for a fraction of a second. “Are you coming to Yellamma Devi Jatara for the first time?” she asked me in chaste Kannada. I nodded. “Come I will show you around,” she said. I went along.

“You may still find people offering their girls, those who come to the temple covered in neem leaves, and performing the customary ritual of being offered to the deity- all in secrecy.”

“You may still find people offering their girls, those who come to the temple covered in neem leaves, and performing the customary ritual of being offered to the deity- all in secrecy. Sarayu added, “That is why I stand outside the temple every Jatara festival trying to stop any parent dedicating their daughter. I inform the NGO I work for immediately. No other girl should suffer the way I did”. I shot back a glance.

“Yes, I was a Devadasi”. As Sarayu uttered these words, I felt an unexplainable shudder deep inside. Breaking the silence, she said, “Why don’t you join me for dinner tonight? I live on the other side of the temple.” I agreed once again.That night after a sumptuous dinner of Majige (butter milk) and Ragi mudde (Steamed Ragi porridge), sitting on the straw mat and listening to old Kannada melodies, Sarayu narrated her part of the story. “I was born the youngest of 9 children. My parents were poor farmers and we could almost never afford our daily bread. So my parents dedicated me to Yellamma at the age of 10. For almost 20 years now, I have satisfied men from across villages. I have had enough now. I am old with no money or job, left to fend for myself. That is why I have joined an NGO, working towards empowering women like me.”

I closed my eyes. I sensed the pain deep within her. I let the beautiful melody from the radio waft through the air. But I asked myself this question that night, “Why is there so much exploitation in the name of tradition?”

Despite a Devadasi Prohibition Act, the practice continues in some parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra till date.

  • These women are denied basic rights and live in such pitiable conditions that most take up prostitution for a living.
  • Children born out of such relationships carry on a life of misery, with minimal or no schooling owing to poverty and social outcast.
  • Most are later sold to red-light districts in bigger cities such as Pune or Mumbai by priests, who act as pimps.

First published here

Cover image via Shutterstock

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