DECLINE AND FALL OF BUDDHISM
DEVADASIS WERE DEGRADED BUDDHIST NUNS
What is the Devadasi System
Perhaps the most horrible effect of fall of Buddhism in ancient India, which is haunting us even today, is the start of devadasi system. The system of votive offering of girls to the deities in Brahmanic temples is a system found in all parts of India, but was more prevalent in the south. In some parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka it is still prevalent and has become a source of exploitation of lower castes. Though they had a glorious past, these girls are now a days degraded to the status of cheap prostitutes. The saying in Marathi goes, "Devadasi devachi bayako sarya gavachi", meaning that she is servant of god but wife of the whole town. This is the lot of such a woman. She has to remain unmarried, and maintain herself by ceremonial begging, a system called "jogava" in Marathi, to get both ends meet. With "chal" (a string of small bells) in her feet, she carries the "jag" (a metal mask of god) in a "pardi" (a basket) on her head and begs whole life, or ends up in a brothel.
The term devadasi is a Sanskrit term denoting female servant of deity, but they are known by different names in different areas. Jogan Shankar gives the names by which they are known in various parts, such as Maharis in Kerala, Natis an Assam, Muralis in Maharashtra, Basavis in Karnataka State. [p.16] Though the name 'devadasi' is popular, in Goa they use the term `Bhavanis'. `Kudikar' on the West-Cost `Bhogam-Vandhi' or `Jogin' in Andhra Pradesh; Thevardiyar' in Tamil Nadu; `Murali', 'Jogateen' and 'Aradhini' in Maharashtra. In Karnataka, old devadasis are called as `Jogati' and young devadasis as `Basavi'. The term `Basavi' refers to feminine form of `Basava' a bull which roams the village at will without any restriction. Hence `Basavi' alludes to the foot loose position of the woman. [Jogan Shankar: 1990: 157]
The rite of Initiation
This cult is prevalent even today throughout India with some regional variances. When a girl is dedicated to or married not to a mortal-man but to an idol, deity or object of worship or to a temple, some rite is performed. About the rite of initiation, it is stated that, unlike old times, such ceremonies are now a days performed rather secretly without much fanfare at smaller temples or local priests' residences, rather than big temples of Yellamma like at Savadatti or Kokatnur, to avoid the expenses and also to escape clutches of law. The expenses are borne either by the 'would be' companion or paramour or the "Gharwalis" (mistresses of urban brothels) where these girls who would be expected to join their brothel in future. [Jogan Shankar: 1990: 99]
The vows at the time of initiation include the warning to parents or brothers that this girl will have a right in their property. Then the priest addresses the girl to be dedicated and seeks some set answers, to which the girl has to agree.
"Priest: Look! Hereafter you cannot claim a right of wife with any man. You have to fast on Tuesday and Friday and beg on those days holding a Joga in your hand. You happen to see a calf, sucking its mother you should not forcibly withdraw the calf. If a cow grazes the crop before you, you shall not drive it away. You shall not speak untruth. If you are feeling hungry don't tell others so and ask for food. Offer shelter to shelterless and strangers. Provide food to those who are hungry and water to the thirsty. Help the helpless people. If anybody abuses you and beats you, never retaliate. If you come across with an event of death you have to take bath, visit the temple of Yellamma. Only after worshiping the deity you are supposed to take meals. You should not eat 'Yenjalu' (left out food) of somebody. You shall chant "Udho Yellamma" (Glory to Yellamma) all the time." [Jogan Shankar: 1990: 101]
Swami Dharma teertha quotes the plight of these womwn, by an author in 1914 writing about South Indian temples describes the respect these girls received as daughter of the deity; that the goldsmiths and weavers of Trichinopoly devote the eldest daughter of the family to the temple service of Srirangam, in young age and taught preliminaries of profession. At the age of thirteen they go through the ceremony of marriage with the god Subramania who is represented by stone or image or by a figure. After the ceremony they are ready to ply their trade of prostitution, their earnings going to swell the temple revenue." [Swami Dharmatirtha, p. 139]
Dedication to Gods meant Brahmins
Lands and women dedicated to temples, in the names of gods, they were actually meant for bhudevas, as Swamiji mentions:
"We should know that dedication for the gods meant dedication for the maintenance of the worshipping Brahmans who, because they so worshipped, were called "devalas" and were all but outcastes among Brahmans; a fact showing the not very reputable origin and character of such worship and worshippers, the maintenance of servants, female slaves, dancing girls and musicians and providing of the articles of worship." [Swami Dharmatirtha, p. 139]
Fate of Devadasis
After initiation, the ceremony of 'the first night' is celebrated. It is called 'Uditumbuvadu'. Previously the right belonged to the priest but now a days, it is well publicized within the clientele of businessmen and rich landlords. One who deflowers her gets right to her over others for the rest of her life but neither she nor the children of such union have any right over him, or his property. He can leave her any time. She has to lead a life of a cheap prostitute either near about or at metropolitan brothels. By the time her market value goes down, and she is thrown out of business, she becomes a habitat for a number of diseases including may be AIDS, and ends up in some village corner, desolate, rejected, friendless and rots to death.
Caste distribution of Devadasis
It is well known that majority of devadasis are from dalit community. According to the research conducted by Prof. Baba Saheb Ghatge for his M. Phil. the percentage of castes in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra is as follows:
Mahar (SC) - 53%, Maratha - 30%, Matang (SC) - 10%, Gurav (OBC) - 2%, Sutar (OBC) - 1%, Dhangar (OBC) - 1%, Parit (OBC) - 1%, Khatik (OBC) - 1%, Bhoi (NT) - 1% [Ghatge:1996]
The 30% among Marathas, which is not a backward caste, is rather surprising, and in my opinion is indicative of common origin of Dalits and Marathas, as was explained by Dr. Ambedkar in "The Untouchables".
Even in those places, where worship of Yellama is in vogue by other castes, the devadasis are all dalits. Jogan Shankar observes:
"In Yellampura village almost everybody worships Yellamma deity. A dominant caste like Lingayats acknowledge Yellamma as their family deity. But at the time of survey it was found that no single upper caste woman was dedicated to the deity. However, knowledgeable elderly persons revealed that there were a few devadasis among other castes like Talawar, Gurav and Kurubar castes. But at present no devadasi is found among these castes. As ritual status of such women came down and functional relation with temple almost terminated, members belonging to other castes abandoned the practice but lower castes like ex-untouchable including Holers, Madars and Samagars continued the practice. Among Samagar caste there is only one devadasi who is about 70 years old. Since then no new initiation has taken place in the caste. Samagars are placed above the remaining ex- untouchable castes. The whole devadasi population is concentration among Holers and Madars only." [Jogan Shankar: 1990: 159]
Legends to support Devadasi system
To keep the bahujans and dalits under control, it was necessary that the stories are manufactured and incorporated in various mahatmyas in the Puranas. There are three important legends, we should know about. It may be useful to see what the traditional stories told by the brahmins and believed to be true by the sufferers themselves. Vasant Rajas, an active Ambedkarite struggling against the Devadasi custom, has given the account of various legends in Puranas concerning this practice. [Vasant Rajas: 1997: 74] The following is the summary of it.
Legend of Renuka or Yallamma
One of the important legends concerned is about Renuka Devi. It seems to be an addition to the well known story of Parasurama. The story of Parsurama is interpreted in many ways, by different scholars. But there is an inherent contradiction in his story, which no scholar seems to have pointed out. The main concern of Arjuna on the battle field was of 'varna sankar' i.e. inter caste marriages. If you kill the ksatriyas, the widows are likely to have 'varna sankar' which destroys the 'dharma'. The Lord says he takes avatara to establish the 'dharma' meaning 'chatur-varnya- dharma' by killing the 'wicked', meaning those who do not follow this dharma. Parasurama is said to be an avatara. How does Parasuram deserve the status of avatara, when he himself killed the ksatriyas 21 times, and ultimately led to 'varna sankara'? But such questions are not to be asked to the brahmins. Let it be as it may, we come back to the legend.
According to legend, Renuka appeared from the fire pit of 'putra kameshti' yadnya performed by a kshatriya king Renukeswara. She was married to Rishi Jamdagni. The couple had five sons including Parasurama. One morning she was late in coming home from the river as she was sexually aroused by watching the love play in river, of a Gandarva raja with his queens. This enraged Jamdagni who ordered his sons to kill her. All other sons refused and were burned to ashes by rishi's curse, but Parsurama beheaded her. The rishi gave him three boons. By first, Parshurama asked to bring back to life his four brothers. By second he wanted his mother to be made alive. But her head was not available. So Parshurama cut the head of a woman from 'matang' caste, and Jamdagni revived his wife with the matangi's head. By third he wished to be free from the sin of matricide. But Renuka was cursed by Jamdagni to have leprosy and was banished from the hermitage. However, she got cured by some 'Eknatha', 'Jognatha' sadhus in the forest. She returned back to Jamdagni who pardoned her and blessed her that she will attain great fame in Kaliyuga.
Later a King Sahstrarjuna killed Jamdagni on Full moon day of Magha, and Renuka became a widow. This day is called "Rand Punav" - a widow's full moon day. "Rand" is a derogatory word meaning widow as well as a prostitute. According to Hindu customs, Renuka broke down her bangles on death of Jamdagni on this day. So all the devadasis on that day assemble in the temple of Yellama at Soundatti, to break down their bangles.
Later Parsurama invaded Kartvirya Sahasrarjuna, killed him and brought back 'kamdhenu' along with the head of this king. On his prayer of god, his father Jamdagni again became alive, so Renuka again became a 'suhagan' - a married woman - and put back on her green bangles. So the Devadasis put on bangles (chuda) on this day - the full moon day of Chaitra, so this day is called 'chudi punav'. A 'choundak' was made out of the skull of Sahasrarjuna, so the devadasis use this musical instrument while begging a 'jogava'.
Parsurama went on rampage destroying and annihilating the kshatriyas twenty one times. He killed even the children in the womb of pregnant women. So these women started running around. Their garments fell down till they approached Renuka, who advised them to wear branches of 'nim' tree around their waist and pray Parsurama, saying 'udho udho udho'. (so 'nagna-puja'). Since then the people became devotees of Yellamma and started offering their girls as devdasis and boys as 'jogte', the male counterpart of devdasi.
Temple of Renuka was built in 13th century in Soundati hills. The Jains believe that Renuka is their 'Padmawati'. For centuries, the devotees of Renuka, who are mostly dalits and bahujans, assemble there twice a year on Magha and Chaitra full moon days for pilgrimage, offer their daughters to make them devdasis.
B. S. Kamble from Sangali dist. mentions the influence of blind faith over dalits to an extent that a backward class member of legislature had established a shrine of Renuka image in Bombay Mantralaya. ["Sugawa", marathi journal, Ambedkar prerana issue, December 1998, p. 51]
Legend of Renukamba
There is a temple of Renukaamba, built in 14th century, at the top of Chandragutti hill in Shimoga district in Karnataka. The gullible masses from dalit and bahujan communities are made to believe that Renukaamba devi is the incarnation of Renuka or Yallamma of Saundatti. The speciality of this temple is that dalit women must go naked to worship this devi. It is called 'betale seva' or 'nagna puja' i.e. naked worship.
Legend in Purana says that the if girls go naked and pray the devi they get good husbands and married women get all their wishes fulfilled, the childless women get children, and that those shudra women and girls who do not follow these traditions meet with a lot of calamities.
Some awakened youth trained in Ambedkarite traditions tried to stop this practice in 1984. There was a struggle against these workers, they were beaten up by the goons of pujaris and orthodox mandir committee people, and paraded naked, and were made to worship the Devi in such condition. The victims included some police - even lady police officers - kept for bandobast.
The chief Minister of Karnataka had to appoint a committee to investigate whether "Nagna-puja" has any religious sanction of Hindu sastras. The report was submitted in 1988 stating that there is no such sanction of Hinduism. In 1992 ban was imposed on this "Nagna-puja". There was a hue and cry against it, but since then it is stopped.
Legend of Khandoba
The third deity of Devdasis is Khandoba of Jejuri, though there are eleven 'pithas'. It is the 'kul-daivat' of dalits, though many others worship him including some Muslim devotees, who presumably were dalits, worshiping this deity before being converted to Islam. Even the robbers used to attend the annual fair and finalize their plans there. They were, presumably, of ex-criminal tribes, which was a part of Dalits. Brahmins have homologized this deity and made out stories that Shankara took this form of Martanda, to protect the brahmins from the asuras.
People do votive offering of their sons and daughters to this deity. The terms used are 'waghya' for male and 'murali' for female. It is a form of Devdasi. Murali, whose token marriage is performed with Khandoba, remains unmarried throughout her life and leads a life same as devadasi of Yellama. After Ambedkarite awakening in the Matang society, who form the majority of Murlis, the practice has declined though not completely stopped.
Jogan Shankar gives more details:
'Muralis' are girls dedicated to god Khandoba in their infancy or early childhood by their parents. "Poor deluded women promise to sacrifice their first born daughters if Khandoba will make them mothers of many children. Then after the vow the first born girl is offered to Khandoba and set apart for him by tying a necklace of seven cowries around the little girl's neck. When she becomes of marriageable age, she is formally married to Khandoba or dagger of Khandoba and become his nominal wife. Henceforth she is forbidden to become the wedded wife of any man, and the result is that she usually leads an infamous life earning a livelihood by sin. Some of these girls become wandering muralis. Others become ordinary public women in any town or city; while a few are said to live for years with one man. The parents of such girls do not feel ashamed to take her earnings, because they belong to Khandoba, and what they do is not sin in the eyes of his devotees. Kunbis, Mahars, Mangs and other low castes make muralis of their daughters in this fashion". (Fuller : 1900 : 103). High caste people of the region also worship Khandoba and their mode of expressing reverence to the god differed. Thus "Not a few high caste people visit Jejuri to pay their vows; but they never give their own girls to Khandoba but buy children from low-caste parents for a small sum of money, which is not a difficult thing to do and offer them instead of their own children". (Fuller, Marcus B., "The wrongs of Indian Womanhood", Edinburgh:Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1900). [Jogan Shankar, p. 50]
Definition of Devadasi under the act
As many laws had to be passed from time to time, for its abolition, it had to be defined by law. One such example is the Bombay Devadasi Act, 1934, which states that "the performance of any ceremony intended to dedicate or having the effect of dedicating of women as a devadasi where such women has or has not consented to performance of such ceremony, is hereby declared unlawful and to be an effect to any custom or rule to the contrary not withstanding". This law also declared the marriage of devadasi valid and children of such marriages as legitimate. [Jogan Shankar, p. 153] However, nobody bothered to enforce the Law, till some Ambedkarites agitated.
Some examples of Brahmanic sexual exploitation
According to Ramanika Gupta, in certain parts in Bihar, even now, a new dalit bride has to spend the first night with the village head man. [Sugawa, p.69]
A bazaar is organized in Dholpur for sale of Dalit girls. [Sugawa, p. 69]
Kamble describes a custom called Okali. On first or second Saturday comming after the Hindu New Years Day (Gudhi padawa), the devadasis were openly sexually enjoyed in public, about hundred years ago. This is now replaced by another tradition called "Okali", which was in vogue till 1987. It is a festival like 'Rang Panchami'. The young boys from higher castes assemble around a pool of coloured water in front of town temple. Young devadasis in the town stand in front of them in a row, and each receives a sari, a choli and a flower garland. The coloured water is poured over the devadasis who appear virtually naked as the cloths given to them are very thin, scanty, delicate and transparent. The boys play with the bodies of devadasis as they like, doing everything just short of sexual intercourse. All assembled enjoy the scene. This happens in the name of god 'Bili Kallappa'. [Uttam Kamble, Sugawa, p. 81]
Vasant Rajas describes another custom, called "Sidi attu" in town Madakeripura in Karnataka which was in vogue till 1987, when it was banned by the Govt. Here a devadasi is suspended with a hook in her back on one end of a transverse rod placed on a vertical pole planted in ground, and rotated by a rope at the other end. She salutes the gathering, while her garments fly and all the naked lower part of her body is visible to all, for their amusement. This was supposed to bring prosperity to town, and the devadasi used to get a sari, a choli, a coconut and a betel nut, for which she thanked the gathering. [p. 27]
It must be realized that Hinduism is the only religion in the world, which has given religious sanction and provided with religious philosophy to the practice of prostitution. [Sugawa, p. 81]
It is well known that Dr. Ambedkar advised the conference of Devadasis on 13th June 1936, in Damodar Hall, Parel, Bombay, saying that they must give up this life of sin and be prepared to lead a pure life though it will be a life in poverty, as character is more important than money. After conversion to Buddhism, the custom of devadasis is stopped completely in families converting to Buddhism. [Prof. Archana Hatekar, Sugawa, p. 92]
Dasis and Devadasis are different
Many scholars including shri Rajas, an active Ambedkarite, who has played an important role in the activities for the Abolition of Devdasi system, has confused a 'devdasi' with 'dasi' which simply meant a female servant. It must not be confused with the 'dasis', which were given in Yadnyas to brahmins as gift. The famous dasis like Manthara of Ramayana fame, Uttara in Mahabharata, Mura in Maurya period or Panna of Rajput period were all 'dasis' and not 'devadasis'.
Use of sex by Brahmins for dominating over masses
Use of sex by brahmins to keep domination over the masses is not a new thing. Shri Rajas gives many examples like 'putra kameshti yadna', the rite of 'laja hom' during Vedic marriages where the 'devas' give up their right over the bride, an old tradition of offering of wife to the guest for the night, the tradition of rajpurohit spending time with the queen in king's absence on war or hunting - the rite called 'anang dana pratana', traditions in Gujrath and Rajasthan of sending young brides before marriage to temple for one night to be spent with the priest, similar tradition of visiting temple priest by one woman from every household for one night during the nine nights in 'navaratra' prevalent in Gujrath and Rajasthan, are all such examples of the tricks employed by the brahmins over the masses. He has also given the example of infamous game of 'ghat kanchuki' during the reign of Peshava Bajirao II. [Vasant Rajas: 1997: 4].
But why blame Peshava Bajirao II, for a game of 'ghat kanchuki'. It is described in the Hindu sastras as 'chakrapuja'. M.M. Dr. P. V. Kane has described it in his 'dharma sastra cha itihas'. He describes that, an equal number of men and women assemble secretly in the night, without any consideration of caste or relationship, and sit around a paper on which 'chakra' is drawn as a symbol of goddess. All the women remove their cholis and put it in a pot, and every man picks up a choli at random and selects his partner for the night. A Hindu Tantrika text, "Kularnava Tantra", he says, mentions that God has ordered that, what ever good or bad transpires that night must never be disclosed. Kane had heard in his childhood that this puja was practiced in some cities in Maharashtra. [Marathi translation by Y. B. Bhat, p. 430, second edition, 1980, Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya Sanskruti Mandal, Mantralaya, Mumbai]
But all these traditions, customs and practices are not examples of devadasi system.
Indus Valley Civilization
As foreign examples are not applicable to India, the search for time of origin of Devadasi cult in India should start with Harrapan Civilization, which shows no trace of offering of girls in worshiping places. The well known bronze 'dancing girl' is referred by Basham as a representation of temple dancer, but he himself admits that "this can not be proved". As a matter of fact, "historians remained silent about existence of temple or common place of worship" in Harrapan Civilization. [Joga Shankar, p. 38] Though it was a Dravidian civilization, as has been amply proved, it had no connection with the devadasi cult.
Courtesans in Vedic Age
A marathi scholar, "Itihasacharya" V. K. Rajwade, who had taken a vow not to write in English, has described many sexual practices of Aryas, whom he always referred to as "our savage ancestors". They used to have free sex openly in front of fire, so perhaps had no need of prostitution or devadasis.
Rig Veda mentions the word "Samana", which is rendered by different scholars differently to mean a festival, a gathering or a battle, festival being the most favoured. In it among many others, the courtesans used to attend 'to profit by the occasion' [Shastri Shakuntala Rao, "Women in Vedic Age", p. 6]
There are references to secular prostitution in Rig Veda and terms are used like "harlot", "son of a maiden" or "son of an unmarried girl". [Joga Shankar, p. 38]. But certainly these are not the examples of temple prostitution.
That way, prostitution is supposed to be the oldest profession. The known history of India starts in sixth century B.C. and we find in Buddha's time, an illegitimate child, becomming a renowned courtesan Amrapali, who later became a Bhikkuni.
"Artha Shastra" of Kautilya, or Chanakya or Vishnugupta is supposed to be a work of around 300 B.C., though some people think that there are interpolations of the Gupta age. It mentions "Ganikadyaksha" - superintendent of prostitutes, the penalties for prostitutes, dancers and singers, but does not talk of devadasis.
An inscription of Ashokan times found in a cave at Ramagarh in Vindhya hills, as referred by J. Bloch, mentions a word "Sutanuka", which in later period was used to denote temple dancer. But this is no "clear reference to devadasis in early sources" [Joga Shankar, p. 39]
The Jatakas also make no mention of temple dancers. (Altekar, p. 185)
It is expected that Vatsayana, who deals with sexual attitude in ancient India, will make a note of this cult, if it existed at his times. But he does not, as Joga Shankar observes:
"In early literature we find abundant references to secular prostitutes, dancers and courtesans, But specific references to temple dancers and sacred prostitution are not traced. Classics like Vatsayana's 'Kamasutra' (250 A.D.) deal in detail about courtesans. There is, however, no direct reference to sacred prostitution. ... He even classifies prostitutes into nine classes, the most honoured of whom is ganika. "Such a women" says Vatsayana, "will always be rewarded by kings and praised by gifted persons, and her connection will be sought by many people" (Burton : 1923 :166) [Jogan Shankar, "Devadasi Cult", p. 40]
We find in a sanskrit drama of seventh century A.D., Mrichakatikam, a courtesan Vasantsena having courtship with of a poor Brahmin Charudatta.
In South India, about the same time or a little later, two Tamil epics "Manimekhalai", a Buddhist composition and "Sillapadhikaran", another non-brahmin creation, which depict the story of Madhavi, a girl adept in singing and dancing etc.
All these belonged to flesh trade. But none of them was a devadasi. This distinction is important, because the origins of these two systems are different.
Earlier accounts of devadasi system
Vasant Rajas, "Devdasi: Shodha ani bodha", (marathi), Sugava Prakashan, Pune, 1997, mentions of an inscription of 1004 A.D., in Tanjor Temple mentioning the numbers of devdasis to be 400 in Tanjor, 450 in Brahideswara temple and 500 in Sorti Somnath temple. [Vasant Rajas, p.3]
R. C Majumdar, who blames the inclusion all people with different views into its religious fold by the Buddhists for the general decline of morality in India, admits the degradation in ideas of decency and sexual morality in the Hindu religious practices. He observes:
"A great Sanskrit poet of the period gave a vivid description of the deva-dasis in a temple of Krishna and added that they made one feel as if the goddess Lakshmi had come down on earth to attend her lord the god Murari. (Dhoyi, "Pavandutam", v. 28) Contemporary epigraphic records also refer in rapturous terms to the personal charm and beauty of the hundreds of deva-dasis assigned to a single temple. [R. C. Majumdar, "The Struggle for Empire", HCIP, vol. V, fourth edition 1989, p.400 ]
Ghoshal enumerates the number of devadasis in various brahmanic temples:
"Indeed literary record and inscription give us the impression that they were regarded as a part of the normal establishment of temples, The number of these girls in the temples often reached high proportions. The temple of Somnatha at the time its destruction by Sultan Mahmud is stated to have been served by three hundred and fifty dancing girls. According to Chau Ju-Kua, Gujarat contained 4000 temples in which lived over 20,000 dancing girls whose function was to sing twice daily while offering food to the deities and while presenting flowers.
"We have the valuable testimony of Al-Biruni to the effect that the kings maintained this institution for the benefit of their revenues in the teeth of the opposition of the Brahmana priests. But for the kings, he says, no Brahmana or priest would allow in their temples women who sing, dance and play. The kings, however, make them a source of attraction to their subjects so that they may meet the expenditure of their armies out of the revenues derived therefrom. [U. N. Ghoshal, "The Struggle for Empire", HCIP vol. V, fourth edition 1989, p.495]
Al-Biruni's statements, as is well known, are all based on the learned Brahmins, whom he interviewed. So it is the Brahmins' side of the story. The truth is that Brahmins and kings used to fight for the possession of these girls.
Distribution of Devadasis between Brahmins and Ksatriyas
The devadasis in temples had become the targets of the pleasure seekers among the brahmins and the kings. Brahmin priests claimed that they being the representatives of gods in heaven, the 'bhudevas', i.e. gods on the earth, they have the first claim, as anything offered to god belongs to brahmins, so also the girls offered to god must belong to them. The Kings retorted, that they make appointments of devadasis, they give them money and land and feed them, so they have greater claim. Ultimately the conflict was resolved by an understanding and devadasis were branded on their chest with emblems of 'garuda' (eagle) and 'chakra' (discus) for kings and 'shankha' (conch) for brahmins. [Rajas: p. 2]
It is interesting to note that all these emblems are Vaishnavite. We know that Ramanujam had started the system of branding on shoulders, with shankha and chakra, for the devotees embracing Vaishnava faith and it was a part of initiation rite. [See details in my book: 'Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine']. The system of branding devadasis seems to be the further application of the same principle.
Devdasi system among Muslims
The influence over Muslims of hindu of devdasi tradition is mentioned by Vasant Rajas. Some muslim sects had started offering girls to 'dargas'. Such girls were called 'acchutis'. There is a colony of such people in Lucknow in U.P. even today. The girl is married to Koran, Nikah is performed, the girl is called 'bibi' and is condemned to lead a life of prostitution. [Vasant Rajas, p. 17]
Earliest References in Epigraphs
In inscription of about 1230-1240 A.D. in the time of raja Raya III, in Tamilnadu the word Emperumandiyar is used for dancing girls, in Vishnu temples. This word had the sense of Vaishnavas before 966 A.D. [K. Jamanadas, "Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine", p. 125]
In India, first references start appearing around tenth century or so in Jagannatha temple of Puri, which was originally a Buddhist temple, where Buddha's Tooth Relic was being worshipped. Here these dancing girls were called 'Maharis'. It is well known that 'Mahar' is a prominent untouchable caste of Maharashtra.
The earliest reference to the girls dedicated to temples appears in a Tamil inscription dating back to the reign of Rajaraja the great, a Chola monarch. He was a Shaiva votary. He came to throne in 985 A.D. The inscription indicates that in 1004 A.D. the main temple at Tanjore had four hundred 'tali-cheri-pendugal' or 'women of the temple' attached to it. "They settled in the streets surrounding the temple and in return of their service received one or more shares, each of which consisted of the produce of one veli (26,755 sq. meters) of land, calculated at 100 Kalam of paddy". (E. Hultzsch: South Indian Inscriptions : Vol II: part III). The entire Chola country was filled with temples with devadasis in attendance as is clear from this particular inscription. It also provides an exhaustive list of the dancing girls who had been deputed to the Tanjore temple. [Jogan Shankar, p. 52]
"Historians have also traced and inscription from the Chebrolu of Krishna District in Andhra Pradesh dating back to 1139 A.D. The inscription records that some dancing girls were in services at the temple of Nageshvara right from the age of eight years old (Epigraphia Carnatica : V : Ak : 105 : 1139 A.D.).
Earlier Duties of devadasis
In earlier stages, their duties remained religious as Mahalingam presumes that when food was offered to God they danced before the idol, they themselves gave him food and all that was necessary. (Mahalingam; 1940:150). Probably this services to only God remained for a long period.
Harshad. R. Trivedi believes initial spurt of the cult was associated with the great spurt in building up of temples, and that the cult of "Devadasi" began to flourish during Pallava and Chola dynasties in South India from the 6th to 13th Century A.D., and the rise of "sacred prostitutes" in India seems to have taken place in the ninth or tenth century A.D. [ (Trivedi :1976:76), Jogam Shankar, p. 111]
However, at later stage devadasis were forced to please earthly Gods and lords as well. Mahalingam referring to Nuniz, wrote : .lm6
"Every Saturday, they were obliged to go to king's palace to dance and prostrate before the King's idol which was in the interior of his palace" (Mahalingam:1940:158).
In Mattsya Purana there is a reference to the dishonoured women of the defeated or killed wives of 'asuras' who were asked to serve in the temples and practise prostitution (Nadkarni:1975:15). Naturally it seems that the other kings and princes treated the devadasis as their personal servants and forced them to dedicate every thing they possessed to them. Emulating the practice of sponsoring the cult of such rulers, chieftains, feudals, officials, and moneyed persons also took advantage of this system and treated devadasis as objects of their carnal desires. Priests and religious heads of various denominations and temples supported the cult to continue and persist by bestowing religious sanctions. [Jagan Shankar, p.111]
Jagan Shankar observes:
"Hence, we have to assume that they were rare until the middle ages, Altekar also opines that, "The custom of the association of dancing girls with temples is unknown to Jataka literature. It is not mentioned by Greek writers; the Arthashastra which describes in detail the life of ganikas is silent about it" (Altekar : 1973:185). [Jogan Shankar, "Devdasi Cult", p. 39]
"Probably the custom of dedicating girls to temples and sacred prostitution became quite common in the 6th century A.D. as most of the Puranas containing references to it have been composed during this period. Several Puranas recommend that arrangements should be made to enlist the services of singing girls at the time of worship at temples. They even recommend the purchase of beautiful girls and dedicating them to temples." [Jogan Shankar, p. 40 ff.]
"Bhavishya Purana suggests that the best way of winning Suryaloka is by dedicating a bevy of prostitutes to a `Sun' (Solar) Temple" (Altekar : 1973:184). [Jogan Shankar, p.40]
Abul-Fazl records the condition of prostitutes, both sacred and secular, during Akbar's reign (1556-1605) in his famous work Ain- e-Akbari, stating their number was so much that a 'Daroga' or a superintendent was required to supervise their activities, and their locality was called 'saitanpura' or 'devil's villa'. [Blochman and Jarrett, 1873, quoted by Jogan Shankar, p. 40]
"During the reigns of Emperor Jahangir (1605-1627) and Shah Jahan 1628-1658), the luxury, ostentation, extravagance and depravity increased". (Manucci : 1907 : 9). [Jogan Shankar, p. 40]
It was Aurangzeb (1659-1707), who seems to have taken pity on the plight on these women and made many efforts to attempt to alleviate their sufferings, and at the same time, check the wastage which was slowly draining the resources of the country. He was a committed Mohammedan puritan who led a life of an ascetic. During his reign thousands of Hindu temples were demolished by his order, and every effort was made to wipe out prostitution and everything pertaining to it. He even issued public proclamations, prohibiting singing and dancing; at the same time ordered all the dancing girls to marry or be banished from the Kingdom. (Elliot : 1867 ;283). [Jogam Shankar, p.41]
Why the Devadasi cults are less in North India
W. Crooke while presenting account of the tribes and castes of Northern India, mentions castes such as tawaif, gandharb and patur. These castes consist of dancers, singers and prostitutes. Only one caste called 'raj-kanya' among them seems to be temple dancer. [Jogan Shankar, p.42] There are certain gypsy tribes named `bediyas' and `nats', who are dancers, acrobats and prostitutes in Bengal. But these castes have no connection with temple worship. [Jogan Shankar, p. 43]
Thus we find that though the secular prostitution flourishes in Northern India as in the rest of the country, the Devadasi cult seems to be less in existence. This is attributed to Muslim influence, as Jagan Shankar observes:
"Hence in North India the institution dedication to temple dancing is very rare. This may be due to Mohammedan rule which destabilized temple administration and sacred complexes were frequently attacked by alien plunderers. However, dedicated dancers were not attached to any temple as such. Mohammedan puritans like Aurangzeb treated this institution and other Hindu cults with contempt. He wanted to do away with such cults. In fact he succeeded in his endeavours to some extent." [p.43]
Participation of Veera Shaivas
At least during British times, Veera Shaivas did not lag behind the Brahmins and the kings in exploitation of these girls. In a paper entitled `Basavis in Peninsular India' at the Anthropological Society of Bombay during 1910, presented by R.C. Artal, then deputy Collector of Belgaum describes:
"... Indeed the ceremony is subject to local variation. The lucky badge is generally tied on her neck by the Lingayet Jagam or Arya-Pattadappannavaru or Charamurtigalu of Hire- Math, i.e. Chief math of the Village. The practice observed with regard to the consummation of the Basavi is that generally the Hiremathadayya has the right to take her maidenhood" (Artal :1910:99)
"It seems to me that the institution of Basavis was mainly started with a view to satisfy the carnal desires of Jangamas or Lingayat priests who are not allowed to touch a non-Lingayat women. Hence the proverb "Bhaktar Mani Oota, Basavi Mane Nidre" which means "a Jangama take his meals in the houses of Bhaktas (devotees) and sleeps at night in the house of a Basavi" (Artal :op.cit.).
"The leading members of the Veershaiva community of the village, including the Jangamas of the Hirematha, endow her with a concave metal vessel on the occasion of her dedication, and thus permit her to go a-begging. I have seen the concave copper vessel given to the Veerashaiva Basavi of Rabkavi in the Sangli State on the Terdal-Jamkhandi Road. It bears an inscription on it to the effect that it was given to the Basavi by the Pattadappanavaru of the place" (Artal : op.cit).
Commenting on this Joga Shankar observes that, it is evident from this description that dominating castes and their priests sponsored this cult in the past. [Joga Shankar, p. 62]
Some important Devadasis
In spite of great humiliation and exploitation, and ultimate horrible fate of most of them, devadasis being expert in dancing and singing, some of them have attained high fame. Rajas mentions some of such important ones. The famous dancer Jailaxmi of Padanallur became the queen of King Ramanad. Devadasi Subalaksmi became a famous classical singer. The famous devadasi house of 'Mangeshkar' from Goa is renowned for singing all over the world. During late Peshava rule, example of Patthe Baburao, a great 'shahir', who forgot his brahmanic origin and removed his sacred thread for his consort Pawala, a Mahar by caste, is still famous [Rajas: p. 54], and people have produced films on the couple.
Attitude of present day elites towards their past
The elites do not wish to be reminded of their demerits of the past. Insteady of trying to take lessons from the past misdeeds, they try to glorify the past and when somebody points out their defects they acuse such people with adjectives like "gutter inspector", forgetting that it is your own gutter. One such example could be quoted:
Article Rythem and Reason in Indian Express, 2.1.2000, based on "Indian Dance: the Ultimate Metaphor", ed. by Shanta Serbjeet Singh, describes the attitude of the westerners about devadasis. Here she mentions,
"Equally strongly, dance all over India reeled under impact of Raj and the shame and diminished sense of self it injected into all layers of Indian culture. To cite only one example, the art and the context in which devdasis, the vestal virgins of Bharatnatyam worked, is thus described by the Frenchman Abbe Dubois in the late 18th century.: "Such are the loose females who are consecrated in a special manner to the worship of gods in India. The service they perform consists of dancing and singing. Their chanting is generally confined to the obscene songs which relate to some circumstance or other of the licentious lives of their Gods. As soon as their public business is over, they open their cells of infamy and frequently convert the temple in a stew. Such is the outline of the religious ceremonies of the Hindus. A religion more shameful or indecent has never existed amongst a civilised people." "
"From Max Mueller who pontificated about India to Katherine Mayo whose gutter inspector's report on India provked even the unprovocable Mahatma, uninformed and often virulent coment on aspects of Indian culture abound in the annals of Western writings on India during the Raj. And it is in this context of a bruised culture, rejected by the alien rulers and betrayed by its own power elite, that we have to see the story of Indian dance in the period leading upto Independence. ..."
Classical Dance forms of ancient India
On Zee T. V. News on 13th March 2000, a small clipping was shown about interview of famous Katthak dancer of India, Shovana Narayan, where she spot lighted the history of Katthak in North India. Though Rajasthan, Luckhnow and Benaras are the traditional "gharanas" of Katthak dance, in historical times in Bihar flourised this dance form during the Mauryan and Gupta times. This, she said, is evident from the perusal of dresses and costumes and poses, posture, and the mudras etc. in the images of those times.
Today, we find the exhibitions over media, and festivals being organized, specially for foreigners, to show how great was our ancient art form of dance, may it be Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi or Oddisi. It is never mentioned on such occasions that this art was the gift of these low caste women who nurtured the art under trying conditions and with great suffering. The art was later learnt by women of higher castes and now it is they who only participate in international festivals and the like. Jogan Shankar gives an account how this happened about 'Sadir' dance of devadasis. He observes:
"The revivalists wanted to preserve the traditional from of Sadir dance by purifying it. The new name was given as 'Bharatanatyam'. As a consequence of purification some modifications were introduced into the content of to dance style. The revivalists were basically belonging to Brahmin dominated Theosophical Circles. Many Brahmin girls started to learn the dance from devadasis. Hence the dance technique remained unchanged. The only change was change in the class of clientele." [p. 144]
The themes were picked up from Sanskrit texts, higher caste girls learned the dances and put them in new settings which excluded devadasi traditions, and the dance form became individual oriented from the community oriented. [p.144] Theosophical Society of India revived the devadasi dance, declaring as the aim of restoration of India's ancient glory. Rukmini Arundale was well groomed and encouraged by Annie Besant to convert the devadasi's 'Sadir' to 'Bharatanatyam', and started training the higher caste women, with the funds of the Theosophical Society, organizing a convention in 1935-36, and establishing an International Academy of Arts which was later renamed as Kalakshetra. [Jogan Shankar, p. 145]
Oddisi Dance Form
The Brahmeswar epigraph of ninth century A.D., denotes that in the reign of Kesari kings, the 'maharis' or 'maaharis' were dancing and singing in temple of Orrisa under royal patronage. King Chodagangadeva of Ganga dynasty had appointed maaharis for religious duties in Jaganatha temple at Puri, where the dance in front of deity was a part of religious ritual right from twelfth century till middle of 20th century. Anang Bhimdeva son of Chodgangadeva built a 'nat mandapa' in the temple, where these maahari girls used to dance and sing 'ashtapadi' from the Jaideva's "Gita-Govinda". King Kapilandradeva had ordered to have dance twice daily in front of deity, and his grand son Prataprudradeva ordered that only songs from "Gita-Govind" must be used. [Kosare H. L., "prachin bharatatil naaga", marathi, 1989, dyana pradip prakashana, Nagpur, p. 118 ff.] He further quotes, from an article by Sunil Kothari:
"Thus Orrisi dance found a permanent place in the form of ritual service performed by these Maaharis. The various kings who ruled over Orissa saw to it that the rituals and the religious ceremonies were maintained regularly and contributed in sustaining the institution of Maaharis, who as a matter of fact, have been the torch bearers of this exquisite dance form." [article "Orissi Dance", Bhavan's Journal, 1.11.1970]
Theories of origin of Devadasi Cult
Jogan Shankar observes that, none of the numerous theories, provides explanations satisfactorily. However inadequate they may be, they help us in our inquiry, so he gives the list of such theories.:
1. The custom of dedicating girls to temples emerged as a substitute for human sacrifice, being and offering to the gods and goddesses to appease and secure blessings for the community as a whole.
2. It is a rite to ensure the fertility of the land and the increase of human being and animal population on the principle of Homeopathic magic.
3. It is part of phallic worship which existed in India from early Dravidian times.
4. Probably sacred prostitution sprang from the custom of providing sexual hospitality for strangers; and if such hospitality is offered by the living mortal wives of a deity, prosperity would bound to result.
5. The devadasi cult simply represents the licentious worship offered by a people, subservient to a degraded and vested interests of priestly Class.
6. Devadasi system is a deliberately created custom in order to exploit lower caste people in India by upper castes and classes as:
(a) The upper castes have influenced the establishment of an order of prostitutes who are licensed to carry on their profession under the protective shield of religion.
(b) The establishment of such system facilitates them the access to low caste women to fulfill their carnal desire.
(c) The setting up of such a system can destroy the lower castes' sense of self-respect in a society."
As Jogan Shankar feels that the last theory is most likely to be the real cause, we will concentrate only over it. He feels:
"The above mentioned theories have been put forth by many scholars in the past. The survey of literature and historical evidences clearly show that most of them are inadequate to explain the whole institution of devadasis. While some of them are supported by Frazer, Briffault, Tawney and Penzer these theories or explanations do not support everything. Such theories were presented after making comparisons. ... Hence for the present study the sixth explanation seems to be more feasible. ..." [Jogan Shankar, "Devadasi Cult", p. 62 ff.]
The first five theories can not explain, why only bahujan girls have been becoming devadasis and not the others. So his theory of exploitation of lower castes by the upper castes is very sound. But it is the effect of devadasi cult, and not the cause, as we will see later.
Decline of Women started with the decline of Buddhism
It is well known that at one time girls were allowed to undergo 'Upnayana', which was a 'right' to take education, but their position declined later. It started from Manu and went on deteriorating further. Altekar identifies the period of 500 A.D. to 1800 A. D. as one of further deterioration During this period the 'Upanayana' rite for girls was banned, marriage remaining the only alternative. The age of marriages of girls was lowered and child marriages became the rule. Widow remarriages were prohibited. 'Purdah' was observed leading women to a secluded life. Hindu sastras considered women as Shudras, and they were debarred from reading or reciting the Vedas and perform any Vedic sacrificial rituals. Women were indoctrinated through the puranic stories which inculcated blind-faith rather than rational thinking. It was impressed on their minds that they must visit temples, perform vows and observe fasts with more regularity than menfolk to accumulate 'punya', i.e. virtue. In this context Altekar explains the paradox with these apt remarks:
"Thus the very women whom religion had once considered as outcastes, were also the most faithful custodians of its spirit and traditions (1973: 176)" [Jagan Shankar, p. 9]
Condition of women in non-hindu religions
We all know that, the women's participation in Buddhism and Jainism was more their condition was not that humiliating as in Hinduism. After Buddha changed his stand about the admission of women into the Sangha, we have many examples of outstanding Buddhist nuns. Later, Jains also permitted nuns but more puritanic Digambara Jains held that women could never gain salvation unless they are reborn as male. [Jogan Shankar, p. 10]
In a study, from Madras, it was found that Christian women had a much higher rate of participation in white collar occupations than Hindu women and that Muslim women had a much lower rate. The report states that Christianity places fewer restrictions on the activities of women that other religions and therefore Christian women have acquired more education and vocational training than women of other communities.
Chandrakala A. Hate, who has also found similar differences from Bombay and Poona, claimed that "since there is no joint family system among the Christians, women work out of necessity the expectation of the eventual need to be self-supporting". (Hate :1969 :16). Both studies attribute the low rate of participation of Muslim women to greater conservatism." [Jgan Shankar, p. 11]
A stigma on Hinduism
The faith in god itself is a blind faith. The blind faith increases the exploitation of 'masses' by the 'classes'. Any time the interests of these classes are in danger, there is a hue and cry that the 'dharma' is in danger. I have a great respect for the members of 'Andha shraddha nirmulan samiti' for their work, but it is a pity, that they have also failed in removing the fear from the minds of people about these so called devis, and could not convince them that matting of hair - 'jat' - as locals call it, is not a 'call from devi' to offer their daughter as a devadasi. I think it is because they do not like to include the faith on god as a 'blind faith', though they accept in private that the origin of all blind faith starts with the faith in existence of supreme god.
Untouchabilty has been recognized as an 'evil' of Hinduism, and a stigma, but devadasi system is still not recognized as such. The day that is recognized as such, will be the real day of beginning of liberation of women. Dr. Ambedkar has shown that the real cause of Untouchability is contempt of Buddhists. Similarly, it is the fall of Buddhism that caused the degradation of Buddhists nuns to the present state of devadasis.
The theories to which Joga Shankar attributes the origin, it would be clear that he is confusing the effect with the cause. That the exploitation of dalits is the effect and not the cause of devdasi system. The cause is the contempt of Buddhism. His theory does not explain many points.
We know that devadasi system started around ninth or tenth century after the fall of Buddhism, during the so called 'Rajput period'.
We know that many Buddhist temples were converted to Brahmanic ones during the period.
We know that it was the Buddhist system of at least one girl or a boy from each house to join the Sangha.
We know that the Bhikkus were killed. Some ran away to foreign lands, some accepted brahmanism and became low grade brahmins. Then what happened of these bhikunis?
We know that during the last phase of Buddhism, it was Vajra Yana, which prevailed. In later stages of this religious system, the importance of women in the religious practices had increased. As a matter of fact all tantras, hindu as well as buddhist, used women as media, in their religious practices.
We know the system of untouchability had started during late Gupta period around fifth or sixth century. How did the untouchable girls got entry into the sanctum sanctorium after this. These girls must be present in the temple service before the system of untouchability started and some of the Buddhists, residing out side the villages and refused to stop eating beef of a dead cow, were condemned to be untouchables, as explained by Dr. Ambedkar.
Devadasis were degraded Buddhist nuns
It is, therefore, our opinion, that today's devadasis are the degraded Buddhist nuns of ancient India, as put forward by us some ten years ago. [Dr. K. Jamanadas, "Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine", p. 125 ff.] The points in favour of this theory are as follows:
In Tamilnadu the word Emperumandiyar which was used in the sense of Vaishnavas before 966 A.D got the meaning of dancing girls, attached to Vishnu temples, in inscription of about 1230-1240 A.D. in the time of raja Raya III. [K. Jamanadas, p. 125]
In Maharashtra, they are called 'Devadasis', meaning 'female servant of God'. In the opinion of present author these devadasis were originally Buddhist nuns, and the system of making first born daughter, a Bhikshuni was prevalent, and the fall of Buddhism caused the degradation of these bhikshunis to the level of todays devadasis.
Foreign origin of the custom?
It is a mistake to trace the origin of Indian Temple dancers to Babylonian, Greek, Syrian, Phonecian or Egyptian tradition or any foreign ancient customs. Even some very important leaders who are struggling for the abolition of 'Devadasi system' in parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka, seem to attribute this origin. Practices of dancing in these foreign temples was thousands of years before the Christian era. Indian scene is comparatively more recent, about 1000 A.D. or so. It should be clearly understood that Ambrapali, Vasantsena and Madhavi were not Devadasis, as mentioned above, and there is no foreign influence on Indian Temple dancers. This system of devadasis started after the decline of Buddhism in India during the so called "Rajput Period", and flourished during the "Muslim Period". Both these periods were actually periods of "Brahmin Raj"
They were called emperimandiars in Tamilnadu, a name which was applied to devotees of Vishnu before being called Vaishnavas, as already seen. In certain parts of Maharashtra, these devadasis are known as 'bhavin' or 'jogin' or 'jogtin'. All these words literally mean a Buddhist nun.
Temple of Jagganatha at Puri
In India, first references start appearing around tenth century or so in temple of Puri. It is well known that this was a Buddhist temple, where Buddha's Tooth Relic was being worshipped. For details on this point please see my book 'Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine'. It is interesting to know that these dancing girls were called 'Maharis' in temple of Puri. It is well known that 'Mahar' is a prominent untouchable caste of Maharashtra. From Jogan Shankar we learn that same name is used in Kerala too. That the Kerala Nayar community were Nagas and formerly Buddhists is well recognized.
Ancient Indian literature is silent about them
One has to differentiate between Ganikas and their inferior counterparts Varaganas on one hand and Devadasis on the other. That the Devadasis were Buddhist nuns can be deducted from many evidences. They were unknown to ancient India. Jatakas, Kautillya or Vatsayana do not mention them, but later Puranas are full of them. The system started only after the fall of Buddhism and records of them start appearing around 1000 A.D.
Old Buddhist practice of offering a child for religious cause
In certain castes the system of offering at least one daughter from family for the service of god was rampant in almost all families of the caste. It well known that 95% of the devadasis today belong caste of Untouchables, who were, of course, Buddhist originally.
These dancing girls and their male counterparts had different names in different parts of the country, and the important point to note is that the pair was, and even today is considered not as husband and wife but as brother and sister, the relation that existed among the Buddhist nuns and Bhikshus. The practice of Ceremonial Begging also denotes Buddhist origins.
There is always some religious rite conducted at the time of their initiation and that they were looked upon with respect by the society in early days, It is also noteworthy they have the Deities of their own, which are distinct from Brahmnic Deities, and the original connection with Buddhist Deities is already forgotten.
Some of the Deities of these Devedasis are also now homologized as some Brahmins also worship these Deities, and the people whose 'Kuladdaivatam' are those deities, are of lower castes and do not belong to Brahmnic order. These deities, are of lower castes and do not belong to Brahmnic order.
Origin of devadasi system is religious and not economic. It has not only economic facets but also religious ones. For example devadasis have a firm religious belief that they must not get married, as they are married to god. This poses a difficult problem, not only to find them husbands but also to persuade them for marriage. Instances are abundant that these girls refused to get married and some of those who did get married, lost their prestige in the eyes of their kith and kin. This kind of orthodoxy can only be explained on religious grounds and not on economical ones.
Unfortunately the present Devadasis are ignorant of their glorious past and that the prominent among them and their families have dissociated themselves from the problems of Devadasis. They are against any kind of reform and are associating with the very social institutions and people, who made them prostitutes from servants of God.
What more evidence is needed?
It is a matter of understanding. 95 per cent of Devadasis are untouchables. Being untouchables they were Buddhists of olden days as shown by Dr. Ambedkar very aptly. Before the name 'Vaishnva' came in vogue, the devotees of the Lord of Tirumalai were known by the name 'emperumandiyars'. The same name was being applied to these women who became devadasis from buddhist bhikkunis. This is a direct evidence that the ancestors of todays devadasis who were devotees of Venkateswara, were Buddhists and that the Lord of Tirumalai was the Lord of these Buddhists.
The name by which these erstwhile Buddhists are known today, was the name of the devotees of the Lord Venkateswara. What more direct evidence could there be that the Lord Venkateswara was the Buddhist deity.
Evolution of the System
The evolution of the devadasi cult has been traced erroneously to a period earlier than Aryans entry in India because of 'dancing figure' in Harrapan civilization. This is shown above to be false.
The Kerala pattern of matriacheal system, as Joga Shankar seems to suggest, also has nothing to do with this cult and it is not a relic of Dravidian matriarchal society, in which the genealogy of a child was traced only to the mother.
Contrary to what he suggests, the children of devadasis are forced to enter `Basavi' or mother's name in the slot meant for father's name in the school application forms, only because they do not have a social father and even if known, the biological father accepts no responsibility. This has nothing to do with the matriarchal society of Dravidian region and no parallel can be drawn. One might remember a story of Satyakama Jabala from Upanishada, who was placed in similar situation.
Joga Shankar's suggestion that, Aryan invasion saw many Dravidian deities being homologized by Brahmins is correct. We have already seen many such examples given by Bal Krishna Nair. He has given examples of how the Tamil Muruga came to be installed as the Subramania and how the Tamilian Avai was metamorphosed into the Durgai and Parvathi in the Aryan pantheon, and even Mayon and Mal, the old pre Aryan Tamil names subsequently got identified with Vishnu. An ancient 'Muruga' temple popularly known as "Ayyappa Swami" (also considered as Buddhist in origin) became Sanskritised as 'Shastha' and the son of Mohini-Vishnu by Siva. He has described how the deities are similarly married and the new relative assumes equal importance in a new place, the bride, of course, in this case is usually the Dravidian deity and the bridegroom is mostly Shiva e.g. marriage of goddess Meenakshi of Madurai with Shiva. [Nair :1959: 51] For details how Ayyappa was a Buddhist deity, see K. Jamanadas: 1991: 28.
Similarly, Basavi or Jogati such as Yellamma, originally a Dravidian Goddess, became Renuka or Renukamba and was superimposed by an Aryan system of devadasi, which was prevalent in Somannath and Jagannath Temple at Puri and other north Indian temples where the impact of the Aryans was predominant.
Initially the dedicated women were required to clean the sanctum - sanctorium, for maintenance of lamps in cleaning, putting oil, lighting the lamp, offering food (naivedya) to the main deity, assisting priests at the time of worship, as they used to do as Buddhist nuns. Education and learning of women had already stopped with the decline of Buddhism, so these nuns had no other work. System of washing and bathing the Buddhist images had already started in Mahayani system.
Ratha Yatra was a Buddhist practice copied by Brahmanas [K. Jamanadas: 1991: 160] These girls started to dance and sing in praise of the deity, and look after cleanliness of the temple complex. These women were said to be expert artists in music and dance. We have seen how Bharatnayam, a classical dance form, flourishes today because of devadasis of Tamil Nadu. As society underwent changes so also patrons of devadasi changed and their service also shifted.
From Devadasi to a Prostitute
The later progress can be surmised as mentioned by Joga Shankar:
"At a later stage, devadasis were asked to serve the king as in the case of God, since the king was considered to be God on earth. In fact Kings sponsored this cult. Temple dancers along with their traditional ritual functions started rendering their services to royal palaces and assisting Kings in the art of politic. They were use in espionage activities against enemy Kings and Court dancer.
"Kings started building temples and appointed devadasis to serve God in the temples and royal palaces. This development had a far reaching impact on popularization of the cult. Other lesser Kings, chieftains and feudals also emulated their superiors and started patronizing the cult. In rural areas feudals who possessed substantial land, exercised commandable authority over other socially and economically weaker sections of society. They were de facto owners of men and material of the region. The cult served as an instrument through which they could gain the assessability to desirable low caste and poor women. The field experience supports that this cult is prevalent only among scheduled caste women who are subjugated and suppressed by upper caste members since time immemorial." [Jogan Shankar:1990:157]
And thus the Buddhist nuns were converted to today's Devadasis, the cheap prostitutes in the name of god, and it was the most dreadful result of the decline and fall of Buddhism in ancient India, affecting mostly the dalitbahujans.Previous Chapter