The Devadasi Cult and its Patrons

Girls from different class backgrounds but mostly from dalit or lower and intermediary castes were offered as a religious custom, to the mighty temples which were centres of social and political power, patronised by Kings and vice-versa.



They performed tasks which were in conformity to their status, e.g. providing company and entertainment to the Kings, performing temple rituals, dancing, singing and playing the musical instruments as accompaniments, looking after the temples and the gardens, maintaining the livestock in the temples, washing temple idols, artefacts and lamps, plucking flowers and making garlands or bouquets, cooking food, cleaning the floor and deities and dressing them up, etc.
Kings and men from elite backgrounds bequeathed wealth, ornaments, food grain and livestock for the maintenance of the temple and the Devadasis or oil for ‘eternal lamps’ which were never extinguished. Sometimes a patron supported one particular devadasi, who would serve as his concubine.
Majority of 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.

Mayank Rai

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