Sunday, 6 December 1998

Devadasis: Slave to tradition

1998

By Syed Akbar
VIJAYAWADA, DEC 6: Despite the efforts of voluntary organisations to abolish the Devadasi system, it flourishes in the interiors of Andhra Pradesh. Only, the creed of exploiters has changed. Where the Devadasi (servant of God) once served the entire village, she is today a pawn in the hands of influential politicians.
Local politicians in Khammam and Krishna districts organise Bhogam Melas in honour of visiting dignitaries, some of whom are top political leaders. Women are invited and a mela is held in a remote place. The women perform semi-nude or nude dances and entertain the guests after the programme.

The Bhogam and Dommera communities believed that their women were born to ``serve the deity''. Once offered to God as Devadasis, the women became the property of the village. Social circumstances and economic compulsions forced them to leave their profession of serving the deity through their art in various temples of the State, particularly in the Krishna, East and West Godavaridistricts.

The Bhogam community owes its origin to the Devadasi system prevalent in many villages of South India, Andhra Pradesh in particular. The Devadasis are called Bhogams or Kalavanthulu in Krishna and East and West Godavari districts, Matangis in Nellore and Prakasam and Jogins in Telangana.

The girl offered to the temple by the Bhogam community would look after the temple's religious needs.

Dance being considered a form of worship, the girls were trained in various types of the art form. They used to perform before the deity and in the process, entertain the village.

In the last 200 years, the system turned into one of organised prostitution. Some of the Devadasis have taken to the `respectable' profession of `record dancing', giving semi-nude performances during marriages or social gatherings.

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