Is sexual activity by devadasi sanctioned in Hinduism?


There is no sanction in Hindu scripture for sexual activity by Devadasis.

The Temple Dancers

The tradition of women being dedicated to a temple can be found in all ancient civilisations including Greece and Egypt. In India, the devadasis, the handmaiden of god. was married to the deity as a child and became part of a temple establishment. A devadasi was supposed to have the highest status of a hierarchy of the temple after the temple priests and their presence was considered essential during religious relations. They were well educated, especially in Sanskrit, and trained in music and dance. All our classical dances originate in the precincts of temples where the devadasis worshipped their god through their art. Inscription on the walls of the Brihadishwara Temple built in the 10th century by Raja Raja Chola at Thanjavur states that four hundred devadasis were appointed and given an allowance and land.

With the arrival of the Muslims, the devadasi tradition gradually vanished from the North India but continued in the South till the 20th century. By the 19th century, with the temples losing both power and prestige, there was a steep decline in both their learning and art and many lived in great poverty. As historian P Subramanian writes, 'Those who were attached to the temples received a fixed salary from the temple which of course was too meagre for their maintenance. They were obliged to sell their favours out of necessity and force of circumstances.' Classical dance performances had declined to become the infamous 'nautch' criticised and called immoral by the Europeans.

In Vijayanagar, devadasis were respected for their art and education and welcomed into the palace. Young men of the nobility were sent to them to learn cultured behaviour and they were treated with respect, for example, no one was allowed to chew betel in the presence of the monarch except the devadasis. They took part in all the rituals and danced before the temple chariot as it travelled down the temple avenue during the festivals. .......

Many travellers mention devadasis who were fabulously rich, lived in mansions and moved around in expensive palanquins. There was no purdah in Vijayanagar, except for the royal women who lived in the zenana but then Paes mentions even queens and princesses attending the Mahanavami festival, watching the parade from the audience hall. Till the 20th century many great classical Bharatnatyam dancers and singers of Carnatic music came from the devadasi families and they helped to preserve the art.

The devadasi system could only survive with the patronage of the royal family and the temples. After the decline of the empire they lost their social standing; temples could not support them and they were soon reduced to prostitution. This finally led to an outcry and the system of dedicating ypung girls to temples where they were exploited by men was banned in the 20th century. Devadasis were the guardians of India classical dance and music and their decline meant that these arts were nearly lost.

Hampi by Subhadra Sen Gupta

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