There is also Celestine Marie, known as Celest, an orphan from a French monastery who links all the characters. The Last Devadasi by Barbara L. Barbara Baer managed to portray beautifully all that is beautiful and ugly in the Indian society.
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I believe for a book to be good, it needs to explore at least some important themes, and this one certainly does so. The main theme is the Devadasi caste. They were young women who, at a very young age, were forced to dedicate their lives to worshiping and serving the temple of a Hindu deity Siva.
Besides being trained in singing and traditional dances, these girls also had to sleep with men from higher castes. They were marked as unpure and were social pariahs.
What I found interesting about this novel is that, unlike other novels examining similar cultural roles e. They are ostracized because of their caste. Hence, inevitably, all of them are either illiterate or have received very little education, with no means for a stable income. The only jobs they can get are those of street cleaners or sewage collectors. Parents are therefore forced to act as pimps for their daughters and dedicate them as Devadasis in the hope of finding a means of survival. Irrespective of the size of the family, because of poverty, they most often find themselves living in a single room or under a thatched roof.
Hence, it is very common for the entire family to wait outside, while the girl is inside gratifying the sexual needs of men in order to earn money. In a society where a girl child is often a liability, turning them into Devadasis is how patriarchy works to transform them into assets.
A huge number of girls who become Devadasis are dedicated to the goddess Yellamma, who is otherwise known as Renuka, Jogamma, or Holiyamma.
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And the dedication happens most often in the Saundatti festival that takes place in the Yellamma temple in northern Karnataka. The Saundatti festival, which is also known as the Yellamma Devi Fair, happens on many occasions from October to February, with the girls given in dedication from November onwards. Parents choose a day that is convenient for them and that they consider auspicious. On that day, the girls are fully clad in green during the ceremony, and older Devadasis give them in dedication to God.weygouk.com/cache/2019-02-02/652.php
The Last Great Devadasi
The man, in return, takes care of the financial needs of the family, partially or fully, as long as he uses her for sex. There is a huge demand for girls who are virgins, and they are paid more than the others.
Both before and after Independence, the government enacted laws prohibiting the dedication of Devadasis. It has been more than 20 years since the practice was banned across India. However, according to the National Human Rights Commission, in , there were as many as , Devadasis in India. Another commission led by Justice Raghunath Rao revealed that there are about 80, Devadasi women in just Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. The people involved in the practice are either not aware that laws are there in place prohibiting it or choose to ignore them.
I went to northern Karnataka where the institution still thrives, because I was sick of reading about them; I wanted to understand the word as a lived experience. The women spoke of being dedicated to a temple before they even knew what that meant, losing their virginity at 10, 12, 13 years of age to the highest bidder, doing sex work because no other work was available to them. Now imagine you are the one being asked to make a choice—an art form dies, or a year-old girl gets raped by a man old enough to be her grandfather. Or would you let the art form die? Or what if you were a doctor, and the young girls who had been brutally raped were turning up at your doorstep with venereal diseases and nowhere else to go?
What if you saw the dance from the outside, saw how it could resonate in a wider world? What would you choose? Of course, the dilemma is not being presented in such stark terms by the new breed of academics and writers eager to paper over the abuses of the devadasi system in the name of art.
Devadasi and Their Intimate Partners: Dynamics of Relationship. - PubMed - NCBI
Academics, many of them White, raised on feminist theory, twist themselves into knots to make the good guys and bad guys come out in a way that suits their agendas vis-a-vis the art form, while ignoring the abuse of young girls. There are good reasons why there is lap dancing but no lap painting.
The connection with sex and prostitution is part of the history of other dance forms too—the tango, ballet and belly dancing, for example. While Bala was being trained in a highly-refined dance form, other women whose practice went by the same name were entertaining men at bachelor parties. Lap dancing, indeed. I needed to keep reminding myself that this is not meant to be a fair and even-handed history of Bharatanatyam, even in the chapters of the book where that is what it tries to be.
If one believes, as Bala seems to have done, that the art form could not exist without the institution of devadasi dedication, then it makes sense that Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy and Rukmini Devi are the bad guys: the first destroyed the institution, and the second demonstrated how the art form could have a vibrant, glorious life without any devadasis being involved at all. It takes a lot of twisting to make Muthulakshmi Reddy into an agent of evil.
The young firebrand insisted on going to college, then became a medical doctor, one of the first Indian women to do so. In her autobiography, she describes how young temple-dedicated girls escaped and came to her door, begging for help. Rukmini Devi more easily fits the villain bill, slipping nicely into a story of appropriation that makes devadasis themselves, and not the institution, the victims.
This is a more worthy debate, one that comes up in other art forms and other contexts.
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