- Devadasi literally means, “a servant of god.” This term was applied to women who lived in temples as the wives of the male divinity there. Tradition-ally the women were married in a solemn cer-emony to the divinity. The women were seen to be the essential power and energy (SHAKTI) of the divinity incarnate; men would offer great gifts to the temple in order to have relationships and even sexual intercourse with the devadasis. The devada-sis were rigorously trained in the arts and were very well educated. Several of the Indian dances that are well known today were preserved and developed by devadasis in the temples of India. Most notable are BHARATA NAT YA M and Odissi.When the British arrived they regarded these sacred women as nothing but prostitutes and banned the institution of the devadasi in the late 19th century. The practice continued secretly, however, for some time afterward.Further reading: Saskia C. Kersenboom-Story, Nityas-umangali (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1987); Frederique Marglin, Wives of the God-King (New York: Oxford Uni-versity Press, 1985).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.