Losing our Roots and Routes: Then: Devadasi, Now: KambaLa

Why Jallikattu and KambaLa issue remind me of the Devadasi tradition?

Let me first clarify that your (or at least most of you) perception of a Devadasi and mine are entirely different.

The word Devadasi in today’s world is synonymous with “prostitution”. But a Devadasi was a Devara Dasi meaning “servant of God”. These were people who served God by helping in the functioning of a Temple. That can either be by cleaning the temple or by tying flowers or by performing Nritya seve or Sangeetha seve (an offering to God in the form of dance and music) or by doing anything that would help in the normal functioning of a Temple.

These Devadasis who served as dancers were not any normal dancers. They were extremely well learned artists. They knew linguistics of not just one but multiple languages. They knew music. They knew our Puranas. They were composite individuals.

Not to forget a lot of them were not patronized by just Temples, but by Kings as well. Why? Because “Raja Pratyaksha Devatha” (a King is the direct form of God). He took care of an entire Kingdom after all! There is no wrong in singing and dancing in praise of the King to boost his self esteem.

Now for someone who is very alien to this culture will or might consider this slavery. But we don’t consider service to God as slavery. Do we? I don’t think so.

After multiple invasions by a lot of people, this system was under the scanner for two reasons:
1. it was considered slavery
2. it was considered a strong cultural base and hence had to be destroyed.

You got to destroy the foundation to absolutely destroy the building! A well established Devadasi tradition was a major part of a strong foundation.

But why did we start to believe in these tactics eventually?

Because a lie told 10 times has all chances of becoming the truth the 11th time.

It was time get painted in black. Patronage was withdrawn from these artists as an aftermath of a lot of Muslim and European invasions. Their only means of livelihood was snatched from them.

Patronage was not withdrawn because this tradition was sex trade. This establishment started forcing Devadasi practitioners to turn to sex as a means of earning livelihood, because art is all they knew, it was their everything. When basic living is at stake, anything and everything that gives the slightest hope of survival is considered.

After a huge downfall and several centuries later, today we proudly say that we have banned the Devadasi tradition because it encouraged prostitution. But boy! We are such losers to have lost such an incomparably well established social cultural political system. It’s a pity that we have failed to address the magnitude of our loss.

But how is all this related to Jallikattu or KambaLa?

They are not directly related, but in my perspective, if we don’t secure these rural sports today, we will end up losing them tomorrow and day after tomorrow, our textbooks will end up projecting these as evils to the next generation like it did for Devadasi culture.

If a person has cancer, their doctor will treat them for cancer and try to kill cancer causing cells. They don’t inject poison and kill the person itself.

So if few animals are troubled due to these sports, should we be coming up with scrutiny methods, rules and regulations to avoid causing pain to animals or ban the sport itself, that sport that has been a part of our culture from generations? If it is done, I wonder what will be left for coming generations?

These are what our cultural identity is made of. Identity crisis does no good for anybody.

In the picture- Jatti Tayamma, one of the last Devadasi dancers patronised by the Mysuru Wadiyars.


Deepthi. S. Prakash.

Author is a Mentor /Blogger KannadaGottilla. Classical Bharatha natyam Dancer. Hard core Basavanagudi Girl.  🙂

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