Devadasi System - Origin, Laws, Issues and Challenges

By : Neha Dhyani

Updated : Mar 21, 2022, 13:31

Though widely believed to have been abolished years ago, the practice of the Devadasi system has not been eradicated entirely in different parts of India. The Devadasi system in India is the malpractice of devoting girls to temples as an offering to please the deities.

This ritual persists predominantly in south India, especially in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The practice takes place through a formal marriage known as pottukattu.

Origin of the Devadasi System

  • The Devadasi system in India began during the sixth century when young girls got married to a God. After this marriage ceremony, the temple caretakers and priests perform all the ceremonies, such as music and dance, in the diety's honour.
  • Initially, the girls forced into the Devadasi tradition learned and practised various art forms like Odissi, Bharathanatyam, or other traditional dance styles, apart from engaging in marriage rituals and taking care of the temple.
  • Earlier, the Devadasis in India enjoyed a royal, divine status, as music and dance were a part of adoration in temples and were considered auspicious for every occasion.
  • However, after the advent of the Britishers and Mughals, numerous temples got demolished. It deteriorated and exploited the status of these women in society.
  • Apart from this, the kids born from Devadasi women were forced to learn music and dance and remain dedicated to the temples.
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Devadasi System in India - Issues and Challenges

  • Societal acceptance: Devadasi's devotion and the consequent sexual abuse of these women are welcomed and praised by society. In addition, those keen on reporting this issue abstain from doing so out of fear of backlash.
  • Inefficient awareness programs: Awareness about the Devadasi system in most rural areas of the country is absent. Even such awareness agendas fail to drive any behavioural difference within the society.
  • Lack of formal action: The authorities usually fail to take action in matters of faith and do not register claims due to intimidation from society.
  • Poor execution of legislation: There are different requirements under diverse regulations (ITPA, POCSO, JJ Act, IPC) that would help Devadasis. Nevertheless, there is a lack of application of all these laws.
  • Health Threats: The Devadasis pushed into prostitution become susceptible to sexually transmitted infections like HIV AIDS.

Devadasi System - Laws and Offenses

After a Kerala-based foundation brought into light the existence of the Devadasi system, the Supreme Court implemented strict laws to abolish the system in 2016. Some of the laws enacted to stop the Devadasi tradition are as follows:

  • Bombay Devadasi Protection Act, 1934
  • Prevention of Dedication Act (Madras Devadasi) in 1947
  • Prohibition of Dedication Act (Karnataka Devadasi), 1982
  • Prohibition of Dedication Act (Andhra Pradesh Devadasi), 1988
  • Abolition of Dedication Act (Maharashtra Devadasi), 2006
  • Juvenile Justice Act 2015 (JJ Act)
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FAQs on Devadasi System

Q.1. In which States the Devadasi system is the most prevalent?

The Devadasi system is the most prevalent in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Q.2. Is the Devadasi System still prevalent in India?

Yes, this custom is still prevalent in some parts of India.

Q.3. When did the Devadasi system get introduced in India?

The Devadasi system was introduced in the 6th century.

Q.4. What do we mean by the Devadasi system?

The Devadasi system in India is the malpractice of devoting girls to temples as an offering to please the deities.