The book as the title suggests describes the history of the devadasis of India who were regarded for centuries as servants of the Hindu deities. But for one century between 1857 to 1947 they came to be regarded as profane prostitutes by the emerging Indian westernized elite and the British officials. The book reviews court cases, executive correspondence, and legislations that led to the shift in the official attitude towards the devadasis. The book in its introduction defines devadasis as female ritual specialists who were ever auspicious since they were never widowed. The Hindu scriptures did not regard them as prostitutes; although forbidden to marry they were not expected to be chaste. Their customary laws included absolute ownership of property by women, adoption of daughters, and matrilineal inheritance customs favouring relatives dedicated to temple service.
Servants of God or Man?
FROM SACRED TO PROFANE PROSTITUTE: A HISTORY OF THE CHANGING LEGAL STATUS OF THE DEVADASIS IN INDIA, 1857-1947 by Manohar Publication, New Delhi, 2004, 162 pp., 500.00
March 2004, volume 28, No 3