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In a YouTube comments discussion between an American Christian and myself, he keeps bringing up the immorality of devadasi being forced into sex work. I know that such activity is illegal in India. I also know of no scriptures which call for or promote this practice. So, my response in our discussion is that these are outliers and not representative of Hinduism, just as there are extremist Christians and Muslims who do not represent the mainstream.

However, for my own clarity I want to verify that this is not only uncommon, but either not sanctioned or forbidden in Hinduism.

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    Not sanctioned. When Islamic invaders attacked Hindu Temples, those Muslims rulers abducted the Devadasis and used them as sex slaves but Hindu kingdoms in those days supported Devadasis. And when politically India came under britishers, they didn't support financially them and it made them to go into prostitution. Finally, it made Modern India to eradicate Devadasi system, as it became synonymous to Prostitution. – The Destroyer Jun 5 '18 at 4:57
  • I think this story can provide more indian pov- yourstory.com/2017/04/devadasis-india apparently according to it devdasis had huge respect and independence they could choose their partners or remain virgin all their lives. Basically it was all based on their choice. – Anisha Jun 6 '18 at 4:57
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There is no sanction in Hindu scripture for sexual activity by Devadasis.

The Temple Dancers

The tradition of women being dedicated to a temple can be found in all ancient civilisations including Greece and Egypt. In India, the devadasis, the handmaiden of god. was married to the deity as a child and became part of a temple establishment. A devadasi was supposed to have the highest status of a hierarchy of the temple after the temple priests and their presence was considered essential during religious relations. They were well educated, especially in Sanskrit, and trained in music and dance. All our classical dances originate in the precincts of temples where the devadasis worshipped their god through their art. Inscription on the walls of the Brihadishwara Temple built in the 10th century by Raja Raja Chola at Thanjavur states that four hundred devadasis were appointed and given an allowance and land.

With the arrival of the Muslims, the devadasi tradition gradually vanished from the North India but continued in the South till the 20th century. By the 19th century, with the temples losing both power and prestige, there was a steep decline in both their learning and art and many lived in great poverty. As historian P Subramanian writes, 'Those who were attached to the temples received a fixed salary from the temple which of course was too meagre for their maintenance. They were obliged to sell their favours out of necessity and force of circumstances.' Classical dance performances had declined to become the infamous 'nautch' criticised and called immoral by the Europeans.

In Vijayanagar, devadasis were respected for their art and education and welcomed into the palace. Young men of the nobility were sent to them to learn cultured behaviour and they were treated with respect, for example, no one was allowed to chew betel in the presence of the monarch except the devadasis. They took part in all the rituals and danced before the temple chariot as it travelled down the temple avenue during the festivals. .......

Many travellers mention devadasis who were fabulously rich, lived in mansions and moved around in expensive palanquins. There was no purdah in Vijayanagar, except for the royal women who lived in the zenana but then Paes mentions even queens and princesses attending the Mahanavami festival, watching the parade from the audience hall. Till the 20th century many great classical Bharatnatyam dancers and singers of Carnatic music came from the devadasi families and they helped to preserve the art.

The devadasi system could only survive with the patronage of the royal family and the temples. After the decline of the empire they lost their social standing; temples could not support them and they were soon reduced to prostitution. This finally led to an outcry and the system of dedicating ypung girls to temples where they were exploited by men was banned in the 20th century. Devadasis were the guardians of India classical dance and music and their decline meant that these arts were nearly lost.

Hampi by Subhadra Sen Gupta

  • The introductory portion of your answer is actually a comment to a different answer. Please correct this and I will chose your answer. – Rubellite Yakṣī Jun 7 '18 at 17:39
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    Sorry it took so long 😟 – Rubellite Yakṣī Sep 30 at 1:02
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Devadasi system is considered sacred and is not meant for any sexual aspect at all. Hence the question of "forced sexual activity" by Devadasi-s, becomes moot.

From the wiki page, the Devadasi means, a woman who has dedicated her life to the worshiping of certain deity in a temple.

In South and parts of Western India, a devadasi (Sanskrit: देवदासी, lit. 'female servant of deva (god)') or jogini is a girl "dedicated" to worship and service of a deity or a temple for the rest of her life. The age group of a girl to be converted as devadasi is 18–36 years.

Whether the devadasi girls engaged in sexual services is debated, however, as temple visitors touching or speaking to the girls was considered an offence.

Traditionally devadasis had a high status in society. After marrying wealthy patrons, they spent their time honing their skills instead of becoming a housewife. ... Some of the eminent personalities hailed from this community are Bharat Ratna M S Subbulakshmi, Lata Mangeshkar, Kishori Amonkar, this Padma Vibhushan Ms Balasaraswati and Padma Bhushan Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi.

The confusion may happen due to British/Western interpretation of this system or way of life:

The British were unable to distinguish the devdasi from the girls who danced in the streets for the reasons other than spiritual devotion to the deity. ... Recently the devadasi system has started to disappear, having been outlawed in all of India in 1988. In 2012 VICE Guide to Travel produced a controversial documentary Prostitutes of God, which has been criticized for its portrayal of devadasi sex workers.


Suppose if you meant, "Devadasi" means those women who belong to Shudra class and are meant for enjoyment of their masters, then such practice did exist in ancient times. However, the moral point of view from different sections was divided. Having a Shudra wife, for enjoyment purpose was not immoral by certain sections, but largely it was considered bad.

From this answer:

Some say that persons belonging to the three higher orders may take, only for purposes of enjoyment (and not for those of virtue), wives from the lowest or the Sudra order. Others, however, forbid the practice. The righteous condemn the practice of begetting issue upon Sudra women.

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    Sorry, though your post is informative it doesn't answer the question at hand, "Is sexual activity by devadasi sanctioned?" I'm not asking for the proper definition or history of them, but whether or not this specific activity, by those specific girls is sanctioned, unmentioned, forbidden, etc. Also, quoting Wikipedia is not particularly helpful for a question answer site, because 1) anyone who Google's such a question will also see the Wikipedia information and 2) while writers attempt NPoV, English.wikipedia is still very Western-centric on Asian philosophy, religion, and history. – Rubellite Yakṣī Jun 5 '18 at 22:05
  • An English translation of pertinent information on Hindi.wikipedia, however, may be more useful. – Rubellite Yakṣī Jun 5 '18 at 22:06
  • @Rubellite, sanctioning of 'sexual activity' will come into picture only if the Devadasi are meant for such practice. It seems from the question that the understanding of 'Devadasi' concept itself is flawed. It's like asking "Which scriptures describe Lord Rama killing Duryodhana?" Of course the answer will be that 'Both persons were in different eras & regions'. Killing question itself is moot. Btw Even though Wikipedia is available to all, people may not have patientce to go through it. Else the fellow YouTuber won't have misunderstood. I have pasted only the relevant info from wiki to Qn. – iammilind Jun 6 '18 at 0:56
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    It either is or isn't sanctioned. How is the question flawed? – Rubellite Yakṣī Jun 6 '18 at 22:12
  • @Rubellite, it's not your question which is flawed. It's the fellow YouTuber's question which is flawed. They won't have commented on the Devadasi system, had they read about that in Wiki or reliable sources. Wiki is also backed up by sources and The article is pretty matured over the time. The reply had to be NO, because Devadasi sysem isn't meant for the sexual aspect at all in 1st place. That's what I have clarified in my answer. – iammilind Jun 7 '18 at 3:01
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According to Origin of the Devadasi System by Awadh Kishore Prasad, sexual favors performed by the devadasis appears to be sanctioned by scripture. The paper says:

The deity of an early medieval temple can be compared to a feudal lord. He was the lord of the universe in a general abstract sense but in effect the master of the life and property of his tenants and servants. Like a landlord the temple engaged labour to cultivate its lands. With invocation songs in the morning, bathing ceremonies, food offerings and entertainment he was treated like an earthly being. And true to a lord it required a large body of attendants, from preists to dancing girls. The deity was provided with all the amenities and pleasures of life – a big and comfortable house, a host of servants, best of food, choicest jewellery, attractive garments, and wives and concubines. The devadasis had, therefore, to be employed to give company to the god as wives and concubines. In other words, they had to serve the desires of the priests, the sole interpreters of the god's wishes on earth. However, for this they required ideological support and political backing which they did not lack.

Now some new mythologies had to be invented providing sanction to all these requirements. Accordingly, we find first mythological evidence regarding the devadasi system in the Matsyapurana, which was written some time in the Gupta period. The mythology says after the destruction of the Yaduvamsis in the course of the devasura sangrama several thousand wives of Lord Krishna were abducted, seduced and defiled by the dasas and consequently they became prostitutes. These fallen women once asked the sage Dalbya about their duties (dharma). They were advised by the learned sage to accept prostitution as their profession and live in the state capitals and in the temples. They were told that kings and princes were like their husbands, and on payment they could satisfy others also. Interestingly, these women were asked to bestow special favour on the Brāhmaṇas if they went to them on Sunday for the purpose of satisfying their sexual urge. Some Puranas recommend even the purchase of beautiful girls for dedication to the Sun temple.

The author is referring to Chapter 70 - Vow of Aṅgadāna, the method of worshipping Kāma (part 1 and part 2) from Matsya Purāṇa, which says the following.

Once upon a time thousands and thousands of the demons (Dānavas, Asuras, Daityas and Rakṣāsas) were killed in the war between the Devas and the demons. Indra told their numberless widows and those women who were forcibly seized and enjoyed, to lead the life of prostitutes and remain devoted to the kings and the Devas.

Indra continued, "you should look upon, with equal eye, the kings your masters and on Śūdra. All of you will attain prosperity, according to your fate. You should satisfy those who would come to you with adequate sum of money to enjoy your company, even if they be poor. But you should not give pleasure to proud men. You should give away cow, land, grain and gold, according to your means, in charity on the sacred day of worshipping the Devas or the ancestors. You should act as the Brāhmaṇas in work and speech.

In addition to this, I shall also tell you an ordinance (or vrata), which all of you should blindly practise."

...

The women folk should then worship the Lord, whose body is Cupid himself, by offering Him incense, flowers, sandal and eatables.

Afterwards, the Brāhmaṇa, well versed in the Vedanta, who must be virtuous and free from bodily deformity, should be honoured with the offerings of incense, flowers, sandal.

And a quantity (of the measure Prastha) of uncooked rice, along with a pot, full of clarified butter, should be given away to the same Brāhmaṇa, after saying, 'Lord Mādhava, be pleased.'

That Brāhmaṇa should be well fed and be devoutly looked upon as Cupid, for the sake of sexual enjoyment.

Each and every desire of that Brāhmaṇa should be satisfied by the woman devotee. She should, with all heart and soul and with a smile on her face, yield herself up to him.

...

O Keśava! As the Goddess Lakṣmī never remains apart from you, in the same way make my body Your dwelling place.

After that, the Brāhmaṇa, accepting the image of Cupid, should pronounce the following Vedic mantra. 'Ka Idaṃ Kasmāt.'

Then the Brāhmaṇa should dismissed, after being circumambulated, and beddings and other things should be sent to the house of the Brāhmaṇa.

Henceforth, any Brāhmaṇa coming to them for the sake of sexual enjoyment on a Sunday, should be respected and honoured. In this way, the good Brāhmaṇas should be kept satisfied for a period of thirteen months; but if they go abroad, their course of action will be different.

...

If, with the consent of that Brāhmaṇa, another handsome person come to them, these women should, with love and affection and to the best of their ability, perform all the fifty-eight kinds of observances of Love, favourite of man and gods, which would lead to pregnancy and which is not harmful to their soul's welfare.

I have described to you this vrata in detail, which, when always performed, never leads the prostitutes to sin.

I have fully related to you what Indra said to the women of the Danavas (demons) in ancient days.

O, Women of beauty! This vrata is the dispeller of all sins and giver of innumerable benefits. I wish well of you; hence you should do as I told you.

...

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    Huh this person is one of those anti Hindu Marxist people, he does not realize that devdasis had full independence to choose what they wanted to do- yourstory.com/2017/04/devadasis-india they could remain virgin if they wanted, furthermore the devdasi is agamic practice, puranas are so interpolated also this teaching runs counter to other teachings which ban prostitution consister prostitution as lowest thing - buddhisma2z.com/content.php?id=323 – Anisha Jun 6 '18 at 5:05
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    @sv. Yes, some people interpolated puranas, but still devdasi system runs counter to other teachings in dharma shastras. And other scriptures which decry prostitution. Anyway some shaiva puranas mention kapalikas, skull wanderers, human sacrificers but they do not represent all Hindus, you can find scriptural backing for almost any practice in hindusim Hinduism because there are so many Hindu scriptures but that does not mean they are true or present in their true form – Anisha Jun 6 '18 at 15:30
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    Anisha, if you have evidence that the practice is in contradiction to scripture, it would be best if you created an answer. – Rubellite Yakṣī Jun 6 '18 at 22:15
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    @Anisha Devadasi is not an Agamic/Tantric practice at all. No traces of this practice is found in them. Deva-Dasi ( servant of god) - the concept itself is full of melodramatic overdoses of Bhakti and it better suits the Puranas which have those stuffs .. The Tantras do not ever tell us that we are servants of god; it's the Puranas which do so. So, the answer is right. – Rickross Jun 7 '18 at 5:37
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    I have problem with this so called scholar. He starts with the claim that the Devadasis had to satisfy the desires of the priests and then quotes stories involving Dalbiya and Indra which are not about Devadasis! Moreover he claims that these mytholgical stories sanctioned the prostitution of the Devadasis even when the stories are not about them. Moreover how does one reconcile the pro-prostitution teachings of Matsya P with the usual anti-prostitution position. Could it be that Matsya Puran stories were written to criticize Dalbiya and Indra? – Pradip Gangopadhyay Jun 8 '18 at 11:26

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