Indian History and its tradition seem to draw so much debate in India that possibly no one wants to speak about it. Devadasis form a very important part of our history that speaks much about the evil parathas that we seem to be ashamed to admit. Discussing something like this is often just not wiped-out good company. English-speaking society in India has portrait devadasis as prostitutes. No one else in history seems to be misunderstood as devadasis. There is often no other example of the reality being twisted in a most flagrant manner.
The truth is that devadasis were an important a part of Indian temples. They were young girls who marry their god and were alleged to enslaved for the service of a deity. They performed useful functions at temples like worshiping, cleaning of temples, lighting lamps, dressing the deities etc. They sang devotional songs and danced in devotion to impress their deities. They taught music and dance to girls. They kept alive and developed the traditional classical music and classical dance forms. Beyond these historical facts is a vast area of myths and authentic propaganda of people who defamed devadasis and used them to attain satisfaction.
Devadasis were first defamed by Europeans once they arrived in India, they were surprised to ascertain girls who sang and danced in temples. They called these girls as “nautch-girls”. For Europeans, a dancing girl might be just an entertainer performing for the pleasure of rich men. The idea of art as an offering to God was unknown to them. To their medieval mindset, a dancing girl was showing off her body and was no better than a prostitute.
From all historical records, it appears that till that time a devadasi was a respected member of the community. She was considered auspicious. A bead from her necklace was essential for the Mangal sutra of any bride. This practice continued till very recent times. Such a respected member of the community was sought to be portrait black and converted into an immoral prostitute who gave pleasure to her clients.
No one knows the motive behind slandering devadasis but a poor woman who was dependent on the community and had hardly any land, who had no organization or support from the Government and had no family. Her basic livelihood was threatened. She could do nothing about it. Slowly, she was left with no means to stay her body and life together. In due course, the malicious false statements became true. Devadasi, left with no other means of survival, had to become a prostitute to save their lives.