Are there any descendants of Krishna today

Sex instead of prayerThe enslavement of Hindu temple servants in India

The evening ritual in a Hindu temple in Mumbai. A priest intones the hymn of praise to the gods. The believers have lined up close together in front of the main altar. They want to have their offerings blessed and finally walk reverently around the statues of gods in the great hall. In some of the country's temples, there is also a very controversial ritual: the dance of the Devadasis. These so-called servants of God dance in honor of the deity of their temple. The servants of God sway themselves on their hips and briefly touch their bosom again and again. Especially in some southern Indian states, the ritual temple dance of the Devadasis with its erotically charged movements is still widespread - although the Devadasi system has been officially banned since 1988. Lalitha Kumaramangalam is Chair of the National Commission for Women in New Delhi. She describes the situation of the Devadasi as follows:

"A Devadasi is a woman who has been married to a god or a goddess. The so-called servants of God are given to a temple by their parents. There they are then forced to transform the traditional rituals into very earthly services. They are used - by priests and temple-goers. As prostitutes. The servants of God are degraded to sex workers. "

Prostitution in the temple

Lalitha Kumaramangalam, the head of the state women's organization, recently commissioned a study at the University of Madras. The study deals with the situation of the Devadasis and aims to shed light on their precarious living conditions:

“A look at history shows that for many centuries devadasis were not treated like prostitutes. There were occasions when, in addition to their temple duties, they had an intimate relationship with a particularly distinguished priest or with a member of the royal family , but that did not diminish their reputation. Unlike today, the Devadasis were always educated young women who had a musical and dance training and who were also familiar with the ancient scriptures. "

Professor Vinesh Shrivasta is researching how this service to the gods was originally motivated. He is an anthropologist in New Delhi:

"The whole thing was based on the model that a deity is equal to a king. Like a king, the deity needs devadasis: knowledgeable, well-trained servants. Women who dance for them and who look after their welfare. Women who do that Massage the feet of God or the goddess and those who are devoted to the deity. This is how devadasism developed. "

A desecrated and humanized idea

Traditionally, the duties of the Devadasis include cleaning and decorating the temple altars, singing religious songs, ritually dancing, and entertaining Brahmins, the members of the highest caste. Professor Vinesh Shrivasta:

"Devadasis are originally really servants of God - and not prostitutes. But if you desecrate this concept, as has just happened, humanized it, so to speak, then these women become prostitutes."

In ancient Hindu scriptures, Devadasis are first mentioned in the 6th century BC. It was only in the past two to three hundred years that the respect they had received over many centuries eventually turned into ostracism. Various reasons contributed and still contribute to this: Poor, uneducated parents, for example, who would rather have their daughter in the service of a universally revered deity than not being able to marry her because they cannot get the money for their dowry. Or the superstition that strokes of fate can be corrected by "sacrificing" a daughter to a temple. Then a rigid caste system that assigns everyone their place and places "poor-uneducated-and-female" in one of the lowest ranks. And last but not least, the patriarchal structures that nip criticism of dealing with the Devadasis in the bud, says Lalitha Kumaramangalam:

"The government can't really do much. Because only a few cases are reported. If a woman should ever bring herself to do it, she will be harassed - or worse. Our society is still very patriarchal and especially in fashion the villages. And the women concerned cannot count on the police because many police officers benefit from prostitution. Why should they then intervene? "

Indian government is helpless

Protest by half-clothed Devadasis in Mumbai (AFP / Sajjad Hussain)

The Indian government has repeatedly made half-hearted attempts to get rid of the Devadasi system. Initiatives to marry off the devadasis failed. Sexual contact with the so-called servants of God is accepted, but marriage with such a woman is strictly rejected. It is hardly any different for the daughters of Devadasis, who almost always end up in the same milieu as their mothers, according to the women's rights activist:

“In this country there are no legal possibilities to take away a child from a mother. So we cannot prevent the children of a Devadasi from suffering the same fate as the mother. However, I have already spoken to Devadasis who will move their female offspring to a safe place far away from their home village. That only worked with the help of non-governmental organizations. In the end, the NGOs worked with representatives of the government to rehabilitate the children. "

"The life of the servants of God - a martyrdom"

It is also NGOs that have been increasingly concerned with the Devadasi tradition for some time. But in a country where several hundred million people do not have enough to eat and have no roof over their heads, a few thousand devadasis do not matter. And that, says the chairwoman of the national women's commission, Lalitha Kumaramangalam, is unlikely to change the outcome of the new Devadasi investigation.

"The life of the servants of God is really a martyrdom. There is so much suffering with us, but the fate of these women particularly moves me. Only - what will change my feelings about the fact that our system simply cannot cope with this problem?"