PD Photo: photograph of two Devadasis from Chennai in India, taken in 1920s
Devadasi, a word in many Indian languages, means ‘a woman who serves god’, and is a practitioner or follower of the Devadasi tradition, a Hindu religious tradition in which girls are married of to and dedicated to a deity - Deva (god) or Devi (goddess), or they are simply married of to a temple. These women learned and practiced Bharatanatyam, Odissi and other forms of classical Indian dances, and they enjoyed high social status. However, the Devadasi Tradition and practices were made illegal in all states/ regions of India in 1988.
However, Devadasis still exist in India, as shown in a 2004 report by the National Human Rights Commission of the Government of India that read, "After initiation as Devadasis, women migrate either to nearby towns or other far-off cities to practice prostitution". A study from 1990 recorded that 45.9% of Devadasis in a particular district were prostitutes, while most of the others relied on manual labour and agriculture for their income. The practice of dedicating Devadasis was declared illegal by the Government Karnataka in 1982 and by the Government of Andhra Pradesh in 1988. However, as of 2006 the practice was found to be still prevalent in at least 10 districts of northern Karnataka and 14 districts in Andhra Pradesh.
Devadasis are known by various other names, such as Jogini, and the Devadasi practice of religious prostitution is known as Basivi in Karnataka and Mathangi in Maharashtra. The tradition is also known as Venkatasani, Nailis, Muralis and Theradiyan.