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Author: Malavika Anil, III year of LL.B. from CSI Institute of legal Studies , Cheruvarakonam ,Parassala, Tvm, Kerala

Co-author: Rahumath, IV year of B.Com.,LL.B. from CSI Institute of legal Studies , Cheruvarakonam ,Parassala, Tvm, Kerala


India being a country with great varieties here exist variety of customs, rituals, traditions .one such similar tradition is the devadasi system, the literal meaning of devadasi is devas dasi or the servant of god. Its origin is said to be in the sixth century but even before that the nagarvadhu system was prominent which can be depicted from the stories of Amrapali who lived during 500 BC that is in the period of sreebuddha. The Devadasi tradition was prominent mostly in southern state like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil nadu and in some part of Odisha. Prominence can be seen in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil nadu .Due to cultural differences devadasi is known in different names in different parts of the country. They are called as devadasi, attakari, cottikal, tevataci, atikalmar etc. Even though they are entitled as the dasis of deva but they do have to act as mistresses for the rich, landlords, the members of royal family. They are masters of classical dance and music hence often called in palace as courtesan’s .In Marathi culture there is a popular saying about devadasi that is servant of god but the wife of the whole town.

The devadasi system emerged as an impact of bhakti movement which given a spiritual status to the devdasi’s. But later as the influence of the temple decreased the devadasi were considered to be as prostitute thus losing their spiritual status .As British took up the raj they treated devadasi as women’s for entertainment.


This custom began during 6th century where a great queen of somavamshi dynasty decided to give an offering towards the god for showcasing her respect and to honor the almighty .The offer was nothing but a women who were wed locked to the deity and thus became the dasi of deva. As it begin for a spiritual purpose the women’s who were selected as devadasi were given due respect and was treated asgoddess Lakshmi. In Andhra Pradesh there is a district called Krishna were each family in that particular area must devote one of their girl child to be devadasi’s or krishnadasi’s .They considered that when their girl child became devadasi the family will attain prosperity. TheCholas, Cheras, Pandya’s supported the system the evidence of which can be seen the temple sculpture or their artistic work. Also in the work of KALIDASA that is Megadhutham, Malavikaangnimithram the devadasi community are been mentioned. The traveler XUAN ZANG in his writing also mentioned about the community.

From a highly respected position the devadasi’s status stooped as the Mughal reign began. The influence or the importance of the temple started to decline thus the status of this community started to be cornered as mistresses or prostitute. The devadasi were once seen as an example for controlling the human instincts or as someone who controls all five senses thus controlling human natural behavior was then treated as mere opposite. Society started to discriminate this community.

When the British land up in our country and took up the gear ofrule, the condition of devadasis became worse. The British saw the devadasi’s for the purpose of entertainment and they were not even given a status as a human being. Later during that period many reformist and revolutionary came up for prohibition and protection of the community. By the influence of such reformist many legislations were passed. Even though the legislations are being passed then to the conditions still remain the same.

Today in the world of development with lots and lots of legislation for prohibition and also protection of the victims of devadasi system then to there are lot and lot of cases reporting the existences of the system.

Recently the National Human Rights Commission asked the central and the state government to submit report on the measures that they have been taken for preventing devadasi system and to provide rehabilitation to the devadasi communities also the measures for restoring their social status.

The southern state especially Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka had declared the practice of devadasi system as illegal in 1982 and 1983, but then to it is stated that almost 70000 women are leading the life of devadasi’s in the states. The commission which was headed by Justice Raghunath Rao found out that in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh there are around 80000 women who are still leading the life of devadasi.

The Supreme Court also has their own stand while considering the malpractice of dedicating young girls as devadasi. This system violates ‘Right to life’, ‘Right to dignity’ and also ‘Right to Equality’.


For understanding the status of devadasi system in India the National Commission for Women conducted a survey in which each state which is known for the presence of this tradition should submit a report regarding the present condition, here the state of Odisha stated that there is no such reporting of devadasi’s, in 2015 the last devadasi, Sasimoniwho were related to the Jaganatha temple died. Hence statistically there was no devadasi in the state of Odisha. In case of Tamil Nadu there was a total eradication of this system and currently there is no such system existing according to the records. Coming to the state of Andhra Pradesh there is almost 16,624 devadasi’s in the state. In Karnataka, 2008 a survey was conducted and according to that report there was more than 40000 womens who were practicing this system, after 10 years that is in 2018 another survey was conducted and it was found that the women’s practicing the system raised up to 80,000. In case of Maharashtra for providing “Devadasi maintenance allowance” application were invited and about 8793 applications were received in which 6314 were rejected due to certain defect in the application and were not eligible for the protection other 2479 applications were declared eligible. Hence it is proved that there is about 2479 women is acknowledged as devadasi and it mean that this system still persist in the state.

The National Commission for women founded that the main reasons why more and more girls are being pushed towards this system was dumbness, deafness, poverty and others.


The states in which the Devadasi system has its existence was predominantly in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra, these states have enacted special legislation to tackle this situation. Many attempts have been made by Indian government to abolish the devadasi system. The initial attempt was made in 1924 by amending (Indian Penal Code, 1860) declare “the practice of dedicating girls for the ultimate purpose of engaging them in prostitution as illegal”. Section 372 of IPC prohibits selling minors for the purpose of prostitution. It was prescribed that whoever disposes off person under the age of 18 years with the intent that such person shall at any age employed or used for the purpose of prostitution or illicit intercourse with any person or with knowledge that person is likely to be employed or used for any such purpose at any age is liable to prosecuted.

The preamble of the Indianconstitution states “Justice, social, economic and political; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fertinity assuring the dignity of the individual and unity and integrity of the nation”. Despite this there is a failure to ensure all this to devadasi’s. Separate legal legislation passed by the states to curb this practice. The first effort for legislation was done by the state of Bombay in the year 1934. They enacted a new act called Bombay devadasi protection act, 1934, this act declared the practice of dedicating girls to the particular system with or without their consent as illegal.Most of the legislations have passed in southern part of India because this problem is still persistent due to large number of temples in South India. Some of the major legislation are: Madras Devadasi (Prevention of Dedication) Act of 1947, Karnataka Devadasi (Prohibition of Dedication) Act of 1988. Maharashtra Devadasi (Abolition of Dedication) Act, 2006 Juvenile Justice Act 2015 (JJ Act). The acts also provide for punishment including imprisonment of at least two years but not more than five years and fine of at least two thousand rupees but not more than five thousand rupees.

However, these laws are not strictly followed because of lack of proper implementation and awareness. Furthermore, the punishment has received criticism for being corrupt and poorly designed with reference to the degree of crime involved. It has been also noted that it’s difficult to assess the accurate number of devadasi’s in India.Many attempts has been made by the Supreme Court of India to implement these legislations and practices. There have been a few public interest litigations filed in the Supreme Court to examine the practice of devadasi dedications.

In Vishal Jeet v. Union of India [1990]3SCC318 the petitioner challenged the inefficiency of the police and sought for directions for implementation of the devadasi legislations and to direct the CBI to institute an enquiry against those police officers under whose jurisdiction devadasi traditions are flourishing and to take necessary action against such officers. The Supreme Court pointed that the devadasi practice is not only a social but socio-economic issue.

A Red light trap; Society gives no chances to prostitutes off spring

Gaurav Jain v. Union of India[1997] AIR SC 3021 the main question arose in this case was what are the rights of the children of fallen women, the modules to segregate them from their mothers and others so as to give them protection , care, and rehabilitation in the mainstream of the national life? And as a facet of it, what should be the scheme to eradicate prostitution.

The court states that the prostitutes were to be rehabilitated through self-employment schemes, and that the children should be provided adequate safety, protection and rehabilitation in the juvenile homes manned by qualified trained social workers or homes run by NGOs with financial assistance given by Government of India or State Government.

SL. Foundation v. Union of India [2014] W.P (civil) 127/2014The Supreme Court held that the direction of Dalit girls in temple in the Harappanhalli Taluk of Ballari District of Karnataka was Unconstitutional and inviolation of Article 23(1), 39(e) and (f) 14, 21 of the Indian Constitution.


Although the devadasi once held a revered and prominent position, with the passage of time their prominence has diminished. In the present times the practices have taken shape of prostitution. Young girls who are dedicated when they are minor are expelled out of school and deprived of their right to education. Devadasi women have no other option for income expect sexual employment and begging. They are denied the right to procreate and frequently experience sexual assault. The physical integrity of minor girls and the reproductive option open to them are crucial as they cannot to treated as commodity having no say over their bodies or as having no authority to forbid Sexual Intercourse. Devadasi’s are prohibited from attending public gathering, subject to social stigma, and are forbidden from getting married even though the law holds that there is no bar to devadasi’s having a valid marriage. The plight of the devadasi worsen with ages as they are unable to secure work and end up living in abject poverty.

The stigma and discrimination also extend to their children of devadasi women face discrimination at school for being illegitimate and are denied rights and privileges that accompany the status of legitimate children, such as the right to inherit. The health, education, and development of the children are seriously endangered by the societal stigma associated with illegitimate children. In particulars the daughters of Devadasi’s are deprived of opportunities in education and employment and are also expected to be dedicated as Devadasis.


The system being prominent in ancient period as it had a religious masking at that time. Others give devadasi’s an outlook of goddess but later as the time passed the patriarchal society showed their dominance and the community ones treated as goddess lost their social status and got a tag of prostitutes. Many legislations have been formulated for eradication and protection or rehabilitation of devadasi’s and to some extend it had made impact but this system is still prevalent in certain corners of the country. They are facing many problems as the life expectancy of a child in devadasi community had dropped to fifteen. So measures must be taken not only to protect the women in the particular community but also their offspring’s must be protected from the discrimination and health issues that are confronted by them.


· Drishti(2019) Devadasi system still prevalent. Drishtiias

· International Journal of applied research, the origin and historical development of devadasi system Visited on 22 January 2023.

· Indian kanoon, Gaurav Jain v. Union of India and Ors. [1997] AIR SC 3021 Visited on 22 January 2023.

· Worldwide Journals, devadasi system and its impact on their children Visited on 21 January 2023.

·, devadasi system in India and its legal initiative Visited on 20 January 2023.

·, Exploitation of Women as Devadasis and its Associated Evils Visited on 22 January 2023.

· International Journals of Research in Social sciences, Sociological study on devadasi children. on 22 January 2023.


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