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Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam dancer. Happily married to Dileep Kannan. Mother of a beautiful angel -Tamanna. Daughter of Mr. E.M Haridas & Mrs. Girija Haridas. Daughter-in-law of Dr. K. P Kannan & Mrs. Shobhana Kannan A Disciple of Smt. Shyamala Surendran at Dharani School of Performing Arts, Kochi MFA in Bharatanatyam from SASTRA University under the guidance of Dr. Padma Subramanyam

September 30, 2011

Chapter 8: Downfall of The Devadasis

It has been said the war between the Chera and Chola dynasties which occurred throughout the 11th century A.D led to the utter destruction of Kerala’s old capital Mahodayapuram (present day Kodungallur in Thrissur district, Kerala) and which subsequently led to a severe decline in foreign trade. The region of Kerala was divided into various small provinces and hence had independent rulers for the same. As for the temples lying across various regions, their management went into the hands of the community of Namboothiris (Hindu orthodox Brahmins from the state of Kerala), which resulted in this community wielding in latter years a great deal of power & influence.

As per various historical accounts, the Namboothiris (considering themselves equivalent to feudal lords), started making new rules in the management of the temples. A great many of these rules & regulations resulted in the casting of false aspersions upon the chastity of the Devadasis residing in the temple premises. It was also around this time that the local chieftains and other influential personalities of the regions started the practice of keeping the most appealing of the Devadasis as their courtesans, mistresses and concubines, and took them away from the temple premises. Thus, the brides of the gods soon found themselves as the "brides" of ordinary men. The rest of the set of Devadasis, who were not able to leave the temple premises, soon found themselves falling into a deep dark pit of man's deceit, lust and arrogance.

As per various historical accounts, it is said that the beautiful and talented Devadasis soon started falling victim to the lust of the temple guardians - the Namboothiris. These extremely conceited men (or at least a majority of them) led the Devadasis to think that if the latter maintained sexual relations with the former, the Devadasis would remain as chaste as ever for the rest of their lives, as the Namboothiris considered themselves as Gods on Earth (and who has ever lost their chastity by being with the Gods, right?)! And to further complicate matters, the hubris of these men made their poor wives at home believe that the same men should be worshipped for maintaining extra-marital affairs with the supposed brides of gods! What a wonderful & hypocritical merry-go-round they constructed! However, as gender discrimination was always a part of society in those days (and today), if there were any cases in which the same Namboothiris' wives were found to have extra-marital affairs with other men, they would be deemed as impure, sinful and completely cut off and thrown out of their clan. 

The famous Kerala historian Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai in his book named “Chila Kerala Charithra Prasnangal” (Some Problems in Kerala History - Part I, II & III) has written about how the priests of the temples (most of whom were Namboothiris) had illicit relationships with Devadasi women.

It has been historically noted that incidentally, there were also a number of Namboothiri women who became Devadasis as well. 
Temple dancer (Devadasi) and street musicians. Paintings circa 1800 from Tanjore, Tamil Nadu.
So once these servants of Gods started "serving" (or were forced/coerced to serve ordinary mortals), the children (illegitimate or otherwise) of these Devadasis were faced with no other choice but to also follow their mothers' paths. It was during these times that the reputation of these women within the larger community took a major beating and their standing within the community changed completely from being the brides of gods, to mistresses/concubines for men. This led gradually to a situation where none of the women from the influential and higher classes/castes were willing to become Devadasis. Hence, by the 13th century A.D, the Devadasi tradition became a hereditary one, passed on from mother to daughter and to future generations, like an heirloom (and an accursed one at that).

  • The book (in Malayalam) 'Mohiniyattom-Charitravum Aataprakaravum' by the Mohiniyattam maestro (Late) Smt. Kalamandalam Kalyanikuttiyamma (my Guru's Guru)

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