​Devadasi Rehabilitation Pr​​ogramme (DRP)

The term ‘‘Devadasi’’ is a Sanskrit term which means - one who dedicates oneself to the Deity. Though it was commonly used, the institution and the women in profession were known locally by different terms. The equivalent term in Kannada is ‘basavis’ or ‘jogitis’. ‘Devadasi’s are also known locally by the names of Nayakasani, Rangasani, Gangasani, Muttukattikondavalu, Davara Sule, Kasabi, Patradavalu and Jogiti. ‘Devadasi’ women were originally connected with huge temples in southern India, whereby parents marry a daughter to a deity or a temple.

The practice of ‘‘Devadasi’’, by which a girl, usually before reaching the age of puberty, is ceremoniously dedicated or married to the deity or a temple. This was practiced in several southern States including Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. ‘Devadasi’ literally meaning “female servant of god”. The ceremony is performed by the senior ‘‘Devadasi’s’. Red and White beads from the God’s necklace are tied around the girl’s neck. The dedication ceremony involves an elaborate preparation on the part of the parents/guardians who wish to dedicate their child. This dedication ceremony is more or less similar to a marriage ceremony. It is called as `Muttu Kattuvadu` (tying the beads) or `Devarige Biduvadu` (dedicating to the deity) in the colloquial language. It is a very peculiar practice wherein the marriage takes place between the same sexes. These wives of God lived in and around the temples.

After she attains puberty the elders in the family select a man for her who may provide food for the family. She can live with him, but cannot marry since she is dedicated to the ‘Goddess Velamma’. Children born with this union will not have their father’s name or his property. If a girl develops `jat` (matted hair), she is dedicated to the Goddess as it was believed that she had received summons from the Goddess to serve her.

The difference between the ‘‘Devadasi’’ system and the Jogin/Basavi is noteworthy. The ‘‘Devadasi’’ system is not confined to a particular caste. Though, when it comes to practice, nearly 95% to 98% of the women dedicated as ‘‘Devadasi’s’ in Karantaka are from the scheduled caste community. Unlike ‘Jogins’, the ‘‘Devadasi’s’ are not treated as untouchables; the temple doors are always open for them. In the past they were even honoured by the public and were offered special seats alongside the figures of royalty.

‘‘Devadasi’s’ confined their activities to the boundaries of temples, in particular traditional ones. Jogins / Basavis on the other hand, participate in dances before chariots of Gods and Goddesses at processions during village festivals. Jogins / Basavis are not allowed to dance inside the traditional temples, and their activities are limited to small traditional temples in the villages. Jogis / Basavis are also called upon to dance at funeral processions, at the annual festival, assorted village rituals and during the harvest. However, the differences between these two systems gradually became dilute and the so-called traditional ‘‘Devadasi’’ system disappeared along with the kingdoms and royal patronages. In the later stages, these Jogins / Basavis adopted the name ‘‘Devadasi’s.’ ‘Devadasi’s themselves claim that there does exist a ‘‘Devadasi’ way of life’ or ‘professional ethics(vritti, murai), but nobody is a ‘‘Devadasi’’ by caste. Later on, the institution of ‘‘Devadasi’’ became hereditary, wherein at least one daughter in the family was dedicated to God.

Matted hair is taken as a sign from Goddess Vellamma that the girl is meantt to be a ‘‘Devadasi’’. In a festival, a marriage ceremony takes place between the girl and God. The eldest lady among the ‘‘Devadasi’s’ ties the mangal sutra / tali. In some ceremonies, the girl is paraded almost naked and is locally known as ‘betthale seve’. The girl is then given some money, but she still has to work in the fields. She lives separately in the village and provides services to men belonging to all castes. ‘‘Devadasi’s’ were forced to be concubines for the people of the upper castes.

The age-old practice continues to legitimize the sexual violence and discrimination against ‘‘Devadasi’s’. Since the members from a ‘‘Devadasi’’s’ caste are not able to afford these rituals, the ceremony sometimes is organized by men of the upper castes leaving the ‘‘Devadasi’s’ no choice but to succumb. Like other forms of violence against women, ritualized prostitution, is a system designed to kill whatever little is left of the self-respect the untouchable castes have.

Aged ‘‘Devadasi’s’, who have become jogitis, often go into trance during festivals and direct a particular family to dedicate a particular daughter of theirs to the deity. Conversation with scheduled caste families indicate that sometimes, it is possible that a person or persons from higher caste who take a fancy for a schedule caste girl may pay jogiti to `go into a trance`. Parents, who for reasons economic wanting to dedicate a girl, may even find the plea of having found a ‘jat’ or ‘matting of hair’ on the girl, a condition that occurs because of poor tonsorial hygiene.

State Government Programme in eradicating ‘Devadasi’ system :

‘Devadasi’ Rehabilitation project was set up in 1991 by Karnataka State Women’s Development Corporation to eradicate the ‘Devadasi’ system in Belgaum District and help those who have been exploited by this system. Later, the WDC started economic activities with the help of MYRADA, a voluntary organization that helped in launching this programme to support the Govt. project in Belgaum District. A survey that was conducted showed 3,600 ‘Devadasi’ women in Belgaum District alone. One of the first steps taken by MYRADA was towards :

  • Organizing these women into groups. These groups became a forum for women to discuss about the evils of this system and to draw mutual support in times of distress.
  • In some groups the women were motivated start savings.
  • Training on how to conduct meetings and maintaining accounts were provided to them.
  • The training thus obtained helped in managing the small funds and this gave them the confidence to maintain larger amounts.
  • Banks and other financial institutions; and other Govt. agencies stepped in to provide financial assistance.
  • Women were trained in income generating skills and Karnataka State Women’s Development Corporation, with the assistance of social welfare dept., provided subsidy and loans from banks to take up income generating activities.
  • Zilla panchayat, District Administration and various other government agencies, banks provide immense support for these women to take up various programmes.
  • Economic rehabilitation has ensured financial independence for them.
  • To rout out the system that has been in existence for generations.The first step towards eradicating the system was found to be in educating the society against this evil. Gram sabhas and jagruti vedike comprising of local people, the panchayat members, etc. were organized to provide awareness to the community on the evils of the system. They discussed the problems and the role of the community in eradicating the system. Awareness was provided through campaigns, street plays, songs, distribution of pamphlets, posters and folklore performances inspiring the people into not dedicating their daughters.
  • Awareness programmes were organised in front of the Yellamma temple in Saudathi region during the fairs as this temple once homed many of the practices associated with the ‘Devadasi’ system. Messages disseminated through these fairs reached out to wide audience all over Karnataka. Project Officers and Members from MASS, an institution of ex-’Devadasis’ take active part in these programmes.
  • Ex-’Devadasi’ women act as spies to detect and stop further dedications.
  • Any person, even under remote suspicion, is interrogated thoroughly. The combined efforts of project officers, the community and the police have completely stopped this practice in Belgaum district.
  • While working with the community, the project realized that, eradicating the ‘Devadasi’ system meant much more than the economic rehabilition and prevention of the future generation from being dedicated. The community’s and the ‘Devadasis’ own perception of what it meant had to be changed. The rituals that they blindly followed in the name of religion had to be ended.
  • The practices of joga (bagging alms) and breaking bangles were stopped and on the day when they usually broke the bangles(full moon day in December), the women started adorning themselves with bangles.
  • During the following years, this event was organized in other places of the district. The communities participated in the event and took an oath to eradicate this practice from their villages.
  • Matted hair, which was earlier considered as a blessing from the goddess, was no more regarded and instead the community started getting the matted hair treated.
  • Earlier the women were paraded by tying strings of neem leaves over their bare body. Now, they symbolically tie the strings over their clothes.
  • Another form of exploitation of women was marrying them off to lord Hanuman. Men would splash muddy water on these women and women in turn had to chase them out with a stick. The belief was that this practice would bring good rains to the village. In 1996, the district administration banned this practice and this was followed by the discussions with the villages and most of them agreed to discontinue this practice.
  • MASS:- The ‘Devadasi’ system is not in practice in the district of Belgaum. Instead, there is only a community of ex-Devdasis. These women no longer practise the ‘Devadasi’ system. With their new formed strength and confidence, they have come together to form an Organization called the Mahila Abhivrudhi Matthu Samrakshana Samithi(MASS). This Organization sees to it that this practice is not revived even after the project is withdrawn from the district.

Special programme of Karantaka State Women’s Development Corporation in rehabilitating ‘Devadasi’ women.

‘Devadasi’ system was so deeply rooted in the community and was a challenge to both NGOs and the Government. With the constant effort made by the police, voluntary organisations and media, awareness was created among the community members; because, more than creating awareness, it was a great task for the Govt. to provide economic stability and social security to this vulnerable group of women.

  • The ‘Devadasi’ system is belittling the status of women. To eradicate this anti-social system from the community the Government of Karnataka has come out with the ‘Devadasi’ Rehabilitation Programme.
  • As per the survey conducted by the Dept. of Women and Child Development, it has identified the number of ‘Devadasis’ in the following districts.



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  • This programme is implemented in Bagalkot, Bijapur, Raichur, Koppal, Bellary, Gulbarga, Dharwar, Gadag and Haveri districts. Implementing offices have also been opened in all these districts.
  • Complete eradication of this practice and implementation of the economic and social development programme for the ex-’Devadasis’ in the aforesaid ten districts
  • Creation of awareness by means of extensive awareness programmes, campaigning, people’s movement, creation of SHGs from ex-’Devadasi’s, awareness camps at village fairs, health camps, etc.
  • Providing bank loans for income generating activities. 60% of the unit cost is subsidized by the Corporation.
  • With the active association of MASS, this practice has been completely stopped in Belgaum district. The Corporation is financially supporting MASS.

Statement showing physical and financial achievements during the past 3 years is as: