Bangalore International Centre had arranged a talk on “When the Devi is your Husband: South Indian Devadasis and the Question of Religion” by Prof. Lucinda Ramberg Asst. Professor in Anthropology and Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies, Cornell University. The event was chaired and moderated by Mrs. Vatsala Iyengar, Temple Historian on Friday, 3rd July, 2015 at 6.30 PM.
Drawing on ethnographic research conducted in northern Karnataka with women dedicated to the Devi Yellamma and on state and NGO efforts to reform these women, Prof. Lucinda Ramberg who actually lived with these Devadasis and studied their religious beliefs and practices first hand, discussed about the question: what can count as religion?
In her lucid and incisive presentation, she highlighted the complex social and economic conditions of the poverty-ridden marginalized sections of the society, mostly dalits, had led them to offer their girl-childs to temples in Northern Karnataka, to be trained as temple-dancers as Devadasis. Since all the temple-dancers were ritually got married to the presiding deity – in this case, the Goddess Yellamma, they could not be married again. Prof. Ramberg emphasized that most often, than not, this led to such Devadasis being subjected to all kinds of sexual abuse by me, cutting across all caste and class barriers. In a somewhat controversial assertion, she also suggested that possibly this could have contributed to a feeling of liberation amongst those poor, marginalized girls to find even people from upper castes seeking sexual favours from them!