Materialien zur karnatischen Musik

Musikalische Formen

4. Tanzmusik

1. Exkurs: Devadāsī / Thurston, Edgar <1855-1935> ; Rangachari, K.: Castes and tribes of southern India, 1909

Kompiliert von Alois Payer 

Zitierweise | cite as:

Payer, Alois <1944 - >: Musikalische Formen. -- 4. Tanzmusik. -- (Materialien zur karnatischen Musik 5.4.1.). -- 1. Exkurs: Devadāsī / Thurston, Edgar <1855-1935> ; Rangachari, K.: Castes and tribes of southern India, 1909. -- Fassung vom 2009-05-20. -- URL: 

Erstmals publiziert als:

Thurston, Edgar <1855-1935> ; Rangachari, K.: Castes and tribes of southern India / by Edgar Thurston ; assisted by K. Rangachari. -- Madras : Govt. Press, 1909. -- 7 Bde. : Ill. ; 24 cm. -- Bd. 2. -- S. 126 - 152. -- Online: -- Zugriff am 2008-06-15. -- "Not in copyright."

Erstmals hier publiziert: 2009-05-20


©opyright: Creative Commons Licence (by, no commercial use)

Dieser Text ist Teil der Abteilung Sanskrit von Tüpfli's Global Village Library

Abb.: Devadāsi's, Madras (Chennai), ca. 1920
[Bildquelle: Wikipedia. Public domain]

Deva-dāsī. In old Hindu works, seven classes of Dāsīs are mentioned, viz.,

  1. Dattā, or one who gives herself as a gift to a temple ;

  2. Vikrītā, or one who sells herself for the same purpose ;

  3. Bhṛtyā, or one who offers herself as a temple servant for the prosperity of her family ;

  4. Bhaktā, or one who joins a temple out of devotion ;

  5. Hṛtā, or one who is enticed away, and presented to a temple ;

  6. Alaṅkārā, or one who, being well trained in her profession, and profusely decked, is presented to a temple by kings and noblemen ;

  7. Rudragaṇikā or Gopikā, who receive regular wages from a temple, and are employed to sing and dance.

For the following general account I am indebted to the Madras Census Report, 1901 :

"Dāsīs or Deva-dāsīs (handmaidens of the gods) are dancing-girls attached to the Tamil temples, who [p. 126] subsist by dancing and music, and the practice of 'the oldest profession in the world.' The Dāsīs were probably in the beginning the result of left-handed unions between members of two different castes, but they are now partly recruited by admissions, and even purchases, from other classes. The profession is not now held in the consideration it once enjoyed. Formerly they enjoyed a considerable social position. It is one of the many inconsistencies of the Hindu religion that, though their profession is repeatedly and vehemently condemned by the Shāstras, it has always received the countenance of the church. The rise of the caste, and its euphemistic name, seem both of them to date from about the ninth and tenth centuries A.D., during which much activity prevailed in Southern India in the matter of building temples, and elaborating the services held in them. The dancing-girls' duties, then as now, were to fan the idol with chamaras (Tibetan ox tails), to carry the sacred light called kumbarti, and to sing and dance before the god when he was carried in procession. Inscriptions1 show that, in A.D. 1004, the great temple of the Chola king Rājarāja at Tanjore had attached to it four hundred talic' chēri pendugal, or women of the temple, who lived in free quarters in the four streets round about it, and were allowed tax-free land out of the endowment. Other temples had similar arrangements. At the beginning of the last century there were a hundred dancing-girls attached to the temple at Conjeeveram, who were, Buchanan tells us,2 'kept for the honour of the deities and the amusement of their votaries ; and any familiarity between these girls and an infidel would occasion scandal.' At Madura, Conjeeveram, and Tanjore there are still [p. 127] numbers of them, who receive allowances from the endowments of the big temples at these places. In former days, the profession was countenanced not only by the church, but also by the State. Abdur Razaak, a Turkish ambassador at the court of Vijayanagar in the fifteenth century, describes3 women of this class as living in State-controlled institutions, the revenue of which went towards the upkeep of the police.

1 South Indian Inscriptions, Vol. II, part 3, p. 259.

2 Journey from Madras through Mysore, Canara and Malabar, 1807.

3 Elliott. History of India.

"At the present day they form a regular caste, having its own laws of inheritance, its own customs and rules of etiquette, and its own panchāyats (councils) to see that all these are followed, and thus hold a position, which is perhaps without a parallel in any other country. Dancing-girls, dedicated to the usual profession of the caste, are formally married in a temple to a sword or a god, the tāli (marriage badge) being tied round their necks by some men of their caste. It was a standing puzzle to the census enumerators whether such women should be entered as married in the column referring to civil condition.

" Among the Dāsīs, sons and daughters inherit equally, contrary to ordinary Hindu usage. Some of the sons remain in the caste, and live by playing music for the women to dance to, and accompaniments to their songs, or by teaching singing and dancing to the younger girls, and music to the boys. These are called Nattuvans. Others marry some girl of the caste, who is too plain to be likely to be a success in the profession, and drift out of the community. Some of these affix to their names the terms Pillai and Mudali, which are the usual titles of the two castes ( Vellāla and Kaikōla) from which most of the Dāsīs are recruited, and try to live down the [p. 128] stigma attaching to their birth. Others join the Mēlakkārans or professional musicians. Cases have occurred, in which wealthy sons of dancing-women have been allowed to marry girls of respectable parentage of other castes, but they are very rare. The daughters of the caste, who are brought up to follow the caste profession, are carefully taught dancing, singing, the art of dressing well, and the ars amoris, and their success in keeping up their clientele is largely due to the contrast which they thus present to the ordinary Hindu housewife, whose ideas are bounded by the day's dinner and the babies. The dancing-girl castes, and their allies the Mēlakkārans, are now practically the sole repository of Indian music, the system of which is probably one of the oldest in the world. Besides them and the Brahmans, few study the subject. The barbers' bands of the villages usually display more energy than science. A notable exception, however, exists in Madras city, which has been known to attempt the Dead March in Saul at funerals in the Pariah quarters.

"There are two divisions among the Dāsīs, called Valangai (right-hand) and Idangai (left-hand). The chief distinction between them is that the former will have nothing to do with the Kammālans (artisans) or any other of the left-hand castes, or play or sing in their houses. The latter division is not so particular, and its members are consequently sometimes known as the Kammāla Dāsīs. Neither division, however, is allowed to have any dealings with men of the lowest castes, and violation of this rule of etiquette is tried by a panchāyat of the caste, and visited with excommunication.

"In the Telugu districts, the dancing-girls are called Bōgams and Sānis. They are supposed to be dedicated to the gods, just as the Dāsīs are, but there is [p. 129] only one temple in the northern part of the Presidency which maintains a corps of these women in the manner in vogue further south. This exception is the shrine of Sri Kurmam in Vizagapatam, the dancing-girls attached to which are known as Kurmapus. In Vizagapatam most of the Bōgams and Sānis belong to the Nāgavāsulu and Palli castes, and their male children often call themselves Nāgavāsulus, but in Nellore, Kurnool and Bellary they are often Balijas and Yerukalas. In Nellore the Bōgams are said to decline to sing in the houses of Kōmatis. The men of the Sānis do not act as accompanists to their women at nautch parties, as Bōgam and Dāsī men do.

"In the Oriya country the dancing-girl caste is called Guni, but there they have even less connection with the temples than the Bōgams and Sānis, not being even dedicated to the god.

"In the Canarese (or western) tāluks of Bellary, and in the adjoining parts of Dharwar and Mysore, a curious custom obtains among the Bōyas, Bēdarus, and certain other castes, under which a family which has no male issue must dedicate one of its daughters as a Basavi. The girl is taken to a temple, and married there to the god, a tāli and toe-rings being put on her, and thenceforward she becomes a public woman, except that she does not consort with any one of lower caste than herself. She is not, however, despised on this account, and indeed at weddings she prepares the tāli (perhaps because she can never be a widow). Contrary to all Hindu Law, she shares in the family property as though she was a son, but her right to do so has not yet been confirmed by the Civil Courts. If she has a son, he takes her father's name, but if only a daughter, that daughter again becomes a Basavi. The children of Basavis [p. 130] marry within their own caste, without restrictions of any kind.

"In Malabar there is no regular community of dancing-girls ; nor is there among the Mussalmans of any part of the Presidency."

"No doubt," Monier Williams writes,1 "Dāsīs drive a profitable trade under the sanction of religion, and some courtesans have been known to amass enormous fortunes. Nor do they think it inconsistent with their method of making money to spend it in works of piety. Here and there Indian bridges and other useful public works owe their existence to the liberality of the frail sisterhood." The large tank (lake) at Channarayapatna in Mysore was built by two dancing-girls.

1 Brahmanism and Hinduism.

In the Travancore Census Report, 1901, the Dāsīs of the Coromandel coast are compared, in the words of a Sanskrit poet, to walking flesh-trees bearing golden fruits. The observant Abbé Dubois noticed that, of all the women in India, it is especially the courtesans who are the most decently clothed, as experience has taught them that for a woman to display her charms damps sensual ardour instead of exciting it, and that the imagination is more easily captivated than the eye.

It was noticed by Lord Dufferin, on the occasion of a Viceregal visit to Madura, that the front part of the dress of the dancing-girls hangs in petticoats, but the back is only trousers.

The Rev. A. Margöschis writes in connection with the practice of dilating the lobes of the ears in Tinnevelly, that, as it was once the fashion and a mark of respectability to have long ears, so now the converse is true. Until a few years ago, if a woman had short ears, she [p. 131] was asked if she was a Deva-dāsī, because that class kept their ears natural. Now, with the change of customs all round, even dancing-girls are found with long ears.

"The dancing-girls are," the Rev. M. Phillips writes,1 "the most accomplished women among the Hindus. They read, write, sing and play as well as dance. Hence one of the great objections urged at first against the education of girls was 'We don't want our daughters to become dancing-girls '."

1 Evolution of Hinduism, 1903.

It is on record1 that, in 1791, the Nabob of the Carnatic dined with the Governor of Madras, and that, after dinner, they were diverted with the dancing wenches, and the Nabob was presented with cordial waters, French brandy and embroidered China quilts. The story is told of a Governor of Madras in more recent times, who, ignorant of the inverse method of beckoning to a person to advance or retreat in the East, was scandalised when a nautch girl advanced rapidly, till he thought she was going to sit in his lap. At a nautch in the fort of the Mandasa Zemindar in honour of Sir M. E. Grant Duff,2 the dancing-girls danced to the air of Malbrook se va t'en guerre. Bussy taught it to the dancing-girls, and they to their neighbours. In the Vizagapatam and Godavari jungles, natives apostrophise tigers as Bussy. Whether the name is connected with Bussy I know not.

1 J. T. Wheeler. Madras in the Olden Time.

2 Notes from a Diary, 1881 86.

Of Deva-dāsīs at the Court of Tippoo Sultan, the following account was published in 1801.1 "Comme Souverain d'une partie du Visapour, Tippoo-Sai'b [p. 132] jouissoit de la facilité d'avoir parmi ses bayadères celles qui étoient les plus renommées par leurs talents, leurs grâces, leur beauté, etc. Ces bayadères sont des danseuses supérieures dans leur genre ; tout danse et tout joue en même-tems chez elles ; leur tête, leurs yeux, leurs bras, leurs pieds, tout leur corps, semblent ne se mouvoir que from enchanter ; elles sont d'une incroyable légèreté, et ont le jarret aussi fort que souple ; leur taille est des plus sveltes et des plus élégantes, et elles n'ont pas un mouvement qui ne soit une grâce. La plus âge de ces femmes n'avoit pas plus de seize á dix-sept ans. Aussi tôt qu'elles atteignaient cet âge, on les réformait, et alors elles alloient courir les provinces, on s'attachaient a des pagodes, dans lesquelles elles étoient entretenues, et ou leurs charmes étoient un des meilleurs revenus des brames."

1 J. Michaud. Histoire des Progres et de la Chute de FEmpire de Mysore, sons les Regnes d'Hyder-Aly et Tippoo Saib.

General Burton narrates1 how a civilian of the old school built a house at Bhavāni, and established a corps de ballet, i.e., a set of nautch girls, whose accomplishments actually extended to singing God save the King, and this was kept up by their descendants, so that, when he visited the place in 1852, he was "greeted by the whole party, bedizened in all their finery, and squalling the national anthem as if they understood it, which they did not." With this may be contrasted a circular from a modern European official, which states that "during my jamabandy (land revenue settlement) tour, people have sometimes been kind enough to arrange singing or dancing parties, and, as it would have been discourteous to decline to attend what had cost money to arrange, I have accepted the compliment in the spirit in which it was offered. I should, however, be glad if you would [p. 133] let it be generally known that I am entirely in accord with what is known as the anti-nautch movement in regard to such performances."

1 An Indian Olio.

It was unanimously decided, in 1905, by the Executive Committee of the Prince and Princess of Wales' reception fund, that there should be no performance by nautch girls at the entertainment to be given to Their Royal Highnesses at Madras.

In a note on Basavis, the Collector of the Bellary district writes that "it is usual among Hindus to dedicate a bull for public use on the death of a member of their family. These are the breeding bulls of the village flock. Similarly, cows are dedicated, and are called Basavis. No stigma attaches to Basavis or their children, and they are received on terms of equality by other members of their caste. The origin of the institution, it has been suggested, may probably be traced to the time when the Bōyas, and other castes which dedicate Basavis, were soldiers, and the Basavis acted as camp-followers and nurses of the wounded in battle. According to Hindu custom, the wives of the men could not be taken from their homes, and, other women of the caste being required to attend to their comforts, the institution of Basavis might have been started ; or, if they existed before then as religious devotees attached to temples, they might have been pressed into their service, and the number added to as occasion required. In Narayandēvarkeri there are many Bōyas and many Basavis. On the car-festival day, the Bōyas cannot take meals until the car is taken back to its original place after the procession. Sometimes, owing to some accident, this cannot be done the same day, and the car-drawing Bōyas sleep near the car, and do not go to their houses. Then it is their Basavis who bring [p. 134] them food, and not their wives." At Adoni I have seen a Basavi, who was working at a cotton press for a daily wage of three annas, in full dress on a holiday in honour of a local deity, wearing an elaborately chased silver waist belt and abundant silver jewelry. The following are examples of petitions presented to a European Magistrate and Superintendent of Police by girls who are about to become Basavis :

Petition of ---- aged about 17 or 18.

I have agreed to become a Basavi, and get myself stamped by my guru (priest) according to the custom of my caste. I request that my proper age, which entitles me to be stamped, may be personally ascertained, and permission granted to be stamped.

The stamping refers to branding with the emblems of the chank and chakram.

Petition of --- wife of ---.

I have got two daughters, aged 15 and 12 respectively. As I have no male issues, I have got to necessarily celebrate the ceremony in the temple in connection with the tying of the goddess's tāli to my two daughters under the orders of the guru, in accordance with the customs of my caste. I, therefore, submit this petition for fear that the authorities may raise any objection (under the Age of Consent Act). I, therefore, request that the Honourable Court may be pleased to give permission to the tying of the tāli to my daughters.

Petition of two girls, aged 17 to 19.

Our father and mother are dead. Now we wish to be like prostitutes, as we are not willing to be married, and thus establish our house-name. Our mother also was of this profession. We now request permission to be prostitutes according to our religion, after we are sent before the Medical Officer.

The permission referred to in the above petitions bears reference to a decision of the High Court that, a girl who becomes a Basavi being incapable of contracting a legal marriage, her dedication when a minor is an offence under the Penal Code. [p. 135]

At Adoni the dead body of a new-born infant was found in a ditch, and a Basavi, working with others in a cotton factory, was suspected of foul play. The station-house officer announced his intention of visiting the factory, and she who was in a state of lactation, and could produce no baby to account for her condition, would be the culprit. Writing concerning the Basavis of the Bellary district,1 Mr. W. Francis tells us that "parents without male issue often, instead of adopting a son in the usual manner, dedicate a daughter by a simple ceremony to the god of some temple, and thenceforth, by immemorial custom, she may inherit her parents' property, and perform their funeral rites as if she was a son. She does not marry, but lives in her parents' house with any man of equal or higher caste whom she may select, and her children inherit her father's name and bedagu (sept), and not those of their own father. If she has a son, he inherits her property ; if she has only a daughter, that daughter again becomes a Basavi. Parents desiring male issue of their own, cure from sickness in themselves or their children, or relief from some calamity, will similarly dedicate their daughter. The children of a Basavi are legitimate, and neither they nor their mothers are treated as being in any way inferior to their fellows. A Basavi, indeed, from the fact that she can never be a widow, is a most welcome guest at weddings. Basavis differ from the ordinary dancing-girls dedicated at temples in that their duties in the temples (which are confined to the shrine of their dedication) are almost nominal, and that they do not prostitute themselves promiscuously for hire. A Basavi very usually lives faithfully with one man, who allows her a fixed sum weekly for her maintenance, and a fixed quantity of new raiment annually, and she works for her family as hard as any other woman. Basavis are outwardly indistinguishable from other women, and are for the most part coolies. In places there is a custom by which they are considered free to change their protectors once a year at the village car-festival or some similar anniversary, and they usually seize this opportunity of putting their partner's affections to the test by suggesting that a new cloth and bodice would be a welcome present. So poor, as a rule, are the husbands that the police aver that the anniversaries are preceded by an unusual crop of petty thefts and burglaries committed by them in their efforts to provide their customary gifts." A recent report of a Police Inspector in the Bellary district states that "crimes are committed here and there, as this is Nagarapanchami time. Nagarapanchami festival is to be celebrated at the next Ammavasya or new-moon day. It is at that time the people keeping the prostitutes should pay their dues on that day ; otherwise they will have their new engagements."

1 Manual of the Bellary district.

In the Kurnool district, the Basavi system is practised by the Bōyas, but differs from that in vogue in Bellary and Mysore. The object of making a Basavi, in these two localities, is to perpetuate the family when there is no male heir. If the only issue in a family is a female, the family becomes extinct if she marries, as by marriage she changes her sept. To prevent this, she is not married, but dedicated as a Basavi, and continues to belong to her father's sept, to which also any male issue which is born to her belongs. In the Kurnool district the motive in making Basavis is different. The girl is not wedded to an idol, but, on an auspicious day, is tied by means of a garland of flowers to the garuda kambham [p. 137] (lamp) of a Balija Dāsari. She is released either by the man who is to receive her first favours, or by her maternal uncle. A simple feast is held, and a string of black beads tied round the girl's neck. She becomes a prostitute, and her children do not marry into respectable Bōya families.

"Basava women," Dr. E. Balfour writes,1 "are sometimes married to a dagger, sometimes to an idol. In making a female child over to the service of the temple, she is taken and dedicated for life to some idol. A khanjar, or dagger, is placed on the ground, and the girl who is to undergo the ceremony puts a garland thereon. Her mother then puts rice on the girl's forehead. The officiating priest then weds the girl to the dagger, just as if he was uniting her to a boy in marriage, by reciting the marriage stanzas, a curtain being held between the girl and the dagger." In an account of the initiation ceremony of the Basavis of the Bellary district Mr. F. Fawcett writes as follows.2 "A sword with a lime stuck on its point is placed upright beside the novice, and held in her right hand. It represents the bridegroom, who, in the corresponding ceremony of Hindu marriage, sits on the bride's right. A tray, on which are a kalasyam (vessel of water) and a lamp, is then produced, and moved thrice in front of the girl. She rises, and, carrying the sword in her right hand, places it in the god's sanctuary. Among the dancing-girls very similar ceremonies are performed. With them, the girl's spouse is represented by a drum instead of a sword, and she bows to it. Her insignia consist of a drum and bells." In a further note on the dedication of Basavis, Mr. Fawcett writes3 that "a tāli, [p. 138] on which is depicted the nāmam of Vishnu, fastened to a necklace of black beads, is tied round her neck. She is given by way of insignia a cane as a wand carried in the right hand, and a gopālam or begging basket, which is slung on the left arm. She is then branded with the emblems of the chank and chakra. In another account4 of the marriage ceremony among dancing-girls, it is stated that the Bōgams, who are without exception prostitutes, though they are not allowed to marry, go through a marriage ceremony, which is rather a costly one. Sometimes a wealthy Native bears the expense, makes large presents to the bride, and receives her first favours. Where no such opportunity offers itself, a sword or other weapon represents the bridegroom, and an imaginary nuptial ceremony is performed. Should the Bōgam woman have no daughter, she invariably adopts one, usually paying a price for her, the Kaikōla (weaver) caste being the ordinary one from which to take a child.

1 Cyclopaedia of India.

2 Journ. Anth. Soc., Bombay, Vol. II.

3 Journ. Anth. Soc., Bombay, 1891.

4 Manual of the North Arcot district.

Among the Kaikōlan musicians of Coimbatore, at least one girl in every family should be set apart for the temple service, and she is instructed in music and dancing. At the tāli-tying ceremony she is decorated with jewels, and made to stand on a heap of paddy (unhusked rice). A folded cloth is held before her by two Dāsīs, who also stand on heaps of paddy. The girl catches hold of the cloth, and her dancing master, who is seated behind her, grasping her legs, moves them up and down in time with the music which is played. In the evening she is taken, astride a pony, to the temple, where a new cloth for the idol, the tāli, and other articles required for doing pūjā (worship) have been got ready. The girl is seated facing [p. 139] the idol, and the officiating Brahman gives sandal and flowers to her, and ties the tāli, which has been lying at the feet of the idol, round her neck. The tāli consists of a golden disc and black beads. She continues to learn music and dancing, and eventually goes through the form of a nuptial ceremony. The relations are invited on an auspicious day, and the maternal uncle, or his representative, ties a golden band on the girl's forehead, and, carrying her, places her on a plank before the assembled guests. A Brahman priest recites mantrams (prayers), and prepares the sacred fire (homam). For the actual nuptials a rich Brahman, if possible, and, if not, a Brahman of more lowly status is invited. A Brahman is called in, as he is next in importance to, and the representative of, the idol. As a Dāsī can never become a widow, the beads in her tāli are considered to bring good luck to women who wear them. And some people send the tāli required for a marriage to a Dāsī, who prepares the string for it, and attaches to it black beads from her own tāli. A Dāsī is also deputed to walk at the head of Hindu marriage processions. Married women do not like to do this, as they are not proof against evil omens, which the procession may meet. And it is believed that Dāsīs, to whom widowhood is unknown, possess the power of warding off the effects of inauspicious omens. It may be remarked, en passant, that Dāsīs are not at the present day so much patronised at Hindu marriages as in olden times. Much is due in this direction to the progress of enlightened ideas, which have of late been strongly put forward by Hindu social reformers. When a Kaikōlan Dāsī dies, her body is covered with a new cloth removed from the idol, and flowers are supplied from the temple, to which she belonged. No pūjā is performed in the temple till the [p. 140] corpse is disposed of, as the idol, being her husband, has to observe pollution.

"In former times, dancing-girls used to sleep three nights at the commencement of their career in the inner shrine of the Koppesvara temple at Palivela in the Godavari district, so as to be embraced by the god. But one of them, it is said, disappeared one night, and the practice has ceased. The funeral pyre of every girl of the dancing girl (Sāni) caste dying in the village should be lit with fire brought from the temple. The same practice is found in the Srirangam temple near Trichinopoly."1

1 Gazetteer of the Godavari district.

The following account of Dāsīs in Travancore, where their total strength is only about four hundred, is taken from a note by Mr. N. Subramani Aiyer. "While the Dāsīs of Kartikappalli, Ambalapuzha, and Shertallay belonged originally to the Konkan coast, those of Shenkottah belonged to the Pāndian country. But the South Travancore Dāsīs are an indigenous class. The female members of the caste are, besides being known by the ordinary name of Tēvadiyāl and Dāsī, both meaning servant of God, called Kudikkar, meaning those belonging to the house (i.e., given rent free by the Sirkar), and Pendukal, or women, the former of these designations being more popular than the latter. Males are called Tēvadiyan, though many prefer to be known as Nanchināt Vellālas. Males, like these Vellālas, take the title of Pillai. In ancient days Deva-dāsīs, who became experts in singing and dancing, received the title of Rāyar (king) which appears to have been last conferred in 1847 A.D. The South Travancore Dāsīs neither interdine nor intermarry with the dancing-girls of the Tamil-speaking districts. They adopt girls only [p. 141] from a particular division of the Nāyars, Tamil Padam, and dance only in temples. Unlike their sisters outside Travancore, they do not accept private engagements in houses on the occasion of marriage. The males, in a few houses, marry the Tamil Padam and Padamangalam Nāyars, while some Padamangalam Nāyars and Nanchināt Vellālas in their turn take their women as wives.

" When a dancing-woman becomes too old or diseased, and thus unable to perform her usual temple duties, she applies to the temple authorities for permission to remove her ear-pendants (todus). The ceremony takes place at the palace of the Mahārāja. At the appointed spot the officers concerned assemble, and the woman, seated on a wooden plank, proceeds to unhook the pendants, and places them, with a nuzzur (gift) of twelve fanams (coins), on the plank. Directly after this she turns about, and walks away without casting a second glance at the ear-ornaments which have been laid down. She becomes immediately a taikkizhavi or old mother, and is supposed to lead a life of retirement and resignation. By way of distinction, a Dāsī in active service is referred to as ātumpātram. Though the ear-ornaments are at once returned to her from the palace, the woman is never again permitted to put them on, but only to wear the pampadam, or antiquated ear-ornament of Tamil Śūdra women. Her temple wages undergo a slight reduction, consequent on her proved incapacity.

"In some temples, as at Kēralapuram, there are two divisions of dancing-girls, one known as the Murakkudi to attend to the daily routine, the other as the Chirappukuti to serve on special occasions. The special duties that may be required of the South Travancore Dāsīs are:

  1. to attend the two Utsavas at Sri [p. 142] Padmanābahswami's temple, and the Dusserah at the capital ;

  2. to meet and escort members of the royal family at their respective village limits ;

  3. to undertake the prescribed fasts for the Apamargam ceremony in connection with the annual festival of the temple. On these days strict continence is enjoined, and they are fed at the temple, and allowed only one meal a day.

"The principal deities of the dancing-girls are those to whom the temples, in which they are employed, are dedicated. They observe the new and full-moon days, and the last Friday of every month as important. The Onam, Sivarātri, Tye-Pongal, Dīpāvali, and Chitrapurnami are the best recognised religious festivals. Minor deities, such as Bhadrakāli, Yakshi, and Ghandarva are worshipped by the figure of a trident or sword being drawn on the wall of the house, to which food and sweetmeats are offered on Fridays. The priests on these occasions are Ōcchans. There are no recognized headmen in the caste. The services of Brahmans are resorted to for the purpose of purification, of Nampiyans and Saiva Vellālas for the performance of funeral rites, and of Kurukkals on occasions of marriage, and for the final ceremonies on the sixteenth day after death.

"Girls belonging to this caste may either be dedicated to temple service, or married to a male member of the caste. No woman can be dedicated to the temple after she has reached puberty. On the occasion of marriage, a sum of from fifty to a hundred and fifty rupees is given to the bride's house, not as a bride-price, but for defraying the marriage expenses. There is a preliminary ceremony of betrothal, and the marriage is celebrated at an auspicious hour. The Kurukkal recites a few hymns, and the ceremonies, which include the tying of the tāli, continue for four days. The couple [p. 143] commence joint life on the sixteenth day after the girl has reached puberty. It is easy enough to get a divorce, as this merely depends upon the will of one of the two parties, and the woman becomes free to receive clothes from another person in token of her having entered into a fresh matrimonial alliance.

"All applications for the presentation of a girl to the temple are made to the temple authorities by the senior dancing-girl of the temple, the girl to be presented being in all cases from six to eight years of age. If she is closely related to the applicant, no enquiries regarding her status and claim need be made. In all other cases, formal investigations are instituted, and the records taken are submitted to the chief revenue officer of the division for orders. Some paddy (rice) and five fanams are given to the family from the temple funds towards the expenses of the ceremony. The practice at the Suchindrum temple is to convene, on an auspicious day, a yoga or meeting, composed of the Valiya Sri-kariyakkar, the Yogattil Potti, the Vattappalli Muttatu, and others, at which the preliminaries are arranged. The girl bathes, and goes to the temple on the morning of the selected day with two new cloths, betel leaves and nuts. The temple priest places the cloths and the tāli at the feet of the image, and sets apart one for the divine use. The tāli consists of a triangular bottu, bearing the image of Ganesa, with a gold bead on either side. Taking the remaining cloth and the tāli, and sitting close to the girl, the priest, facing to the north, proceeds to officiate. The girl sits, facing the deity, in the inner sanctuary. The priest kindles the fire, and performs all the marriage ceremonies, following the custom of the Tirukkalyānam festival, when Siva is represented as marrying Pārvatī. He then teaches the girl the Panchākshara hymn if the [p. 144] temple is Saivite, and Ashtākshara if it is Vaishnavite, presents her with the cloth, and ties the tāli round her neck. The Nattuvan, or dancing-master, instructs her for the first time in his art, and a quantity of raw rice is given to her by the temple authorities. The girl, thus married, is taken to her house, where the marriage festivities are celebrated for two or three days. As in Brahmanical marriages, the rolling of a cocoanut to and fro is gone through, the temple priest or an elderly Dāsī, dressed in male attire, acting the part of the bridegroom. The girl is taken in procession through the streets.

"The birth of male children is not made an occasion for rejoicing, and, as the proverb goes, the lamp on these occasions is only dimly lighted. Inheritance is in the female line, and women are the absolute owners of all property earned. When a dancing-girl dies, some paddy and five fanams are given from the temple to which she was attached, to defray the funeral expenses. The temple priest gives a garland, and a quantity of ashes for decorating the corpse. After this, a Nampiyan, an Ōcchan, some Vellāla headmen, and a Kudikkari, having no pollution, assemble at the house of the deceased. The Nampiyan consecrates a pot of water with prayers, the Ōcchan plays on his musical instrument, and the Vellālas and Kudikkari powder the turmeric to be smeared over the corpse. In the case of temple devotees, their dead bodies must be bathed with this substance by the priest, after which alone the funeral ceremonies may proceed. The Kartā (chief mourner), who is the nearest male relative, has to get his whole head shaved. When a temple priest dies, though he is a Brahman, the dancing-girl, on whom he has performed the vicarious marriage rite, has to go to his death-bed, and prepare the turmeric powder to be dusted over his corpse. The anniversary [p. 145] of the death of the mother and maternal uncle are invariably observed.

"The adoption of a dancing-girl is a lengthy ceremony. The application to the temple authorities takes the form of a request that the girl to be adopted may be made heir to both kuti and pati, that is, to the house and temple service of the person adopting. The sanction of the authorities having been obtained, all concerned meet at the house of the person who is adopting, a document is executed, and a ceremony, of the nature of the Jātakarma, performed. The girl then goes through the marriage rite, and is handed over to the charge of the music teacher to be regularly trained in her profession."

As bearing on the initiation, laws of inheritance, etc., of Deva-dāsīs, the following cases, which have been argued in the Madras High Court, may be quoted1:

1 See also collection of decisions on the law of succession, maintenance, etc., applicable to dancing-girls and their issues. C. Ramachendrier, Madras, 1892.

(a) In a charge against a dancing-girl of having purchased a young girl, aged five, with the intent that she would be used for the purpose of prostitution, or knowing it to be likely that she would be so used, evidence was given of the fact of purchase for sixty rupees, and that numerous other dancing-girls, residing in the neighbourhood, were in the habit of obtaining girls and bringing them up as dancing-girls or prostitutes, and that there were no instances of girls brought up by dancing-girls ever having been married. One witness stated that there were forty dancing-girls' houses in the town (Adoni), and that their chief source of income was prostitution, and that the dancing-girls, who have no daughters of their own, get girls from others, bring them up, and eventually make them dancing-girls or [p. 146] prostitutes. He added that the dancing-girls get good incomes by bringing up girls in preference to boys. Another witness stated that dancing-girls, when they grow old, obtain girls and bring them up to follow their profession, and that good-looking girls are generally bought.1

1 Indian Law Reports, Madras Series, XXIII, 1900.

(b) The evidence showed that two of the prisoners were dancing-girls of a certain temple, that one of them took the two daughters of the remaining prisoner to the pagoda, to be marked as dancing-girls, and that they were so marked, and their names entered in the accounts of the pagoda. The first prisoner (the mother of the girls) disposed of the children to the third prisoner for the consideration of a neck ornament and thirty-five rupees. The children appeared to be of the ages of seven and two years, respectively. Evidence was taken, which tended to prove that dancing-girls gain their livelihood by the performance of certain offices in pagodas, by assisting in the performance of ceremonies in private houses, by dancing and singing upon the occasion of marriage, and by prostitution.1

2 Ibid., Vol. V, 1869-70.

(c) The first prisoner presented an application for the enrolment of his daughter as a dancing-girl at one of the great pagodas. He stated her age to be thirteen. She attained puberty a month or two after her enrolment. Her father was the servant of a dancing-girl, the second prisoner, who had been teaching the minor dancing for some five years. The evidence showed that the second prisoner brought the girl to the pagoda, that both first and second prisoners were present when the bottu (or tāli) was tied, and other ceremonies of the dedication performed ; that third prisoner, as Battar of the temple, [p. 147] was the person who actually tied the bottu, which denotes that the Dāsī is wedded to the idol. There was the usual evidence that dancing-girls live by prostitution, though occasionally kept by the same man for a year or more.1

1 Ibid., Vol. I, 1876-78.

(d) The plaintiff, a Deva-dāsī, complained that, when she brought offerings according to custom and placed them before the God at a certain festival, and asked the Archakas (officiating priests) to present the offerings to the God, burn incense, and then distribute them, they refused to take the offerings on the ground that the Deva-dāsī had gone to a Kōmati's house to dance. She claimed damages, Rs. 10, for the rejected offerings, and Rs. 40 for loss of honour, and a perpetual injunction to allow her to perform the mantapa hadi (sacrifice) at the Chittrai Vasanta festival. The priests pleaded that the dancing-girl had, for her bad conduct in having danced at a Kōmati's house, and subsequently refused to expiate the deed by drinking panchagavyan (five products of the cow) according to the shāstras, been expelled both from her caste and from the temple.1

1 Ibid., Vol. VI, 1883.

(e) In a certain temple two dancing-girls were dedicated by the Dharmakarta to the services of the temple without the consent of the existing body of dancing-girls, and the suit was instituted against the Dharmakarta and these two Deva-dāsīs, asking that the Court should ascertain and declare the rights of the Deva-dāsīs of the pagoda in regard (1) to the dedication of Deva-dāsīs, (2) to the Dharmakarta's power to bind and suspend them ; and that the Court should ascertain and declare the rights of the plaintiff, the existing Deva-dāsīs, as to the exclusion of all other Deva-dāsīs, [p. 148] save those who are related to or adopted by some one of the Deva-dāsīs for the time being, or those who, being approved by all, are elected and proposed to the Dharmakarta for dedication. That the new Dāsīs may be declared to have been improperly dedicated, and not entitled to any of the rights of Deva-dāsīs, and restrained from attending the pagoda in that character, and from interfering with the duly dedicated Deva-dāsīs in the exercise of their office. That first defendant be restrained from stamping and dedicating other Deva-dāsīs but such as are duly approved. The Judge dismissed the case on the ground that it would be contrary to public policy to make the declaration prayed for, as, in so doing, the Court would be lending itself to bringing the parties under the criminal law. In the appeal, which was dismissed, one of the Judges remarked that the plaintiffs claimed a right exclusive to themselves and a few other dancing-women, professional prostitutes, to present infant female children for dedication to the temple as dancing-girls to be stamped as such, and so accredited to become at maturity professional prostitutes, private or public.1

Ibid., Vol. I, 1876-78.

(f) A Deva-dāsī sued to establish her right to the mirāsi (fees) of dancing-girls in a certain pagoda, and to be put in possession of the said mirāsi together with the honours and perquisites attached thereto, and to recover twenty-four rupees, being the value of said perquisites and honours for the year preceding. She alleged that the Dharmakarta of the pagoda and his agents wrongfully dismissed her from the office because she had refused to acquiesce in the admission by the Dharmakarta of new dancing-girls into the pagoda service, of [p. 149] which she claimed the monopoly for herself and the then existing families of dancing-girls. The District Judge dismissed the suit, but the High Court ordered a re-investigation as to the question of the existence of an hereditary office with endowments or emoluments attached to it.1

1 Ibid., Vol. I, 1876-78.

(g) A girl, aged seventeen, instituted a suit against the trustees of a pagoda. It was alleged that a woman who died some years previously was one of the dancing-women attached to the pagoda, and, as such, entitled to the benefit of one of the temple endowments ; that she had taken in adoption the plaintiff, who was accordingly entitled to succeed to her office and the emoluments attached to it ; that the plaintiff could not enter on the office until a bottu-tāli had been tied on her in the temple ; and that the trustees did not permit this to be done. The prayer of the plaint was that the defendants be compelled to allow the tāli to be tied in the temple in view to the girl performing the dancing service, and enjoying the honours and endowments attached thereto. The Judge dismissed the suit on the ground that the claim was inadmissible, as being in effect a claim by the plaintiff to be enlisted as a public prostitute.1

1 Ibid., Vol. XIX, 1896.

(h) On the death of a prostitute dancing-girl, her adopted niece, belonging to the same class, succeeds to her property, in whatever way it is acquired, in preference to a brother remaining in his caste. The general rule is that the legal relation between a prostitute dancing-girl and her undegraded relations remaining in caste be severed. 1

1 Ibid., Vol. XIII, 1890.

(i) A pauper sued his sister for the partition of property valued at Rs. 34,662. The parties belonged to [p. 150] the Bōgam caste in the Godāvari district. The woman pleaded that the property had been acquired by her as a prostitute, and denied her brother's claim to it. He obtained a decree for only Rs. 100, being a moiety of the property left by their mother. The High Court held, on the evidence as to the local custom of the caste, that the decree was right.1

1 Ibid., Vol, XIV, 1891.

(j) The accused, a Mādiga of the Bellary district, dedicated his minor daughter as a Basavi by a form of marriage with an idol. It appeared that a Basavi is incapable of contracting a lawful marriage, and ordinarily practices promiscuous intercourse with men, and that her sons succeed to her father's property. It was held that the accused had committed an offence under the Penal Code, which lays down that "whoever sells, lets to hire, or otherwise disposes of any minor under the age of sixteen years, with intent that such minor shall be employed or used for the purpose of prostitution, or for any unlawful and immoral purpose, shall be punished, etc." The Sessions judge referred to evidence that it was not a matter of course for Basavis to prostitute themselves for money, and added : "The evidence is very clear that Basavis are made in accordance with a custom of the Mādiga caste. It is also in evidence that one of the effects of making a girl Basavi is that her male issue becomes a son of her father, and perpetuates his family, whereas, if she were married, he would perpetuate her husband's family. In this particular case, the girl was made a Basavi that she might be heir to her aunt, who was a Basavi, but childless. Siddalingana Gowd says that they and their issue inherit the parents' property. There is evidence that Basavis [p. 151] are made on a very large scale, and that they live in their parents' houses. There is no evidence that they are regarded otherwise than as respectable members of the caste. It seems as if the Basavi is the Mādiga and Bēdar equivalent of the "appointed daughter" of Hindu law (Mitakshara, Chap. I, s. xi, 3). Upon the whole, the evidence seems to establish that, among the Mādigas, there is a widespread custom of performing, in a temple at Uchangidurgam, a marriage ceremony, the result of which is that the girl is married without possibility of widowhood or divorce ; that she is at liberty to have intercourse with men at her pleasure ; that her children are heirs to her father, and keep up his family ; and that Basavi's nieces, being made Basavis, become their heirs. The Basavis seem in some cases to become prostitutes, but the language used by the witnesses generally points only to free intercourse with men, and not necessarily to receipt of payment for use of their bodies. In fact, they seem to acquire the right of intercourse with men without more discredit than accrues to the men of their caste for intercourse with women who are not their wives.1

1 Ibid., Vol. XV, 1892

It may be observed that Deva-dāsīs are the only class of women, who are, under Hindu law as administered in the British Courts, allowed to adopt girls to themselves. Amongst the other castes, a widow, for instance, cannot adopt to herself, but only to her husband, and she cannot adopt a daughter instead of a son. A recent attempt by a Brahman at Poona to adopt a daughter, who should take the place of a natural-born daughter, was held to be invalid by general law, and not sanctioned by local usage.1 The same would be held in [p. 151] Madras. " But among dancing-girls," Mayne writes,2 "it is customary in Madras and Western India to adopt girls to follow their adoptive mother's profession, and the girls so adopted succeed to their property. No particular ceremonies are necessary, recognition alone being sufficient. In the absence, however, of a special custom, and on the analogy of an ordinary adoption, only one girl can be adopted." In Calcutta and Bombay these adoptions by dancing-girls have been held invalid.3

1 Ganga Bai v. Anant. 13 Bom., 690.

2 Hindu Law and Usage.

3 Macnaghten, Digest.

Of proverbs relating to dancing-girls, the following may be quoted :

  1. The dancing-girl who could not dance said that the hall was not big enough. The Rev. H. Jensen gives1 as an equivalent "When the devil could not swim, he laid the blame on the water."

  2. If the dancing-girl be alive, and her mother dies, there will be beating of drums ; but, if the dancing-girl dies, there will be no such display. This is explained by Jensen as meaning that, to secure the favour of a dancing-girl, many men will attend her mother's funeral ; but, if the dancing-girl herself dies, there is nothing to be gained by attending the funeral.

  3. Like a dancing-girl wiping a child. Jensen remarks that a dancing-girl is supposed to have no children, so she does not know how to keep them clean. Said of one who tries to mend a matter, but lacks experience, and makes things worse than they were before.

  4. As when a boy is born in a dancing-girl's house. Jensen notes that, if dancing-girls have children, they desire to have girls, that they may be brought up to their own profession. [p. 153]

  5. The dancing-girl, who was formerly more than filled with good food in the temple, now turns a somersault to get a poor man's rice.

  6. If a matron is chaste, she may live in the dancing-girl's street.

1 Classified Collection of Tamil Proverbs, 1897.

The insigne of courtesans, according to the Conjeeveram records, is a Cupid, that of a Christian, a currycomb.1

1J. S. F. Mackenzie. Ind. Ant., IV, 1875.

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