Anjamma looked at her daughter Kaveri with a mixture of pain and relief as she bathed her in the river water with the other women. Kaveri is just 10 years old and is excited at the prospect of wearing new clothes and flowers in her hair.
‘Aai(Mother), when do I get to put flowers in my hair? will they be Jasmine? I love Jasmine flowers, they smell so sweet’.
‘Kaveri, hold still, let me scrub you properly, you should be pure during your marriage ceremony’.
Today, Kaveri is to be wedded to ‘Lord Khandoba’ and become a ‘Murali’, just like her mother. She is to be a servant of god and become a ‘Devadasi’. Anjamma’s family and other men and women in Jejuri have gathered for the marriage ceremony at the temple. Kaveri is dressed in ‘Parkar Polka’ (Skirt and bodice) of bright red with a zari border. There is milk, yoghurt, butter, coconuts, flowers and turmeric powder and as the priest chants mantras, Kaveri is made to stand next to the idol and people shower her with turmeric and the marriage is solemnized.
After the marriage, life is back to routine, except when Kaveri rejoins her school, her friends tease her everyday, they call her a ‘Devadasi’ and laugh at her, but she does not understand any of it. As everyday, Kaveri came back to the hut that she calls home, with sadness and confusion. The wooden door is shut and she can see an umbrella resting near the door, she can hear noises from inside the hut and she knows that ‘Sunderappa’ has come to visit her mother. Sunderappa is the moneylender and he gives money to her mother for food and clothes and visits her few times a week. There are other men from the town and surrounding villages who visit their hut throughout the day and Kaveri has to sleep on a cot in the front of the hut if there is someone with her mother in the evening. The men give her curious looks and some even try to touch her face, she ignores them and runs away if someone tries to hold her.
One day, Kaveri asked her mother
‘Aai, who is my father?, everyone has a father, who is mine?’
‘Bala (Darling Daughter), your father is Khandoba, you are the daughter of God’. Her answer left Kaveri more confused. She wanted to have a father like other children, who would spoil her with sweets and toys. Whose name she could write in the school register.
Anjamma became a ‘Murali’ when her parents offered her to Khandoba when she was just three, to bless them with a boy. They were poor dalit farmers who were barely able to survive from their farm and needed a boy to take care of them in their old age. Added to it, the burden of raising a girl in rural Maharashtra was too much for her parents to bear.
The years passed and the day Kaveri reached puberty, the wolves came knocking at the door. The baton of survival now passed on to Kaveri. Anjamma negotiated the rate of her deflowering with the men who wanted to sleep with her and sold it to the highest bidder. The age old custom continued and Kaveri followed in her Mothers footsteps.
Kaveri is dressed up in finery and flowers provided by the patron who had made the highest bidding. He has paid a handsome amount of Rupees.1000 to complete her dedication ceremony as a Devadasi. Kaveri is terrified when the fat middle aged man entered the room, she screamed with fear but was quickly subdued by the man. Her entire world came crashing down, just yesterday she was happy running behind butterflies and stealing mangoes. Her innocence got wiped away in the single act of violence. She could not understand why her mother had allowed this to happen. Kaveri is forced to join the world’s oldest profession- prostitution. The divine dedication started at the temple and ended in rape.
For Kaveri, the years passed in a daze, she stopped going to school and was now living as a concubine. She went to the temple ceremonies and danced with her mother and other muralis. Her patron, Ramesh was already married but provided for her and she was happy being with him. The day he discovered she was pregnant, Ramesh left her and stopped providing for her.
Kaveri gave birth to a baby girl and named her Radha. Different men came in her life, some were kind and some not so. Her daughter was growing everyday and was the joy of her life. Kaveri loved Radha with all her heart. She was certain that if she lived in Jejuri, her daughter’s life will follow the same path as hers and her mothers. She refused to sacrifice her daughter’s life and decided to move to Pune and stop being a Devadasi.
Kaveri got in touch with a distant relative and moved with her daughter and mother to Pune. The big city provided her with the anonymity she needed to get rid of her previous identity. She started working as a maid at an apartment building. It was hard work but she was happy to live freely again, without the shackles of the society which made selling of women under the guise of religion acceptable.
Kaveri finished her work and walked to the Anganwadi(School) where Radha was a student in kindergarten. Her eyes searched for her beautiful daughter amongst the other children. She found her daughter and Kaveri’s heart filled with pride when she heard the sweet sound of her daughters voice saying A for Apple, B for Bat.
Kaveri had broken the circle of evil, her courage and determination had stopped the Baton of survival. She had stopped the malignant cancer of Divine Prostitution from poisoning her daughters life.
Authors Note: Jejuri is a small town near Pune famous for the temple of Lord Khandoba.
Devadasi (देवदासी) originally described a Hindu religious practice in which girls were "married" and dedicated to a deity (deva or devi). In addition to taking care of the temple and performing rituals, they learned and practiced Bharatanatyam and other classical Indian arts traditions and enjoyed a high social status. In recent times they have been associated with Prostitution. The definition has gone over a transformation in the past few centuries with changes in social, economic and political ideologies. As they lost their patronage, these women had no means to support themselves and had to move towards prostitution for earning a living. Many states in India have made it illegal for women to be offered as servants of god but the customs still continue. It requires a concentrated effort on the part of the government to rehabilitate these women and put stringent efforts to curb from more lives being destroyed.
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