Popcorn Zone

Mysticism & Places of Worship #AtoZChallenge

Mysticism- a complex term that has varied definitions across.  If I had to put this term in simpler terms it would be as follows. Mysticism is a spiritual discipline used to make a contact with the divine. India has numerous places of worship that have some sort of mysticism associated with it.

But are some of these mystical practices good for the society we live in? Here is a bit about a lesser known temple in Karnataka – Yellamma Guda Temple. 

Yellamma Guda temple is the temple of Renuka Devi, at Saundatti village, Karnataka, India. The temple hosts the Yellamma Jatara Festival every year, where over two lakh people take part to worship the deity Yellamma Devi (also known as Renuka).

The Yellamma Gudi temple is known for its ancient traditions, going back centuries. It speaks of faith in abundance and rituals aplenty. One such age old tradition of the temple is the “Devadasi System” where young girls are dedicated to the temple by way of marriage. Once dedicated, they become a property of the temple and are to be dutiful to its spiritual needs. This not only encompasses appeasing the deity by way of chaste rituals, but it also includes singing and dancing before the village chiefs, satisfying the sexual urges of the priest and the menfolk of the community. The girls are generally from poor households who are born weak, sick or with deformities. Years ago, there were elaborate dedication ceremonies, where the girls were paraded naked. But with the “Devadasi Prohibition Act” this has been discontinued.

An older Devadasi woman begs at the entrance of the Yellamma Temple in Saundatti, India during the Yellamma Jatre (fesitval) . Most Devadasis over the age of 44 either beg or act as a jogati, spreading the word of Yellamma and sometimes acting as a medium through whom Yellamma speaks. Older Devadasis are often involved in recruiting young girls to be dedicated as new Devadasis, thus perpetuating the system. Photo and Caption Credit Julia Cumes
A Devadasi woman worships the goddess, Yellamma. Photo Credit: Julia Cumes

Something got me thinking here, the fact that despite the Act and the spread of awareness by numerous NGO’s this mystical practice continues till date- but in secrecy. You may still find people offering their girls, those who come to the temple covered in neem leaves, and performing the customary ritual of being offered to the deity- all in secrecy.

Despite a Devadasi Prohibition Act, the practice continues in some parts of Karnataka and Maharashtra till date.

  • These women are denied basic rights and live in such pitiable conditions that most take up prostitution for a living.
  • Children born out of such relationships carry on a life of misery, with minimal or no schooling owing to poverty and social outcast.
  • Most are later sold to red-light districts in bigger cities such as Pune or Mumbai by priests, who act as pimps.

*All photo credits in this blog post goes to Julia Cumes. Julia Cumes is a photographer based on Cape Cod, MA.  She specializes in photojournalism, environmental portraiture, travel and editorial photography as well as fine art photography. Her website is juliacumes.com

This is a part of my journey exploring 26 lesser known shades of a country called India, with the #AtoZChallenge 2016!!!

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  • Jayanthi

    Let us not look at every social practice from a western aspect.

    Actually these were practices that in an earlier era of social fabric served a purpose. These were talented women who could break free of patriarchal oppression and promote excellence in art and music. If you look at the positive side the Devadasi tradition, they enjoyed freedom from the oppressive patriarchal norms that other women were bound into. The famous singer MS Subbulakshmi was born to a Devadasi which explains her musical genius, but was tamed into being a docile brahmin wife after she married the man who was a marketing genius and made an international brand out of her.


    Bangalore Nagarathnamma who built the Samadhi for the saint Tygaraja, the doyen of Carnatic music fought hard to get women to sing at the annual festival of tyagaraja. When she inaugurated the music hall she proudly went on air ( broadcasted in All india radio) that she was a devaradiyal ( Devadasi or servant of the god)


    Really the system orignated from matriarchal traditions. It may have decayed over a period of time. But honestly it was not as oppressive as it was made to be by the Patriarchal British and later their indian counterparts. It is not without reason that the older devadasis are trying to preserve that social system.

    The world of arts and music is filled with women who although may not publicly claim to be so, have roots from the Devadasi tradition.

  • the little princess

    There’s a serial on Colours TV that shows the plight of the devdasis. So shameful that even in this day and age, the custom is prevalent.

  • inquisitivegeet

    Man! It really sucks! Offering a girl child in the name of God, it can’t be any filthier!
    There are so many evil things that happen in our country and yet we’re not able to help curb it! 🙁

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