Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sacred Temple Dancers in the New Yorker

I first learned about the sacred temple dancers in India, known as devadasis, in the early 90s when I was a member of The Goddess Dancing and again when I studied classical Indian dance. I knew the images I had were romantically outdated: temple dancers were the most educated women in their societies; they were able to converse freely and respectably with men; they were often the only women allowed to own land; their sexuality was revered as divine strength rather than a means of degradation. It's hard to know which if any of these visions were ever true.

In this week's New Yorker, "Serving the Goddess: The Dangerous Life of a Sacred Sex Worker," writer William Dalrymple investigates the life of a contemporary devadasi in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. He accompanies her to the temple of the goddess she serves, Yellamma, where the priests deny the devadasis' sacred status and claim they have nothing to do with those sorts of women. According to the article, Victorian era missionaries who hoped to end the practice perhaps initially turned the situation for the worse by forcing it underground. Once drawn from elite families, most contemporary devadasi are born to impoverished families who dedicate their daughters out of economic desperation . Though the women support the families who sold them through their work, they are also scorned by them. The rampage of AIDS ends this story when the reader learns that the subject of this story has the disease and will soon die as her daughters have already at ages 15 and 16. As I pay $15 an hour or more for yoga and dance classes, this article is a sober reminder of how sterilized and removed our "practices" from other cultures become in our relatively luxurious life in the States. How do we find balance? The full article appears in the Aug. 4 issue of the New Yorker.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.