The Devadasi Tradition, “Sacred Dancers of Hindu Temples”

From “The Tantric Dancer” by Maya Swati Devi

The esoteric tradition states that Mahārī, or Devadāsī, was a priestess dancing for God and, sometimes, a sexual initiator. This tradition is as old as those of similar cultures of ancient Greece and Egypt. The Devadāsī was often trained from childhood in the art of dance and was offered as a bride to the God Jagannāth at the beginning of puberty. Devadāsī’s dance was as erotic as it was spiritual – this is concept difficult to understand from a Western mentality.

The Devadāsī performed her symbolic ritual of love with the God in the holy sanctuary of the Temple. Only a priest, who accompanied the ritual with a percussion instrument, could witness this important devotional offer to God. Sometimes the priests also allowed her to initiate young males in the sexual arts.

“Such a love should never be let go. You have to give it everything –body, heart and wealth – you have to let it dwell inside yourself, and looking into its face you must drink happiness from its eyes, and make it become as you want, and be a sign of your incomparable luck”

Mirabai, an Indian Rajput poetess

The Devadāsīs were part of an institution built into the Brahmanic order (Dharma) on a hereditary basis but it was also open to outsiders. It operated like a caste.

The Devadāsīs were part of an institution built into the Brahmanic order (Dharma) on a hereditary basis but it was also open to outsiders. It operated like a caste.
The dancers of God were taught from very young age about the arts of sensuality and feminine beauty. They were taught the gestures of the most refined sexuality, the art of ornament, make-up, music, singing and dancing. These girls were initiated with a ceremony that united them ‘in marriage’ with a trident, which symbolised the God Śiva, or a sabre, which symbolised Durgā or Kālī. The Devadāsīs also enjoyed the privilege of accessing tantric cults and rituals. When they were initiated, these young girls were called to participate in the Cakra Pūjā as they already were aware of the religious rituals of Kula Cakra.

They were not slaves, as it is often reported, but women of high social status who had reached a high degree of perfection in all arts, not unlike the Japanese tradition of the geisha.

However, since the Western mentality could conceive only the idea of a married or celibate woman, devadāsīs were seen as prostitutes by the British authorities. This cultural gap, accentuated by the corruption of many local priests who forced the devadāsīs into prostitution, ended with the repression of the tradition and then to its nearly total extinction.

Only in the 1950s was this tradition brought back to life, thanks to the work of dedicated scholars and descendants of the original sacred priestesses of God.

The Devadasi’s Dance
with Maya Swati Devi

icon-flowerA window on India, the rediscovery of ancient disciplines and cultures through the dancing arts and body language which go beyond physical boundaries. Dance becomes a sort of prayer expressed through movement and representing the game played by the gods and their interaction with the human world. At the same time dance becomes a way of expressing the nine fundamental feelings of the soul: love, joy, pain, anger, heroism, fear, indignation, astonishment, and peace. The purpose of the symbolic language is to enter various states of mind and to get both the interpreter and the spectator involved. Music, poetry, colour and rhythm, and their implicit message are directed to the individual’s perceptions, especially to the soul of the dancer.

La Devi Dance®
The Inner Goddess Dance

icon-flowerThis meditative dance, created by Maya Devi, aims to rebalance body and mind by working with some Tantra yoga postures, mudra (sacred hand gestures) and breathing techniques. ‘Devi’ in Sanskrit means ‘Goddess’. This dance is a cultural fusion which has its origins in Indian dance and combines some movements of khatakhali, some postures of Shakti Yoga (Goddess yoga) and the use of the mudras of the Ten Wisdom Goddesses belonging to the Hindu Vedic Tradition in a harmonious and feminine flow.