Nityasumangali - Devadasi Tradition in South India

Nityasumangali - Devadasi Tradition in South India

Product ID: 11926

Regular price
Sale price
Regular price
Sold out
Unit price
Shipping calculated at checkout.

Author: Saskia C Kersenbhoom
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass
Year: 2002
Language: English
Pages: 226
ISBN/UPC (if available): 8120815270


The phenomenon of the devadasi has suffered greatly from faulty, culture-bound evaluations. This book does not aim at judging these earlier evaluations, nor does it claim to give a truly objective description of what the devadasi tradition was; it rather tries to follow the inherent mode of thought, namely, what the devadasi tradition meant within the frame of Hinduism, and its transformation into a living cultural phenomenon functioning significantly in the context of the Hindu tradition.

In this attempt the author has first investigated the concept of the devadasi as found in the cultural history of South India, especially of Tamil Nadu. Hereafter the function and form of the devadasi tradition are examined within the Temple Ritual of Tamilnadu. Data from Sanskrit Agamas, commentaries, Tamil sources, informants' accounts and from the actual repertoire of the devadasis have been woven into a coherent structure. Finally, it is the devadasi herself, as a ritual person, who is the most significant marker of her tradition. The rites of passage that transform an ordinary girl into a devadasi, her wedding an artistic training and her funeral honors are described in the last chapter.

In short, this is not the study of the fact of the devadasi tradition, but of its meaning and the mode of production of that meaning.


This meticulously prepared work by a Dutch scholar combines the study of Sanskrit, Tamil and Telugu texts with fieldwork to reveal the cultural significance of the devadasis as Nityasumangalies, or 'ever-auspicious women.'

This view of the female temple dancers and singers is corroborated by Freerque Apffel Marglin's study of devadasis in eastern India. Saskia Kersenboom story's work will delight both experts on worship in South India and scholars interested in the images of womanhood in the Hindu tradition.

Through the study of devadasi participation in temple rituals, devadasi repertoire, and rites of passage, Kersenbhoom Story reveals the meaning and significance of the nityasmumangali, for the a Hindu tradition before the breakdown of his mythical-poetical universe. She provides a detailed analysis of the role of the devadasi in both the daily and festival temple rituals based on Sanskrit manuals, inscriptions, and informants' accounts.

This fine work truly brings to light the concept of the nityasumangli and the significance of the devadasi as a representative of this element in Hindu culture.
= Kay K Jordan, Radford University
The journal of Asian Studies, University of Edinburgh

Nityasumangali based on University of Utrecht dissertation, is a highly schematic study of the meaning of devadasi in Tamil literature. Its author draws on a wide range of traditional texts in Sanskrit and Tamil as on inscriptions and interviews with ex-devadasis who remember the world that existed before the abolition of the institution by the Government of Madras in 1947, a measure brought about because devadasis had been labeled "prostitutes" by a Victorianized bourgeoisie. Kersenboom-Story has herself been schooled in Bharata Natyam, the form of dance associated with devadasis in the temples of the Tamil country, and thus has an insider's perspective on some central devadasi performance traditions.
= Religious Studies Review

It goes to the credit of the author that she has supplemented and correlated the material on the devadasis tradition culled from literary sources with information collected from the living tradition. The book is thus a valuable addition in the field of temple worship in South India and also a contribution to sociological studies allied to this tradition.
= K V Sarma, Book Review


List of Abbreviations
Note on Transliteration and Transcription

Devadasis in the Cultural History of South - Introduction

A- Diachronic Modifications
Classical and late classical period of Tamil Culture Sources
Medieval Hinduism
Period of the Tanjore Courts and subsequent developments till independence

B- Synchronic Occurrence: Socio-Cultural Foci - Introduction
Focus on Oral traditions
Focus of Agamic temple traditions
Focus of court/patron culture

Function and Form of the Devadasi Tradition within the Temple Ritual in Tamilnadu
Ritual performance
Function of the devadasi within the structure of Agamic ritual
Form of the devadasi tradition within the temple ritual

CHAPTER III - Rites of Passage of the Devadasis of Tamil Nadu
Caste and Caste-distinctions
Initiation ceremonies
Initiation into the performing arts
Funeral honors
Devadasis and other nityasumangalis of South India

Select Bibliography