ಜಾತೀಯತೆಗೆ ಬುದ್ಧ ಪರಿಹಾರ: ದೇವದಾಸ್:ರಾಜ್ಯ ಮಟ್ಟದ ಬೌದ್ಧ ಸಮಾವೇಶ

13/06/2011

ಹಾಸನ, ಜೂ.12: ಗೌತಮ ಬುದ್ಧನ ತ್ಯಾಗ ಮತ್ತು ಅವನ ಪಂಚಶೀಲ ತತ್ತ್ವಗಳನ್ನು ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಬ್ಬರು ಮೈಗೂಡಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳುವ ಅಗತ್ಯ ಇದೆ ಎಂದು ದಲಿತ ಸಂಘರ್ಷ ಸಮತಿಯ ರಾಜ್ಯ ಸಂಘಟನಾ ಸಂಚಾಲಕ ಎಂ.ದೇವದಾಸ್ ಹೇಳಿದ್ದಾರೆ. ಹಾಸನದ ಅಂಬೇಡ್ಕರ್ ಭವನದಲ್ಲಿ ನಡೆದ ಪ್ರಬುದ್ಧ ಭಾರತ ನಿರ್ಮಾಣಕ್ಕಾಗಿ 2550ನೆ ಬುದ್ಧ ಜಯಂತಿಯ ಅಂಗವಾಗಿ ರಾಜ್ಯ ಮಟ್ಟದ ಬೌದ್ಧ ಸಮಾವೇಶ ಉದ್ಘಾಟಿಸಿ ಮಾತನಾಡಿದ ಅವರು, ಬುದ್ಧನ ತತ್ತ್ವಗಳನ್ನು ಪ್ರತಿಯೊಬ್ಬರು ಪರಿಪಾಲನೆ ಮಾಡುವುದರಿಂದ ದೇಶದಲ್ಲಿ ಶಾಂತಿ ನೆಲಸಲು ಸಾಧ್ಯ ಎಂದು ಅಭಿಪ್ರಾಯಿಸಿದರು.

ಹಾಸನದ ಅಂಬೇಡ್ಕರ್ ಭವನದಲ್ಲಿ ರವಿವಾರ ನಡೆದ ಪ್ರಬುದ್ಧ ಭಾರತ ನಿರ್ಮಾಣಕ್ಕಾಗಿ 2550ನೆ ಬುದ್ಧ ಜಯಂತಿಯ ಅಂಗವಾಗಿ ರಾಜ್ಯ ಮಟ್ಟದ ಬೌದ್ಧ ಸಮಾವೇಶ ಉದ್ಘಾಟಿಸುತ್ತಿರುವ ಗಣ್ಯರು.

ಹಾಸನದ ಅಂಬೇಡ್ಕರ್ ಭವನದಲ್ಲಿ ರವಿವಾರ ನಡೆದ ಪ್ರಬುದ್ಧ ಭಾರತ ನಿರ್ಮಾಣಕ್ಕಾಗಿ 2550ನೆ ಬುದ್ಧ ಜಯಂತಿಯ ಅಂಗವಾಗಿ ರಾಜ್ಯ ಮಟ್ಟದ ಬೌದ್ಧ ಸಮಾವೇಶ ಉದ್ಘಾಟಿಸುತ್ತಿರುವ ಗಣ್ಯರು. ಇಂದಿನ ಜಾತೀಯತೆ, ಅಸ್ಪಶತೆ ಸೇರಿದಂತೆ ಸಾಮಾಜಿಕ ಪಿಡುಗುಗಳಿಗೆ ಬುದ್ಧ ಪರಿಹಾರ ಎಂದು ದೇವದಾಸ್ ನುಡಿದರು.ದೇಶದಲ್ಲಿ ತಾಂಡವಾಡುತ್ತಿರುವ ಭ್ರಷ್ಟಾಚಾರದ ವಿರುದ್ಧ ಬೀಗಿಳಿದು ಹೋರಾಟ ನಡೆಸಬೇಕಾದ ಅನಿವಾರ್ಯ ಸೃಷ್ಟಿಯಾಗಿದೆ. ಬುದ್ಧನ ಆದರ್ಶಗಳನ್ನು ಎಲ್ಲರೂ ಪಾಲಿಸಿದ್ದರೆ ಇಂದು ಅಣ್ಣಾ ಹಝಾರೆ ಮತ್ತು ಬಾಬಾ ರಾಮ್‌ದೇವ್ ಹೋರಾಟ ಆರಂಭಿಸುವ ಅಗತ್ಯ ಉದ್ಬವಿಸುತ್ತಿರಲಿಲ್ಲ ಎಂದವರು ಹೇಳಿದರು. ಮನುಷ್ಯನಿಗೆ ಎಷ್ಟೇ ಆಸ್ತಿ-ಪಾಸ್ತಿ ಇದ್ದರೂ ನೆಮ್ಮದಿ ಅತಿಮುಖ್ಯ. ಬುದ್ಧನ ತತ್ತ್ವಾದರ್ಶ ಪಾಲಿಸುವುದರಿಂದ ಶಾಂತಿ ಮತ್ತು ನೆಮ್ಮದಿ ಕಂಡುಕೊಳ್ಳಲು ಸಾಧ್ಯ ಎಂದು ದೇವದಾಸ್ ತಿಳಿಸಿದರು. ಬೌದ್ಧ ಗುರು ಬೋದಿದತ್ತ ಬಂತೇಜಿ ಮಾತನಾಡಿ, ಗೌತಮ ಬುದ್ಧನ ತತ್ತ್ವಾದರ್ಶಗಳು ಸರಳ ಮತ್ತು ಸುಸಂಸ್ಕೃತವಾಗಿವೆ. ಹಾಗಾಗಿಯೇ ಸಂವಿಧಾನಶಿಲ್ಪಿ ಡಾ.ಅಂಬೇಡ್ಕರ್‌ರು ದಲಿತ ತತ್ತ್ವದಿಂದ ಬುದ್ಧತ್ವದೆಡೆಗೆ ನಡೆಯಬೇಕೆಂಬ ಆಶಯ ಹೊಂದಿದ್ದರು ಎಂದರು. ಸಮಾವೇಶದಲ್ಲಿ ಸಾವಿರಾರು ಮಂದಿ ಬೌದ್ಧ ಅನುಯಾಯಿಗಳು, ದಲಿತ ಕಾರ್ಯಕರ್ತರು ಭಾಗವಹಿಸಿದ್ದರು.

http://vbnewsonline.com/MainNews/57321/
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BLISS movement at Kanheri Buddha Cave Univercity, Mumbai against Mahashivratri

06/03/2011

BLISS movement at Kanheri Buddha Cave Univercity, Mumbai against Mahashivratri

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Jaibhim, Peaceful Revolt in Mumbai against Mahashivratri celebration on 02-02-2011, in Buddhist cave of Kanheri ……………….. Kanheri was a world famous Univercity where students of Greece and Syria had given donations (there names and details are inscribed in the caves). There are 118 caves……….., 30ft high 2 identitical Buddha statues …… It is situated very pleasant, scenic and serene greenary. Around 200 male and female volunteers from political as well as non-political organisations participated. Ignorant Telgu people who are attatched to Shivsena or BJP from AP installed their stall. BLISS prompted to put Buddha banners at the entrance of the Gate ……………. BLISS declared Maha-Dhamma Yatra on this day of Mahashivratri at Kanheri Cave Univercity. “Chalo Buddha ki Or” ……………… (Let’s go to Buddha) such banners were displayed. This year ASI put a information placard in front of Stupa ……………….. Stupa is covered with cloth by ASI because the Hindu visitors used to throw coconuts at the stupa on the instigation of Brahmins. Entry restricted inside the caves ……….. around 300 police personal were deployed RSS had instigated Ganesh Naik to construct a Shiv Temple in year 1992, in the area of Kanheri cave ………….. This temple was demolished by Forest Dept due to efforts of Mr Pradeep Gaikwad and his associates of Nagpur and Mumbai ……….. Now there is no Linga, statue or any thing like deity …………… But still the Hindu fools go to pray there on every Mahashivratri. Now this year BLISS young team intruded into temple, asked the pujaris to leave the place ………….. and Buddha Vandana was held there for 1 and Half Hrs Forest officials protect and promote the puja Dhamma Dhawaj installed at the place of Havan (fire burning place) Buddha Vandana going on inside demolished or so called Shiva Tempe where the Hindu fools come for Mahashivratri Hindus were also chanting Buddha Vandana. A Banner was showing Kanheri Cave and Shiv pic inside the Telgu Stall was removed. pomplets mentioning ………… “Buddham Sharnam ……….. … Gachchami …………. Is mantra ka jap kare” were distributed to Hindu visitors …………. This Jap (chanting) was advocated by Dr Ambedkar to Hindus in Janta in Yr 16 March 1944. Bags were invariably checked for any coconut, milk etc…………… it was not allowed No Hindu was allowed with any milk, coconut etc coconuts were collected ……….. same as last year In the evening the Hindus were greeted with ” Tri-sharan’ chanting …………. Even the Hindus greeted with folded hands, some of them were chanting trishanran Evening farewell to Hindus with Trishanran chanting for at least 1 hour was carried out. Officers like Rtd Judge, Rtd DCP and Rtd Assistant IG also participated …… Buddha Vandan at last , when all the visitors left Smile on the face of Dhamma Sevaks…………. this is real Dhamma Dana …………. Giving of money is not Dhamma Dana……… As per ASI record (because ASI didnt allow any person without ticket) ………….. 22913 Hindus visited in the year 2010 on Mahashivratri ……….. and this year only 10130 Hindus visited.

It was a Dhamma’s achievement. Let’s do it at all the Buddhist sites and monuments.

Namo Buddhay,

Dr.Anand


How Buddhists Invented Democracy

05/12/2010

 

Buddhists may not have invented democracy. History professors argue that the Athenians invented democracy ca. 500 BCE. However, as democratic government was getting underway in Athens, the First Buddhist Council convened in India. The Council, which met about 480 BCE, give or take, was an exercise in democracy.
According to tradition, the Council consisted of 500 of the historical Buddha’s disciples, who met after the Buddha’s death to discuss how to preserve his teachings. The assembly listened to the monk Upali recite the rules of the monastic orders and the monk Ananda recite the Buddha’s sermons. The assembly came to agreement that the recitations accurately reflected the teachings of the Buddha, and so they were preserved as the Vinaya-pitaka and Sutta-pitaka of the Pali Canon.
Historians, who often are no fun at all, argue that there is little corroboration that the Council took place, and if it did it was probably a smaller gathering than what is described in tradition. Even so, the Pali Canon, which reached final form before the Common Era, contains other descriptions of people making public decisions through assemblies, moots and parliaments.
Historian Steve Muhlberger argues that early Buddhist literature contains rich evidence that democratic governments flourished in India during the time of the Greek democracies and the Roman republic. So, while Buddhists may not have invented democracy, there is a tradition of democracy strongly rooted in the earliest days of Buddhism.
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http://globalbuddhist.blogspot.com/2010/12/how-buddhists-invented-democracy.html

 

 


Buddhism Won “The Best Religion in the World” Award

23/10/2010

 

The Geneva-based International Coalition for the Advancement of Religious and Spirituality (ICARUS) has bestowed The Best Religion In the World award this year on the Buddhist Community.

This special award was voted on by an international round table of more than 200 religious leaders from every part of the spiritual spectrum. It was fascinating to note that many religious leaders voted for Buddhism rather than their own religion although Buddhists actually make up a tiny minority of ICARUS membership. Here are the comments by four voting members:

Jonna Hult, Director of Research for ICARUS said It wasn’t a surprise to me that Buddhism won Best Religion in the World, because we could find literally not one single instance of a war fought in the name of Buddhism, in contrast to every other religion that seems to keep a gun in the closet just in case God makes a mistake. We were hard pressed to even find a Buddhist that had ever been in an army. These people practice what they preach to an extent we simply could not document with any other spiritual tradition.

A Catholic Priest, Father Ted O’Shaughnessy said fromBelfast , As much as I love the Catholic Church, it has always bothered me to no end that we preach love in our scripture yet then claim to know God’s will when it comes to killing other humans. For that reason, I did have to cast my vote for the Buddhists.

A Muslim Cleric Tal Bin Wassad agreed from Pakistanvia his translator. While I am a devout Muslim, I can see how much anger and bloodshed is channeled into religious expression rather than dealt with on a personal level. The Buddhists have that figured out. Bin Wassad, the ICARUS voting  member for Pakistan ‘s Muslim community continued, In fact, some of my best friends are Buddhist.

And Rabbi Shmuel Wasserstein said from Jerusalem, Of course, I love Judaism, and I think it’s the greatest religion in the world. But to be honest, I’ve been practicing Vipassana meditation every day before minyan (daily Jewish prayer) since 1993. So I get it.

However, there was one snag – ICARUS couldn’t find anyone to give the award to. All the Buddhists they called kept saying they didn’t want the award.

When asked why the Burmese Buddhist community refused the award, Buddhist monk Bhante Ghurata Hanta said from Burma , We are grateful for the acknowledgement, but we give this award to all humanity, for Buddha nature lies within each of us. Groehlichen went on to say We’re going to keep calling around until we find a Buddhist who will accept it.  We’ll let you know when we do.

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Source: http://mingkok.buddhistdoor.com/en/news/d/943

 


Forceful Religious Conversion of Buddhists into Christianity at Changlang Distt. Of Arunachal Pradesh and nexus of such activists with underground Militants

10/10/2010

By Suranimala, Sinhale Hot News, June 7, 2010

Arunachal Pradesh, India — An open letter to Dr.Manmohan Singh,Honorable Prime Minister of India by Ven.Bhaddanta Aggadhamma Mahasaddhamma Jotikadhaja,Dhammaduta Secretary of Purvanchal Bhikkhu Sangha, President, Namsai Pariyatti Sasana Buddhist Vihara, Namsai,Dist Lohit, Arunachal Pradesh, India.

<< A Tikhak family with monks. The Tikhak Tangsa tribe is under severe pressure to convert to Christianity by fundamentalists with the help of local militants

Since last few years, strong groups of Christian Religious activists with the active support of the underground militants have been reportedly involved in converting people of poor Tikhak Buddhist Community into Christian religion, whose life have been reeling under great insecurity and threat.

The mode of propaganda for conversion they adopted are – (1) inducement with monetary and material helps, (2) coercion with allurements and advocating efficacy of Christian Science on soft targets – person (s) in ill health, prolonged sickness and precariousness, (3) forceful persuasion of person in distress with ‘false’ promise of deliverance in life, (4) Dictates their terms and issue ultimatum for conversion with stipulated time for conversion through the local underground militants like NSCN (I-M) etc.

 

The poor Buddhist inhabitants of Tikhak Community at Putuk – I, II, III, IV, Wangnong, Motongsa, Longchong, Wintong, Rima & Machum etc. have been served with ultimatum by the NSCN (I-M) group, a Commanding-in-Charge of the Outfit, In-Charge of Nampong Circle to convert this Tikhak Buddhist hailing in the above villages to convert into Christianity, failing which they would be facing with dire consequences. The latest ultimatum is 31st May 2010 for conversion.

 

Our villages have been situated in Changlang Distt. Of Arunachal Pradesh, places situated beyond the time-honored “Inner Line” under the binding of govt. regulation and rampant migration of human race across the border have also been witnessed which are inimical to the well-being of the natives and disturbing peace in the area. The presence of such anti-social elements are likely to be detrimental to the security of our country.

Further this so-called Christian fanatics are reportedly found to have strong nexus with the underground militants NSCN (I-M) which smacks a deep conspiracy of sinister design which is posing a great threat to the safety of the people and security of the nation which demands to nip in the bud before it does more harm to the nation.

The reported inflow of money from unknown source for conversion appears not unfounded. If such dangerous nexus & combination is not stopped immediately this will lead to a geographical imbalances, social tension and disharmony.

The Buddhist Community strongly follows the spirit of secularism. The main tenet of Buddhism is to respect other religions, tolerance and non-violence. We sincerely believes in religious co-existence.

I on behalf of the Tikhak Buddhist Community of Arunachal Pradesh would therefore fervently urge upon your honour kindly to take prompt and needful action in the matter in larger public interest and well-being of the natives and security of the nation.

 


Devadasis Were Degraded Buddhist Nuns

26/07/2010

Dr. K. Jamanadas,

What is the Devadasi System

Perhaps the most horrible effect of fall of Buddhism in ancient India, which is haunting us even today, is the start of devadasi system. The system of votive offering of girls to the deities in Brahmanic temples is a system found in all parts of India, but was more prevalent in the south. In some parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka it is still prevalent and has become a source of exploitation of lower castes. Though they had a glorious past, these girls are now a days degraded to the status of cheap prostitutes. The saying in Marathi goes, “Devadasi devachi bayako sarya gavachi”, meaning that she is servant of god but wife of the whole town. This is the lot of such a woman. She has to remain unmarried, and maintain herself by ceremonial begging, a system called “jogava” in Marathi, to get both ends meet. With “chal” (a string of small bells) in her feet, she carries the “jag” (a metal mask of god) in a “pardi” (a basket) on her head and begs whole life, or ends up in a brothel.

The term devadasi is a Sanskrit term denoting female servant of deity, but they are known by different names in different areas. Jogan Shankar gives the names by which they are known in various parts, such as Maharis in Kerala, Natis an Assam, Muralis in Maharashtra, Basavis in Karnataka State. [p.16] Though the name ‘devadasi’ is popular, in Goa they use the term `Bhavanis’. `Kudikar’ on the West-Cost `Bhogam-Vandhi’ or `Jogin’ in Andhra Pradesh; Thevardiyar’ in Tamil Nadu; `Murali’, ‘Jogateen’ and ‘Aradhini’ in Maharashtra. In Karnataka, old devadasis are called as `Jogati’ and young devadasis as `Basavi’. The term `Basavi’ refers to feminine form of `Basava’ a bull which roams the village at will without any restriction. Hence `Basavi’ alludes to the foot loose position of the woman. [Jogan Shankar, p. 157]

The rite of Initiation

This cult is prevalent even today throughout India with some regional variances. When a girl is dedicated to or married not to a mortal-man but to an idol, deity or object of worship or to a temple, some rite is performed. About the rite of initiation, it is stated that, unlike old times, such ceremonies are now a days performed rather secretly without much fanfare at smaller temples or local priests’ residences, rather than big temples of Yellamma like at Savadatti or Kokatnur, to avoid the expenses and also to escape clutches of law. The expenses are borne either by the ‘would be’ companion or paramour or the “Gharwalis” (mistresses of urban brothels) where these girls who would be expected to join their brothel in future. [Joga Shankar, p.99]

The vows at the time of initiation include the warning to parents or brothers that this girl will have a right in their property. Then the priest addresses the girl to be dedicated and seeks some set answers, to which the girl has to agree.

“Priest: Look! Hereafter you cannot claim a right of wife with any man. You have to fast on Tuesday and Friday and beg on those days holding a Joga in your hand. You happen to see a calf, sucking its mother you should not forcibly withdraw the calf. If a cow grazes the crop before you, you shall not drive it away. You shall not speak untruth. If you are feeling hungry don’t tell others so and ask for food. Offer shelter to shelterless and strangers. Provide food to those who are hungry and water to the thirsty. Help the helpless people. If anybody abuses you and beats you, never retaliate. If you come across with an event of death you have to take bath, visit the temple of Yellamma. Only after worshiping the deity you are supposed to take meals. You should not eat ‘Yenjalu’ (left out food) of somebody. You shall chant “Udho Yellamma” (Glory to Yellamma) all the time.” [Joga Shankar, p. 101]

Fate of Devadasis

After initiation, the ceremony of ‘the first night’ is celebrated. It is called ‘Uditumbuvadu’. Previously the right belonged to the priest but now a days, it is well publicized within the clientele of businessmen and rich landlords. One who deflowers her gets right to her over others for the rest of her life but neither she nor the children of such union have any right over him, or his property. He can leave her any time. She has to lead a life of a cheap prostitute either near about or at metropolitan brothels. By the time her market value goes down, and she is thrown out of business, she becomes a habitat for a number of diseases including may be AIDS, and ends up in some village corner, desolate, rejected, friendless and rots to death.

Caste distribution of Devadasis

It is well known that majority of devadasis are from dalit community. According to the research conducted by Prof. Baba Saheb Ghatge for his M. Phil. the percentage of castes in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra is as follows:

Mahar (SC) – 53%, Maratha – 30%, Matang (SC) – 10%, Gurav (OBC) – 2%, Sutar (OBC) – 1%, Dhangar (OBC) – 1%, Parit (OBC) – 1%, Khatik (OBC) – 1%, Bhoi (NT) – 1% [Baba Saheb Ghatge, “devadasi pratha aani punarvasan”, (marathi), Sugava Prakashan, Pune, 1996.

The 30% among Marathas, which is not a backward caste, is rather surprising, and in my opinion is indicative of common origin of Dalits and Marathas, as was explained by Dr. Ambedkar in “The Untouchables”.

Even in those places, where worship of Yellama is in vogue by other castes, the devadasis are all dalits. Jogam Shankar observes:

“In Yellampura village almost everybody worships Yellamma deity. A dominant caste like Lingayats acknowledge Yellamma as their family deity. But at the time of survey it was found that no single upper caste woman was dedicated to the deity. However, knowledgeable elderly persons revealed that there were a few devadasis among other castes like Talawar, Gurav and Kurubar castes. But at present no devadasi is found among these castes. As ritual status of such women came down and functional relation with temple almost terminated, members belonging to other castes abandoned the practice but lower castes like ex-untouchable including Holers, Madars and Samagars continued the practice. Among Samagar caste there is only one devadasi who is about 70 years old. Since then no new initiation has taken place in the caste. Samagars are placed above the remaining ex- untouchable castes. The whole devadasi population is concentration among Holers and Madars only.” [Jogam Shankar, p. 159]

Legends to support Devadasi system

To keep the bahujans and dalits under control, it was necessary that the stories are manufactured and incorporated in various mahatmyas in the Puranas. There are three important legends, we should know about. It may be useful to see what the traditional stories told by the brahmins and believed to be true by the sufferers themselves. Vasant Rajas, “Devadasi: Shodha ani bodha”, (marathi), Sugava Prakashan, Pune, 1997, has given the account of various legends in Puranas concerning this practice. [p.74 ff.] The following is the summary of it.

Legend of Renuka or Yallamma

One of the important legends concerned is about Renuka Devi. It seems to be an addition to the well known story of Parasurama. The story of Parsurama is interpreted in many ways, by different scholars. But there is an inherent contradiction in his story, which no scholar seems to have pointed out. The main concern of Arjuna on the battle field was of ‘varna sankar’ i.e. inter caste marriages. If you kill the ksatriyas, the widows are likely to have ‘varna sankar’ which destroys the ‘dharma’. The Lord says he takes avatara to establish the ‘dharma’ meaning ‘chatur-varnya- dharma’ by killing the ‘wicked’, meaning those who do not follow this dharma. Parasurama is said to be an avatara. How does Parasuram deserve the status of avatara, when he himself killed the ksatriyas 21 times, and ultimately led to ‘varna sankara’? But such questions are not to be asked to the brahmins. Let it be as it may, we come back to the legend.

According to legend, Renuka appeared from the fire pit of ‘putra kameshti’ yadnya performed by a kshatriya king Renukeswara. She was married to Rishi Jamdagni. The couple had five sons including Parasurama. One morning she was late in coming home from the river as she was sexually aroused by watching the love play in river, of a Gandarva raja with his queens. This enraged Jamdagni who ordered his sons to kill her. All other sons refused and were burned to ashes by rishi’s curse, but Parsurama beheaded her. The rishi gave him three boons. By first, Parshurama asked to bring back to life his four brothers. By second he wanted his mother to be made alive. But her head was not available. So Parshurama cut the head of a woman from ‘matang’ caste, and Jamdagni revived his wife with the matangi’s head. By third he wished to be free from the sin of matricide. But Renuka was cursed by Jamdagni to have leprosy and was banished from the hermitage. However, she got cured by some ‘Eknatha’, ‘Jognatha’ sadhus in the forest. She returned back to Jamdagni who pardoned her and blessed her that she will attain great fame in Kaliyuga.

Later a King Sahstrarjuna killed Jamdagni on Full moon day of Magha, and Renuka became a widow. This day is called “Rand Punav” – a widow’s full moon day. “Rand” is a derogatory word meaning widow as well as a prostitute. According to Hindu customs, Renuka broke down her bangles on death of Jamdagni on this day. So all the devadasis on that day assemble in the temple of Yellama at Soundatti, to break down their bangles.

Later Parsurama invaded Kartvirya Sahasrarjuna, killed him and brought back ‘kamdhenu’ along with the head of this king. On his prayer of god, his father Jamdagni again became alive, so Renuka again became a ‘suhagan’ – a married woman – and put back on her green bangles. So the Devadasis put on bangles (chuda) on this day – the full moon day of Chaitra, so this day is called ‘chudi punav’. A ‘choundak’ was made out of the skull of Sahasrarjuna, so the devadasis use this musical instrument while begging a ‘jogava’.

Parsurama went on rampage destroying and annihilating the kshatriyas twenty one times. He killed even the children in the womb of pregnant women. So these women started running around. Their garments fell down till they approached Renuka, who advised them to wear branches of ‘nim’ tree around their waist and pray Parsurama, saying ‘udho udho udho’. (so ‘nagna-puja’). Since then the people became devotees of Yellamma and started offering their girls as devdasis and boys as ‘jogte’, the male counterpart of devdasi.

Temple of Renuka was built in 13th century in Soundati hills. The Jains believe that Renuka is their ‘Padmawati’. For centuries, the devotees of Renuka, who are mostly dalits and bahujans, assemble there twice a year on Magha and Chaitra full moon days for pilgrimage, offer their daughters to make them devdasis.

B. S. Kamble from Sangali dist. mentions the influence of blind faith over dalits to an extent that a backward class member of legislature had established a shrine of Renuka image in Bombay Mantralaya. [“Sugawa”, marathi journal, Ambedkar prerana issue, December 1998, p. 51]

Legend of Renukamba

There is a temple of Renukaamba, built in 14th century, at the top of Chandragutti hill in Shimoga district in Karnataka. The gullible masses from dalit and bahujan communities are made to believe that Renukaamba devi is the incarnation of Renuka or Yallamma of Saundatti. The speciality of this temple is that dalit women must go naked to worship this devi. It is called ‘betale seva’ or ‘nagna puja’ i.e. naked worship.

Legend in Purana says that the if girls go naked and pray the devi they get good husbands and married women get all their wishes fulfilled, the childless women get children, and that those shudra women and girls who do not follow these traditions meet with a lot of calamities.

Some awakened youth trained in Ambedkarite traditions tried to stop this practice in 1984. There was a struggle against these workers, they were beaten up by the goons of pujaris and orthodox mandir committee people, and paraded naked, and were made to worship the Devi in such condition. The victims included some police – even lady police officers – kept for bandobast.

The chief Minister of Karnataka had to appoint a committee to investigate whether “Nagna-puja” has any religious sanction of Hindu sastras. The report was submitted in 1988 stating that there is no such sanction of Hinduism. In 1992 ban was imposed on this “Nagna-puja”. There was a hue and cry against it, but since then it is stopped.

Legend of Khandoba

The third deity of Devdasis is Khandoba of Jejuri, though there are eleven ‘pithas’. It is the ‘kul-daivat’ of dalits, though many others worship him including some Muslim devotees, who presumably were dalits, worshiping this deity before being converted to Islam. Even the robbers used to attend the annual fair and finalize their plans there. They were, presumably, of ex-criminal tribes, which was a part of Dalits. Brahmins have homologized this deity and made out stories that Shankara took this form of Martanda, to protect the brahmins from the asuras.

People do votive offering of their sons and daughters to this deity. The terms used are ‘waghya’ for male and ‘murali’ for female. It is a form of Devdasi. Murali, whose token marriage is performed with Khandoba, remains unmarried throughout her life and leads a life same as devadasi of Yellama. After Ambedkarite awakening in the Matang society, who form the majority of Murlis, the practice has declined though not completely stopped.

Jogam Shankar gives more details:
‘Muralis’ are girls dedicated to god Khandoba in their infancy or early childhood by their parents. “Poor deluded women promise to sacrifice their first born daughters if Khandoba will make them mothers of many children. Then after the vow the first born girl is offered to Khandoba and set apart for him by tying a necklace of seven cowries around the little girl’s neck. When she becomes of marriageable age, she is formally married to Khandoba or dagger of Khandoba and become his nominal wife. Henceforth she is forbidden to become the wedded wife of any man, and the result is that she usually leads an infamous life earning a livelihood by sin. Some of these girls become wandering muralis. Others become ordinary public women in any town or city; while a few are said to live for years with one man. The parents of such girls do not feel ashamed to take her earnings, because they belong to Khandoba, and what they do is not sin in the eyes of his devotees. Kunbis, Mahars, Mangs and other low castes make muralis of their daughters in this fashion”. (Fuller : 1900 : 103). High caste people of the region also worship Khandoba and their mode of expressing reverence to the god differed. Thus “Not a few high caste people visit Jejuri to pay their vows; but they never give their own girls to Khandoba but buy children from low-caste parents for a small sum of money, which is not a difficult thing to do and offer them instead of their own children”. (Fuller, Marcus B., “The wrongs of Indian Womanhood”, Edinburgh:Oliphant Anderson and Ferrier, 1900). [Jogan Shankar, p. 50]

Definition of Devadasi under the act

As many laws had to be passed from time to time, for its abolition, it had to be defined by law. One such example is the Bombay Devadasi Act, 1934, which states that “the performance of any ceremony intended to dedicate or having the effect of dedicating of women as a devadasi where such women has or has not consented to performance of such ceremony, is hereby declared unlawful and to be an effect to any custom or rule to the contrary not withstanding”. This law also declared the marriage of devadasi valid and children of such marriages as legitimate. [Jogan Shankar, p. 153] However, nobody bothered to enforce the Law, till some Ambedkarites agitated.

Some examples of Brahmanic sexual exploitation

According to Ramanika Gupta, in certain parts in Bihar, even now, a new dalit bride has to spend the first night with the village head man. [Sugawa, p.69]

A bazaar is organized in Dholpur for sale of Dalit girls. [Sugawa, p. 69]

Kamble describes a custom called Okali. On first or second Saturday comming after the Hindu New Years Day (Gudhi padawa), the devadasis were openly sexually enjoyed in public, about hundred years ago. This is now replaced by another tradition called “Okali”, which was in vogue till 1987. It is a festival like ‘Rang Panchami’. The young boys from higher castes assemble around a pool of coloured water in front of town temple. Young devadasis in the town stand in front of them in a row, and each receives a sari, a choli and a flower garland. The coloured water is poured over the devadasis who appear virtually naked as the cloths given to them are very thin, scanty, delicate and transparent. The boys play with the bodies of devadasis as they like, doing everything just short of sexual intercourse. All assembled enjoy the scene. This happens in the name of god ‘Bili Kallappa’. [Uttam Kamble, Sugawa, p. 81]

Vasant Rajas describes another custom, called “Sidi attu” in town Madakeripura in Karnataka which was in vogue till 1987, when it was banned by the Govt. Here a devadasi is suspended with a hook in her back on one end of a transverse rod placed on a vertical pole planted in ground, and rotated by a rope at the other end. She salutes the gathering, while her garments fly and all the naked lower part of her body is visible to all, for their amusement. This was supposed to bring prosperity to town, and the devadasi used to get a sari, a choli, a coconut and a betel nut, for which she thanked the gathering. [p. 27]

It must be realized that Hinduism is the only religion in the world, which has given religious sanction and provided with religious philosophy to the practice of prostitution. [Sugawa, p. 81]

It is well known that Dr. Ambedkar advised the conference of Devadasis on 13th June 1936, in Damodar Hall, Parel, Bombay, saying that they must give up this life of sin and be prepared to lead a pure life though it will be a life in poverty, as character is more important than money. After conversion to Buddhism, the custom of devadasis is stopped completely in families converting to Buddhism. [Prof. Archana Hatekar, Sugawa, p. 92]

Dasis and Devadasis are different

Many scholars including shri Rajas, an active Ambedkarite, who has played an important role in the activities for the Abolition of Devdasi system, has confused a ‘devdasi’ with ‘dasi’ which simply meant a female servant. It must not be confused with the ‘dasis’, which were given in Yadnyas to brahmins as gift. The famous dasis like Manthara of Ramayana fame, Uttara in Mahabharata, Mura in Maurya period or Panna of Rajput period were all ‘dasis’ and not ‘devadasis’.

Use of sex by Brahmins for dominating over masses

Use of sex by brahmins to keep domination over the masses is not a new thing. Shri Rajas gives many examples like ‘putra kameshti yadna’, the rite of ‘laja hom’ during Vedic marriages where the ‘devas’ give up their right over the bride, an old tradition of offering of wife to the guest for the night, the tradition of rajpurohit spending time with the queen in king’s absence on war or hunting – the rite called ‘anang dana pratana’, traditions in Gujrath and Rajasthan of sending young brides before marriage to temple for one night to be spent with the priest, similar tradition of visiting temple priest by one woman from every household for one night during the nine nights in ‘navaratra’ prevalent in Gujrath and Rajasthan, are all such examples of the tricks employed by the brahmins over the masses. He has also given the example of infamous game of ‘ghat kanchuki’ during the reign of Peshava Bajirao II. [Vasant Rajas, p. 4 ff.].

But why blame Peshava Bajirao II, for a game of ‘ghat kanchuki’. It is described in the Hindu sastras as ‘chakrapuja’. M.M. Dr. P. V. Kane has described it in his ‘dharma sastra cha itihas’. He describes that, an equal number of men and women assemble secretly in the night, without any consideration of caste or relationship, and sit around a paper on which ‘chakra’ is drawn as a symbol of goddess. All the women remove their cholis and put it in a pot, and every man picks up a choli at random and selects his partner for the night. A Hindu Tantrika text, “Kularnava Tantra”, he says, mentions that God has ordered that, what ever good or bad transpires that night must never be disclosed. Kane had heard in his childhood that this puja was practiced in some cities in Maharashtra. [Marathi translation by Y. B. Bhat, p. 430, second edition, 1980, Maharashtra Rajya Sahitya Sanskruti Mandal, Mantralaya, Mumbai]

But all these traditions, customs and practices are not examples of devadasi system.

Indus Valley Civilization

As foreign examples are not applicable to India, the search for time of origin of Devadasi cult in India should start with Harrapan Civilization, which shows no trace of offering of girls in worshiping places. The well known bronze ‘dancing girl’ is referred by Basham as a representation of temple dancer, but he himself admits that “this can not be proved”. As a matter of fact, “historians remained silent about existence of temple or common place of worship” in Harrapan Civilization. [Joga Shankar, p. 38] Though it was a Dravidian civilization, as has been amply proved, it had no connection with the devadasi cult.

Courtesans in Vedic Age

A marathi scholar, “Itihasacharya” V. K. Rajwade, who had taken a vow not to write in English, has described many sexual practices of Aryas, whom he always referred to as “our savage ancestors”. They used to have free sex openly in front of fire, so perhaps had no need of prostitution or devadasis.

Rig Veda mentions the word “Samana”, which is rendered by different scholars differently to mean a festival, a gathering or a battle, festival being the most favoured. In it among many others, the courtesans used to attend ‘to profit by the occasion’ [Shastri Shakuntala Rao, “Women in Vedic Age”, p. 6]

There are references to secular prostitution in Rig Veda and terms are used like “harlot”, “son of a maiden” or “son of an unmarried girl”. [Joga Shankar, p. 38]. But certainly these are not the examples of temple prostitution.

Buddhist period

That way, prostitution is supposed to be the oldest profession. The known history of India starts in sixth century B.C. and we find in Buddha’s time, an illegitimate child, becomming a renowned courtesan Amrapali, who later became a Bhikkuni.

Kautilya

“Artha Shastra” of Kautilya, or Chanakya or Vishnugupta is supposed to be a work of around 300 B.C., though some people think that there are interpolations of the Gupta age. It mentions “Ganikadyaksha” – superintendent of prostitutes, the penalties for prostitutes, dancers and singers, but does not talk of devadasis.

Ashokan Times

An inscription of Ashokan times found in a cave at Ramagarh in Vindhya hills, as referred by J. Bloch, mentions a word “Sutanuka”, which in later period was used to denote temple dancer. But this is no “clear reference to devadasis in early sources” [Joga Shankar, p. 39]

The Jatakas also make no mention of temple dancers. (Altekar, p. 185)

Vatsayana’s Kamasutra

It is expected that Vatsayana, who deals with sexual attitude in ancient India, will make a note of this cult, if it existed at his times. But he does not, as Joga Shankar observes:

“In early literature we find abundant references to secular prostitutes, dancers and courtesans, But specific references to temple dancers and sacred prostitution are not traced. Classics like Vatsayana’s ‘Kamasutra’ (250 A.D.) deal in detail about courtesans. There is, however, no direct reference to sacred prostitution. … He even classifies prostitutes into nine classes, the most honoured of whom is ganika. “Such a women” says Vatsayana, “will always be rewarded by kings and praised by gifted persons, and her connection will be sought by many people” (Burton : 1923 :166) [Jogan Shankar, “Devadasi Cult”, p. 40]

Later Works

We find in a sanskrit drama of seventh century A.D., Mrichakatikam, a courtesan Vasantsena having courtship with of a poor Brahmin Charudatta.

In South India, about the same time or a little later, two Tamil epics “Manimekhalai”, a Buddhist composition and “Sillapadhikaran”, another non-brahmin creation, which depict the story of Madhavi, a girl adept in singing and dancing etc.

All these belonged to flesh trade. But none of them was a devadasi. This distinction is important, because the origins of these two systems are different.

Earlier accounts of devadasi system

Vasant Rajas, “Devdasi: Shodha ani bodha”, (marathi), Sugava Prakashan, Pune, 1997, mentions of an inscription of 1004 A.D., in Tanjor Temple mentioning the numbers of devdasis to be 400 in Tanjor, 450 in Brahideswara temple and 500 in Sorti Somnath temple. [Vasant Rajas, p.3]

R. C Majumdar, who blames the inclusion all people with different views into its religious fold by the Buddhists for the general decline of morality in India, admits the degradation in ideas of decency and sexual morality in the Hindu religious practices. He observes:

“A great Sanskrit poet of the period gave a vivid description of the deva-dasis in a temple of Krishna and added that they made one feel as if the goddess Lakshmi had come down on earth to attend her lord the god Murari. (Dhoyi, “Pavandutam”, v. 28) Contemporary epigraphic records also refer in rapturous terms to the personal charm and beauty of the hundreds of deva-dasis assigned to a single temple. [R. C. Majumdar, “The Struggle for Empire”, HCIP, vol. V, fourth edition 1989, p.400 ]

Ghoshal enumerates the number of devadasis in various brahmanic temples:

“Indeed literary record and inscription give us the impression that they were regarded as a part of the normal establishment of temples, The number of these girls in the temples often reached high proportions. The temple of Somnatha at the time its destruction by Sultan Mahmud is stated to have been served by three hundred and fifty dancing girls. According to Chau Ju-Kua, Gujarat contained 4000 temples in which lived over 20,000 dancing girls whose function was to sing twice daily while offering food to the deities and while presenting flowers.

“We have the valuable testimony of Al-Biruni to the effect that the kings maintained this institution for the benefit of their revenues in the teeth of the opposition of the Brahmana priests. But for the kings, he says, no Brahmana or priest would allow in their temples women who sing, dance and play. The kings, however, make them a source of attraction to their subjects so that they may meet the expenditure of their armies out of the revenues derived therefrom. [U. N. Ghoshal, “The Struggle for Empire”, HCIP vol. V, fourth edition 1989, p.495]

Al-Biruni’s statements, as is well known, are all based on the learned Brahmins, whom he interviewed. So it is the Brahmins’ side of the story. The truth is that Brahmins and kings used to fight for the possession of these girls.

Distribution of Devadasis between Brahmins and Ksatriyas

The devadasis in temples had become the targets of the pleasure seekers among the brahmins and the kings. Brahmin priests claimed that they being the representatives of gods in heaven, the ‘bhudevas’, i.e. gods on the earth, they have the first claim, as anything offered to god belongs to brahmins, so also the girls offered to god must belong to them. The Kings retorted, that they make appointments of devadasis, they give them money and land and feed them, so they have greater claim. Ultimately the conflict was resolved by an understanding and devadasis were branded on their chest with emblems of ‘garuda’ (eagle) and ‘chakra’ (discus) for kings and ‘shankha’ (conch) for brahmins. [Rajas: p. 2]

It is interesting to note that all these emblems are Vaishnavite. We know that Ramanujam had started the system of branding on shoulders, with shankha and chakra, for the devotees embracing Vaishnava faith and it was a part of initiation rite. [See details in my book: ‘Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine’]. The system of branding devadasis seems to be the further application of the same principle.

Devdasi system among Muslims

The influence over Muslims of hindu of devdasi tradition is mentioned by Vasant Rajas. Some muslim sects had started offering girls to ‘dargas’. Such girls were called ‘acchutis’. There is a colony of such people in Lucknow in U.P. even today. The girl is married to Koran, Nikah is performed, the girl is called ‘bibi’ and is condemned to lead a life of prostitution. [Vasant Rajas, p. 17]

Earliest References in Epigraphs

In inscription of about 1230-1240 A.D. in the time of raja Raya III, in Tamilnadu the word Emperumandiyar is used for dancing girls, in Vishnu temples. This word had the sense of Vaishnavas before 966 A.D. [K. Jamanadas, “Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine”, p. 125]

In India, first references start appearing around tenth century or so in Jagannatha temple of Puri, which was originally a Buddhist temple, where Buddha’s Tooth Relic was being worshipped. Here these dancing girls were called ‘Maharis’. It is well known that ‘Mahar’ is a prominent untouchable caste of Maharashtra.

The earliest reference to the girls dedicated to temples appears in a Tamil inscription dating back to the reign of Rajaraja the great, a Chola monarch. He was a Shaiva votary. He came to throne in 985 A.D. The inscription indicates that in 1004 A.D. the main temple at Tanjore had four hundred ‘tali-cheri-pendugal’ or ‘women of the temple’ attached to it. “They settled in the streets surrounding the temple and in return of their service received one or more shares, each of which consisted of the produce of one veli (26,755 sq. meters) of land, calculated at 100 Kalam of paddy”. (E. Hultzsch: South Indian Inscriptions : Vol II: part III). The entire Chola country was filled with temples with devadasis in attendance as is clear from this particular inscription. It also provides an exhaustive list of the dancing girls who had been deputed to the Tanjore temple. [Jogan Shankar, p. 52]

“Historians have also traced and inscription from the Chebrolu of Krishna District in Andhra Pradesh dating back to 1139 A.D. The inscription records that some dancing girls were in services at the temple of Nageshvara right from the age of eight years old (Epigraphia Carnatica : V : Ak : 105 : 1139 A.D.).

Earlier Duties of devadasis

In earlier stages, their duties remained religious as Mahalingam presumes that when food was offered to God they danced before the idol, they themselves gave him food and all that was necessary. (Mahalingam; 1940:150). Probably this services to only God remained for a long period.

Harshad. R. Trivedi believes initial spurt of the cult was associated with the great spurt in building up of temples, and that the cult of “Devadasi” began to flourish during Pallava and Chola dynasties in South India from the 6th to 13th Century A.D., and the rise of “sacred prostitutes” in India seems to have taken place in the ninth or tenth century A.D. [ (Trivedi :1976:76), Jogam Shankar, p. 111]

However, at later stage devadasis were forced to please earthly Gods and lords as well. Mahalingam referring to Nuniz, wrote :

“Every Saturday, they were obliged to go to king’s palace to dance and prostrate before the King’s idol which was in the interior of his palace” (Mahalingam:1940:158).

In Mattsya Purana there is a reference to the dishonoured women of the defeated or killed wives of ‘asuras’ who were asked to serve in the temples and practise prostitution (Nadkarni:1975:15). Naturally it seems that the other kings and princes treated the devadasis as their personal servants and forced them to dedicate every thing they possessed to them. Emulating the practice of sponsoring the cult of such rulers, chieftains, feudals, officials, and moneyed persons also took advantage of this system and treated devadasis as objects of their carnal desires. Priests and religious heads of various denominations and temples supported the cult to continue and persist by bestowing religious sanctions. [Jagan Shankar, p.111]

Jagan Shankar observes:

“Hence, we have to assume that they were rare until the middle ages, Altekar also opines that, “The custom of the association of dancing girls with temples is unknown to Jataka literature. It is not mentioned by Greek writers; the Arthashastra which describes in detail the life of ganikas is silent about it” (Altekar : 1973:185). [Jogan Shankar, “Devdasi Cult”, p. 39]

“Probably the custom of dedicating girls to temples and sacred prostitution became quite common in the 6th century A.D. as most of the Puranas containing references to it have been composed during this period. Several Puranas recommend that arrangements should be made to enlist the services of singing girls at the time of worship at temples. They even recommend the purchase of beautiful girls and dedicating them to temples..” [Jogan Shankar, p. 40 ff.]

“Bhavishya Purana suggests that the best way of winning Suryaloka is by dedicating a bevy of prostitutes to a `Sun’ (Solar) Temple” (Altekar : 1973:184). [Jogan Shankar, p.40]

Moghul period

Abul-Fazl records the condition of prostitutes, both sacred and secular, during Akbar’s reign (1556-1605) in his famous work Ain- e-Akbari, stating their number was so much that a ‘Daroga’ or a superintendent was required to supervise their activities, and their locality was called ‘saitanpura’ or ‘devil’s villa’. [Blochman and Jarrett, 1873, quoted by Jogan Shankar, p. 40]

“During the reigns of Emperor Jahangir (1605-1627) and Shah Jahan 1628-1658), the luxury, ostentation, extravagance and depravity increased”. (Manucci : 1907 : 9). [Jogan Shankar, p. 40]

It was Aurangzeb (1659-1707), who seems to have taken pity on the plight on these women and made many efforts to attempt to alleviate their sufferings, and at the same time, check the wastage which was slowly draining the resources of the country. He was a committed Mohammedan puritan who led a life of an ascetic. During his reign thousands of Hindu temples were demolished by his order, and every effort was made to wipe out prostitution and everything pertaining to it. He even issued public proclamations, prohibiting singing and dancing; at the same time ordered all the dancing girls to marry or be banished from the Kingdom. (Elliot : 1867 ;283). [Jogam Shankar, p.41]

Why the Devadasi cults are less in North India

W. Crooke while presenting account of the tribes and castes of Northern India, mentions castes such as tawaif, gandharb and patur. These castes consist of dancers, singers and prostitutes. Only one caste called ‘raj-kanya’ among them seems to be temple dancer. [Jogan Shankar, p.42] There are certain gypsy tribes named `bediyas’ and `nats’, who are dancers, acrobats and prostitutes in Bengal. But these castes have no connection with temple worship. [Jogan Shankar, p. 43]

Thus we find that though the secular prostitution flourishes in Northern India as in the rest of the country, the Devadasi cult seems to be less in existence. This is attributed to Muslim influence, as Jagan Shankar observes:

“Hence in North India the institution dedication to temple dancing is very rare. This may be due to Mohammedan rule which destabilized temple administration and sacred complexes were frequently attacked by alien plunderers. However, dedicated dancers were not attached to any temple as such. Mohammedan puritans like Aurangzeb treated this institution and other Hindu cults with contempt. He wanted to do away with such cults. In fact he succeeded in his endeavours to some extent.” [p.43]

Participation of Veera Shaivas

At least during British times, Veera Shaivas did not lag behind the Brahmins and the kings in exploitation of these girls. In a paper entitled `Basavis in Peninsular India’ at the Anthropological Society of Bombay during 1910, presented by R.C. Artal, then deputy Collector of Belgaum describes:

“… Indeed the ceremony is subject to local variation. The lucky badge is generally tied on her neck by the Lingayet Jagam or Arya-Pattadappannavaru or Charamurtigalu of Hire- Math, i.e. Chief math of the Village. The practice observed with regard to the consummation of the Basavi is that generally the Hiremathadayya has the right to take her maidenhood” (Artal :1910:99)

“It seems to me that the institution of Basavis was mainly started with a view to satisfy the carnal desires of Jangamas or Lingayat priests who are not allowed to touch a non-Lingayat women. Hence the proverb “Bhaktar Mani Oota, Basavi Mane Nidre” which means “a Jangama take his meals in the houses of Bhaktas (devotees) and sleeps at night in the house of a Basavi” (Artal :op.cit.).

“The leading members of the Veershaiva community of the village, including the Jangamas of the Hirematha, endow her with a concave metal vessel on the occasion of her dedication, and thus permit her to go a-begging. I have seen the concave copper vessel given to the Veerashaiva Basavi of Rabkavi in the Sangli State on the Terdal-Jamkhandi Road. It bears an inscription on it to the effect that it was given to the Basavi by the Pattadappanavaru of the place” (Artal : op.cit).

Commenting on this Joga Shankar observes that, it is evident from this description that dominating castes and their priests sponsored this cult in the past. [Joga Shankar, p. 62]

Some important Devadasis

In spite of great humiliation and exploitation, and ultimate horrible fate of most of them, devadasis being expert in dancing and singing, some of them have attained high fame. Rajas mentions some of such important ones. The famous dancer Jailaxmi of Padanallur became the queen of King Ramanad. Devadasi Subalaksmi became a famous classical singer. The famous devadasi house of ‘Mangeshkar’ from Goa is renowned for singing all over the world. During late Peshava rule, example of Patthe Baburao, a great ‘shahir’, who forgot his brahmanic origin and removed his sacred thread for his consort Pawala, a Mahar by caste, is still famous [Rajas: p. 54], and people have produced films on the couple.

Classical Dance forms of ancient India

Today, we find the exhibitions over media, and festivals being organized, specially for foreigners, to show how great was our ancient art form of dance, may it be Bharat Natyam, Kuchipudi or Oddisi. It is never mentioned on such occasions that this art was the gift of these low caste women who nurtured the art under trying conditions and with great suffering. The art was later learnt by women of higher castes and now it is they who only participate in international festivals and the like. Jogan Shankar gives an account how this happened about ‘Sadir’ dance of devadasis. He observes:

“The revivalists wanted to preserve the traditional from of Sadir dance by purifying it. The new name was given as ‘Bharatanatyam’. As a consequence of purification some modifications were introduced into the content of to dance style. The revivalists were basically belonging to Brahmin dominated Theosophical Circles. Many Brahmin girls started to learn the dance from devadasis. Hence the dance technique remained unchanged. The only change was change in the class of clientele.” [p. 144]

The themes were picked up from Sanskrit texts, higher caste girls learned the dances and put them in new settings which excluded devadasi traditions, and the dance form became individual oriented from the community oriented. [p.144] Theosophical Society of India revived the devadasi dance, declaring as the aim of restoration of India’s ancient glory. Rukmini Arundale was well groomed and encouraged by Annie Besant to convert the devadasi’s ‘Sadir’ to ‘Bharatanatyam’, and started training the higher caste women, with the funds of the Theosophical Society, organizing a convention in 1935-36, and establishing an International Academy of Arts which was later renamed as Kalakshetra. [Jogan Shankar, p. 145]

Theories of origin of Devadasi Cult

Jogan Shankar observes that, none of the numerous theories, provides explanations satisfactorily. However inadequate they may be, they help us in our inquiry, so he gives the list of such theories.:

1. The custom of dedicating girls to temples emerged as a substitute for human sacrifice, being and offering to the gods and goddesses to appease and secure blessings for the community as a whole.

2. It is a rite to ensure the fertility of the land and the increase of human being and animal population on the principle of Homeopathic magic.

3. It is part of phallic worship which existed in India from early Dravidian times.

4. Probably sacred prostitution sprang from the custom of providing sexual hospitality for strangers; and if such hospitality is offered by the living mortal wives of a deity, prosperity would bound to result.

5. The devadasi cult simply represents the licentious worship offered by a people, subservient to a degraded and vested interests of priestly Class.

6. Devadasi system is a deliberately created custom in order to exploit lower caste people in India by upper castes and classes as:

(a) The upper castes have influenced the establishment of an order of prostitutes who are licensed to carry on their profession under the protective shield of religion.

(b) The establishment of such system facilitates them the access to low caste women to fulfill their carnal desire.

(c) The setting up of such a system can destroy the lower castes’ sense of self-respect in a society.”

As Jogan Shankar feels that the last theory is most likely to be the real cause, we will concentrate only over it. He feels:

“The above mentioned theories have been put forth by many scholars in the past. The survey of literature and historical evidences clearly show that most of them are inadequate to explain the whole institution of devadasis. While some of them are supported by Frazer, Briffault, Tawney and Penzer these theories or explanations do not support everything. Such theories were presented after making comparisons. … Hence for the present study the sixth explanation seems to be more feasible. …” [Jogan Shankar, “Devadasi Cult”, p. 62 ff.]

The first five theories can not explain, why only bahujan girls have been becoming devadasis and not the others. So his theory of exploitation of lower castes by the upper castes is very sound. But it is the effect of devadasi cult, and not the cause, as we will see later.

Decline of Women started with the decline of Buddhism

It is well known that at one time girls were allowed to undergo ‘Upnayana’, which was a ‘right’ to take education, but their position declined later. It started from Manu and went on deteriorating further. Altekar identifies the period of 500 A.D. to 1800 A. D. as one of further deterioration During this period the ‘Upanayana’ rite for girls was banned, marriage remaining the only alternative. The age of marriages of girls was lowered and child marriages became the rule. Widow remarriages were prohibited. ‘Purdah’ was observed leading women to a secluded life. Hindu sastras considered women as Shudras, and they were debarred from reading or reciting the Vedas and perform any Vedic sacrificial rituals. Women were indoctrinated through the puranic stories which inculcated blind-faith rather than rational thinking. It was impressed on their minds that they must visit temples, perform vows and observe fasts with more regularity than menfolk to accumulate ‘punya’, i.e. virtue. In this context Altekar explains the paradox with these apt remarks:

“Thus the very women whom religion had once considered as outcastes, were also the most faithful custodians of its spirit and traditions (1973: 176)” [Jagan Shankar, p. 9]

Condition of women in non-hindu religions

We all know that, the women’s participation in Buddhism and Jainism was more their condition was not that humiliating as in Hinduism. After Buddha changed his stand about the admission of women into the Sangha, we have many examples of outstanding Buddhist nuns. Later, Jains also permitted nuns but more puritanic Digambara Jains held that women could never gain salvation unless they are reborn as male. [Jogan Shankar, p. 10]

In a study, from Madras, it was found that Christian women had a much higher rate of participation in white collar occupations than Hindu women and that Muslim women had a much lower rate. The report states that Christianity places fewer restrictions on the activities of women that other religions and therefore Christian women have acquired more education and vocational training than women of other communities.

Chandrakala A.. Hate, who has also found similar differences from Bombay and Poona, claimed that “since there is no joint family system among the Christians, women work out of necessity the expectation of the eventual need to be self-supporting”. (Hate :1969 :16). Both studies attribute the low rate of participation of Muslim women to greater conservatism.” [Jgan Shankar, p. 11]

A stigma on Hinduism

The faith in god itself is a blind faith. The blind faith increases the exploitation of ‘masses’ by the ‘classes’. Any time the interests of these classes are in danger, there is a hue and cry that the ‘dharma’ is in danger. I have a great respect for the members of ‘Andha shraddha nirmulan samiti’ for their work, but it is a pity, that they have also failed in removing the fear from the minds of people about these so called devis, and could not convince them that matting of hair – ‘jat’ – as locals call it, is not a ‘call from devi’ to offer their daughter as a devadasi. I think it is because they do not like to include the faith on god as a ‘blind faith’, though they accept in private that the origin of all blind faith starts with the faith in existence of supreme god.

Untouchabilty has been recognized as an ‘evil’ of Hinduism, and a stigma, but devadasi system is still not recognized as such. The day that is recognized as such, will be the real day of beginning of liberation of women. Dr. Ambedkar has shown that the real cause of Untouchability is contempt of Buddhists. Similarly, it is the fall of Buddhism that caused the degradation of Buddhists nuns to the present state of devadasis.

Salient points

The theories to which Joga Shankar attributes the origin, it would be clear that he is confusing the effect with the cause. That the exploitation of dalits is the effect and not the cause of devdasi system. The cause is the contempt of Buddhism. His theory does not explain many points.

We know that devadasi system started around ninth or tenth century after the fall of Buddhism, during the so called ‘Rajput period’.

We know that many Buddhist temples were converted to Brahmanic ones during the period.

We know that it was the Buddhist system of at least one girl or a boy from each house to join the Sangha.

We know that the Bhikkus were killed. Some ran away to foreign lands, some accepted brahmanism and became low grade brahmins. Then what happened of these bhikunis?

We know that during the last phase of Buddhism, it was Vajra Yana, which prevailed. In later stages of this religious system, the importance of women in the religious practices had increased. As a matter of fact all tantras, hindu as well as buddhist, used women as media, in their religious practices.

We know the system of untouchability had started during late Gupta period around fifth or sixth century. How did the untouchable girls got entry into the sanctum sanctorium after this? These girls must be present in the temple service before the system of untouchability started and some of the Buddhists, residing out side the villages and refused to stop eating beef of a dead cow, were condemned to be untouchables, as explained by Dr. Ambedkar.

Devadasis were degraded Buddhist nuns

It is, therefore, our opinion, that today’s devadasis are the degraded Buddhist nuns of ancient India, as put forward by us some ten years ago. [Dr. K. Jamanadas, “Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine”, p. 125 ff.] The points in favour of this theory are as follows:

In Tamilnadu the word Emperumandiyar which was used in the sense of Vaishnavas before 966 A.D got the meaning of dancing girls, attached to Vishnu temples, in inscription of about 1230-1240 A.D. in the time of raja Raya III. [K. Jamanadas, p. 125]

In Maharashtra, they are called ‘Devadasis’, meaning ‘female servant of God’. In the opinion of present author these devadasis were originally Buddhist nuns, and the system of making first born daughter, a Bhikshuni was prevalent, and the fall of Buddhism caused the degradation of these bhikshunis to the level of todays devadasis.

Foreign origin of the custom

It the mistakes to trace the origin of Indian Temple dancers to Babylonian, Greek, Syrian, Phonecian or Egyptian tradition or any foreign ancient customs. Even some very important leaders who are struggling for the abolition of ‘Devadasi system’ in parts of Maharashtra and Karnataka, seem to attribute this origin. Practices of dancing in these foreign temples was thousands of years before the Christian era. Indian scene is comparatively more recent, about 1000 A.D. or so. It should be clearly understood that Ambrapali, Vasantsena and Madhavi were not Devadasis, as mentioned above, and there is no foreign influence on Indian Temple dancers. This system of devadasis started after the decline of Buddhism in India during the so called “Rajput Period”, and flourished during the “Muslim Period”.

Their nomenclature

They were called emperimandiars in Tamilnadu, a name which was applied to devotees of Vishnu before being called Vaishnavas, as already seen. In certain parts of Maharashtra, these devadasis are known as ‘bhavin’ or ‘jogin’ or ‘jogtin’. All these words literally mean a Buddhist nun.

Temple of Jagganatha at Puri

In India, first references start appearing around tenth century or so in temple of Puri. It is well known that this was a Buddhist temple, where Buddha’s Tooth Relic was being worshipped. For details on this point please see my book ‘Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine’. It is interesting to know that these dancing girls were called ‘Maharis’ in temple of Puri. It is well known that ‘Mahar’ is a prominent untouchable caste of Maharashtra. From Jogan Shankar we learn that same name is used in Kerala too. That the Kerala Nayar community were Nagas and formerly Buddhists is well recognized.

Ancient Indian literature is silent about them

One has to differentiate between Ganikas and their inferior counterparts Varaganas on one hand and Devadasis on the other. That the Devadasis were Buddhist nuns can be deducted from many evidences. They were unknown to ancient India. Jatakas, Kautillya or Vatsayana do not mention them, but later Puranas are full of them. The system started only after the fall of Buddhism and records of them start appearing around 1000 A.D.

Old Buddhist practice of offering a child for religious cause

In certain castes the system of offering at least one daughter from family for the service of god was rampant in almost all families of the caste. It well known that 95% of the devadasis today belong caste of Untouchables, who were, of course, Buddhist originally.

These dancing girls and their male counterparts had different names in different parts of the country, and the important point to note is that the pair was, and even today is considered not as husband and wife but as brother and sister, the relation that existed among the Buddhist nuns and Bhikshus. The practice of Ceremonial Begging also denotes Buddhist origins.

Their deities

There is always some religious rite conducted at the time of their initiation and that they were looked upon with respect by the society in early days, It is also noteworthy they have the Deities of their own, which are distinct from Brahmnic Deities, and the original connection with Buddhist Deities is already forgotten.

Some of the Deities of these Devedasis are also now homologized as some Brahmins also worship these Deities, and the people whose ‘Kuladdaivatam’ are those deities, are of lower castes and do not belong to Brahmnic order. These deities, are of lower castes and do not belong to Brahmnic order.

Religious Orthodoxy

Origin of devadasi system is religious and not economic. It has not only economic facets but also religious ones. For example devadasis have a firm religious belief that they must not get married, as they are married to god. This poses a difficult problem, not only to find them husbands but also to persuade them for marriage. Instances are abundant that these girls refused to get married and some of those who did get married, lost their prestige in the eyes of their kith and kin. This kind of orthodoxy can only be explained on religious grounds and not on economical ones.

Unfortunately the present Devadasis are ignorant of their glorious past and that the prominent among them and their families have dissociated themselves from the problems of Devadasis. They are against any kind of reform and are associating with the very social institutions and people, who made them prostitutes from servants of God.

What more evidence is needed?

It is a matter of understanding. 95 per cent of Devadasis are untouchables. Being untouchables they were Buddhists of olden days as shown by Dr. Ambedkar very aptly. Before the name ‘Vaishnva’ came in vogue, the devotees of the Lord of Tirumalai were known by the name ’emperumandiyars’. The same name was being applied to these women who became devadasis from buddhist bhikkunis. This is a direct evidence that the ancestors of todays devadasis who were devotees of Venkateswara, were Buddhists and that the Lord of Tirumalai was the Lord of these Buddhists.

The name by which these erstwhile Buddhists are known today, was the name of the devotees of the Lord Venkateswara. What more direct evidence could there be that the Lord Venkateswara was the Buddhist deity.

Evolution of the System

The evolution of the devadasi cult has been traced erroneously to a period earlier than Aryans entry in India because of ‘dancing figure’ in Harrapan civilization. This is shown above to be false.

The Kerala pattern of matriacheal system, as Joga Shankar seems to suggest, also has nothing to do with this cult and it is not a relic of Dravidian matriarchal society, in which the genealogy of a child was traced only to the mother.

Contrary to what he suggests, the children of devadasis are forced to enter `Basavi’ or mother’s name in the slot meant for father’s name in the school application forms, only because they do not have a social father and even if known, the biological father accepts no responsibility. This has nothing to do with the matriarchal society of Dravidian region and no parallel can be drawn. One might remember a story of Satyakama Jabala from Upanishada, who was placed in similar situation.

Joga Shankar’s suggestion that, Aryan invasion saw many Dravidian deities being homologized by Brahmins is correct. Many such examples are given by Bal Krishna Nair, who observes:

“Who does not know how the Tamil Muruga came to be installed as the Subramania and how the Tamilian Avai was metamorphosed into the Durgai and Parvathi in the Aryan pantheon. Even Mayon and Mal are believed to be old pre Aryan Tamil names subsequently identified with the later Aryan Sun god, Vishnu. … An ancient ‘Muruga’ temple situated in the eastern ghats popularly known as “Ayyappa Swami” (also considered as Buddhist in origin) became Sanskritised as ‘Shastha’ and therefore the son of Vishnu. … Deities are similarly married and the new relative assumes equal importance in a new place like the older deity whose spread encompassed the new also. The bride, of course, in this case is usually the Dravidian deity and the bridegroom is mostly Shiva e.g. marriage of goddess Meenakshi of Madurai with Shiva. [“Dynamic Brahman”, pp 51 ff.] . For details of Ayyappa see K. Jamanadas, p. 28 ff.]

Similarly, Basavi or Jogati such as Yellamma, originally a Dravidian Goddess, became Renuka or Renukamba and was superimposed by an Aryan system of devadasi, which was prevalent in Somannath and Jagannath Temple at Puri and other north Indian temples where the impact of the Aryans was predominant.

Initially the dedicated women were required to clean the sanctum – sanctorium, for maintenance of lamps in cleaning, putting oil, lighting the lamp, offering food (naivedya) to the main deity, assisting priests at the time of worship, as they used to do as Buddhist nuns. Education and learning of women had already stopped with the decline of Buddhism, so these nuns had no other work. System of washing and bathing the Buddhist images had already started in Mahayani system.

Ratha Yatra was a Buddhist practice copied by Brahmanas [K. Jamanadas, p. 160 ff.] These girls started to dance and sing in praise of the deity, and look after cleanliness of the temple complex. These women were said to be expert artists in music and dance. We have seen how Bharatnayam, a classical dance form, flourishes today because of devadasis of Tamil Nadu. As society underwent changes so also patrons of devadasi changed and their service also shifted.

From Devadasi to a Prostitute

The later progress can be surmised as mentioned by Joga Shankar:

“At a later stage, devadasis were asked to serve the king as in the case of God, since the king was considered to be God on earth. In fact Kings sponsored this cult. Temple dancers along with their traditional ritual functions started rendering their services to royal palaces and assisting Kings in the art of politic. They were use in espionage activities against enemy Kings and Court dancer.

“Kings started building temples and appointed devadasis to serve God in the temples and royal palaces. This development had a far reaching impact on popularization of the cult. Other lesser Kings, chieftains and feudals also emulated their superiors and started patronizing the cult. In rural areas feudals who possessed substantial land, exercised commandable authority over other socially and economically weaker sections of society. They were de facto owners of men and material of the region. The cult served as an instrument through which they could gain the assessability to desirable low caste and poor women. The field experience supports that this cult is prevalent only among scheduled caste women who are subjugated and suppressed by upper caste members since time immemorial.” [Jogan Shankar, p.157 ]

And thus the Buddhist nuns were converted to today’s Devadasis, the cheap prostitutes in the name of god, and it was the most dreadful result of the decline and fall of Buddhism in ancient India, affecting mostly the bahujans.


Current Situation of Buddhism in the World

26/07/2010
Originally published as part of
Berzin, Alexander. Buddhism and Its Impact on Asia.
Asian Monographs
, no. 8.
Cairo: Cairo University, Center for Asian Studies, June 1996.

South and Southeast Asian Theravada Buddhism

Sri Lanka

At present Buddhism is flourishing in some countries and facing difficulties in others. Theravada, for example, is the strongest in Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma (Myanmar), but seriously weakened in Laos, Cambodia (Kampuchea) and Vietnam. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries Buddhism had declined in Sri Lanka due to persecution by first the Inquisition and then the missionaries of its Christian colonial rulers. It was revived in the late nineteenth century with the help of British scholars and theosophists. As a result, Sri Lankan Buddhism is sometimes characterized as “Protestant” Buddhism, with the emphasis on scholarly study, pastoral activities by monks for the lay community and direct meditation practice for laypeople, not just for those with robes. The lay householder community has great faith, but sometimes complain of the scarcity of monks with a balance of study and practice.

Indonesia and Malaysia

Sri Lankan monks have been helping revive Theravada Buddhism in Bali, other parts of Indonesia, and Malaysia, where it had slowly died out by the end of the fifteenth century. This is on an extremely limited scale. Those showing interest in Bali are the followers of the traditional Balinese mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism and the local spirit religion, while in other parts of Indonesia and Malaysia, the audience is the overseas Chinese Mahayana Buddhist community. There are also some very small new Indonesian Buddhist sects that are hybrids of Theravada, Chinese and Tibetan aspects.

According to the Indonesian government’s “panchashila” policy, all religions must assert belief in God. Although Buddhism does not assert God as an individual being and is therefore sometimes characterized as atheistic, it is officially recognized because of its assertion of Adibuddha. This is, literally, the “First Buddha,” and is discussed in The Kalachakra Tantra, which had flourished in Indonesia a millennium ago. Adibuddha is the omniscient creator of all appearances, beyond time, words and other limitations. Although represented by a symbolic figure, he is not actually a being himself. Adibuddha is more abstract and is found in all beings as the clear light nature of the mind. On this basis Buddhism is accepted, along with Islam, Hinduism and the Catholic and Protestant forms of Christianity, as the five state religions of Indonesia.

India

Buddhism slowly faded in the sub-Himalayan regions of India by about the seventeenth century. At the end of the nineteenth century, however, the Sri Lankans with the help of British scholars founded the Maha Bodhi Society for the purpose of restoring the holy Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India. They have been very successful and now have temples with monks at each of these sites, as do several other Buddhist traditions.

In the 1950s, Ambedkar started a neo-Buddhist movement among untouchables in western India. Hundreds of thousands have joined, mostly to avoid the stigma of belonging to the lowest caste. The emphasis is on gaining political and social rights for themselves. Ambedkar died shortly after founding this revival. Since then it has been headed by Sangharakshita, an Englishman who founded the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order as a new form of Buddhism especially designed for Western practitioners.

Thailand

In Thailand, influenced by the model of the Thai monarchy, the Buddhist monastic community has a Supreme Patriarch and a Council of Elders with responsibility for keeping the purity of the tradition. There are two types of monastic communities, those who dwell in the forests and those who live in the villages. Both are objects of great veneration and support by the lay community. The strong forest tradition of mendicant monks lives in isolated jungles and engages in intense meditation. It follows strict adherence to the monastic rules of discipline, which forms the focus of its study program. Village monks perform numerous ceremonies for the welfare of the local people. Their study, however, consists primarily of memorizing texts. In keeping with the Thai cultural belief in spirits, these monks also provide amulets to the laypeople for protection. There is a Buddhist university for monks, primarily for training monastics to translate the Buddhist scriptures from classical Pali into modern Thai.

Myanmar (Burma)

In Myanmar (Burma), the military regime has taken strict control of Buddhism under its Ministry of Religion. It has brutally destroyed the monasteries where dissidents had been living, particularly in the north of the country. Now the government is giving great sums of money to the rest of the monks in an effort to win their support and silence any criticism. Burma has a long tradition of a balanced, equal emphasis on meditation and study, particularly of the “abhidharma” system of Buddhist psychology, metaphysics and ethics. Many monasteries having this approach are still open, and the lay population maintains great faith. Since the late nineteenth century, perhaps influenced by the British colonial occupation, there are many meditation centers where monk and lay teachers instruct Burmese laymen and laywomen in basic meditational practices to develop mindfulness.

Bangladesh

In southern Bangladesh, in the hills along the Burmese border, there are many isolated villages traditionally following the Burmese Buddhist tradition. Cut off from Burma, however, their level of understanding and practice is quite low.

Laos

In Laos, Buddhism is still taught and practiced in a rural setting in the traditional manner, but the monasteries are in poor condition due to the American-Vietnam War. The lay Laotians still offer food to the monks on their alms rounds and go to the temples on full moon days. The meditation tradition, however, is extremely weak. Previously, the monks had to learn and teach Marxism, but now do not. People today need only pay lip service to communism and it is easier to become a monk.

Kampuchea (Cambodia)

In Kampuchea (Cambodia), Buddhism is being revived after Pol Pot’s destruction and persecution, and especially with Prince Sihanouk as king, the restrictions are being slowly relaxed. Still, however, one must be over 30 or 40 to ordain, since the country needs the manpower. The head Khmer monk, Maha Ghosananda, studied meditation in Thailand, since it was mostly lost in Cambodia, and is trying to revive its practice there. Whatever forest tradition was left in the country was more concerned with gaining special powers rather than meditation.

Vietnam

Although there never was an equivalent of the Cultural Revolution in Vietnam, Buddhism is still considered the enemy of the state there, with monks continuing to challenge state authority and control. It is very difficult to ordain and many monks are still put in jail. Only token monasteries are open, mostly for propaganda purposes. The regime is more relaxed with the monks in the north, where the monastic institutions had coexisted with the communists during the Vietnam War. The regime is much more suspicious and hard on the monks in the south.

East Asian Mahayana Buddhism

Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Overseas Chinese Areas

The East Asian Mahayana Buddhist traditions deriving from China are the strongest in Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. Taiwan has a strong monastic community of monks and nuns very generously supported by the lay community. There are Buddhist universities and Buddhist programs for social welfare. Hong Kong also has a flourishing monastic community. The emphasis among the overseas Chinese Buddhist communities in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines is on ceremonies for the welfare of ancestors, and for prosperity and wealth for the living. There are many mediums through whom Buddhist oracles speak in trance and whom the lay community consults for health and psychological problems. Chinese businessmen who are the main driving force behind these “Asian tiger” economies frequently make generous donations to the monks to perform rituals for their financial success.

Korea

Buddhism in South Korea is still strong, although facing a growing challenge from Evangelic Christian movements. There are many monastic communities of monks and nuns with much popular support. The meditational tradition is particularly flourishing, especially of Son, the Korean form of Zen. In North Korea, on the other hand, except for a token monastery open for propaganda purposes, Buddhism is severely repressed.

Japan

Japan has many temples beautifully kept for tourists and visitors, but many are commercialized. Although there are some serious practitioners, for the most part the traditions are extremely formalized and weak. From the thirteenth century, the Japanese have had a tradition of married temple priests with no prohibition against drinking alcohol. Such priests gradually replaced the tradition of celibate monks. Most Japanese follow a combination of Buddhism and the traditional Japanese Shinto spirit religion. They have priests perform Shinto customs and ceremonies for births and marriages, and Buddhist ones for funerals, with little understanding of either. There are some moves to adopt Buddhist methods for relieving work pressure in large companies, and one large Japanese Buddhist sect has an extensive program building Peace Pagodas around the world. There are also a number of fanatic doomsday cults that call themselves Buddhist, but in fact have little to do with Buddha Shakyamuni’s teachings. Historically, some of the Japanese Buddhist traditions have been extremely nationalistic, based on belief in Japan as a Buddhist paradise. This derives from the Shinto cult of the emperor and the importance of belonging to the Japanese nation. Such traditions have given rise to Buddhist political parties that are extremely nationalistic and fundamentalist in flavor.

People’s Republic of China

In Inner China, namely the Han Chinese areas of the People’s Republic, the majority of Buddhist monasteries were destroyed and most of the well-trained monks, nuns and teachers were executed or imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s. This was not to the same huge extent, however, as in the non-Han regions, namely Tibet, Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang. Today, a large number of Han Chinese of all ages in Inner China are interested in Buddhism, but the main problem is the lack of teachers. Many young people are receiving monastic ordination, but their quality is low. Most college-educated youth prefer to work and make money, while those who join monasteries are mostly from poor and/or uneducated families, primarily from the countryside. There are only a few qualified elderly monks and nuns left who survived the communist persecution and can teach, and no one of middle age with any training. There are government Buddhist colleges with two to four-year programs in many major Inner Chinese cities and pilgrimage sites, with political education as part of their curriculum. Relatively few of the newly-ordained Han Chinese attend them.

In general, the level of Buddhist education is extremely low in the Han Chinese monasteries. People are focusing primarily on the physical reconstruction of Buddhism at the moment – temples, pagodas, statues and so forth – and this requires putting time and effort into raising money and building. In some cases, the Chinese government is helping to finance the reconstruction. As a result, many Buddhist temples are now open as museums or tourist attractions, with the monastics being the ticket collectors and temple attendants. This allows for a veneer of “religious freedom,” an image much sought by the Beijing government. Most reconstruction, however, is being financed by the local people, sometimes with foreign benefactors, and often by the monastics themselves. Some traditional ancestor-worship practices done in temples before the communist persecution are now being revived. There are, however, a few Chinese monasteries in various parts of Inner China that are active and have some level of study and practice.

Central Asian Mahayana Buddhism

Tibetans in Exile

Among the Tibetan traditions of Central Asia, the strongest is with the Tibetan refugee community around His Holiness the Dalai Lama in exile in India since the 1959 popular uprising against the Chinese military occupation of Tibet. They have restarted most of the major monasteries and several of the nunneries of Tibet, and have the traditional full training program for monk scholars, master meditators and teachers. There are educational, research and publication facilities to preserve all aspects of each of the schools of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

The Tibetans in exile have helped revitalize Buddhism in the Himalayan regions of India, Nepal and Bhutan, including Ladakh and Sikkim by sending teachers and retransmitting the lineages. Many monks and nuns from these regions are receiving their education and training in the Tibetan refugee monasteries and nunneries.

Nepal

Although the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism is followed among the Sherpa people of eastern Nepal and among the Tibetan refugees in the central part of the country, the traditional form of Nepalese Buddhism still exists on a limited level among the Newari people of the Kathmandu Valley. Following a blend of the late Indian form of Mahayana and Hinduism, they are the only Buddhist society that keeps caste distinctions within the monasteries. Since the sixteenth century, the monks are allowed to marry and there is a hereditary caste among them of keepers of the temples and leaders of rituals. Those who perform these functions must come from these castes.

Tibet

The situation of Buddhism in Tibet itself, which the People’s Republic of China has divided among the five provinces of Tibet, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan, is still very grim. Of 6500 monasteries and nunneries before 1959, all but 150 were destroyed, mostly before the Cultural Revolution. The vast majority of learned monastics were either executed or died in concentration camps, and most monastics in general were forced to disrobe. Starting in 1979, the Chinese have allowed the Tibetans to reconstruct their monasteries, and much has already been rebuilt. The Chinese government has helped with two or three of them, but the vast majority has been through the efforts and finance of the former monks, the local populace and Tibetans in exile abroad. Thousands of young people have become monks and nuns, but the Chinese government is now imposing severe limitations and restrictions once more. Many police and government spies are disguised as monks and keep a close check in the monasteries. Monks and nuns have often led protests against the Chinese policies of suppression of human rights, demanding true autonomy and freedom of religion.

The Chinese communist authorities effort to control Buddhism in Tibet has surfaced most prominently with respect to the finding of the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama. The first Panchen Lama, living in the seventeenth century, was the tutor of the Fifth Dalai Lama and is considered the second highest spiritual leader among the Tibetans after the Dalai Lama. Upon the death of a Dalai Lama or Panchen Lama, the successor is chosen as a small child recognized as the reincarnation of his predecessor. The child is found upon consultation with oracles and thoroughly tested for accurate memories of people and objects from his former life.

Although the Dalai Lamas, since the time of the Fifth, have been both the spiritual and temporal heads of Tibet, the Panchen Lamas have never held a political position. Since the early twentieth century, however, the Chinese have tried unsuccessfully to split the Tibetans by supporting the Panchen Lama as a political rival to the Dalai Lama.

The Manchus, a non-Han Chinese people of northeast Asia, ruled China from the mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth century. They tried to win the allegiance of the Mongolian and Tibetan people within the sphere of influence of their empire by outwardly supporting Tibetan Buddhism, while always trying to manipulate and control its institutions and change its center of gravity from Lhasa to Beijing. In the mid-eighteenth century they declared that only the Manchu emperor had the authority to choose and recognize the reincarnations of the Dalai Lamas and Panchen Lamas through a system of drawing lots from a golden urn. The Tibetans ignored their claim; the choice of Panchen Lamas was always confirmed by the Dalai Lamas.

The Chinese communist government is avowedly atheistic, supposedly does not interfere in religious matters and has totally denounced all policies of the previous imperial dynasties that have ruled China. Yet in 1995 it proclaimed itself the legitimate heir of the Manchu emperors in having the authority to find and recognize the reincarnation of the Tenth Panchen Lama who had passed away in 1989. This was shortly after the abbot of the Panchen Lama’s monastery located the reincarnation and the Dalai Lama officially gave his recognition to the boy. Subsequently, the boy and his family have been taken to Beijing and not been heard from since, the abbot has been imprisoned, and the Panchen Lama’s monastery put under strict communist control. The Chinese authorities then ordered all high Lama teachers to gather at a ceremony in which they chose their own Panchen Lama reincarnate. Subsequently, the President of China has met with the six-year old boy and instructed him to be loyal to the Chinese communist party.

In addition to Chinese government interference, the main problem facing Buddhists in Tibet is a lack of qualified teachers. Only a handful of the old masters have survived the communist persecution and the few teachers available have received only two or a maximum of four years of training in a very limited curriculum at government Buddhist colleges established through the efforts of the late Panchen Lama. Although in general there is more study than in Inner China, many of the monasteries in Tibet are open as tourist attractions and the monks must work as ticket collectors and temple attendants. The lay population in general has very strong faith, but a large portion of the youth are being demoralized by the lack of employment due to the huge population transfer of Han Chinese and the ever-increasing supply from Inner China of cheap alcohol, heroin, pornography and pool tables for gambling.

East Turkistan (Xinjiang)

Most of the monasteries of the Kalmyk Mongols living in East Turkistan (Xinjiang) were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. Several have now been rebuilt, but there is an even more severe shortage of teachers than in Tibet. New young monks have become very discouraged by the lack of study facilities and many have left.

Inner Mongolia

The worst situation for Tibetan Buddhists under the control of the People’s Republic of China, however, is in Inner Mongolia. Most of the monasteries in the western half were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In the eastern half, which was formerly part of Manchuria, many had already been destroyed by Stalin’s troops at the end of the Second World War when the Russians helped liberate North China from the Japanese. The Cultural Revolution merely finished the devastation. Of 700 monasteries formerly in Inner Mongolia, only 27 are left. Unlike in Tibet and Xinjiang, however, there has been almost no effort to reconstruct them. There has been such a huge influx of Han Chinese settlers and intermarriage that much of the local Mongolian population, particularly in the cities, have little interest in their language, traditional culture or Buddhist religion. A few monasteries are open as tourist attractions and there are a handful of young monks, but they receive almost no training. In extremely remote areas of the Gobi desert, one or two monasteries are left with monks still performing the traditional rituals. But none are younger than seventy years of age. Unlike in the Tibetan regions where the grasslands are rich and the nomads have the resources to support rebuilding the monasteries and feeding new monks, the Inner Mongolian nomads of the Gobi who still have faith are extremely poor.

Mongolia

In Mongolia itself (Outer Mongolia) there had been thousands of monasteries. All were either partially or totally destroyed in 1937 under the orders of Stalin. In 1946, one monastery was re-opened in the capital, Ulaan Baatar, as a token symbol, and in the early 1970s a five-year training college for monks was begun there. It had a very abbreviated curriculum with a heavy emphasis on Marxist study. The monks were allowed to perform a limited number of rituals for the public who were carefully questioned by the government authorities. With the downfall of communism in 1990, there has been a strong revival of Buddhism with the help of the Tibetans in exile in India. Many new monks are sent to India for training and 150 monasteries have been either re-opened or rebuilt on a modest scale, with several teachers coming from the Tibetans in India. Unlike in Tibet where the old disrobed monks have not rejoined the monasteries, only worked to rebuild and support them, many old monks in Mongolia have rejoined. Since most have not abandoned living at home with their wives at night and drinking vodka, there is a major problem concerning the monks’ rules of discipline.

The most serious problem facing Buddhism in Mongolia today, however, is the aggressive American Mormon and Baptist Christian missionaries. Coming initially to teach English, they offer money and aid for people’s children to study in America if they convert. They pass out beautifully printed, free booklets on Jesus in the colloquial Mongol language and show films. The Buddhists cannot compete. There are no books on Buddhism yet in the colloquial language, only classical, hardly anyone who could make such translations, and no money to print such books even if they were made. So young people and intellectuals are being drawn away from Buddhism to Christianity.

Russia

There are three traditional Tibetan Buddhist regions in Russia: Buryatia in Siberia near Lake Baikal, Tuva also in Siberia north of western Mongolia, and Kalmykia to the northwest of the Caspian Sea. The Buryats and Kalmyks are Mongols, while the Tuvinians are Turkic. All the monasteries in each of these areas, except for three only damaged in Buryatia, were totally destroyed by Stalin in the late 1930s. In the late 1940s Stalin re-opened two token monasteries in Buryatia under strict KGB surveillance. Disrobed monks put their robes back on as uniforms during the day and performed some rituals. Several went for studies to the training college in Mongolia. After the fall of communism in 1990, there has been a large revival of Buddhism in all three regions. The Tibetans in exile have sent teachers, and new young monks are training in the Tibetan monasteries in India. There are now seventeen monasteries reestablished in Buryatia. As in Mongolia, there is a problem of alcohol and the monastics who were former monks having wives. But unlike Mongolia these monastics do not claim to be celibate monks. There are plans under way to open monasteries in Kalmykia and Tuva. Christian missionaries are active in the three regions, but not as strong as in Mongolia.

There is also a great deal of interest in Tibetan Buddhism among Asians of other Buddhist traditions. Many Tibetan masters are invited from the community in exile in India to teach in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. People find the clear explanations of Buddha’s teachings found in the Tibetan tradition a useful supplement for understanding their own traditions. People are also attracted to the elaborate Tibetan rituals for prosperity and health.

Nontraditionally Buddhist Countries

All forms of Buddhism are also found throughout the world in nontraditionally Buddhist countries. There are two major groups involved: Asian immigrants and non-Asian practitioners. Asian immigrants, particularly in the United States and Australia, have many ethnic temples. This is also the case on a smaller scale in Canada, Brazil, Peru and several Western European countries particularly France. The main emphasis is on devotional practice and providing a community center to help the immigrant communities maintain their individual cultural and national identities.

Buddhist “Dharma centers” of all traditions are now found in more than eighty countries around the world on every continent. These are mostly frequented by non-Asians and emphasize meditation, study and the practice of rituals. The vast proportions of these centers are from the Tibetan, Zen and Theravada traditions. The teachers at these centers include both Westerners as well as ethnic Buddhists from Asia. The largest number are found in the United States, France and Germany. Serious students often visit Asia for deeper training. Furthermore, there are Buddhist study programs in numerous universities throughout the world and an ever-growing dialogue and exchange of ideas between Buddhism and other religions, science, psychology and medicine. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has played a most significant role in this respect.