Red And White

Progyaa Dutta

“You must provide shelter to strangers…”

That is one of the major “duties” once you have the red-and-white beaded necklace around your neck.

I have always wondered the metaphorical aspect of the colours ‘red’ and ‘white’ juxtaposed together…well, I think I do have an explanation  now.

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RED stands not for the usual ‘love’, but rather, for ‘making love’. Red vents that indomitable carnal urge…the continuous craving to caress…the base mentality to mix pleasure with pain…and even to term the usual “Red-light area activities” as mere religious rites, or even worse, “duties”!

WHITE along with red makes me smirk. A totally absurd existing paradox…you know…it’s like claiming the simultaneous existence of war and peace at the same place at the same moment. White goes up to the ridiculing height of terming those above-mentioned heinous and brutal “duties” to be pure…to be chaste. I cannot help but wonder how a practice which rips apart the chastity of women can be ever termed ‘chaste’!

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 “You must provide shelter to strangers. If you are beaten or abused, you shall not retaliate. And the most important duty is – you cannot claim to be the wife of any man”

 These words and the fanatical ramblings get inscribed in the lives of the Devadasis (female servants of God) on their Dedication Ceremony. According to the ritual, the age of the girl is usually 6-13 for the First Pattam (tying the red and white beads before the Goddess Yellamma); for the Second Pattam (the night of the girl virgin) takes place after the girl’s first menses. Turning a female member of the family into a Devadasi is profitable for the family too…in the cities, the virgin Devadasis fetch a high price. The belief is that by deflowering a Devadasi, any man can cure himself of diseases, can purify himself. In India, ‘Devadasi’ is not a new concept and neither is it an extinct one. Despite being banned, the system finds its way underground, seeping secretly and in turn fuelling the ever-disturbing problem of prostitution in India.

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Well, some are of the opinion that the Devadasi System of the Yellamma Cult is a thoroughly misunderstood aspect. They say that girls are dedicated only under circumstances like deadly disease, infertility or extreme financial crisis, under circumstances which can only be solved through divine intervention. It is said that their intention is to serve their deity by fulfilling the needs of the masses which even includes satisfying the sexual urges of men around.

 But misunderstood or not, the thought of a girl being ‘married’ to a God, her virginity being auctioned to the highest bidder, and then the ongoing process of providing “shelter to strangers” to earn their livelihood not only seems callous and gross, but inhumane too.

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