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A short note on Devadasis / Devaradiyars

Source : T.S.Krishnan

Devadasis or Devaradiyars, who were basically dancers & servants in the temple, held a respectable place in the society during the age of Tamil kings before the demeaning of them started at a later age. The inscriptions in the temple mention them in high regard. The Rudra Kanyas, as they are called need to go through a proper Diksha before being appointed as dancers. Kamika Agama gives the Diksha process for them which involves doing poojas to a stick (Kol). That’s why they are also called as Dandini (or Koli in Tamil) and the name of their leader is Thalaikoli. They have the prefix as ‘Nakkan’ which prof. Sankaranayarayan opines that came from Nagna. They were born to Siva when he came as Bikshadana & hence they are in fact daughters of Siva according to him. When we look at the longest inscription in Thanjavur temple, it says Rajaraja Chola employed 400 dancers to the temple and most of them have ‘Nakkan’ as their prefix.

An inscription in Thiruvorriyur temple which belong to Raja Narayana Sambuvaraya period says there were three types of Devaradiyars who were performing duties in the temple. It says that a number of ‘Pathiyilars’ who were appointed during the time of Jatavarma Sundara Pandya, died and hence the temple authorities appointed ‘Rishabha Taliyilar’ to assist the remaining pathiyilars.

Pathiyilars played ‘Sokkam’ (which is basically Suththa Nruthyam in Tamil) and Rishabha Taliyalar’s gave vocal support. They also performed ‘Agamarkam’ and ‘Varikkolam’ dances. The third type ‘Devaradiyars’ performed ‘Sandikkunippam’ a dance form in the shrine of the goddess. The work done by them like ‘Tiruvalagu’ (sweeping), ‘Tirumezhuku’ (cleaning with cow dung), Taligaivilakku (cleaning utensils), cleaning the rice were taken out from them and given to others, says the inscription. This clearly gives us the details of work and the dances performed by Rudra Kanyas.

In addition, there are number of inscriptions which mentions about the donations given by the Devaradiyars to various temples. For example, an inscription in Thiruvalanjuzhi says one ‘Atkondan Thevu’, a devaradiyar from that place gave grants for Nithya Pooja. Another one in Thiruvakkarai mentions about a land donation made by a devaradiyar named ‘Seerazhvi’. So Devaradiyars as such were held in high esteem and were temple servants and had to undergo a proper Diksha process to get appointed even.

It also needs to be stressed that these are voluntary works undertaken by few without any force whatsoever. They were also free to go out of it and can take a regular life outside the temple if they wish.

The sacred work of Devaradiyar later became subject to various scandals. One of them is that it was created by some Brahmins. That is wrong. There are Brahmin women in the divine service called Devaradiyars. In this inscription, “Devaradial Thillaipran Pattar Nambimaril Sentyana Mangaiyarkarasi” belonged to a Brahmin clan. This inscription mentions his donation.