“Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
To continue the quote by Martin Luther King Jr., “Hopelessness cannot drive out hopelessness. Only hope can do that.” That’s my belief, and I know for a fact that it is true.
India is a land of diverse cultures, with each culture bringing their own customs and traditions into the palate of the land. Not all of these customs and traditions are as sweet tasting though. Looking back, I remember reading about Sati in my history text book. Having researched it for an assignment, I had felt it to be a very unfair custom, and had been thankful that it had been abolished. Recently, I attended a meet-up organized by an NGO. The discussion there brought about another one of the not so sweet traditions, the Devadasi system. The Devadasi system was (and even these days, is) a system wherein young girls are trained in the arts, then when they reach teenage, they are dedicated to the temple to worship and service a deity for the rest of her life.
Through her book “Servants of the Goddess”, Catherine Kermorgant takes the reader into a journey, one that shows that the Devadasi tradition is not completely abolished. Initially, her trip to India and to the village where she meets the devadasis is for her documentary. But when that doesn’t materialize, her research comes out in this book. And I feel that the research is well done. From the troubles she faced at the first stages, to hearing from the devadasis about their troubles, the book covers it all. I’d rather have read about the latter than the former, but that’s part and parcel of the book I guess. The book also gives the attitude of the public to these issues as well. Like the talkative driver feigning illness to get rid of some people, or the elderly villager warning the women not to talk to Catherine and Vani (who’s her helper). The stories of the devadasis bring forth how their life changes once they are forced into the tradition as well. Through the book, we also get a perspective of the history behind the tradition, some of which is interesting. It was a little queer how engaging in sexual intercourse with a particular knowledge is likened to performing a “Soma sacrifice” which helps the man attain a great world.
The book is one to be read. It ends up almost like a project paper, but the topic is one that needs to be read. It makes one wonder if those traditions that we felt were abolished completely actually do continue to be practiced silently in some part of the country. The book brings out the horrible conditions that those forced into this tradition are experiencing. It makes me wonder, if a foreigner came to India to learn of, and change, this tradition, why do we continue to stand by and do nothing at all? If changing the tradition isn’t in our hands, the least we can do is help those who are affected by it, right?
Why should you read it?
Non-fiction that sometimes feels like an incredulous fiction, this well researched book is to be read to understand a tradition that is thought to be abolished but still continues to be practiced silently.
What you may not like…
Well researched as the book is, the way it is presented may not feel too appealing sometimes.
Title: Servants of the Goddess
Author: Catherine Rubin Kermorgant
Publisher: Random House India / Vintage Books
Price: INR. 400
(2nd May 2014)