Devadasis have been an integral part of southern Indian culture for centuries and once enjoyed a respectable place in society.
Many were highly educated, trained in classical dance and music, lived comfortable lives and chose their own sexual partners.
“This notion of more or less religiously sanctioned sexual slavery was not part of the original system of patronage,” historian Gayathri Iyer told AFP.
Iyer said that in the 19th century, during the British colonial era, the divine pact between devadasi and goddess evolved into an institution of sexual exploitation.
It now serves as a means for poverty-stricken families from the bottom of India’s rigid caste hierarchy to relieve themselves of responsibility for their daughters.