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Indian courtesans

Gayathri Mupparapu

Is a woman's role just being a wife and mother or do we have more to us? In my typical south Indian household, I see a lot of hesitation when words like Devadasis, Tawaif or Courtesan come up. How about I tell you about their reign and downfall.

There is a simple difference between all these three terms - a devdasi is the woman of the temple she is married of to an idol when she reaches puberty however she can have as many men in her chambers as she pleases because a devdasi sees god in all her lovers. Tawaif is a Mughal tradition wherein a lady belongs to a kotha or a haveli . A courtesan belongs to the court she pleases they were moreover called the ‘bride of the state’ A courtesan is a lady who is in a non-monogamous relationship with her many lovers. Courtesans enjoys the company of her many lovers and is taken care of by them. The life of a courtesan was dedicated to literature, music, paintings, dance etc., the list is long as creativity itself they were always included in political and social decisions more than the women of virtue behind the curtains

Hindu mythology did wonders, we still shout stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana but we forget about apsaras like Tilottama, Rambha, Urvashi and Menaka they were nothing but courtesans living for art and love. As the courtesan tradition flourished women like Amrapalai, Barani, Purasati won hearts as they defined beauty with brains.
Once great tawaifs like Umrao Jaan, Anarkali, Begum Akhtar - made a mark which defined elegance, confidence and grace.This tradition was glorified under Hindu kings and Mughal emperors

But the European colonizers couldn’t understand this way of living where a woman was regarded as great as the high priest and her words were of value. Intimidated by all this, the colonizers reduced them as ‘Nautch girls’ - prostitutes sinning by selling their flesh for money. As the last domino fell, This tradition in today’s world has been abolished and being married was the only option a lady had if she wanted to be respected.
All I mean to say is they were artists taught to love and their confidence is not meant to be sexualised. Then could it be the case that this anglo - Indian life we live is not justifying their names and if they were considered a disgrace because of their non-monogamous relationships then every lady who is part of this new generation #hookupculture is a courtesan?

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