Although Kaveri and Rani Bai had the red tikka of a married woman on their foreheads, Rani Bai’s muttu—the necklace of red and white beads that a devadasi wears—and her jewelry, her painted face, and her overly dressy silk sari had given her away.Kaveri had once been beautiful, but the difficulties of her life, and the suffering she had endured, had aged her prematurely, and she no longer attracted attention. She was in her late thirties, at least ten years younger than Kaveri, and was still, undeniably, lovely.Though the story is full of sadness and injustice, devadasis—as those who have been dedicated, or “married,” to a god or a goddess are known—believe that the tale shows how the goddess is uniquely sympathetic to their fate.
Below, and to one side, stretched a lake of almost unearthly blue.
It was here, according to legend, that the story had begun.
.” She paused for a moment, looking out over the lake, smiling to herself. Trees, cane breaks, and cotton fields were replaced by strips of sunflowers. Women in ragged clothing sold onions laid out on palm-weave mats set along the side of the road.
The farmers here, they are not like the boys of Bombay.” “And eight of them every day,” her friend Kaveri said. Now he just lies at home drinking, saying, ‘What difference does it make? “If I were to sit under a tree and tell you the sadness we have to suffer, the leaves of that tree would fall like tears. Now those eyes are closed, and his face is covered with boils and lesions.” “Yellamma never wanted it to be like this,” Rani said. As we neared Saundatti, however, the green tunnel came to an end, and the fields on either side gave way to drier, poorer country.
“If you come to her with a pure heart, she will take away your sadness and your sorrows. ” We had come to Saundatti, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, to see the goddess Yellamma—Rani Bai, Kaveri, and I.
Sometimes in the form of one of her children.” “It is not the goddess’s doing.” “The world has made it like this.” “The world, and the disease.” “The goddess dries our tears,” Rani said.
Long before the glasses of hot sweet chai arrived, the farmers at the other tables had started pointing at Rani Bai, and gossiping.
They had come from their villages to sell cotton at the market, and, having got a good price, were now in a boisterous mood.
The New Yorker, August 4, 2008 The devadasi system is centuries old, and the women once enjoyed lives of great privilege. After some time, a long red stone ridge appeared out of the heat haze.