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Service in the nude

February 7th, 2012 by admin

The usual male priest
was praying to the deity – right, mother?
"The whole time I'm inside the sanctum,
the life in me is rotting away,
I have no entertainment," he said.
Ellamma appeared to him –
"Ask your heart's desire", she said.
"Once a year at your festival
the womenfolk should go naked
in your presence. The whole body
should be revealed to us,"
he replied.
"Granted," said Ellamma, and holding
her sari tight around her,
she climbed the hill.
In this way
an atrocity
was sanctioned by the gods and became
"service in the nude"

Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy's Kannada poem 'bettala seve'  translated by Prof. Rowena Hill. Read his other poems here and here

About Bettale Seve: The Dalit movement in Karnataka has had to deal with some of the most exploitative caste-based religious practices. These days various dalit organizations and leaders are engaged in raising awareness about 'Made Snana', and are struggling with the political process to get this practice banned. Back in the 80's and 90's dalit organizations worked hard to expose another reprehensible caste & gender  exploitative practice called 'Bettale Seve' or Nude-worship described in this poem.

Eventually in 1992, a ban was imposed on Bettale Seve at Chandragutti temple.

"Chandragutti, a village in Shimoga district is situated at a distance of 16 km, west of Sorab taluk. There is a temple of the goddess, built in 14th century, at the top of Chandragutti hill. The faithful from Dalit and bahujan communities were (are?) made to believe that the speciality of this temple is that Dalit women and men must go naked to worship this devi since the puranas says that if people go naked and pray to the devi they get all their wishes fulfilled, and people who do not follow these traditions meet with a lot of calamities . Hence, for hundreds of years, in the month of March, thousands of men and women were seen marching into the temple completely naked and offering their prayers to the goddess. Some emancipated youth tried to stop this practice in 1984. But these activists were thrashed by goons and supporters of the temple-priests, paraded naked, and made to worship the devi. The victims included police officials even women police officers.

A committee investigated the religious sanction of Nagna-puja gave a report in 1988 stating that there is no such sanction in Hinduism. Amidst hue and cry the practice was stopped. Still incomplete in implementation, the law stems out of a central objection that the presentation of nude women invariably is a prelude to their enticement into prostitution."


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