With the demise of Mahari Parasmani on Saturday, the more than 800-year-old ‘Devadasi’ tradition in the Jagannath Temple has come to an end. The 92-year-old Devadasi was the last surviving singing servitor of Lord Jagannath in Puri.
After serving for more than eight decades, Parasmani was compelled to discontinue her seva of reciting Geeta Govinda to Lord Jagannath in 2010 because of old age. Parasmani left for her heavenly abode in her sleep on Saturday following a prolonged illness. Her mortal remains were cremated at Swargadwar today which marks the commencement of the much-awaited Rath Yatra.
Parasmani had been living in a rented house in the Balisahi area of the temple town with people’s support.
The centuries-old practice began to witness a decline with the abolition of kingship and the Odisha government taking over the administration of the shrine from the Puri royal family in 1955 through an Act, thus making Parasmani the last surviving servitor.
The Devadasi or Mahari Pratha
According to the Devadasi Pratha, in the 12-century Jagannath Puri temple the Mahari’s either danced or sang for the Lord.
Devadasis were married to Lord Jagannath also known as Neelmadhav and accepted Him as their “divine husband” while remaining spinsters throughout their lives. Hence, to keep the tradition going, a Mahari had to adopt a minor girl, train her into singing, dancing and in playing musical instruments before getting her inducted into the service.
An article explaining the significance of the Devadasi system says, “Before his sleep, music and dance was presented to the Lord which symbolised the cultural significance of the Jagannath ‘belief’ and the Lord’s accent on music and various forms of art to ‘cleanse’ mortals and souls.”
It is a ritual that has to be performed only and only by women.
End of the Pratha
Going by the reports, according to the temple’s Record of Rights (RoR), there were 25 devadasis in Puri till about 100 years ago. The Orissa Gazette of 1956 listed nine devadasis and 11 musicians at the temple.
Parasmani began her training as a devadasi at the age of seven and was adopted by Kundamani Devadasi.
Till 1980, only four devadasis remained at the temple — Harapriya, Kokilaprava, Parasmani and Sashimani.
Sashimani, who was considered the ‘human wife’ of Lord Jagannath and a lone female servitor had died in 2015.