Book Review: ‘Sacred Sins’ by Arun Ezhuthachan

A Poignant Exploration of Devadasi Oppression in Modern India

Book Title: Sacred Sins
Author: Arun Ezhuthachan
Publisher: Hachette India
Number of Pages: 256
ISBN: 978-9357312592
Date Published: Sept. 20, 2023
Price: INR 476

Sacred Sins by Arun Ezhuthachan Book Cover

Book Review

The Devadasi system, a part of ancient India’s Hindu religion, involved prepubescent females being married to temples, priests, or local deities. This practice, derived from Sanskrit, was considered sacred but later evolved into a system of female prostitution with religious approval. Lower-caste girls, like Dalits, were coerced into marriages with temple priests and later exploited by affluent individuals. This marked a departure from the initial sanctity of the Devadasi tradition.

In 2008, journalist Arun Ezhuthachan set out to probe the illegal continuance of banned dance bars in Mangaluru, only to stumble upon a hidden contemporary facet of the Devadasi tradition. This led him to a complex network of old beliefs and modern-day oppression. Arun’s investigation revealed the plight of young girls dedicated to temples who eventually became mistresses of upper-caste men, left abandoned as they grew older. Through interviews with locals, NGOs, and the affected women themselves, Arun traced the whispers of forsaken Devadasis throughout India.

Arun’s journey took him to various corners of the country, each unveiling distressing tales of exploitation. In rural Karnataka, devadasis clung to their faith amidst intense exploitation, while in Kolkata, daughters were sold into sex work with no escape. In Vrindavan, widows seeking solace in serving God encountered devious predators, and in Puri, the last surviving devadasi reminisced about her time serving Lord Jagannath. These narratives highlighted the pervasive oppression of women, masked by the veils of religion, casteism, patriarchy, and abject poverty.

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The book explores the Devadasi system in India, focusing on its transformation into a system of female exploitation. It begins with a brief introduction, providing historical context, and then explores Arun Ezhuthachan’s investigative journey. The author uses descriptive language to vividly depict the diverse stories and struggles faced by Devadasis across India.

The writing style combines clarity, empathy, and a journalistic approach to make the review engaging and thought-provoking. As the contents of the book are sensitive in nature, this review maintains a respectful and empathetic tone, acknowledging the gravity of the issue without sensationalizing it. The review concludes with a call to action, appealing to readers’ emotions and prompting reflection on the social, cultural, and economic factors contributing to the ongoing oppression of Devadasis.

Sacred Sins,” Arun Ezhuthachan’s explosive journalistic account, peels back the layers of deception surrounding the Devadasi system, revealing an India plagued by casteism, patriarchy, and profound poverty. The heart-wrenching stories and shocking revelations documented in this book leave readers dismayed and appalled, igniting a fervour for societal change and the stringent enforcement of social and political rights for these marginalized women. As the author exposes the dark realities hidden behind the facade of tradition and religion, “Sacred Sins” becomes a poignant call to action against the continued oppression of women in the name of sacred practices.

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