If you lean back far enough when you’re dancing, you can see the beautiful colours on the temple ceiling. When you straighten up, you can glimpse the image of God, there behind his gates. There out of the corner of your eye, and thakka thim, and there right in front of you - as your plait swings around and a bit of jasmine falls out of your hair, and a little round bead off your heavy anklet - and thakkida and there again. There’s a whiff of camphor burning, slightly rotten fruit, cows, bananas, sweat, wet soil and flowers.
Oh no, it’s not much of a life for a girl like you, if you want to live in a house and have a bit of land and children and a husband. All I want is my God.
I heard a story once.
It was about a young priest, young like me.
He was born to a not particularly well-off farming family, the fourth child among three sons and two daughters. He worked on the farm and looked after his little sister. He loved his family, and he loved his country, but he far more loved his God.
He may have become a priest anyway, because he was the third son and there wasn’t much other use for him. Perhaps for this reason, or perhaps because he loved his God even before he was a priest, he never thought twice about his vocation.
Well, that’s not entirely true. He prayed about it once when he was unsure, when he was fifteen. This didn’t cause earthquakes or apparitions – it didn’t cause candles to light up or even to go out – so he decided to go ahead and become a priest anyway. After that he never thought twice about his vocation. He went to a seminary and, when he was twenty-three, he became a priest. By then, both of his brothers were married. The first had one child; the second had two.
He wore a black coat and a little white square in his collar. On Sundays, and quite often on other days too, he stood up and talked to people
He made an excellent priest. He stood by his God and his people, but he never condemned someone else who stood by their religion or their people. This is, perhaps, what I admire most about him.
One day he was killed by some people who didn’t believe in people (and they probably didn’t believe in God either).
I forget what his name was, so that’s not much of a story, is it?
When I was fifteen, I went to live in the temple. I married my God. We girls didn’t stand up and talk to people on Sundays or on other days, at least not very often, but we danced.
You see a lot of things when you’re a statue on the wall. I know things beyond the temple, and dancing. I know things beyond the images behind the gates being thrown into the wells, and beyond the temple dancers being called prostitutes and thrown out into the streets. I know my God, and I know the priest with the little white square in his collar, who also knew his God.
This piece of writing is meant with the utmost respect to the photos, their subjects, and the photographers.
The first photograph is from www.kamat.com/kalranga/art/sculptures/19071.htm. I am not sure whether the woman in the sculpture is a devadasi, as I have described her.
I'd also like to refer you to this article about Father Jerzy, the subject of the second photograph (who 'the priest' is loosely based on): http://stjeromeparish.ca/fr_jerzy.asp.