Bogam: Deccan

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Bogam, Bhogam, Varangana, Kasban, Kalawant, Pathita DawMu, Tawaif — an order of Telugu dancing girls, originally attached to the temples of Siva and Vishnu as servants of the gods ; most of them novi' earn their livelihood by singing and dancing, or by 'prostitution. The word ' Bogam ' is a corruption of the Sanskrit '.Bhogam,' which means a 'common woman.'

Internal Structure

The Bogams are divided into two main classes, Hindu Bogams and Muhammadan Bogams, the first being distinguished by the titles ' Sani ' and ' Nayaka Sani ' attached to their names and the second by the titles ' Jan ' and ' Nayakan.' The Hindu Bogams have the following sub-divisions : —


Munnur and Telaga Bogams are recruited from the Munnur, Kapu, Golla, Telaga and other castes of the same social standing. Balja Bogams, otherwise known as Basvis, are Lingayits in their creed and are chiefly to be found in the Carnatic. They are also called Linga Basvis, being devoted to the god Siva. They abstain from eating flesh or drinking spirits. Erkala Bogams, also called Kalapuramwaru, Kaikalaluwaru and Father Korwa, trace their origin to Urvasi, one of the heavenly courtezans. It is customary among them, when dancing, not to wear jingling anklets nor plait their hair into braids. The Jakoluwarus trace their descent from the nymph Menika. The origin of the Agamodiwarus is obscure. The Bedar Patharadorus take their name from the Bedar tribe, from which they are recruited.


The Sanis regard themselves as prototypes of the Apsaras (celestial dancers), Rambha, Urvashi, Menika and Tilottama, who dance in the celestial court of Indra. Their origin was synchronous with the building of the great temples in which the Andhrabhritya, Choi a, Kakatiya and Warangal dynasties expressed their devotion to their sectarian gods. In the different services of the temples, the duties assigned to them were to fan the idol with chamras, or Tibetan oxtails, to carry the sacred light called Kumbharti, and to sing and dance before the god when he was carried in procession. They lived, as now, in free quarters round about the temple and held tax-free lands out of its endowmenV Their orders have been recruited from among the lower classes of Kapus, Gollas, Munnurs, Mutrasis, etc., either by admission or by purchase. Their ranks are also recruited by girls who are' devoted by their parents to the service of temples, in pursuance of vows made in times of sickness or affliction.

The usage of attaching girls to the temples, for the service of the gods, has been in vogue for ages in different countries. " To the temples of Venus, in Asia Minor, large bodies of hieroJulce were attached who were at once prostitutes and ministers to the goddess. The daughters of the most illustrious families in Armenia 'passed from the service of the goddess Anaitis into matrimony with those of equal rank, and no stain adhered to them from their former mode of life. In Babylon, no woman of whatever rank could escape the obligation of once prostituting herself in the temple of Mylitta." (Dr. Shortt, the Anthropological Society of London, Journ. Ill, 1867-68.)

A girl to be prostituted has to undergo, on or before attaining the age of puberty, the ceremony of marriage. Hindu girls are usually wedded to the idols of Shri Krishna and Muhammadan girls are married to a khanjir or dagger. In the former case, a marriage booth of 16 pillars is erected at the girl's house and, on an auspicious day fixed for the celebration of the occasion, the idol of Shri Krishna is brought in procession from the house of a ' Satani ' Ayyawar. The girl is made to stand before the idol as if it were the bridegroom, a curtain is held between them and the officiating Brahman, reciting the Mangalashtaka in marriage stanzas, weds them the orthodox fashion. The ceremonies that follow correspond in every particular to those of a Kapu or Munnur marriage. On the Nagveli day the girl is seated by the side of the idol and made to offer puja to Gauri, the consort of Siva. Betel-leaves, areca nuts and kunkum (red powder) are distributed to the assembly of dancing girls, who sing songs, and, after blessing the bride, retire to their houses. A Bogam girl is sometimes wedded to a dagger, the cere- mony resembling the one described above. Married dancing girls are regarded by Hindu women of all castes as never getting into widowhood, for the simple reason that they are wedded tO' an immortal deity.


Among dancing girls, property descends in the female line. In the failure of issue a dancing girl can adopt a daughter, but not a son, for the transmission of property. An adopted girl cannot share her mother's property during the letter's life time. The sons can claim only maintenance and marriage expenses.


The Bogams belong both to the Vaishnava and the Saiva sects and their religious observances do not differ materially from 'those of other Hindu castes of the same social standing. Their favourite festival is Gokulashtami, celebrated, in honour of Shri Krishna, on the eighth of the light half of Shravana (August). The image of the god is worshipped with a variety of offerings and paraded with great pomp through the streets. They honour all the Hindu gods, celebrate Ganesh Chouth (the light fourth of Bhadrapad) in honour of Ganpati the elephant-headed god, and other festivals, and worship the implements of their craft on Dassera, the light tenth of Aswin (October). They employ Brahmans on religious and cere- monial occasions and ' Satani ' Ayyawars or Jangams for the per- formance of funeral rites.

Disposal of the Dead

The dead are usually buried, but are occasionally burnt in a lying posture with the head pointing to the south and the face generally downwards. Mourning is observed ten days for married girls, while the unmarried are disposed of unmourned. The ashes of those burnt are collected on the third day after death and either thrown into a stream ola buried under a platform. No Sradha ceremony is performed, but ancestors in general are propitiated on the last day of Bhadrapad (beginning of October).

Social Status

The social status of Sanis depends upon the castes to which they originally belonged. All Bogams, except the Erkala and Bedar, rank above the Mangala (barber), Chakla (washerman) and other lower castes. They eat the flesh of sheep, pigs, fowls, fish and ghorpod (iguana) and drink spirituous and fermented liquors. They eat kochi from the hands of Brahmans, Komtis, Kapus, Velmas, Gollas, Munnurs, Mutrasis, Ayyawars and Baljas, and all these, except Brahmans, eat sweetmeats from thefi' hands.


The Bogams are professional dancers and musicians. The lessons in singing and dancing are given djiily and it requires four or five years for a girl to become proficient in the arts. For this purpose, good-looking and well-made girls are generally chosen and, along with singing and dancing, they are taught how to dress tastefully and to exhibit abhinaya, or graceful attitudes and gestures, during the performances. Commencing their studies at the early age of seven or eight, they are able to perform at twelve or thirteen years of age and continue dancing till they are thirty or forty years old. Dancing girls attached to temples are required to dance daily before the idols, while the priests are officiating and offering puja to them : but the majority of these are trained to appear in public, when they are profusely ornamented with gold and jewels and sumptuously dressed in silk and muslin. The hair is divided in front along the centre, combed back, plaited into a single braid and decked with jewels and flowers. When dancing, a string of small brass bells, known as ghunguni, is tied around each leg immediately above the ankles. Some of the girls dance with exquisite grace and lascivious attitudes and motions. When singing, a dancing girl is accompanied by three men singers, one of whom plays, on a tabla, or drum, while the other two, sitting on either side of her, play on sarangis, or fiddles. One or two old women join in the music and keep time either by playing on cymbals or by clapping their hands: these are dancing girls who have given up the profession on account of age. Their ""songs comprise praises in honour of f^indu gods and are set to a variety of tunes. Most of the songs are leis'd in character, relating to some circumstance or other of the life of the amorous Kannayya (Krishna), the favourite and most popular god of Hindu females. But they adapt the quality of their songs to the place and the audience before which they perform. The earnings of a dancing girl depend upon the renown and popularity she enjoys, as well as upon the rank and wealth of her employers. Frequently, she receives valuable presents in money and clothes, bestowed upon her during the performance.

All Bogams live in concubinage. Some of them are very handsome, with regular features, large, intelligent eyes, beautifully small hands and ankles, so exquisitely turned as to merit the admira- tion of any, beholder. Frank and gentle in appearance, modest and courteous in manner, possessing all the grace which the training in the Ars A maris gives, they form a striking contrast to the ordinary housewives, who are deprived of any kind of learning and allowed to grow up in ignorance and superstition.

With respect to their occupation, the dancing girls are divided into twc4 classes, the one comprising Kemchan, Patharkar and Rcimjani, and the other Therker and Ranmals. The former regard themselves superior in social status and will decline to dance or sing on the same seat as the latter. The origin of these names is uncertain. Among dancing girls special reverence is paid to Deoa Dasis, or those who are consecrated to the service of the gods and hold mams from the endowments of temples. If a dancing girl associates herself with a man lower to her in social standing she incurs instant excommunication.

A Muhammadan dancing girl, on coming of age, is manied to a dagger. Before a dancing girl is initiated to prostitution, the Misi ceremony is performed, of which the smearing of her teeth with dentifrice and the tying of a string of glass beads round her neck form important portions.

The sons of dancing girls and such of their daughters as are too plain to take to prostitution have formed a separate caste of their own, governed by the same laws 6^ matrimony and inheritance as are prevalent among other Telugu castes. A full description of these will be found in the section dealing with the Telaga caste.

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