ABSTRACT

Courtesans have long been a staple of South Asian myth, literature, drama, and ritual life. Plays featuring courtesans were frequently per­ formed during spring fertility festivals to help promote the fruitful­ ness of humans, animals, and crops.1 In keeping with this connection between courtesans and fecundity, there are many tales in which a king can only end a drought by sending a courtesan to seduce a celi­ bate sage. This theme was enacted in an annual ritual by devadÅs≠s, the sacred courtesans at the temple of JagannÅtha in Puri in order to has­ ten the monsoon rains.2 The connections between semen and rain have a long history in the ancient world, and both are also connected to fecundity and thus to power. By withholding his semen a sage can blight the land, unless the king has a greater command over the pow­ ers of fertility, or unless he can command the auspicious powers of a beautiful and fertile woman. In similar scenarios the god Indra sends heavenly courtesans (ap±aras) to seduce celibate sages whose spiritual power threatens his own.3