vesyas: whore or courtezans?

Allen W Thrasher athr at LOC.GOV
Fri Nov 21 18:51:30 UTC 2003

Jonathan Silk's inquiry about Sternbach's article or articles on words
for prostitutes raises a question I had already been meaning to submit
to the group.  Generally it seems when prostitutes in ancient India are
discussed by modern Indologists (Western or Indian) they are referred to
a disproportionate part of the time as "courtezans."  But this reflects
no native, "emic," usage that I can think of.  The terminology as far as
I have noticed is the same for cultivated _grandes horizontales_ who can
reduce a plutocrat to beggary and for those who service the poor with
quickies.  I too remember an article by Sternbach on the issue and his
list didn't seem to show any such distinction, except that I seem to
remember a term rajaganika, "royal whore," presumably those supplied by
a king to his guests.  So why not just call them "whores" or
"prostitutes" or "sex workers?"  An attempt to indicate that their moral
and social  status was radically different from their modern Western
(and modern Indian) counterparts and to claim some sort of superior
sexual enlightenment?


Allen W. Thrasher, Ph.D.
Senior Reference Librarian
Southern Asia Section
Asian Division
Library of Congress
Jefferson Building 150
101 Independence Ave., S.E.
Washington, DC 20540-4810
tel. 202-707-3732
fax 202-707-1724
athr at
The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Library
of Congress.

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