Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra

By Anne Feldhaus | Go to book overview

3
Abundance

An unusually allegorical story in the Godāvarī Māhātmya tells of an argument between Wealth and Poverty ( GM.Skt 67; GM.dg 23.2-16). In the story both Wealth and Poverty are personified as women, Wealth as the goddess Lakṣmī and Poverty [daridrā] as herself. Each of them argues for her own superiority to the other. Poverty points out that whereas she herself is the companion of yogis and other good people, Lakṣmī is found in "the entourage of kings [rājavartiṣu], among sinners, the cruel and the mischievous, among the slanderous, the greedy, the misshapen, and the deceitful, among the ignoble, the ungrateful, the destroyers of dharma, among those who betray their friends, among the undesirable, and among people with broken minds [bhagnacittesu]" ( GM.Skt 67.16-24). Lakṣmī replies that poverty brings about humiliation and causes a person to become a beggar and thus to lose respect- ability, whereas everyone who is adorned by Lakṣmī is worshipped.

After arguing for some time, Poverty and Lakṣmī resort to Brahmā to mediate their dispute. Brahmā, explaining that arguments among women can be understood only by another woman, declines the role of mediator. He sends Poverty and Lakṣmī to Earth and to Water. Earth, says Brahmā, is older than he is, and Water is even older than Earth. Earth and Water take Poverty and Lakṣmī to the Godāvarī River, whom they recommend as a judge superior even to themselves.

Quickly and firmly, the Godāvarī decides in favor of Lakṣmī. In support of the decision, the river lists a great number of quite heterogeneous things, beings, and states, all of which, the river says, are characterized or pervaded by Lakṣmī ( GM.Skt 67.32-36). "The whole world is made of Lakṣmī," concludes the Godāvarī. "And whatever is excellent in anything is all made of Lakṣmī. There is nothing that is bereft of her" ( GM.Skt 67.37-38). The river asks Poverty, "Now aren't you ashamed to compete with this beautiful goddess?" Finally the Godāvarī drives Poverty away. "From then on," concludes the narrator, "Gaṅgā water has been the opponent of poverty" ( GM.Skt 67.39).

-65-

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