Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra

By Anne Feldhaus | Go to book overview

4
Untamed Natural Wealth

Agricultural plenty is not the only kind of fecundity that rivers in Maharashtra are seen as promoting, nor does their usefulness in satisfying people's hunger for food and their desire for wealth, health, beauty, pleasure, and saubhāgya exhaust their significance. People in Maharashtra also see rivers as exemplifying another type of fecundity, one not subject to human wishes or harnessed to human needs. It is this other type of fecundity, that of the untamed, uncultivated richness of the natural world, that the present chapter explores. The chapter examines two aspects of the untamed natural wealth with which Maharashtran rivers are associated: first, the numerous, large, and inviolable fish in the depths of the rivers' water; and, second, the largely uncultivated, uncivilized forest land through which the rivers once flowed. The information about the fish comes from oral traditions; the discussion of the forest is based both on oral traditions and on the river Māhātmyas.


Fish

In addition to stories about the depth of water holes and about the gold, palaces, pots and pans, and other wonders to be found in them, another frequent motif in the lore about water holes is that they are the home of special fish. Often such fish are quite large, and sometimes they have rings in their noses. In the water hole of Bhivāī at Kāmbaḷeśvar, for instance, there is said to be a fish as big as an elephant with a nose ring as large as a bullock cart's wheel. Sometimes the nose ring of a fish like this is said to be made of gold. 1

The fish in such places are called "god's fish" (devāce māse), or are said to belong to the Āsarā or goddess in whose water hole they live. At Mācnūr, downstream from Paṇờharpur on the Bhīmā, there are said to be many fish with nose rings, but

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