Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra

Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra

Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra

Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra


Feldhaus examines the role of certain `domestic' values in the religious meanings of rivers in Maharashtra, a large region of western India. Feldhaus draws both on written religious texts and on a wide range of oral, iconographic, and ritual materials gathered in the course of field work in India.


In India, rivers are a focus of religious attention. This book examines some of the religious attention people give to rivers in Maharashtra, the major region of western India where the Marathi language is spoken. In preparing this book, I have used both written religious texts and oral, iconographic, and ritual materials that I gathered in the course of fieldwork in Maharashtra and neighboring regions. My intention is not so much to set the texts and the other kinds of source materials against each other as it is to show ways in which the two types of materials complement and reinforce each other. I intend to demonstrate a fundamental congruence between Sanskrit and Marathi sources, oral and written texts, and Brahmanical and non-Brahmanical rituals, festivals, and deities.

Despite striking and important differences in style between "folk" and "classical" traditions in India, there is an equally striking, equally important, deep-seated agreement with respect to at least one cluster of religious values: wealth, beauty, long life, good health, food, love, and the birth of children. The agreement extends not only to holding these things to be valuable, but also to associating them with rivers. These values are values of this world. They treasure the good things of this world, and affirm that human life is inherently worthwhile.

Until recently, such values have been relatively neglected in the academic study of Indian culture, and popular conceptions of India in America and Europe are still by and large blind to them. India is seen as a land of extreme poverty and misery, and Hinduism is portrayed either as a religion that emphasizes mysticism and world renunciation or as one that gives prime importance to the accumulation of merit, the cultivation of purity, and the removal of pollution. Recent scholarship, however, has begun to bring to the fore another set of values: that of the domestic realm (Khare 1976), of "non-renunciation" (Madan 1987), of the "auspicious" (V. Das 1982; Marglin 1985b). The present study is intended to further the understanding of this realm of values in India.

In India, such this-worldly religious values as success, prosperity, good health, long life, food, beauty, love, and the birth of children are often associated with women or represented by goddesses like Śrī ("the Auspicious"), Lakṣmī ("Wealth") . . .

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