Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra

By Anne Feldhaus | Go to book overview

sociated with rivers in Maharashtra, goddesses whose cults I continue to describe in parts of Chapters 3, 4, and 5, and all of Chapter 6.

Chapter 3 combines Māhātmya stories about food, wealth, and agricultural plenty with descriptions of the prominence of these themes in the cults of some of the river goddesses. Chapter 4 explores the complementary theme of the wilder aspects of the natural world, placing folk traditions about inviolable fish in the rivers next to Māhātmya stories and oral traditions about the forest land with which the rivers of Maharashtra are closely identified. And Chapter 5 illustrates ways that central elements of two river goddess cults parallel a Māhātmya story about the birth, and threatened death, of a son.

Chapters 6 and 7 concentrate on a single type of material each. Chapter 6 presents a description and a brief history of the prime example of what I call modern, urban river goddess cults. And Chapter 7 discusses Māhātmya stories about the destruction of sin and other types of evil. Although these two chapters thus do not contain comparisons within them in the same way that the other chapters do, the materials in each of these last two chapters are implicitly compared with the rest of the materials in the book. Chapter 6, which evokes the pride and pleasure of living in a thriving, self-confident Brahman community, portrays this experience as another of the "good things of life" for those who have it. And Chapter 7, whose principal theme is not particularly prominent outside the Māhātmya texts but is extremely important within them, suggests that this theme too may well be connected with the theme of fecundity, the theme whose presence in the Māhātmya texts and whose prominence in other traditional materials the rest of the book seeks to show.


NOTES
1.
Kaḷubāī's worshippers include many low-caste and outcaste people, and hardly any Brahmans. (The narrator of the story about Krṛṣṇā is a Marāṭhā.) Possession is a prominent feature in Kāḷubāī's worship. Her principal temple lies on a mountain in Sātīrā District not far from the source of the Kṛṣṇā. Each winter, at the extremely crowded pilgrimage festival (jatrā) at the temple, hundreds if not thousands of animals are sacrificed. The existence and popularity of the pilgrimage festival for Kaḷubāī, the prominence of possession and animal sacrifice in her cult, and the caste rank of her worshippers are the basis for classifying Kaḷubāī as a "folk" goddess.
2.
I have been unable to trace the written source, if any, of this narrative. It is similar, however, to a story told about the Narmadā River in a song-sermon performance (kīrtan) I attended in Pune in 1983.
3.
The varied and fluid interrelations between oral and textual traditions in India have begun in recent years to receive the scholarly attention they deserve. See, for instance, the introduction to Blackburn and Ramanujan 1986.
4.
In the article on "Purification" in the same encyclopedia, James J. Preston ( 1987:96) states: "Water has purificatory qualities in Hinduism, not because of its intrinsic purity, but because it absorbs pollution and carries it away ( Babb 1975). Thus, the flow of water determines its purificatory efficacy."
5.
I have used only published Māhātmyas of these rivers; however, I have collected some manuscripts of other versions (see n. 15). Besides the Māhātmyas of the rivers, there are also

-17-

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Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • A Note on Translation and Transliteration xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction 3
  • Notes 17
  • 1 - Mountains, Rivers, and Śiva 20
  • Notes 36
  • 2 - The Femininity of Rivers 40
  • Notes 60
  • 3 - Abundance 65
  • 4 - Untamed Natural Wealth 91
  • Fish 109
  • 5 - Sons and Sorrow 118
  • Notes 142
  • 6 - Modern River Goddess Festivals 146
  • Notes 169
  • 7 - Combating Evil 173
  • Notes 186
  • Appendix A. Water to the Gods 193
  • Appendix B. Images of Modern River Goddesses 198
  • Appendix C. Modern River Goddess Festivals 201
  • Bibliography 203
  • Index 227
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