Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra

By Anne Feldhaus | Go to book overview

1
Mountains, Rivers, and Śiva

This first chapter will present one particularly clear example of parallelism among different types of religious responses to rivers in Maharashtra. The responses come from widely different times and social groups and are found in a variety of places in Maharashtra. The parallelism among these responses shows widespread and broad- based agreement on a basic religious fact: that there is an important connection among mountains, rivers, and the god Śiva.

In this chapter, I discuss expressions of this connection in three religious media: in architectural arrangements at certain specific pilgrimage places, in a story from a Māhātmya text, and in a type of village ritual. The pilgrimage places I discuss are those at the sources of a number of rivers in Maharashtra; the story is that of the descent of the Gaṅigā, the Ganges River; and the ritual is one in which the water of a river is carried to the temple of a nearby or distant god. I first describe the architectural arrangements in some detail. Then I summarize the story and discuss the message of the architecture in the light of the story. Finally I describe the village rituals, show how they parallel the architecture and the story, and suggest what meaning the reiterated connections among mountains, rivers, and the god Śiva might have.

I do not intend to assign priority among the three religious media discussed here. I cannot judge which of the three--story, architecture, or ritual--came first, nor can I show any of them to be derived from one of the others. What I do show is that the parallelism exists and that it is found in widely different religious genres and in a variety of social, geographical, and historical contexts.


The Sources of Rivers

A well-known Marathi proverb warns, "Do not look for the source of a river or the ancestry of a ṛṣi."1 The dictionary of Marathi proverbs ( Dāte and Karve 1942) inter-

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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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