Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra

By Anne Feldhaus | Go to book overview

The moon's daughter, after being pursued by the ascetics through several parts of the universe, finally came to flow on earth as warm milk [uṣṇa paya]. This was the Payoṣṇī River.

The violent, dangerous aspect of rivers is an important component of their image in the Deccan. It may also be an important component of their close association with the forest. Of the two faces of the forest, it is quite definitely the cow, and not the tiger, with which the rivers are identified. However, it may not be the cow's gentleness alone that forms the basis of the identification. Rather, the connection between the forest and the rivers seems to rest on a perception that the natural world, though fertile and abundant and thus nourishing and vivifying to humans, cannot be fully harnessed or cultivated by them. It is thus also mysterious and at least potentially dangerous.


NOTES
1.
At Vajrāīi's water hole, further downstream than Kāmbaḷeśvar on the Nīrā, near Aklūj, it is a prawn (jhiṅgā) that is said formerly to have been as big as an elephant (hattīvānī), while the fish used to be as big as a camel (uṭāvānī). Still today, it is said, one fish has a ring in its nose and is covered with red lead (śendūr). There is also said to be a tortoise in this water hole. In the Āsarās' water hole in the Kāṭepūrṇā River at Donad there are said to be alligators (suśīr, = susar?, alligator), as well as a large fish with a nose ring.
2.
For a more detailed discussion of the practice of navas, see the beginning of Chapter 5.
3.
According to a Koḷī, a member of the fisher caste, at Kāmbaḷeśvar, the species has several names, among them mhasāḷā and rāmācā dhanī. The fish is long and round, and handsome (dekhaṇā). Some other informants, Sonār women living in Puṇe, described the fish as being of the color of red lead, with a red-lead mark (śendurī tiḷā) on their foreheads, the mark of the goddess. But these latter informants, who also said that the fish have cartwheel-sized nose rings, would seem to have conflated the goddess's one most special, huge fish with the whole species of fish that are not to be caught.
4.
That is, if he goes to a medium or some other type of diviner.
5.
People selling small votive images of fish at Bhivai's festival in 1985 and 1988 gave other explanations of the significance of the images. In 1985, a woman said that the fish is offered "to keep one's lineage [vaṃś] strong": "māsā mhaṇje māṇus" ("a fish stands for a human being [or a man, a male human]"), said this woman--meaning, I think, that the fish is used to express a petition for the birth of a son, or gratitude for a son already born. At the 1988 festival, a woman selling such an image explained that it is to be thrown into the water, where the goddess's fish are, because "māsā pāvaṇār." I think that what she meant by this was that the fish will cause petitions directed to the goddess to be successful.
6.
For the motif of the person who tells about the riches in the goddess's or Āsarās' water hole, compare the story from Bendrī in Chapter 5. Cf. also Enthoven 1924: 102.
7.
There are a number of other places where much is made of the fact that the "god's fish" in a water hole come to the surface to eat food tossed into the water for them. Among these places are the water hole in the Indrāyaṇī at Dehu associated with the life and works of the poet-saint Tukārām, discussed later ( Joharāpūrkar 1986: 22-27), a water hole in the Kā river near the village of Vāḷaṇ (Mahāḍ Tālukā, Rāygaḍ District), and a pool in the Narmadā at Oṃkār Māndhātā. An anonymous travel account from 1925 gives a vivid description of the fish at Oṃkār Māndhātā ( Ek Pravāsī 1925: 241): "When puffed chickpeas are tossed

-109-

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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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