Water and Womanhood: Religious Meanings of Rivers in Maharashtra

By Anne Feldhaus | Go to book overview

NOTES
1.
His pitāmaha (plural), his male ancestors on his father's side.
2.
The three debts are those a Brahman man owes to the sages (study of the Vedas), to the gods (sacrifices), and to his ancestors (begetting a son). See, for instance, Manu 6.35-37.
3.
Duty (dharma), pleasure (kāma), wealth (artha), and liberation (mukti) are the four classical goals of life (puruṣārthas).
4.
From the three debts. See n. 2.
5.
A caru oblation, one of boiled rice, barley, lentils, milk, and butter.
6.
In this passage, Ajīgarta is not blamed for being willing to sell his son; rather, the assumed difficulty of such a deed highlights Ajīgarta's desperation. Later in the Godāvarī Māhātmya, however, another chapter ( GM.Skt 80; GM.dg 25.44-47) takes up the story of Ajīgarta and his son Śunahḥśepa again. This time the Sanskrit version gives a further explanation of Ajīgarta's deed--there was a famine, the sort of condition which, as we will see in Chapter 7, brings on immoral behavior. But the text does not find this an excuse for what Ajīgarta does; rather, it goes on to expound on the horror of his sin and to detail the sufferings he had to undergo on account of it: he was thrown into various hells, had to be reborn again and again, and became apiśāca in an arid forest in the summertime. As Śunaḥśepa was going along the road, he heard his father's cries of agony, went to the Gautamī, bathed there, and gave his father water to drink. That purified Ajīgarta, gave him a holy body, and caused him to be carried to the heaven of Viṣṇu. Thus, even a son sold by his father can ultimately become the means of his father's salvation.
7.
For Māhātmya stories in which a father either wants to or does kill his son or sons to feed a guest, see the section on almsgiving in Chapter 3.
8.
On the Vedic Varuṇa, see Filliozat 1964: 95-97.
9.
The pattern is also found in an elaborate, highly Brahmanical ritual called Nāgbalī (or, more popularly, Nārāyaṇ Nāgbalī) performed by infertile couples at certain particular holy places (kṣetras) along rivers: Mañjirath and Mudgal, for instance, on the Godāvarī, and Nīrā Narasiṅgpūr, at the confluence of the Nīrā and the Bhīmā. The name Nārāyaṇ Nāgbalī would seem to derive from a conflation of Nārāyaṇbalī, a rite for someone who has committed suicide ( Kane 1968-1975: 4:302-5), and the fertility rite Nāgbalī ( Kane 1968-1975: 2:823-24). In the Nāgbalī ritual, which lasts three days, the couple must observe strict purity restrictions. A dough image of a cobra (Sanskrit, nāga; Marathi, nāg) is made, worshipped, and burned in a sacrificial fire. In addition, the couple must give a meal to Brahmans, and offer a gold image of a cobra.

The idea behind this rite, the way it is understood to work, is that one member of the couple has, in a previous life, killed a cobra who in retaliation has prevented the couple from having children in this life. The rite placates the cobra, and causes it to remove the obstacle to the couple's fertility. Similarly, at Dharmapurī on the Godāvarī in Andhra Pradesh, the related rite of Nāgpratiṣṭhā--setting up a stone image of a cobra or of a pair of cobras--was said to be performed by infertile couples in order to make up for the sin of having, in a previous life, fed a woman's menstrual cloth to a snake.

10.
The biblical and Islamic story of Abraham and his son comes to mind--with the important difference that Hariścandra, unlike Abraham, does not submit.
11.
Another practice, less prevalent than the navas, is to place a "burden" (ojhaṃ or bhār) on the deity. One does this by wrapping a small stone in a cloth and tying it above the deity's head. When one has obtained what one wants, one returns to the temple and unties the stone. This practice seems to be current, among the river goddess cults discussed here, only in the cult of Jāṇāī (the Āsarā) at Macchindrakheḍ. At Macchindrakheḍ, the act of tying the stone was explained by one man as expressing the thought, "I'm putting a burden (ojhaṃ) on the

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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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