By focusing in this book upon the themes of feminity and fecundity in the religious treatment of rivers in Maharashtra, I have sought to portray what I believe to be the major emphases in contemporary religious practice and oral traditions with respect to rivers. In addition, I have sought to demonstrate the presence of these themes in the Māhātmyas of the rivers of the Deccan. However, although the themes are clearly present in the river Māhātmyas, they are by no means the most prominent focus of these texts. Much more noticeable are statements and narratives that praise the rivers in terms of the merit to be gained at them and their power to do away with sin. These subjects appear to belong to a markedly different realm than that with which this book has primarily been concerned. Merit and sin are matters of calculation, abstraction, and morality, whereas we have been concerned with fertility, plenty, and concrete human joys and sorrows. In this final chapter, however, I examine one of the more prominent themes in the Māhātmyas: the power of rivers to do away with sin. In asking how rivers are understood to act on sin, I suggest that the Māhātmyas' answer may in fact be closely related to the other themes on which this book has focused.
By "sin" I mean, first, an evil act performed by a human or a god and, second, the fact of having done such an act. (Other effects of sin I will call "the effects of sin.") The Sanskrit and Marathi terms are pāp(a), pātak(a), agh(a), and others. Since I am using English, I translate these terms with the word "sin," even though not all the theological implications this word has in English are applicable in a traditional Indian context. The topic of sin must be considered, I believe, in the more general context of evil. I discuss two other types of evil in addition to sin: first, evil beings, asuras or rākṣasas, both of which I call "demons"; and, second, natural evil--in particular, drought. Of these three types of evil, sin is the one to which the Māhātmya texts pay the most attention.