Uniqueness of Religious Regions of Maharashtra
Religious Geography of Maharashtra – now that’s one scary academic sounding topic! But after I skimmed through a delightful note by Prof Anne Feldhaus, I decided to attend the talk and boy was it wonderful! Here are my notes. Disclaimer: I have paraphrased what I heard and I am no academician myself.
As Prof. Suhas Palshikar spoke in Marathi about late Prof. Rajendra Vora, in whose memory the talk was organized, the sari clad elderly Caucasian American lady with snow white hair was seen nodding appreciatively. A small disappointment then when Prof. Palshikar announced that Ms. Feldhaus would be speaking in English.
Ms. Feldhaus talked about six patterns that have created regions bound by common threads of faith. These patterns were stories, body images, goddess sisters, numbered sets, biography of saints and pilgrimage.
She narrated the story of the birth of river Karha. Arjun and Nakula in search of water, toppled the kamandalu of a sage and thus was born the river Karha. They ran for their life with the sage in hot pursuit. Whenever the sage would get close, they would throw a rice grain behind them. The grain would turn in to a shiva-linga and the sage would stop in his tracks to worship it! That explains the Shiva temples along the bank of Karha. The villages around Karha, in a sense, signify a region defined by this story.
The Purush Sukta in Rigved uses the metaphor of human body to describe rivers. Interestingly, eight locations of the river Godavari have been likened to eight angas – body parts – of a woman; from head to toe.
Then she talked about seven goddesses, the Malai sisters, who once in a year visit their maher, i.e. home of their parents, from seven different locations. This religious event binds the eight locations.
Then there are these numbered locations – the ashta-vinayak, the 11 Maruti, the three and a half shakti-peeths and so on. These sets too define a region.
The holy places of he Mahanubhav panth are all about the activities of their founder, Chakradhar Swami, and his guru. The place where he slept, where he delivered his message – even where he went to the bathroom – are enshrined as holy places!
And the last, and the most significant, pattern that creates religious regions is the pilgrimage. The wari of Pandharpur being the most significant example.
At this point, she came up with two key observations.
Some of the regions overlap geographically, but, interestingly, they don’t meet! She cited Jejuri as an example. It happens to be near Karha, the annual palakhi of Janai originates from there, the Morgao of ashta-vinayak is not too far, one of the Malai sisters belongs to this place and the Pandharpur pilgrimage passes through Jejuri. However, folks who are passionately involved in one of the regions are often found to be completely oblivious to the other regions which exist there!
Her second observations was that, with one notable exception, none of these religious regions has metamorphosed into any administrative or political entity. The glorious exception being the wari of Pandharpur which united the Marathi speaking folks not withstanding the cast and class differences. She credited the wari with the creation of the state of Maharashtra.
Personally, it was a very different perspective for me, coming from an American scholar who has almost adopted Marathi as her language. To know more about Anne, do read this immensely entertaining note she wrote for her colleagues at the Arizona State University.