Mumbai: On Tuesday, a group of 500 women from Bhumata Ranragini Brigade led by president Trupti Desai, set out in buses to defy five-century-old tradition that debars women from worshipping the stone idol of Lord Shani, on account of “harmful vibrations” believed to be emanating from the deity.
The agitating activists, on the other hand, want entry for women into the inner sanctum of the shrine, maintaining that women have a right to pray.
The unique open temple located at Maharashtra's Shingnapur village has no walls or roof. A self-emerged five-foot high black stone stands on a platform and is worshipped as Lord Shani.
The temple platform stands in the centre of the small village, also known as Sonai and attracts millions of tourists and devotees from across the country and abroad.
Shani Shingnapur is also globally renowned as the only village where the houses do not have doors and locks, and even a local branch of a nationalised bank does not have locks as there is no fear of thieves.
The temple trust however created a sort of history after it recently appointed a woman as the trust president.
“This is the first time in the temple's over five centuries old history that this welcome development has taken place today. Another woman, Vaishali Lande, has also been appointed to the board of 11 trustees managing the temple,” Prafull N. Surpuriya, a trustee, told IANS.
The activists, who tried to head to the popular temple defying prohibitory orders to worship the deity, were stopped by the police at Supa, about 70 km from the Shani temple, .They were detained for a few hours and released in the evening and sent back to Pune in busloads.
Following a half-hour stalemate in which the police refused to yield, the agitators led by Ms. Desai resorted to a sit-down strike, singing bhajans and kirtans, proclaiming their resolution to remain there until the police permitted them to pass.
Meanwhile, thousands of villagers from Shani Shingnapur, opposing the RBB's campaign, formed a ‘counter-campaign pandal' announcing their intent to uphold the temple tradition.
The locals were joined by activists of right-wing groups represented by the women's wing of the ruling Shiv Sena and various other outfits belonging to the fringe-right, represented by the Sanatan Sanstha, the Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS) and its women's wing Ranragini Shakha.
Earlier in the day, nearly 500 women and men left Pune in buses and cars to “storm” the temple if the police thwarted their plans to offer prayers to the deity at the sanctum, as Desai had said Monday.
Earlier, after the Pune District Collector denied permission for a helicopter flight, the RBB president jettisoned her plan of rappelling down to enter the inner sanctum.
Fearing damage to temple property, the district administration had banned any form of assembly.
As the showdown erupted, Maharashtra CM Deven-dra Fadnavis favoured a dialogue between temple authorities and activists to find a way out over the ban on entry of
“Indian culture and Hindu religion gives women the right to pray. A change in yesterday's traditions is our culture. Discrimina-tion in praying is not in our culture. The temple authorities should resolve the issue through a dialogue,” tweeted Mr Fadnavis, who also holds the home portfolio.