Ahmednagar: A history of sorts was created when Anita Shetye, a housewife, was unanimously appointed the first ever woman chairperson of the famous Shani Shingnapur Temple Trust.
However, the age-old tradition of not allowing women devotees to worship at the temple dedicated to Lord Shani - the personification of planet Saturn - will continue, temple trustee Prafull N Surpuriya said.
"This is the first time in the temple's history of more than five centuries that this welcome development has taken place. Another woman, Shalini Lande, has also been appointed to the board of 11 trustees managing the temple, at its statutory meeting last week," he said.
Shetye, 40, will have a five-year term along with other 11 trustees. As mandated, all the trustees are residents of Shingnapur village in Ahmednagar district and born within the Shingnapur gram panchayat area, which has a population of around 1,500.
"It is an ancient tradition that women are barred from climbing up the temple steps to pour oil and offer prayers to Shanidev... there's no reason for us to change the traditions," Surpuriya added.
Endorsing the view, Shetye said, "The entire village has already expressed its clear opinion that women should not be allowed in the open-air temple".
The unique open temple has no walls or a roof. A self-emerged (svayambhu) five-foot tall black stone stands on a platform and is worshipped as Shanidev. The temple platform stands in the centre of the small village, also known as Sonai.
However, barring the temple priests, everybody is forbade from climbing the nine steps up to the actual stone idol that represents the deity. Everybody must only offer prayers from below the platform, Surpuriya said.
Referring to an incident of November 29, 2015, when a young woman unknowingly went up the temple steps and offered prayers, he said that she admitted it as a genuine mistake and later apologised.
The unknown woman's action was hailed as "revolutionary and ground-breaking" and welcomed by several social and political groups.
Later, the temple's chief priest and others carried out a 'purification' ceremony at the temple.
"On December 28 last year, four women created a ruckus along with some 400-500 other women, but left without going up to the temple," Surpuriya said.
Shani Shingnapur is globally known as the only village where houses do not have doors and locks. Even a nationalised UCO Bank's branch in the village does not have locks on its doors. Belief has it that thieves cannot steal or burgle in the village protected by Lord Shani, and misfortune and divine punishment would befall anyone who attempts this.
Although the temple itself has a much older history, the present form of management of its activities is over five centuries old, Surpuriya said.