This temple town of 4,000 inhabitants in Maharashtra has a police station and a bank like most urban centres do. But the similarities end here.
What is unique in Shani Shingnapur is that the police station and bank don’t have doors as we know them — much like people’s doorless homes and shops in this small pilgrimage town currently in the news for its temple dedicated to god Shani, which is off-limits for women.
However bizarre it may seem, the tradition is normal here. Residents say Shani, the presiding deity, keeps vigil 24/7 over the town and that thefts do not happen. None of the houses have doors or safety locks and this custom built around its popular god has become the town’s calling card or brand image.
So when a police station came up in the town in September 2015, authorities never felt the need to install a door. “We only have a sliding door to prevent dogs and cats from entering the police station,” a constable says.
Interestingly, no complaint has been registered from Shani Shingnapur since the police station opened, though it has received cases from neighbouring villages within its jurisdiction.
The UCO bank branch which was set up in 2011 initially kept to the town’s tradition. The branch had doors but following local tradition, they were not locked even at night. It used to send all its cash every evening to a branch in the neighbouring town of Sonai.
But recently a remote-controlled electromagnetic lock was installed at the bank after a series of burglaries were reported, belying the local belief and message advertised on the town’s walls: “Yahaan kabhi chori nahin hoti (No thefts happen here)!”
Residents proudly declare their hometown’s zero-crime status, made popular by the late producer Gulshan Kumar’s hit film Suryaputra Shanidev in 1994 that showcased the temple’s main attraction — a five-and-a-half-foot tall back rock that devotees believe responds to their prayers.
The Bollywood movie soon turned a village, some 160 kilometres east of Pune, into a flourishing temple tourism centre with visitors from across the world walking through its, well, no doors.