Around 400 women left for Shani Shingnapur from Pune early on Tuesday morning to break a decades-old tradition that has prohibited women from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the deity lord Shani, an issue that has brought a group of activists at loggerheads with locals.
The village of 4000, located about 330 kilometers northeast of Mumbai, is famous for the Shani temple that many devotees believe responds to prayers, also called ‘jagrut’, and has for the past six decades or so denied women from entering the main temple area.
Locals have barred entry for outsiders and plan to form a human chain around the temple. The administration has also deployed additional security personnel through the village to prevent activists of the Bhumata brigade, who are championing the movement, from entering the inner sanctum.
The women plan to offer prayers at famous Shani temple by climbing the main idol platform, much to the anxiety of local villagers and various socio-political organizations. They claimed to have also booked a helicopter to be air dropped if necessary. The administration however has denied them permission to fly.
“We are going to Shani Shingnapur to offer prayers to Lord Shani. We want to exercise our right given to us by constitution and we will do it peacefully,” said Truti Desai, who is leading the agitation.
In light of the probable conflict, the joint charity commissioner’s office in Pune has served a notice to the women’s group asking them not to create a law and order issue.
The Shiv Sena has also joined the current controversy saying it would help villagers hold back women trying to push through into the temple.
Sarangi Mahajan, widow of Praveen Mahajan -- a former state BJP leader, also pitched in saying she would support villagers by forming a human chain with her supporters. Only recently, Mahajan floated the Sara Foundation to work for women empowerment.
The temple drew attention after a young woman defied common practice and performed ‘abhishek’ to lord Shani on November 27 last year. Outraged villagers and temple trustees later “purified” the idol by performing another ‘abhishek’ with milk, triggering a major row between women activists who hailed the woman’s courage and villagers defending the purification ritual as tradition.
Following the controversy, the temple elected a woman as its head, prompting hopes for a progressive decision. Anita Shete however made it clear she would ensure the tradition remained unbroken.