The idol of a famous temple dedicated to the ruling deity of Saturn was purified on Sunday after a woman broke a long-held tradition which bars females from entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Hindu place of worship in Maharashtra.
However, the unidentified woman found support from political leaders and rationalists who said that her defiant act on Saturday reflected the changing times in a country where gender bias is rampant in many parts.
Besides women, many places of worship in India also bar people from the so-called lower-castes from entering the sanctum sanctorum.
The temple dedicated to ‘Shani’ is located at Shingnapur, a town of 4,000 in Ahmednagar district and around 330 km northeast of Mumbai, where no house has doors but only the frames as entrances.
It is believed that the ruling deity of the town – where even the police station doesn’t have any doors -- punishes anyone involved in theft and robberies.
“It’s a long-held tradition at our village that women are allowed only till few meters from the Shani idol. We have never prevented women from offering prayers but they are not allowed on the platform (where the idol is placed),” said Sayram Bankar, president of the temple trust.
Villagers said the woman at the centre of the storm jumped over the barricade, offered prayers and then disappeared into the large crowd.
While justifying the milk ‘abhishek’ to purify the idol – a five-feet-tall slab of black rock -- Bankar said it was done to “respect the sentiments of villagers” who were unhappy over the way the woman touched the idol.
“As part of the penance, I have also offered to resign,” said Bankar.
Women of the village, interviewed by local television channels, also protested the violation of the tradition.
“Ours is a peaceful village where devotees throng in large number and follow tradition. What the woman did was not proper,” an unidentified woman in her sixties was quoted as saying.
Congress MLA Praniti Shinde – daughter of former Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde – said the woman “should be felicitated for doing what she did” and also promised to raise the issue in the winter session of the state assembly beginning in Nagpur next month.
Ranjanan Gavande, member of an organisation fighting for eradication of blind faith, termed the incident “revolutionary”.
(With PTI inputs)