One of India’s highest-ranked Hindu seers said on Monday women defying tradition to worship at a centuries-old Maharashtra temple will lead to a rise in crimes against women such as rape, triggering outrage and underscoring the gender disconnect of religious orthodoxy.
The comment by Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati – the Shankaracharya of Gujarat’s Dwarka-Shardapeeth– came three days after female devotees scripted history by entering the sanctum sanctorum of the Shani Shingnapur temple.
The temple lifted the 400-year-old ban after the Bombay high court ruled that entering a temple was a woman’s fundamental right.
“Shani will not spare those (women) entering inside inner sanctum. Assaults on women and incident of rape would increase by this unholy act of worship,” the 94-year-old seer said.
Shankaracharya Swaroopanand: Women’s entry in Shani temple will increase rapes
He said women breaking traditions were responsible for a tragedy in Kerala’s Puttingal Devi temple on Sunday where 110 people died after an unauthorised fireworks display set off blasts and a blaze.
Women should stop men from consuming intoxicating substances under whose influence they commit crimes such as rape instead of temple entry, he added.
His comments were condemned by women’s groups with CPI(M) leader Brinda Karat saying his views need to be rejected as they were removed from reality and the Constitution.
“How can he say women going into the temple will lead to the destruction of women? All these years, women were not there but faced so many problems issues,” she said.
The Shankaracharya said worshipping the Sai Baba – another prominent Hindu seer -- in Maharashtra was responsible for the ongoing drought in the state.
The Shani shrine has been at the centre of a nationwide gender equality debate after dozens of women attempted to storm the temple on Republic Day this year. They finally succeeded on Friday after the temple trust lifted the ban following the Bombay high court order.
But the sustained campaign by a group called the Bhumata brigade angered many, who said traditions barring women’s entry were in place to ensure the welfare of female devotees.
For hundreds of years, the inner reaches of famous temples where the deities are kept have been out of bounds for women, who are deemed weak or impure to worship the idols. Shrines of other religions – such as the Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai – also bar women’s entry.
But the judiciary has come down heavily against prominent temple trusts restricting the entry of women, increasing the pressure on shrines such as Kerala’s Sabarimala temple, Nashik’s Shri Trimbakeshwar temple and Kolhapur’s Mahalaxmi temple.