Women could be seen entering the inner sanctum of the Shani Shingnapur temple on Friday after a centuries-old ban forbidding female devotees from entering the complex was recently lifted.
After a long crusade by women activists demanding entry to the inner sanctum, the temple trust finally granted women devotees passage into the temple on Friday.
“We have decided to allow the women devotees on the platform,” said Sayaram Bankar, a temple trustee. The decision was taken after 11 members of the trust met to discuss the issue on Friday morning, Bankar said.
Women activists welcomed the decision which follows a Bombay high court order from last week that ruled it was a woman’s fundamental right to enter a temple.
Hours after the decision was announced, Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Desai, who had led a sustained campaign over the issue, reached the temple in Ahmednagar district and offered prayers.
Before Desai reached the spot, two women activists, who earlier broke away from Bhumata Brigade, entered the sanctum sanctorum and offered prayers, pouring oil on the deity in a culmination of the three month-long agitation against gender bias at religious places.
The Shani shrine has been at the centre of the raging debate for gender equality after dozens of women activists attempted to storm the temple for the first time on Republic Day this year.
“This is a big day for women today. We have managed to break a century old regressive tradition which had prevented the women from entering the temple,” said Desai.
Welcoming the decision, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said: “Discrimination on the basis of caste and gender should be eliminated from the minds of the people keeping with the modern times.”
Last week the Bombay high court ruled that entering temple is a fundamental right of women and that the government is duty bound to protect this right. The temple trust however extended its ban to men and refused to allow women from entering the temple to ensure tradition was not broken.
On Friday afternoon, around 100 men forced their way onto the inner sanctum of the temple to perform abhishek to mark Gudi Padwa.
While the trust attempted to block the men, devotees climbed the barricade and jumped onto the platform. Police, who were deployed in large numbers to maintain law and order, allegedly didn’t stop the men as they clambered on to the barricades.
Following the court order, Desai and other activists had attempted to enter the inner sanctum, but were stopped by locals, including women villagers. Police detained the activists to avoid a clash between the groups.