Over two dozen activists of Bhumata Ranragini Brigade on Saturday set off for Shani Shingnapur temple of Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district where tradition bans women from entering the shrine’s sacred platform.
The march, led by Trupti Desai, is taking place a day after the Bombay high court ruled that it is the fundamental right of women to go into places of worship.
Describing the HC verdict as a victory for women’s campaign against gender bias, Desai had on Friday announced that she and members of the group would head to the ancient temple the next day itself.
Around 25 activists proceeded for the temple on Saturday morning in 2-3 small vehicles.
“After the high court itself ruled in women’s favour, we are determined to reach the sacred chauthara of the temple and we are sure that police will not restrict us en route,” Desai said before leaving Pune.
On being told that if a temple does not allow any person, irrespective of gender, inside the sanctum sanctorum, then the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act 1956 and its provisions will not be of any help, Desai said, “In case of Shani Shinganapur, the temple trust used to allow men at ‘chauthara’ and only after our agitation started, they had put restrictions on males. So we should not be restricted.”
Desai also urged Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadanvis to issue directives to the local administration and police to cooperate with them to go inside the temple peacefully and allow them to worship Lord Shani, whose idol is placed at the ‘chauthara’.
The shrine is dedicated to Lord Shani, who personifies the planet Saturn in Hindu belief. Women devotees are not permitted on the platform of the shrine, which has no walls or a roof. A five-foot-high black stone stands on a sacred platform (prohibited area) and is worshipped as Lord Shani.
Meanwhile, members of an action committee formed in the district to maintain the 400-year-old tradition at the temple is mulling to challenge the HC order in the Supreme Court.
“We will soon approach the apex court against the HC ruling as it is a matter of protecting the faith of devotees,” said Sambhaji Dahatonde, a member of the action committee. After the agitation began, the temple management shunned the practice of special pooja for men in the last two months. Now both men and women are offering prayers from an equal distance from the idol. As of now, only the priests are allowed in the sacred sanctum.
The debate over the issue of women’s entry into the sanctum sanctorum of Maharashtra temples escalated after a woman last year tried to enter and offer prayers at the Shani Shingnapur temple.
This had prompted the temple committee to suspend seven security men and the villagers to perform “purification rituals.”
Subsequently, the Bhumata Brigade led by Desai had on January 26 this year launched a high-voltage campaign to breach the ban at the Shani temple and vowed to carry on with its movement for gender justice.
Besides, around 150 women under the banner of outfit had last month headed to the famous Trimbakeshwar temple in Nashik district seeking to break the bar on female devotees at the inner sanctum of the Lord Shiva shrine. Their attempts were, however, foiled by the police.