The Purni Baghiyari village in Bokaro district witnesses many a visitor every year, most of whom come by to visit the local Maa Mangal Chandi temple. However, quite ironically for a place intended to honour the goddess Kali, one of the fiercest female deities in the Hindu religion, there aren’t many women to be found amongst the hordes of devotees.
The reason? As women are not allowed within 100 feet of the temple, their offerings are carried by their male companions to a stone – supposed to symbolise the fierce incarnation of the goddess Durga – from a certain point in its premises.
However, people in the neighbourhood – even those of the fairer sex – insist that there’s nothing remotely sexist about the rule. In fact, they say the rule has been put in place to prevent calamity from befalling the women worshippers. “There is a mark beyond which we cannot go,” says Sushila Kumari, a local resident. “I would like to go into the temple and pray, but people say that women who do not follow this rule usually meet with an accident.”
Parmanand, the local pandit, confirms the belief. “This tradition has been followed for years,” he says. “The people in this area believe that whosoever has challenged it has faced some disaster in their life.”
But Gopal Jha, a local resident, maintains that despite the restriction placed on women, they are not averse to gathering at the stipulated spot for offering prayers to the deity.
Puja is offered at the temple only on Tuesdays, an auspicious day on which a large number of devotees come to sacrifice animals. They are then allowed to cook the meat and eat it in the village limits, though none of it is to be shared with women.
There are quite a few temples in the country that restrict women devotees from entering their premises. Probably the most famous among these is the Lord Ayyappa shrine in Sabarimala, Kerala, which restricts the entry of women between the ages of 12 and 50 (those likely to be menstruating) to respect the sentiments of its “brahmachari” deity.