Women were on Tuesday barred by police from proceeding towards the famous Shani Shingnapur Temple here to offer prayers, as they sought to defy the centuries-old tradition at the temple against entry of women.
Around 1,500 women activists led by Bhumata Ranragini Brigade president Trupti Desai, and joined by a few men, who entered Ahmednagar district in a convoy of around 50 vehicles on Tuesday afternoon on their way to the temple, when were stopped by police near Supa.
After a brief argument and jostling with police, many women squatted or lay on the road shouting slogans condemning the police action and calling it a ‘Black Day’ on the occasion of India’s Republic Day when the constitution granting equal rights to men and women came into force.
Later, police detained a few of the activists, including Desai while the others vowed they would not leave the place without offering prayers at the open-to-sky temple’s sanctum sanctorum.
“The manner in which police behaved with us is objectionable… We were going peacefully to exercise our right of offering prayers… They are stopping us from going to a temple which is a place of worship. The country is celebrating Republic Day… for us it’s a ‘black day,’ but we will go to the temple,” Desai told media persons.
Anticipating trouble, the temple trust had deployed 250 volunteers, 60 women volunteers and another 250 police personnel, besides another 40-odd private security guards to secure the temple and prevent the women activists from entering.
A three-level steel barricade – like the rings of planet Saturn, of which Lord Shani is a manifestation – was erected by the temple, while police had set up barricades at strategic intervals on all the approach roads to the village.
The situation was tense in the village since Monday night as the Bhumata Ranragini Brigade had warned of hiring a helicopter and climbing down in ropes if they were stopped, but late Monday night, the Pune collector declined permission for the chopper.
The unique open temple has no walls or roof. A self-emerged (svayambhu) five-foot-high black stone stands on a platform and is worshipped as Lord Shanidev.
The temple platform stands in the centre of the small village, also known as Sonai and attracts millions of tourists and devotees from across the country and abroad.
However, barring the temple priests, none is permitted to climb the nine steps up to the actual stone idol that represents the deity. Everybody must only offer prayers from below the platform, said a temple trustee Prafull N. Surpuriya.
Shani Shingnapur is globally known as the only village where houses do not have doors and locks, and the village remains theft-free.
Even the nationalised UCO Bank’s branch in the village does not have locks on its doors.
Belief has it that thieves cannot steal or burgle in the village which is protected by Lord Shani, and misfortune and divine punishment would befall anyone who attempts to steal.
Although the temple itself has a much older history, the present form of management of its activities is over five centuries old, Surpuriya said.