AHMEDNAGAR, Maharashtra: Yielding to a high voltage campaign by activists, the Shani Shingnapur temple trust today allowed women to enter the sanctum sanctorum, breaking the tradition followed for several decades.
Significantly, lifting of all gender barriers for access to the core area came on the auspicious occasion of “Gudi Padwa”, marking New Year by people across Maharashtra.
Sayaram Bankar, a trustee of Shani Shingnapur temple, said the trustees held a meeting today and decided to facilitate unrestricted entry to all devotees including men and women, in keeping with the high court directive.
“We will welcome (Bhoomata Brigade leader) Trupti Desai also if she comes for darshan,” he said, referring to the campaign spearheaded by the outfit for breaking the tradition followed by the Lord Saturn shrine.
Temple trust spokesman Haridas Gaywale also said, “The trust has at the meeting decided there will not be any discrimination and today all parts of Shani temple are open for all.”
The Bombay High Court had on April 1 held that it is the women’s fundamental right to go into places of worship and the government is duty-bound to protect it.
The debate over the issue escalated after a woman last year tried to enter and offer prayers at the Shani Shingnapur temple, in ‘breach’ of the age-old practice of prohibiting entry of women.
The agitation for women’s entry gained momentum over the last few months, even as the temple authorities had later barred men also from entering the sanctum sanctorum.
Desai welcomed the decision of Shani Shingnapur temple trustees to open gates of the sacred “Chauthara” for men and women devotees, and said it was a “wise” step on their part.
“Der se aye lekin durusta aye” (It was late but in the end correct decision),” she said reacting to the development that signaled a victory for her prolonged fight against gender discrimination at places of worship.
“We are happy that the temple trustees have taken a wise decision eventually,” she told PTI.
Desai said she and her group of activists would be soon leaving for Shani Singnapur to offer prayers at the temple.
She hoped that trustees at Trimbakeshwar and Mahalaxmi temples in Nashik and Kolhapur respectively, too would take similar decision to end injustice against women devotees.
Earlier in the day, around 250 men from Shingnapur village entered the sanctum sanctorum of the temple in the village and offered prayers to the deity on the occasion of ‘Gudi Padwa’, even as the temple officials tried to prevent them.
About 250 residents of Shingnapur village reached the core area of the temple and had ‘darshan’ as a part of their annual ritual, police inspector Prashant Mandale of Shani Shingnapur told PTI.
The trust members objected to their entry resulting in tension, following which police rushed to the spot.
After hailing the development, Desai and her supporters left Pune for Shingnapur to offer prayers at the Shani temple.
Local men had brought sacred water of Godavari and Mulay rivers from Pravara Sangam, about 40 kms from Shani Shingnapur and offered prayers.
It has been a tradition for male devotees to climb up the platform of the temple and offer the water after performing a pooja on Gudi Padwa every year.
The villagers said that it’s a local custom and matter of faith as they forcefully reached to prohibited area of the temple.
Desai said, “If a single man enters the sanctum other than pujari, the court orders have to be followed, everyone has to follow the order. The day has come today (when) we will enter the ‘shani’ platform.”
“This is our victory. It was our will power that we will enter the core area…you all must have been seen women activists were manhandled. Despite the odds women came forward with all preparations and might. This is victory of Bhumata Brigade, of our movement. It is also victory of gender equality.”
“Our fight has been going on for the past three-four months. We faced a lot of hurdles. We have been maligned, we were detained despite the court orders,” Desai said.
On media’s role in her campaign, she said “media has been with us and they also took a stand with us. This is media’s win as well.–PTI