Women Break Ancient Tradition, Enter Sanctum Sanctorum of Temples

Shani Singnapur Temple

An ancient tradition that barred women entry into the sanctum sanctorum of the Shani Singnapur temple in the Indian state of Maharashtra was broken earlier this month, as two women stepped in to offer morning prayers on April 8. The two women – namely Pushpak Kevadkar and Priyanka Jagtap, both residents of Pune – belong to Bhumata Mahila Brigade, which only recently parted ways with Bhumata Rangragini Brigade that was already fighting against the 400-year-old tradition in favor of gender equality at the Hindu temple.

“I was there at the sacred platform for 20 days. I offered worship …Unfortunately nobody opened the gates to the inner sanctum. We had to scale the gate…but nobody stopped us … it is the moment I will cherish all my life,” said Jagtap.

Immediately after the Shani Shingnapur temple trust declared that it would allow women to enter the site’s sanctum sanctorum, Trupti Desai, who was spearheading the protest, along with her supporters, set out to offer prayers at the Hindu temple.

Sanjay Bankar, manager of the Temple Trust, said, “We are simply following court’s order and are allowing women in the temple.”

Bombay High Court ruled last month that women could not be barred from entering the temple’s sanctum sanctorum, as they are privy to the same rights as their male counterparts.

Lauding the temple trust’s decision, Desai said, “It’s a victory of women power. We are very happy that finally our efforts have paid.”

Yet, Balasaheb Bankar, the village sarpanch, said that they would resist women from breaking the 400-year-old tradition. On Friday, approximately 50 men from the village entered the sanctum sanctorum of the Shani Shingnapur temple, conducting a ritual on the rock idol that represents Lord Shani.

Dismissing reports that hundreds of villagers had forcefully barged into the temple, Bankar said, “We didn’t enter forcefully; we follow the same ritual every year and the temple trust is aware about it. It was a smooth entry wherein every man offered gangajal turn-by-turn.”

In November last year, Bhumata Rangragini Brigade launched a movement, demanding entry into the sanctum sanctorum of the Shani Shingnapur temple, which disallowed women from entering the core shrine area for as long as 400 years. The movement was sparked by the temple trust’s decision to “purify the temple” after a woman managed to offer prayers at the sanctum sanctorum last year. Naturally, the temple trust denied these allegations and in January this year, for the first time in its history, assigned a woman, Anita Shete, as its chief.

In the past, Bhumata Rangragini Brigade has been detained several times after its members forcefully attempted to enter the Shani Shingnapur temple. Once the organization announced that it would storm the temple with as many as 1,000 women on January 26 this year, right wing outfits sharing saffron ideologies promised strong support to the temple trust. Apart from some villagers, mostly women gathered at the gates of the temple to stop Bhumata Rangragini Brigade from entering the premises.

In a similar incident on April 21, another group of women, identifying as Swarajya Sanghatana, broke a 300-year-old tradition and entered the sanctum sanctorum of the Trimbakeshwar temple in Nashik. Led by Vanita Gutte, the women offered prayers amidst tight security as agitated locals continued to protest outside.

Signaling an important social change, Gutte said it was only fair that men and women have equal rights, not only inside a house of worship but in society as well.

Photo Credits: India Official Site

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