Temple dumps 400-year-old tradition of denying women the right to offer prayers; women term it an ‘epic’ victory
Ahmednagar: Pushpak Kewadekar (32) and Priyanka Jagtap (22) from Pune etched their names in the annals of history on the auspicious day of Gudi Padwa, as they became the first two women to enter the sanctum sanctorum of Shani Shingnapur temple last evening and offer prayers for the first time in 400 years after the temple trust debunked the age-old ritual of prohibiting women from entering the shrine.
Trupti Desai (in blue) and her husband offer prayers at the Shani temple last evening. Pic/Shrikant Vangari
Though the ban was lifted at 12.30 pm, it took 4.30 hours for the first female devotees to overcome the apprehension and chaos outside, and enter the temple.
Narrating her experience, Priyanka said, “I was preparing for my MPSC exams when Pushpak tai called and told me to accompany her to Shani Shingnapur. We reached the temple at 4.45 pm. We observed that none of the women were ready to enter the temple, despite the temple trust lifting the ban in the afternoon itself. So we decided to do the needful. However, the gates to the shrine were locked, and the on-duty guard replied rudely, saying that he doesn’t have the keys when we asked him to open the gates. Realising that he was not going to open the gates, we jumped them and entered the sanctum sanctorum to offer prayers. This is an epic victory for us women folk.”
Priyanka holds a degree in hotel management and is married to a Pune-based businessman. She was also a part Bhumata Brigade.
Around 6.25 pm, gates to the sanctum sanctorum were shut for the evening payers that was performed by six priests.
The gates were reopened at 6.55 pm, following which Trupti Desai, founder-member of Bhumata Brigade which started the fight for equal rights for women to pray at the temple, entered the sanctum sanctorum and offered prayers with her husband.
During her 15-minute stay, she offered a litre of oil and milk and flowers.
However, this did not go down well with the other devotees waiting in the queue, who claimed it was unfair that Desai was given additional time to pray. Terming it partiality, several devotees tried to push their way forward to the sanctum sanctorum by jumping the queue.
Commenting on the trust’s decision to allow women to offer prayers at the shrine, vice-president Nanashaheb Banker said, “After holding a meeting with the locals, the gram panchayat, the police and administrative officers, we reached a conclusion that the time had come to discontinue such rituals. The meeting was held after a group of unruly men breached the security to offer prayers and created nuisance around the shrine. Respecting the court’s orders, the ban on women entering the shrine was lifted at 12.30 pm.”
Earlier in the day, around 250 men from Shingnapur village entered the sanctum sanctorum and offered prayers to the deity despite temple authorities trying to stop them. The men breached the security and had darshan as part of Gudi Padwa tradition, police inspector Prashant Mandale from Shani Shingnapur police station said.
Following the Bombay
HC’s order, the temple trust had prohibited men from entering the sanctum sanctorum. The HC on April 1 held that it is the women’s fundamental right to visit places of worship and the government is duty-bound to protect it. The debate over the issue escalated after a woman tried to enter and offer prayers at the Shani Shingnapur temple last year, in breach of the age-old practice of prohibiting entry of women.
— Inputs from Agencies
Fadnavis hails the decision
Welcoming the Shani Shingapur Temple Trust’s decision of allowing women devotees into the sanctum sanctorum of the shrine, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis yesterday said discrimination on the basis of caste and gender should be eliminated from the minds of the people to keep up with modern times. “If we have to progress in this 21st century, then it is important that we remove this concept of discrimination of caste and gender from the minds of the people completely,” Fadnavis said.
Trupti Desai, founder, Bhumata Brigade
We had warned the trust members and police that if any of the male devotees were seen inside the sanctum sanctorum, we (women) too would barge in. During my previous two attempts to offer prayers, I was dragged and thrashed. But today (Friday), the trust members personally escorted me to the sanctum sanctorum. This is my first successful step towards achieving gender equality. Next mission is Mahalaxmi temple, which I’ll be visiting on April 13. What I’ve learnt is that only women from royal families and priestesses are allowed to offer prayers at the temple. This is a clear-cut case of socio-economic discrimination.