Pune: In a replay of their high-voltage march to Shani Shingnapur temple, women activists today headed to the famous Trimbakeshwar temple in Nashik in a bid to break the ban on entry of female devotees into its sanctum sanctorum but were stopped and detained by police at a village about 80 km away from the shrine.
The activists under the banner of Bhumata Brigade who numbered between 150 and 175 and led by its chief Trupti Desai were stopped at Nandurshingote village by rural police from proceeding to Trimbak town in Maharashtra's Nashik district where pilgrims had gathered in large numbers on the occasion of Maha Shivratri festival.
They were detained under various sections of the Maharashtra Police Act, a senior police officer said. Located 30 km from Nashik town and 160 km from Pune, Trimbak town has been turned into a fortress in view of the country-wide terror alert and also because of the huge flow of devotees.
Desai had left Pune earlier in the day trooping nearly 150-175 activists in vehicles as part of her plan to push for entry of women into the "garbhagriha" (sanctum sanctorum) of the ancient temple which houses one of the 12 Jyotirlingas.
Before setting out, she made a plea to Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis to make sure that their members are not detained on the way, as the authorities did during the earlier campaign.
"Since the Chief Minister had supported us on the Shani Shinganapur issue, we hope that we are not stopped today and will be allowed to enter the 'garbhagriha'," Desai, who chose the occasion of Maha Shivratri to resume their campaign, told PTI.
"On this auspicious day, we feel that the local administration will allow us inside the inner chamber of the temple and if we are restricted, it would be an insult to women on the eve of International Women's Day and on the day of Maha Shivratri," said Desai before setting out to Nashik.
Desai and her activists were stopped from proceeding to Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednanagar district on January 26 when police detained them at a village 70 km away from the shrine.
Nashik Rural Police had tightened security around the temple to avoid a face-off with deployment of addtional forces and barricades putting up barricades.
Opposing the campaign, certain local outfits like Mahila Dakshata Samiti, Sharada Mahila mandal, Purohit Sangh and others have came together threatening to stop the activists if they sought to breach the prohibited area.
As per tradition followed since past many years, women are not allowed in temple's garbha-grih for worship while men are allowed for an hour between 6 am to 7 am in the morning, but wearing sovala (a silk dhoti) for offering pooja to Lord Shiva.
Desai had stirred a national debate on gender bias at various temples across the country with her attempt to enter the inner platform (chauthara) at the Shingnapur temple where women are traditionally not allowed to worship.
The rights group's march on Republic Day, joined by over 400 women, was stalled by police stopping the marchers at Supa village, 70 km away from the shrine.
A mediation effort by spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar also failed to end the deadlock on the issue with Desai refusing to accept the 'Tirupati model' of darshan that would keep both men and women away from the inner sanctum which houses a rock idol of Lord Shani.
According to Kailas Ghule, member of the Trimbakeshwar Temple Trust, the bar on entry of women into the sanctum sanctorum is an age-old tradition and not something enforced in recent times.
Women, however, can have 'darshan' from outside the core area. He said men too are not allowed into the core worship area for an hour between 6 and 7 AM on all days.
As per tradition, only men are allowed entry into the area where the main 'linga' is placed, that too by adorning a specific gear called the sovala (silk clothing).
Seeking to give a scientific angle to the practice, they said there are certain rays that concentrate in the core area which could probably be harmful to the health of women.
Meanwhile, temple premises witnessed a flutter earlier in the day as a sadhvi sought to enter the area where women are banned.
Sadhvi Harisiddha Giri of Juna Akhada was stopped from entering the inner sanctum of the temple there by local women and members of the Devasthan trust, a police official said. The sadhvi then sat on a fast outside demanding that women be allowed to enter the place.
"I am representing all women of the country (requesting) to allow us entry into the temple's 'garbha griha' (sanctum sanctorum), but as per tradition women are not allowed to enter it," she said.