The Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra is bracing for a fierce battle come Republic Day.
The temple has been in the eye of a storm due to its strict norms regarding letting women step on to the holy platform of the famous shrine. And on 26 January, led by an NGO named Bahumata Brigade, 400 women are set to break the ancient custom and make their way on to the 'sacred' platform.
On the other hand, according to a report in The Indian Express, right-wing outfits led by Sanatan Sanstha, Hindu Janjagruti Samiti (HJS) and its women’s wing Ranragini Shakha, among others, have decided to mobilise over 2,000 women to form a “protective circle” outside the temple to stop the rebels from entering the temple. They have vowed to not let fellow women breach the sanctum sanctorum frequented by men.
“As per the Adhyatma Shastra (spiritual science), lord Shani is considered as Ugra Devata. The vibrations emerging from him have harmful effects on women… So the issue of women not being allowed to worship lord Shani from close proximity should not be seen as gender inequality. We have a temple in Rajasthan where men are not allowed to worship. Instead of studying spiritual reasons behind Hindu traditions, organisations like Bhumata Brigade and atheist groups want to do a publicity stunt at Shani Shingnapur temple,” Sunil Ghanwat, an office-bearer of HJS told IE.
According to Ranragini Shakha, women villagers are also against breaking traditions and allowing women inside the temple.
"We will follow democratic ways. If anyone tries to break the tradition, we would stop them with the help of police,” a member told IE.
In fact, according to a report in Pune Mirror, a team of cops from Ahmednagar travelled to Pune on Thursday with a cautionary notice for the Bhumata Brigade against staging a protest on Republic Day.
In November 2015, a woman had tried to enter the innermost sanctum of the Shani temple. The alleged 'violation' had caused the trustees of the temple to perform a purification ritual, says an article in Atheist Republic.
In December last year, four women tried to climb the holy platform but their attempts were foiled by the temple authorities.
A Shani Shingnapur devotee told HuffPost India on condition of anonymity, that men are allowed into the sanctum sanctorum after they have cleansed themselves. "They have to take a bath and wear a wet or lungi or dhoti because water is considered to have purified the cloth. Then the men can enter the innermost chamber. Women are not allowed inside."
The protesting brigade of the Bahumata Brigade can expect little or no help from the newly-appointed woman chairperson of Shani Shingnapur Temple Trust in Ahmednagar district who has declared that she will not break the tradition of disallowing women into the sanctum sanctorum.
Similarly, the head of a lawyers group fighting for the right of women to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala has been receiving hundreds of death threats warning him to drop the petition he filed in Supreme Court. The popular Ayyappa temple in Kerala bars women between 10-50 years of age from entering the temple.
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