Nashik’s Shani temple ends 400-year-old ban on women

In a historic decision that broke a 400-year-old tradition, the Shri Shani Shingnapur Devasthan Trust (SSSDT) on Friday decided to open up the chauthara (platform) of the temple to all, including women. The decision was taken after 200 Kawadis, groups of devotees who bring gangajal (water of river Ganga) on foot, from Shingnapur trampled barricades, climbed the chauthara and conducted abhishek (offering prayers). Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said that discrimination on the basis of caste and gender should be eliminated from the minds of the people in keeping with the modern times.

Kawadis entered the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and offered prayers to the deity on the occasion of Gudi Padwa, even as the temple officials tried to prevent them.

The Trust had also made arrangements to collect the water in a vessel on the ground and then pump it over the deity. However, Kawadis rejected the proposal and forced their entry into the sanctum sanctorum.

As the trust members objected to their entry, resulting in tension, the police rushed to the spot. A decision was taken to allow entry to all in a joint meeting of the trustees, villagers, Kawadi group and some government and police officers, CEO Gorakhshnath Darandale told The Asian Age.

CEO Darandale said that the trust then decided to open up the chauthara to all, including women for darshan (veneration).

In the evening, Pushpak Kewadkar, who is estranged from Trupti Desai’s Bhumata Brigade, became the first woman to venerate the chauthara.

Temple trust spokesman Haridas Gaywale said, “At the meeting, the Trust decided there won’t be any discrimination and today all parts of Shani temple have been opened for all.”

The Bombay high court had on April 1 held that it is the fundamental right of women to go into places of worship and the government is duty-bound to protect it. The debate over the issue escalated last year after a woman 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. Temple authorities had recently barred men also from entering the sanctum sanctorum.

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