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Women and the right to worship: The ‘prohibited platform’ at Shani Shingnapur

All eyes are on Fadnavis; each side, while adamant on its stance, is hopeful the CM will decide in its favour. Sarpanch Balasaheb Bankar believes he will weigh in on the side of “tradition”

Written by Manoj Dattatrye More | Published: February 11, 2016 3:45 am
Shani Shingnapur, Shani temple, Shani temple agitation, women activists, Shani Shingnapur temple row, Sri Sri, Trupti Desai, Women entry in temple, women banned from religious places Villagers and trustees claim that the temple has a 400-year-old tradition of not allowing women on the platform where the Shani idol is installed. (Source: Express Archive)

What is the latest in the Shani Shingnapur temple controversy?

The Bhumata Brigade, which was spearheading the agitation for the entry of women into the core shrine area of the Shani Shingnapur temple, has split — three key members who were part of the team for the past 10 years have walked out to protest the alleged “autocratic” style of its president, Trupti Desai, whom they have also accused of being a publicity-seeker and not serious about the agitation. The three members have formed the Bhumata Swabhimani Sanghatna and claimed, like the Bhumata Brigade, that they would meet Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis before he takes a final call over their demand. This has put the state government in a fix: it is not sure which organisation it should talk to.

What is the government’s official line?

On January 26, after police foiled the Desai-led Bhumata Brigade’s plan to storm the temple, Fadnavis tweeted: “In Indian culture and Hindu religion, women have always had the liberty to pray. Change in traditions as per changing times has been our strength. It is wrong to discriminate between the devotees. I appeal to temple authorities to take initiative to solve these problems. I’ve also given instructions to the Collector and Police Commissioner of Ahmednagar to establish communication between the activists and the villagers.”

The Chief Minister has, however, remained evasive on the activists’ demand that he himself perform puja along with his wife from the ‘prohibited platform’. A meeting of villagers, temple trustees and the Bhumata Brigade called by the Ahmednagar Collector on the CM’s instructions last Saturday remained inconclusive.

What is the background of the controversy?

In 2000, rationalist Narendra Dabholkar began an agitation to allow women on to the ‘prohibited platform’ of the temple. The saffron parties initially opposed him, but subsequently chose to keep mum. In 2011, the trustees decided to stop even men from climbing the ‘prohibited platform’ — they reasoned that crowding the barely 4-foot-by-4 platform could lead to a mishap. In December 2015, an unidentified woman climbed the ‘prohibited platform’, either knowingly or unknowingly. The villagers and Trustees allegedly followed up the “defiling” with a “purification” process, even though it was claimed subsequently that “milk purification” was a regular activity at the temple.

What is the so-called Sri Sri plan?

On Sunday, spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar met with the Bhumata Brigade, and the villagers and Trustees, and proposed that neither men nor women be allowed on the platform, which gets slippery from the oil devotees pour on it — and that the Kashi Vishwanath or Tirupati Balaji models should be followed at Shani Shingnapur as well, with no one being allowed inside the core area. Trupti Desai, however, asked for women priests, to which the villagers said no.

What happens now?

All eyes are on Fadnavis; each side, while adamant on its stance, is hopeful the CM will decide in its favour. Sarpanch Balasaheb Bankar believes he will weigh in on the side of “tradition”; Desai, on the other hand, thinks that the government will take the same line that it has taken in the case of Mumbai’s Haji Ali Dargah, and back the right of women to pray. Many feel the controversy is much ado about nothing: Shani Shingnapur is not, for example, Kerala’s Sabarimala, where women of menstruating age are not allowed to enter the temple premises at all. In any case, the small ‘prohibited platform’, covered by oil, flowers and garlands, has very little space for either men or women.

 

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  1. V
    Vipasha
    Apr 12, 2016 at 12:47 am
    There are temples for Shani Deva, where Saturn is personified as a god. Currently, there is this controversy about allowing women to enter a certain temple in Maharashtra, the Shani Shingnapur temple. Very powerful processes are conducted at this temple. Shani temples are mainly used for occult purposes and exorcism. People come there mainly to ward off occult influences or because they feel they are possessed. Because occult processes are conducted there, the energies are not conducive for women. As a woman is entrusted with the significant responsibility of manufacturing the next generation, her body is far more receptive and vulnerable to certain types of energies – especially during pregnancy and menstrual cycles.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Should women not enter the sanctum at all? They could if they were appropriately trained for it, but it would be much more difficult to train women than men for this purpose, simply because of a few biological advantages men have in this area of life. In the very nature of female biology, occult forces can have a deeper impact upon her system.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;To remove occult influences and perform exorcisms, certain energies are used that are not nice for a woman at all. Shani is not nice. But he is a part of our lives – we have to deal with him too. Because of these occult forces, women are asked not to enter the area where such things are done. It would not be good for their physical wellbeing.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;When certain things go wrong with life, you have to deal with them in a certain way, which may not be pleasant. These temples were created for this purpose. Today, some people perceive it as discrimination that women should not enter this space. It is not discrimination but discretion.lt;br/gt;We need to educate people about the science behind these temples – what they are about and why they were built.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Maybe the way it is enforced is crude and seems discriminatory, and that is why these women are protesting. If one day, men protest in front of Linga Bhairavi and want to enter the sanctum, I will lock it. I will not let them into sanctum because it is not designed for men unless they are appropriately trained for it. This is not discrimination – it is necessary discretion.lt;br/gt;Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev
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