In a big victory to the campaign for gender equality, the famed Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra on Friday lifted the centuries-old ban on entry of women at the sanctum sanctorum, yielding to a high voltage crusade by activists and court directions.
Soon after the temple trust announced the decision to facilitate unrestricted entry to all devotees to the core area of the shrine in Western Maharashtra, some women devotees entered the sacred spot and offered worship.
Hours after the decision was announced, Bhumata Brigade leader Trupti Desai, who had led a sustained campaign over the issue, reached the Lord Saturn temple in Ahmednagar district and offered prayers.
Before Desai reached the spot, two women activists, who earlier broke away from Bhumata Brigade, entered the sanctum sanctorum and offered prayers, pouring oil on the deity in a culmination of the three month-long agitation against gender bias at religious places.
Significantly, removal of the gender barrier came on the auspicious occasion of "Gudi Padwa", marking New Year by people across Maharashtra. Welcoming the decision, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, "discrimination on the basis of caste and gender should be eliminated from the minds of the people keeping with the modern times."
Earlier in the day, around 250 men jumped barricades and forced their entry into the platform, saying it had been a long tradition for the devotees to offer worship at the shrine on the Gudi Padwa day.
Sayaram Bankar, a trustee of the temple, said a meeting of the trustees decided to facilitate unrestricted entry to all devotees, including men and women, in keeping with the Bombay high court directive.
The high court, had on April 1, held that it is the women's fundamental right to go into places of worship and the government is duty-bound to protect it. The debate over the issue escalated after a woman last year 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, even as the temple authorities had later barred men also from entering the sanctum sanctorum.
Terming the decision as a wise step, Desai told PTI "Der se aye lekin durusta aye" (It was late but in the end correct decision)," she said reacting to the development that signalled a victory for her prolonged fight against gender discrimination at places of worship.
She hoped that trustees at Trimbakeshwar and Mahalaxmi temples in Nashik and Kolhapur respectively, too, would take similar decision to end injustice against women devotees.
Image: Activist Trupti Desai enters and prays inside inner sanctum of the temple.