Another 400-year old tradition has been broken! Good.
How much does it change anything?
Have you heard the story of this place called Shani Shingnapur in Maharashtra? Well, the story of the place and its most famous religious tourist attraction is something that I will tell you some other time, this post is not about that. The story I am going to narrate to you is about what happened at Shani Shingnapur in the last 3 months and how it is a social change alright but an isolated one.
Shani Shingnapur is a nondescript village in Maharashtra, most popular for a Shani (saturn) temple. A jet black rock is the powerful deity here and women are not allowed to worship this rock. Yes, that’s right. For all the gender equality talks of 21st century, women are not allowed inside the sanctum sanctorum of this temple to worship. This has been so for 400 hundred years. Unchallenged. Unchanged.
In January 2016, a woman managed to give slip to the guards as well as the priests and worshiped the deity. And all hell broke loose. The temple trust conducted a purification ceremony. Women rights activists were up in arms. They tried to enter the temple, faced fierce opposition from the temple authorities as well as the locals and finally went the legal appeal way. The Mumbai High Court gave an order to the state administration that women cannot be kept out of places of worship where men are allowed. Women activists again tried to enter the temple, after the court verdict. The result was the same. The temple trust put a blanket ban on anyone entering the sanctum sanctorum. No men allowed. No women allowed. They basically shut out men too so that women need not be allowed.
Finally today on Gudi Padwa (maharashtrian new year day), as is the tradition at Shani Shingnapur temple, men offer worship to the deity. Angered by the blanket ban, around 100 men forcefully crossed the barricade and offered worship to Shani. Following which a historic decision has been taken by the temple trust. The temple will allow worship rights to all.
So, Shani Shingnapur has eventually opened its gates to women in 400 years. Wow! Like Really?
But why do women want to worship at a place where you will need to dip yourself in water, wearing those wet clothes clinging to your body you would go bend at the feet of a pandit and seek his blessings. (Why? Because he first male born in a lineage of priests. That has given him the right to stand there and bless people!) And then in the wet clothes you will prostrate before a rock believed to cast evil eye on you! Forget the rock, even if the rock doesn’t cast any eye on you all the men around that area will. Guaranteed! Women safety, go figure out.
Secondly, why do you want to go to a place where you were considered inferior? You were not allowed inside because you were born a WOMAN! You fight to get in. And do what? Wear wet clothes and pray? Would you not get the same blessings with more peace of mind at your home or even the Sai Temple in Shirdi, which is around 73 kms from Shani Shingnapur. Yes it has helped shake the age old shackles of tradition. Yes the temple trust and the simple people of that small village will now open up to something called gender equality. Yes, maybe the little girls in the village will grow up knowing that it is not okay to be treated differentially from their male cousins and friends. But as a woman it is still insulting. It is insulting to have to parade before 100s of strangers in clothes clinging to every contour of your body and knowing that you are been ogled at! It will be insulting to be told by the temple authorities that I am not appropriately dressed in Jeans and that I need to change into something more appropriate. Actually, now it will be interesting to see if women refuse to enter the temple in the attire dictated by the patriarchal guardians of Shani!
Thirdly and most importantly why I call this an isolated incident. A man in my house may get a night fall, no body gets to know about it. Infact no one is even interested in it. He will get up the next morning, take a shower, go to temple. (He could even perform Puja if we were brahmins). I get my my periods. I cannot even touch things that are used in prayers or even step into the room where prayers happen, forget going to the temple. Not just for that day but 7 days! When there is to be anything auspicious in a Hindu home the women are asked, at times even openly, about the dates of their periods; no one even bothers with the men. Both are body functions. Both are natural. But why the impure tag to the female body?
The day parents stop freaking out over their daughters/ daughter-in-laws touching the altar when they know the girl is on her periods, that day this term Gender Equality will make some sense, till then these are only isolated incidents that may or may not be part of the bigger change.
Maybe that day the gender bias at Sabarimala and Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Kerala, Jain Temples in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, Haji Ali Dargah Shrine in Maharashtra, Jama Masjid and Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi and Lord Kartikeya Temple in Pushkar would too have opened their gates to women like Shani Shingnapur Temple.
You know who you are. You know what you have to do. Go. Do. The women of this nation deserve to be queens that gods in all these places dished them out as, not distinguished against.