The famous Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district, which had hit national news headlines in 2016 for controversy over the denial of permission to women devotees to enter the temple’s sanctum sanctorum, is poised to be taken over by the Maharashtra Government.
As a first step towards the take-over of the temple administration, the Maharashtra legislative Assembly passed a Bill in the wee hours of Thursday that enables the State Government to take control of the Shani temple to make "the temple trust administration more encompassing, transparent and also to provide better amenities to devotees.”
The Maharashtra legislative Council is expected to pass the Bill on Friday, the last day of the ongoing monsoon session of the State legislature in Nagpur.
Once both the Houses pass the Bill, the legislation will be sent to Governor Ch Vidyasagar Rao for its enactment, which will facilitate the State Government to govern the temple administration.
The State Government’s decision to take control of the Shani arises from the complaints of alleged irregularities in managing the temple trust and in view of the law and situations that the temple witnessed during 2016 when women activists belonging to the Bhumata Ranragini Brigade (BRB), a woman organisation, crusaded for gaining unrestricted entry into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple.
Currently, the Mahalaxmi temple in Kolhapur, the Shirdi temple in Nashik and Mumbai’s Siddhivinayak temple are being governed by the Maharashtra Government.
The famous temple located in Shingnapur village is devoted to lord Shani, believed to be the personification of planet Saturn.
The temple doesn’t have an idol but a five-and-a-half-feet high black rock with a “trishul” (trident) placed alongside and a Nandi (bull) installed on the southern side of the quadrangle symbolising the presiding deity.
The temple village of Shani Shinganapur, where temple is located, has over the years famous for being the only village in the country, where houses have no doors.
All the houses in the village have mere door frames. The story handed down to the people through the generations, has it that with lord Shani in their midst, the people in the village need not have any fear of their housing being broken into burglars or thieves.
Anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 people visit the Shani temple every day. However, on Saturdays and special occasions anywhere from 1 lakh to 1.5 lakh people visit the temple.
It may be recalled that more than four months after a woman from Pune broke a five-century-old taboo, climbed up to “chauthara” (the plinth or a small quadrangle) housing the idol of lord Shani on November 29, 2015, the management of Shani Shignapur temple allowed women activists to offer prayers to lord Shani.
The temple management’s decision to give unrestricted entry to women devotees on April 8, 2016 was a culmination of a spirited campaign against gender bias in temples by the BRB activists, effective intervention by the Bombay High Court and the undertaking given by the Maharashtra government that it would scrupulously implement the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act 1956 which prescribes six months’ imprisonment to those prohibiting anyone from entering the place of worship.