What is the ‘controversy’ at Shani Shingnapur temple ?
This ‘controversy’ is related to the Shani mandir in Shani Shingnapur village, Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra. This Hindu temple is dedicated to Shani (the devata or diety associated with the planet Saturn) who is said to be Swayambhu that is self emerged from earth in form of a black stone at this place. The temple authorities do not allow either men or women to climb the 9 steps to the Shani(idol). Everyone (man or woman) is allowed to enter the temple.
The temple is believed to be a jagrut devasthan (i.e an ‘alive temple’), meaning that a deity still resides in the temple idol and that Shani devta punishes anyone attempting theft. As a consequence, houses in Shani Shingnapur village do not have doors or locks and hardly any thefts are reported from there.
On 28 November last year, a woman climbed the security barricade to the ‘chauthara‘ (platform) where the idol is installed and offered prayers. The temple authorities had then fired the security guards and undertaken some rituals, which had triggered a mini-controversy in media back then as well. On December 19, four more women, including Trupti Desai of Bhumata Ranragini Brigade, again tried to climb the platform, angering local villagers. After this, Bhumata Ranragini Brigade promised to ‘storm’ the temple with 400 women on 26 January, a threat which they have just acted out, creating the present ‘controversy’.
Is the ‘protest’ valid?
No. As reported by many common people (both men and women) on social media, no one is barred from entering the temple and the restrictions regarding access to the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum), i.e the platform where the idol is placed, apply to both genders.
— Lakshmi 🇮🇳 (@ChowkidarLaxmi) January 27, 2016
— Rupa Subramanya (@rupasubramanya) January 26, 2016
Still, the usual suspects in media have predictably joined hands with these ‘social activists’ and are unable to conceal their Hinduphobia.
Who is driving these ‘protests’?
On the surface, the Bhumata Ranragini Brigade seems to be fighting for gender equality, against an ‘oppressive ancient tradition’. But dig a little deeper and another picture emerges. Trupti Desai, president of Bhumata Ranragini Brigade, has been linked to AAP, Congress and left leaning causes. It appears she has learnt from the example of AAP’S Supreme leader on how to stay in the media limelight.
— Proud Bhaqt (@ExSecular) January 26, 2016
Is there a deeper hand behind the ‘protests’?
The resources being committed to this ‘protest’ (high-tech buses, and even a chopper is reported to be available with the group of 400 ‘protesters’) raises questions whether Trupti Desai is really a front, or a useful idiot, for some other vested interest? Another vocal supporter of these ‘protests’ is Dr. Ranjana Kumari, Director of an NGO CSR (Centre for Social Research). CSR receives funding through the FCRA route from many foreign entities such as German Hanns Seidel Foundation which has a stated goal to “promote Christian values“.
This information was revealed by diligent researcher and expert on FCRA foreign-funded NGOs @sighbaboo (a must follow handle for all Hindus).
+CSR got Rs. 1.6Crore in 2014-15; $$ from German Embassy, Asia Fndtn, Hans Seidel Fndtn, Heinrich Boell Fndtn..
— sighbaboo (@sighbaboo) January 25, 2016
— sighbaboo (@sighbaboo) January 25, 2016
Joining the dots, it becomes clear that the goal behind the Shani Shingnapur ‘controversy’ is far more insidious than the gender equality issue it is presented as.
— Sankrant Sanu सानु संक्रान्त ਸੰਕ੍ਰਾਂਤ ਸਾਨੁ (@sankrant) January 12, 2016
Not surprisingly & in perfect synchrony, this ‘protest’ is receiving attention in Western media as well.
The Independent recently reported that Trupti Desai’s group of female activists will help bring about a “revolution” against gender inequality in India.
And all this could well be lead up to takeover of the Shani Shingnapur temple, a well managed temple by all accounts, by the Government. Such preying on Hindu temples by various State Governments under the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowment Act (HRCE Act) of 1951 is a major battle that Hindu society needs to fight, as the money donated by Hindus is often misused or siphoned away for ‘secular’ causes.
Do Hindu temples discriminate against women?
Firstly, we have established that there is actually no discrimination between men and women in Shani Shingnapur temple as the same rules apply to devotees irrespective of gender – this is a manufactured fake outrage. One reason only male priests are allowed to enter the garbha griha is because they have to wear a wet cloth while doing so, which is not conducive to the modesty of women. In fact, a woman, Anita Shetye, has recently been appointed as Chairperson of the Shani Shingnapur Temple Trust.
How many people (including Hindus) know that there are Hindu temples like Devipuram, a temple in Andhra Pradesh dedicated to the Devi, where most of the priests are women who work even during their period days? Or that only women are allowed to participate at the Pongala festival celebrated at the Attukal Bhagavathy Temple in Kerala? Those who are truly interested in a nuanced understanding of what Hindu cultural practices around menstruation signify, should read this article.
The idea of Ardhanarishvara shows that the Hindu civilization is the only one in the world in which God is conceptualized as half woman and half man, with both feminine and masculine qualities.
Hindu society has always been open to new ideas, different spiritual paths, and considers self-realization as the ultimate achievement of human life. Our social customs and mores evolve with the passage of time. We welcome intelligent critique of tradition, but not this bashing of Hindu traditions with an ulterior agenda based on Western notions which ironically are not applied to that shaper of Western civilization – Christianity.
And it is beyond belief that some Muslim groups are supporting these fake ‘protests’ when Islam has so much introspection to do on the question of gender equality. The very fact that even in Bharat, under Islamic law a Muslim girl becomes eligible for marriage as soon as she attains puberty, is something which should worry all right thinking citizens of this country. Or the triple talaq law which Muslim bodies like All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s (AIMPLB) continues to back.
In conclusion, we must not rush to judge each and every Hindu tradition through the lens of a ‘modern’ rights-based discourse. Dharma is not religion, and definitely not like the organized, exclusivist, revealed religions which dominate global discourse today. We, the Hindus, need to develop an in-depth understanding of our ancient shastras (sacred texts) and beliefs of different sampradayas (communities) – so that we alone are the arbiters of what pratha (tradition) is Dharmic or not. Our enemies are smart, well funded, deeply entrenched in the current polity of Bharat, enjoy global backing, and are masters at using modern mass media to their advantage. Our ignorance makes their job easier. And until we decolonize our minds, such ‘controversies’ will keep erupting.
"When the slave will whip himself after the master has long gone, the work of colonialism is complete"–Radha Bharadwaj.
— radha bharadwaj (@radhabharadwaj) December 6, 2020
(Correction: An earlier version of this article contained a reference to a gender specific practice at the Kolhapur Mahalaxmi temple, which could not be corroborated and has thus been removed.)