SHANI SHINGNAPUR: A 400-year-old tradition of not allowing women the right to offer prayers at the 'chauthara' (sacred platform) or touch the deity at the Shani Shingnapur temple in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra came to an end on Friday.
Pushpak Kewadkar and Priyanaka Jagtap, two women activists from Bhumata Mahila Brigade, a splinter group of the Trupti Desai-led Bhumata Ranaragini Brigade, climbed to the platform and performed a puja around 5 pm.
Desai, who has been spreading the campaign for entry of female devotees at Shani Shingnapur and other shrines in the state for six months, reached the temple with her supporters at 6.30 pm.
As she offered milk and oil to the idol a few women, mostly villagers, wept over seeing the end of a "tradition they were proud of".
Villagers had foiled attempts by several women activists to enter the restricted area before and on April 2, despite a high court ruling on March 30. But the old tradition of performing an 'abhishek' using holy water on Gudi Padwa hastened matters.
Friday is also Gudi Padwa, the Marathi new year, and a larger group of men, who had brought water from Varanasi and the Godavari river, arrived at the temple to perform the abhishek for the deity on the auspicious occasion.
What began with a determination by this group to not give up the Jal Puja tradition ended in giving women access to the 'chauthara' in Shani Shingnapur once the men forcibly entered the restricted area which the temple trust had said was out-of-bounds for both men and women.
The temple's spokesperson Anil Darandale said villagers were keen on the abhishek and had gathered near the temple in large numbers since 7.30 am.
The temple's management and district administration tried to defuse the tension, but the trustees and villagers stuck to their stands during discussions. The men barged into the temple after talks with the trustees, the district administration and police officials had failed.
The trustees, who had announced a few weeks ago that these rituals had been cancelled, did not act when the group performed the abhishek. Soon after, the trustees met and announced unrestricted entry to all devotees, men and women, falling in line with the Bombay high court's directive on March 30.
"The aggression shown by the villagers forced us to allow women access to the prohibited area of the shrine. If we had not taken such a stand, it would mean contempt of the court," Nanasaheb Bankar, vice-president of Shani Shingnapur temple trust said on Friday.
He said all devotees would be allowed to climb to the chauthara where the deity stands.