Shani Shingnapur near Nashik, Maharashtra was very much in news for the controversy surrounding women being debarred from performing the Abhishek ritual to Lord Shani (Saturn). The Shani murthy (idol) here is swayambu (erupted out of earth on its own). Tripti Desai led the march from the forefront to win rights for women to conduct/perform rituals for Lord Shani with their own hands on par with men. I had an opportunity to visit the shrine in the month of April. Saturn phase is on for me right now. To spell it out in Thamizh, ‘ezharai nattu sani’ going on for me. Its tenure is for 7.5 years. This is second time in my lifeline that saturn rules the house in my horoscope. This is on for over an year now. Shani period is supposed to be physically and mentally and even financial exhausting to most. A very testy period in one’s life where we may be facing health woes. We may get ourselves entangled in unnecessary troubles. So I exercised the privilege of anointing Lord Shani with sesame oil with my own hands and perform the abhishegam to Him during my visit to His temple. My two friends still disapproved of my move. There were about a hundred devotees. While most men performed the abhishegam, there was a general reluctance among the women to come forward for the ritual. Only a handful of us dared. The men (husbands) restrained their wives and daughters and stood in queue to partake in the ritual. But nobody frowned when some of us women stepped forward for the ritual. The fee for the ritual is 500 bucks. The oil price was 80 or 90 bucks. The ticket issuing clerk had a disapproving smirk pasted on his face as he handed out the token to me. I hoped to please Lord Shani asking Him to soften His blows or at least give me the physical mental strength to bear shocks and upsets if it comes to that. To anyone who questions change of age old customs, I would like to remind that once upon a time, women were not even allowed to attend schools, not divorce, not remarry. Women did not get a share of family estate/inheritance. There was even the heinous practice of Sati in India. Its not you and I who decide what should happen when. As a total believer, I trust that it was perhaps Lord Shani Himself who decided that the time was ripe for women to perform rituals for Him with their own hands. அவனன்றி ஓர் அணுவும் அசையாது. Whether it is Shani or Lord Aiyappa, the move or decision to grant women entry is decided by the deity not by humans. As an unshakable believer in and follower of Hindu Dharma, this is where I differ from my friends’ view point. My Kerala friends cannot agree with the reforms naturally. By change in norms, I do not state that any disrespect has to be shown to the deity. In Sabarimala, the court case was interestingly filed by a Kerala muslim for entry of women into the hill shrine while no muslim woman can ever share the mosque space with the men. Not a single petition is filed in Indian courts to win the muslim women their equal rights. The women who first broke barriers in Sabarimala were also non Hindus – with a muslim/christian woman throwing a used/soiled sanitary napkin on Lord Aiyappa when with police escort she became the first fertile woman to set her foot in the holy shrine of Lord Aiyappa. Can you imagine a non muslim desecrating an islamic place of worship and getting alive with it. This is my Hindu India. This is the level of our tolerance. We Hindus give police protection to muslim/christians to go in and desecrate our places of worship in the name of democracy and secularism. It broke every Hindu heart when the kind of desecration the woman subjected our supreme deity to, came to light. We left the offenders to their Karma. While I am for equality of sexes and women’s rights, this is a clear case of mischief no doubt. Its good that a film like Kerala Story happened. An eye opener. After the Sabarimala sacrilege, the very next year the entire Kerala state was flooded and crores and crores of property were lost. Washed out. When Lord Aiyappa is ready to receive women devotees in His abode, trust Him to move the earths and the skies not just the courts to make it happen. Lord Aiyappa is viewed as Naishtika Brahmachari by Hindus.
Let me make it clear that, there was nothing rebellious about my Shani access or worship. I am a practing Hindu and I considered it a blessing to get nearer to Shani Bhagwan. I was full of reverence and faith.