Ahmednagar: A day after the Shri Shaneshwar Devasthan (Shani Shingnapur Temple) Trust's historic vote for gender equality, thousands of women from different parts of Maharashtra thronged to worship Lord Shanidev here on Saturday, officials said.
Since early morning, hundreds of women visited the temple premises to offer oblation (abhishek) after an over four century bar was lifted on Friday.
The entire village wore a festive atmosphere; women were welcomed with smiles and guided to the temple which is located in the centre of the village and the police and security personnel appeared cheerful on Saturday.
The trust officials were optimistic that the move will nearly double the arrival of tourists and devotees from all over the world to Sonai village and the local economy will thrive.
In a decision with far-reaching ramifications, the SSDT on Friday announced that women will be allowed to enter the temple and pray at the inner sanctum that is dedicated to Lord Shanidev.
The Shani Shingnapur temple had barred women for centuries from the inner sanctum that is dedicated to Shani, or Saturn. It is one of a handful of Hindu temples in the country that barred the entry of women.
The first two women to enter the temple on Saturday -- Pushpak Kewadkar and Priyanka Jagtap -- climbed on the 'Shani' platform where the black stone idol is placed.
Later, Bhumata Ranragini Brigade president Trupti Desai and her associates reached the temple, offered prayers and participated in the daily "aarti".
The surrounding villagers, women activists and political leaders across the state have welcomed the SSDT decision.
Now, all eyes are fixed to the stand of two other major temples -- Shri Trimbakeshwar Temple Trust, Nashik and Shri Mahalaxmi Temple Trust, Kolhapur -- where women's entry is banned.
Meanwhile, prominent Mumbai lawyer Ganesh Sovani claimed that the SSDT took the decision in "panic" after some men broke barricades and rushed onto the 'Shani' platform on Friday morning.
"With this development, the trust finally buckled under the pressure due to charged atmosphere that got created over there and the permission granted was in panic situation," Sovani told IANS.
Sovani said that the Bombay High Court order of April 1, 2016 was silent over the issue of "entry of women" since, the public interest litigation filed by activist Vidya Bal and lawyer Nilima Vartak was for implementation of the Maharashtra Hindu Place of Worship (Entry Authorisation) Act, 1956.
Sovani said that the act is not "gender oriented" and was carved out to facilitate entry of dalits who were prohibited from entering the temple earlier.
Moreover, he said that when the Supreme Court was dealing with a case filed by Young Indian Lawyers Association over the question of women's entry into Sabarimala Temple in Kerala, the Bombay High Court should not have entertained any plea at all.
"Things would become complicated if the apex court upholds 'traditions and customs' maintained in Kerala, for which even the state government last month filed a fresh affidavit," Sovani added.