Maharashtra temple stops decades-old tradition

The decision was taken Wednesday and implemented Thursday. And thousands of devotees welcomed the move, said Shani-Shingnapure Temple Trust Chairman Shivaji Darandale.

"The tradition of wet clothes came into being a few decades ago, but was misused by few elements. There were many complaints in this regard. So the temple trust has decided to abandon it with immediate effect," Darandale told IANS.

There were allegations that the devotees were exploited and forced to wear the rented wet lungis and buy 'prasad' (offerings) at exorbitant rates from the 300-odd stalls outside the temple premises. "We have also received hundreds of complaints against the shopkeepers but we had no control over their activities. Now, the situation will change," said Salim Shaikh, head of Sonai police station. The temple town is around 300 km from Mumbai.

The village of 3,000, attracts nearly 30,000 devotees from all over the country daily and the figure goes to over 100,000 during weekends. According to complaints, shopkeepers give on rent ordinary cotton lungis, worth barely Rs.50, for Rs.200, and sell them one prasad tray for up to Rs.1,000.

The temple trust has also ruled that prasad trays will now be sold at market rates. The trust spokesperson Tuvar Patil said besides stopping the illegal activities outside the temple, the move would also help protect the idol of the sun god which was showing wear and tear.

"Devotees used to come in dripping wet clothes. Then they applied oil and other things on the statue. We have noticed that the statue has become chipped and the tiny pieces are lying there," Patil said. According to legend, the solid black stone image of sun god was washed ashore near the village during a massive flood over 350 years ago.

Later, some villagers had a dream in which the sun god said that he wanted to remain in the village and the idol should be erected there. Darandale said that since the sun god idol is kept in the open, even the villagers discarded the practice of making doors or locking their homes.

For centuries, there were no complaints of any theft or robberies, but last year, the first ever robbery complaint was registered by a Haryana tourist, police officer Shaikh said.
Incidentally, the village also got its first bank branch - the nationalized UCO Bank opened up there early January and it has no locks on the main doors.

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