Locks are an anathema here

Lord Shani is believed to protect the village

Locks are an anathema here

People take pride in not having windows and doors for their houses
 

This village in Maharashtra is a unique, probably only one of its kind at least in India. As you drive into Shani Shinganapur in Ahmednagar district at any time, one thing stands out—there are no locks for any of the buildings, including a nationalised bank operating for over two years.

Scores of shops that have sprung up around Shani temple, mostly to cater for the needs of the devotees, do not lock their establishments at all. Shani Shinganapur, which is about 35 km from district headquarters Ahmednagar, has a population of around 5,000 and is visited by hundreds every day and thousands on special occasions.

Most of the houses have only door and window frames. No doors at all! Only now, people have started using screens to prevent insects from entering the buildings. Most houses do not have doors inside also. Till a few years ago, it remained a small village and not many preferred to stay back there. As its fame grew over the years, the number of devotees turning up to offer prayers has been steadily growing. To cater for their needs, many lodges have come up in this dusty village. Most of them have only sliding plastic doors and no locks!

“There is no theft in this village. We leave our shops open and sometimes cover them with clothes to prevent dust entering the place. There is no question of  locking a building in this village. The deity (Lord Shani) will protect everything,” Raju, a shopkeeper, said.

He went on to narrate an incident—difficult to believe but such stories do rounds in the village—that a man stole gold from a place and could not get out of the small village. The thief went round and round and finally turned insane and could not leave the village. The thief came and left the gold before the deity and only then he could leave the village.

Raju, who owns a shop selling pooja items and other small articles near the vehicle parking lot, said that even the nationalised UCO bank does not put lock to their main door. Probably, it could be the only bank in the world which does not lock its front door.

One of the bank employees confirmed that the front door is not locked. “We have been functioning here for over two years and it is true that our main door is not locked. Four of us, including a manager, function in this branch and we have about 1,200 accounts. However, one of us stays in a building belonging to the landlord. All the necessary appro­vals were obtained from the Reserve Bank of India by the head office.”

“The bank has a remote-controlled glass door in the front. It has a strongroom and only security locking system has been used. We have not put any lock in the bank,” he added.

The employee said at least three cooperative banks and four nationalised banks have their branches at a place, some six km from the village. The number of devotees visiting the temple has been growing steadily and its coffers are also bulging. The temple trust has taken up several construction activities.  Though the temple trust has taken up construction activities, the surrounding areas remain dirty and no effort has been made to improve the place.

“The place has undergone a sea change in the last three years. When I visited last time, many of these structures were not there,” a devotee said, pointing to lodges and construction of temple gopura.

“But the surroundings continue to be dirty and efforts should be made to asphalt the roads and
improve facilities,” he added. Till a couple of years ago, only men were allowed to go near the idol, a black stone measuring 5 feet and 9 inches in height and one and a half feet in width.

Following strong protests from some women devotees, they are also allowed. However, no one is allowed to go near the idol. A fence has been erected around the idol, claimed to be “swayambu” (born on its own), and all can offer worship from there. Special arrangements have been made to pour oil as an offering into a crate and it is said the same is “pumped” to ensure that it drops on the top of the idol. People believe the lord polices the village and there are no thefts here. Though there have been a couple of isolated incidents of thefts, locals dismiss  them as mere allegations.
Shop owners do not insist on advance payment for pooja materials. Devotees can take items and while returning can make payment. “We are confident that devotees will dare not cheat us. Lord Shani will not allow that to happen,” a shop keeper, who sells oil, said.

According to temple authorities, some 350 years ago Shinganapur experienced blinding rain for
several hours and fields were submerged. As the water was flowing, the stone idol of Shani came floating and got stuck in the branches of a berry tree. Cowherds, who went grazing cattle, were surprised to see such a huge stone on the branches of the tree. When they poked their sticks, to their horror, blood oozed out and the cowherds ran for cover. One of the villagers, Rajani Bela, saw a dream and in that Shani ordered that he be installed in the village.

The villagers tried unsuccessfully for two days to move the stone. The god again appeared in Bela’s dream and said he would move only when shifted by maternal uncle and his nephew.

The other condition was those riding the bullock cart should be of black complexion and should be of the relationship of maternal uncle and nephew. The idol moved only when the villagers could ensure what Bela had seen in dream. Stories abound the temple. It is said that the present day foundation was laid by a devotee after he got a son with the blessings of the lord.

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