Shani Shignapur Temple is a Jeet Devasthan (alive temple) in Ahmednagar district, well-known for the magical and powerful Lord Shani, who is believed to reside in a black stone till date. The Hindu God symbolising the planet Saturn is referred to as Swayambhu, which means that he has emerged himself in the form of the black stone that scores lakhs of devotees every year. The trust of people in the lord is so strong that none of the houses in the wondrous village has doors and locks as people believe that Lord Shani is protecting their valuables from thieves. Despite this, officially no theft was reported in the village although there were reports of theft in 2010 and 2011.
On some of the holiest days like Saturdays, Amavasya and Shri Shaneshchar Jayanti, the enthusiasm and vehemence rise to the next level. Some Hindus worship Lord Shani to please him as the influence of planet Saturn on anyone’s life is considered as bad luck.
The temple is believed to be a “jagrut devasthan” (lit. “alive temple”), meaning that a deity still resides in the temple icon. Villagers believe that god Shani punishes anyone attempting theft. The deity here is “Swayambhu” (Sanskrit: self-evolved deity) that is self emerged from earth in form of black, imposing stone. Though no one knows the exact period, it is believed that the Swayambhu Shanaishwara statue was found by shepherds of the then local hamlet. It is believed to be in existence at least since the start of Kali yuga.
The story of the swayambhu statue handed down from generations through word of mouth, goes something like this: When the Shepherd touched the stone with a pointed rod, the stone started bleeding. The shepherds were astounded. Soon the whole village gathered around to watch the miracle. On that night Lord Shanaishwara appeared in the dream of the most devoted and pious of the shepherds.
He told the shepherd that he is “Shaneeshwara”. He also told that the unique looking black stone is his swayambhu form. The shepherd prayed and asked the lord whether he should construct a temple for him. To this, Lord Shani Mahatma said there is no need for a roof as the whole sky is his roof and he preferred to be under open sky. He asked the shepherd to do daily pooja and ‘Tailabhisheka’ every Saturday without fail. He also promised the whole hamlet will have no fear of dacoits or burglars or thieves.
According to a 400-year tradition, women are restricted from entering the inner sanctum. On 26 January 2016, a group of over 500 women, led by activist Trupti Desai, marched to the temple under the group “Bhumata Ranragani Brigade”, demanding entry into the Inner sanctum. They were stopped by the police. In a landmark judgement on 30 March 2016, the Bombay High Court asked Maharashtra government to ensure that women are not denied entry to any temple. On 8 April 2016, the Shani Shingnapur trust finally allowed the women devotees to enter the sanctum.