The recent on-goings at Shani Shignapur Temple incited a lot of curiosity in me and as a lady I too wanted to go there once more and step into the inner sanctorum and worship Shanidev Maharaj with my own two hands, instead of those of my husband. I wanted to once again witness the simple but infinitely majestic splendour of the open temple which housed Shanidev in the form of a stone slab and a miracle Neem tree which had sweet leaves instead of bitter ones. A village where no houses had locks, a temple which did not have a roof, a Neem tree which had sweet leaves, a temple whose housed a formless God and now some women had offered oblations where earlier no women had been allowed to go … all sounding too good to be true! I had to go.
When I reached the place, it was very calm and serene as it had been when I had gone there before. But it did seem like the temple administration people were a little fidgety. They kept staring at the women devotees wondering which woman would be the next to fight with them to break all rules, and offer Puja to Shanidev without a bath, without wearing dripping wet clothes, and pose for a fascinating ‘Selfie’ all because she was a woman and could now do so. Tradition be damned, ‘Maryaada’ – what’s that? The spiritual fervour I had witnessed before, the nonchalance towards my being a woman or my pseudo-Indian clothing style, seemed to have been replaced with irritation on the face of many, as if they wanted to say, “Here comes another ‘devotee’”. There were very few devotees around.
I was drawn towards a strong aura around the Idol and so desperately wanted to reach out and touch it with my own hands. But something seemed to stop me … my old-fashioned beliefs maybe or was it the fear of retribution by the all-powerful Shanidev who might interfere in my life and create problems for me? I was not sure, but I could not get myself to climb the steps and I could see the priest heave a sigh of relief. When I sat down after the Darshan, I felt somebody sit down next to me. When I turned around, I was surprised to see the imposing form of Shanidev Himself, next to me! Whoa, I thought … dark, handsome and powerful aura! What a combination! I could not stop myself from talking to Him and asking Him for His views on the latest happenings in His temple. And I had the most interesting conversation with Him. Check it out ….
Me : Pranaam Shanidev Maharaj!
Shanidev : Kalyaan Ho!
Me : Please may I ask You a few questions on the controversy regarding Puja to You …
Shanidev : Sure Vats. Ask me anything you want.
Me : Can only men do Your Puja? Is it necessary that one should take a bath and wear wet clothes while doing Puja to You? If so, why did You not stop Trupti Desai and the other ladies from touching You and doing Puja to You without following those rituals?
Shanidev : (lets out a roar of laughter). What is a Puja? It is when one offers one’s heart and mind to God without any other thought than that of Bhakti. Without Bhakti, how can there be any Puja? Just chanting, just putting flowers on Me, taking photos of oneself as proof of having prayed to Me cannot be Puja. That is just a photo-op and publicity.
Me : Please continue …
Shanidev : To do Puja with Bhakti, one must be clean mentally and physically. This is a natural tendency. Don’t you wash your hands or at least wipe them clean before eating? Is it because it is a written rule or is it because you naturally feel like doing so? The same is the case with visiting a Temple, especially the inner Sanctorum of a temple. It is a known fact that a bath cleanses you of not just the dust and grime, but also the negative auras which surround you. And when you wear fresh, clean clothes, you feel more energetic and positive and are thus better equipped to relate to Your God. Where is the need for written rules here? And yes, it the same whether it is a man or a woman. In public places, sometimes women may not be able to do so, and therefore it is taken for granted that only men offer prayers there. But Vats, tell me what makes you think that I am present only inside the inner Sanctorum? Do you feel that all the other women who come here to pray to me, have wasted their time?
Me : No, no … please do not be angry on me. I am just curious.
Shanidev : (Roaring with laughter once more). Why do you think that I will harm you? I never harm anybody unnecessarily. Everybody has to pay a price for any wrongs that they do in life, and likewise everybody who does good should be rewarded. I do that job at least once in almost every person’s life.
Me : (Slyly) So will Trupti Desai be punished or rewarded and when will that happen?
Shanidev : (Smiling) Once Lord Shiva wanted to escape from my touching His life and so when He knew that I was to visit Him, He left Kailas for an undisclosed place. He did not return till He saw me leaving. On my way out, He met me and boasted that He had escaped my influence (Prabhaav). I smiled and told Him, “When You have such a wonderful family and a such a wonderful place to live, You left everything and everyone and led a lonely life in an undisclosed place. That was because of my influence.” Lord Shiva smiled, accepted what I said and blessed me. What I’m trying to say is that no one knows when and how one will be punished or rewarded. I do it silently and it is only when the deed is done that one realizes that it is because of me. But it is true that no one can escape me, not just because I am that powerful; it is because every person’s Karma and its rewards (Karma Phal) are inescapable.
Me : Please Shanidev Maharaj, tell me how You felt when the ladies touched Your Idol and did Puja to You, and all those Journalists and Photographers took photos of that historic occasion.
Shanidev : (With a naughty smile) There was once a corrupt priest in a famous Shiva temple. He was so money minded and after name and fame, that Lord Shiva found it unbearable to be in the inner Sanctorum when this priest used to conduct the rituals. You see, the rituals were just a show. There was no true Bhakti. But as you know, the Lord too surrenders to Karma and the order of things. So whenever the priest used to enter the Sanctorum, Lord Shiva used to wait outside and when the priest came outside, Lord Shiva went inside and resided as the Mukhya Praana of the Idol. Either way, He blessed His true devotees always.
Me : So where were You when those rituals happened?
Shanidev : People have become so self-centered that if I were to say that I merged into the air, they would bottle it and sell it for money; if I said that I resided then in a tree, they would break all the leaves and branches, sell it or consume it and have little care for the tree itself; if I said that I had escaped into the earth, they would dig the soil, market it, replace the soil with mud from elsewhere and sell that too as original; if I said that I remained in the Idol, there would enough people who would lose their faith in me and say that I was just a stone unless I proved to them my existence by punishing Trupti Desai and the other women harshly. So believe what you will Vats.
Me : Prabhuji, please bless me that I always remember that prayers have meaning only when accompanied with complete devotion; that prayers should be for the welfare of all (Sarve Janah Sukhino Bhavantu, Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu) not just for one; that one should not just be a beggar while praying, asking for this and that, but one should pray for the Glory of the Lord; and most importantly, that I always have a clean heart and mind while praying…
Shanidev : Tathasthu!
And He disappeared. This time when I looked around, I could feel the bliss and the serenity of the surroundings and I left the temple wearing the cloak of His Grace around me. Jai Shanidev Maharaj!