Can you imagine a village where people traditionally do not install front doors and locks in their houses?
Such a village really exists in India’s western state of Maharashtra. The houses and other buildings in this village have only door frames at the entrance. This is because of the staunch belief of the local people on the deity of a famous temple in the village.
This unique system exists in Shani Shingnapur village, which is in Ahmednagar district, and even the post office and the lone bank do not have the mandatory locks and doors, unlike in other places. This village, which has about 4,000 residents, is known for its famous temple of Lord Shani, the Hindu god associated with Saturn.
There is a reason behind this traditional system. People of this village strongly believe that God Shani will protect them from robbers and thieves. Another interesting fact is that even the people in Shani Singhnapur village themselves do not dare to break the system by installing doors and locks, fearing the divine wrath.
The temple of Lord Shani is famous, and it is located in the center of the village. Thousands of devotees visit the temple daily, and the number will increase many folds on Saturdays.
Not only houses, but even huts and shops situated within one-kilometer radius of Lord Shani temple have neither doors nor locks as well. Any new building coming up in the village has to follow this norm.
Officially no theft or robbery was reported in the village till the year 2010. However, a few cases were registered in 2010 and 2011.
The temple is believed to be a Jagrut Devasthan, meaning that a deity still has a presence in the temple icon. The deity at this temple is Swayambhu, which means self-emerged from the earth in the form of black stone.
The myth related to the temple has a direct link to the unique system of structures without doors and locks.
According to the folk tale about the self-emerged idol, which was passed on to generations, one day, the local shepherds saw the stone and touched it with a pointed rod. Suddenly, the stone started bleeding, and on seeing this, the shepherds panicked. Soon, other villagers gathered around the stone to see the miracle.
In the night, Lord Shani appeared in the dreams of the shepherds and said that he was Shaneeshwara. He also informed that the black stone was his Swayambhu form. Lord Shani told them that there was no need for a roof or a temple as the sky was the roof, and he preferred to stay under the open sky. He asked the shepherds to perform rituals daily, and special rituals on Saturdays without fail. The god also promised them that the village need not fear dacoits or thieves henceforth.
There is no change in the tradition, and idol of Lord Shani can be seen even today in the open yard without any roof above Him.
The faith of the villagers in the deity is so strong that they never bother to even inform their neighbors to take care of their house while going out. According to their belief, those who break into their houses will be punished with blindness, and those who are not honest will face seven-and-a-half years of bad luck. So no questions of doors or locks arise. Villagers remember about a person, who dared to install a door against the belief, he reportedly met with a car accident the next day.
They only put wooden planks before the door frames just to prevent the entry of stray dogs into the houses.
As the people of Shani Singhnapur were leaving peacefully in their houses without doors and locks, the opening of a bank branch in the village suddenly emerged as a bone of contention between the authorities and the local residents.
In January 2011, the United Commercial (UCO) Bank, a public sector lender, opened a ‘lockless’ branch in the village, the first of its kind in the country, taking into account the near-zero crime rate in the region, especially thefts and robberies.
However, the local police raised objection to this move, and they were of the view that it amounted to a breach of the safety conditions because the government of India had made it a mandatory clause for all banks to put in place high-security arrangements.
It is said that the bank branch agreed to have doors, but they always remained open. It became an issue again when the local legislator pointed out the lack of adequate safety; the bank officials confirmed that adequate precautions were being taken for the safety of lockers and important documents.
Since its opening in 2011, UCO Bank’s Shingnapur branch reportedly has about 3,700 account holders. It is said that the bank officials do not keep cash in the branch and take it to a branch in the neighboring village, Sonai, every evening and bring back it the next morning.
Once a humble affair, the Lord Shani temple has now grown into a large trust with extensive property and donations that run into thousands of dollars. Yet, it does not have a door, much like the houses in the village, where door frames feature the entrance to houses.
Interestingly, women were not allowed to enter the temple and pray in the sanctum sanctorum till 2016. After months of efforts by women activists, the trust of the Shani Shingnapur temple in Maharashtra finally allowed women to enter the temple and pray in the sanctum sanctorum, putting an end to a 400-year-old custom.
Till the year 2010, Shingnapur had no major reports of thefts or pilfering, but things changed since then. In 2011, gold ornaments worth Rs 73,000 kept in an unlocked cupboard, were stolen from the house of a temple trustee, and other petty thefts were reported, according to a report in a daily.
This incident had shocked the villagers, and they heard it if a disaster happened to them. The theft occurred at the house of a former trustee of Lord Shani temple, and the house is located about 1.5 km from the shrine. The villagers argued that it happened in another village, not Shani Shingnapur as they feared that the incident would spoil the image as a crime-free village.
Even if theft cases happen in the village, it is a rare thing. Despite a few theft cases in the village between 2008 and 2011, they still hold tight their belief in Lord Shani and are reluctant to install doors and locks.
An officer at Shani Shingnapur police station, Rajeshwari Rathod, said that no crime was reported from the village after it was set up in 2015 September.
“Shani Shingnapur village is a crime-free village, and it is more or less a peaceful place. But crimes are reported from its neighboring villages,” she said.
In case any dispute arises in the village, the villagers solve it among themselves, and they will not allow it to reach the police station, said the police officer.
Rathod said that the 24-strong police station looks after the management of devotees at the temple and traffic besides law and order in other villages falling under its jurisdiction.
The economy of the village centers around the temple, which attracts thousands of devotees every day. So the villagers fear that any untoward incident in the village would not only tarnish its image but adversely affect the flow of devotees to the temple as well.