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Shani Shingnapur – India’s Village without Doors

Believe it or not, there’s a village in India where none of the 300-odd buildings – homes, educational institutions, and even banks – have doors. Cash is stored in unlocked containers, as are valuable pieces of gold jewellery.

Even most of the public toilets in Shani Shingnapur village square have no doors. “For reasons of privacy and following requests by women, we recently agreed to put a thin curtain near the entrance, but not doors because that would go against our belief,” said village shopkeeper Parmeshwar Mane.

Some villagers do put up loose door panels against their door frames, but this is done only at night, to keep out wild animals and stray dogs. The only problem with the lack of doors is that there’s nothing to knock on to announce your arrival. But the villagers have a solution for this, too. “Just shout out and somebody will come to the door,’’ one of the villagers, Rani, explained.

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The residents of Shani Shingnapur village in the state of Maharashtra do not feel the need for security measures because of their undying faith in the local deity Shani, the God of Saturn. Legend has it that centuries ago, an iron and stone slab washed up on to the shore of a nearby river during a flood. When cattle herders poked the curious slab with a stick, it began oozing blood.

Later that night, Shani appeared in the dream of a the village head and revealed that the slab was his own idol. He told the villager that the idol was so powerful that it did not need to be placed under shelter. He also said that the villagers never needed to install doors again, because he would always protect them from any kind of danger.

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“The power of Shani is such that if someone steals, he will keep walking all night and think he has left the village, but when the sun comes up he will still be there,” explained mill worker Balasaheb Borude. It is also believed that anyone who commits sins in the village will have to face ‘Sade Saati’, which means seven-and-a-half years of bad luck. To this day, the five-foot naked slab continues to be worshipped at the local shrine, where it is placed out in the open.

A pamphlet handed out at the shrine claims that Shani Shingnapur is a ‘model village’, not only free from theft but also from all kinds of sinful behavior. “Professional robbers, thieves, dacoits, non-vegetarians, drunkards never come here,” the leaflet states. “If they come, they behave like gentlemen.”

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For those who are new to the village, adjusting to its strange customs can be daunting at first. Like Rupali Shah, who was amazed when she was first told about her fiance’s doorless home. “A couple of years back when I was told I would have to live in Shani Shingnapur after marriage, I was very nervous,” she said. “I’d never ever lived in a house without doors. When I finally came here and my in-laws and husband told me not to keep any valuables under lock and key, I was alarmed. Now, of course, I do not have any issues and leave the house open when visiting neighbourhood friends,” she said.

Shani Shingnapur is home to about 5,000 residents. Its unique door-less practice rose to prominence in India in the 1990s, when the village was featured in a devotional film. “The whole world got to know that there is a place called Shani Shingnapur, where houses have no doors, there are trees but no shadows, there are gods but no temples,” said Sayaram Bankar, a trustee at the shrine.

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“Devotees from across the state and across India started pouring in to see this unusual village.” It is true that until 15 years ago, the villagers mainly relied on sugar cane farming as their main source of income. But now tourism is their primary source of income, with at least 40,000 visitors pouring in each day.

Although Shani Shingnapur has remained free from thefts for centuries, the village’s reputation has been somewhat dented by a few recent robberies. In 2010, a visitor complained that cash and valuables worth 35,000 rupees ($567) were stolen from his vehicle. But Bankar dismissed the incident, insisting that it took place outside the village.

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In 2011, gold ornaments worth 70,000 rupees ($1,135) were stolen from an unlocked cupboard in the house of a temple trustee. Other petty thefts have been reported in recent years. “Though there hasn’t been a significant rise in the number in the last couple of years, there have been incidents of vehicle thefts, pickpocketing and snatching from areas around the temple,” said Anil Behrani, a local police officer.

Some villagers are now choosing to ignore the legend and are having doors installed. “I go to the temple regularly,” said Ajay, a 30-year-old farmer. “But I also want to take precautions to ensure my family is safe. I know I am going to face a lot of resistance from the villagers, but I don’t want to take chances.”

 

It appears that installing a door is considered blasphemous behavior in Shani Shingnapur. For this reason, the local state-owned UCO Bank only has a glass front door without a conventional lock. Instead, it has a remote controlled electromagnetic lock. And the money is held in strongrooms within the premises. “We cannot blatantly break the traditions here, but we cannot compromise on security either,” a bank manager revealed.

Skeptics argue that the low crime rate in the area isn’t due to the miraculous powers of the deity, but because of the remote location of the village. “When you have a place in the middle of nowhere, where no one goes and you have a legend like that, then people will go there,” said leading rationalist Narendra Nayak. “It is just a brand-building exercise of the villagers because it is bringing in huge amounts of money by way of tourism.”

 

According to a senior police official, “the economy of the village revolves around the temple, so the no-theft claim is important for continuing its popularity. Many thefts go unreported because of the pressure from villagers. We try not to interfere as long as these beliefs do not lead to any security issue.”

But despite the arguments of debunkers and non-believers, most villagers continue to live with the hope that their tradition will continue for a long time ahead. “This is something special about this god,” said hotel manager Amit Sharma. “He is the guardian of this place.”

Sources: Times of India, Indian Express, Friday Magazine