In a world creaking under the shaky foundations of belief system, there is little that survives the calendar’s expiry date. So it’s always heartening to be part of an enduring tradition. Anyone who’s been to the temple town of Shirdi in Maharashtra knows that no visit to this hamlet of hope is complete without a trip to Shani Singhnapur—72 kms away. Nesting indolently amid lush carpets of sugar cane and wheat, is this village, whose only claim to fame is a temple, dedicated to Lord Shani. The temple houses a black slab (5 ft by 2 ft ) that ostensibly represents the dreaded Hindu deity Lord Shani. It is placed on a pedestal in the open and is supposed to be a meteorite fallen from grace from the planet Saturn.
Faith fiends throng in their thousands and pour mustard oil on the black slab to appease the lord that oversees the "dungeons of the human heart and the dangers that lurk therein." However, what’s really amazing about this place is the attitude of the locals living in the area. No one believes in locking houses, offices or even shops! And, believe it or not there are no robberies either. And the logic, the consensus responded to, was that in Shani’s land, there can be no thieves and thus a no-holes-barred living.
As we were driving away from this wondrous place, we stopped near a big shed where there were stockpiles of thousands of LPG cylinders. It was stranger still to note that there was no one around to supervise or soldier. We waited near the shed for almost three quarters of an hour before a man finally showed up on a bicycle. He was the owner of the gas agency. Judging by the look of surprise, he told us that if anyone should require a cylinder in his absence, all they needed to do was to merely take a cylinder, keep the empty one in its place and lay the money down on a rickety table and go away. “We reside in Shani Maharaj’s land”, he proudly proclaimed; we are all safe.
Yes, truth is stranger than fiction. Where corruption converses with every aspect of life in India, there still exists a sleepy little village that rests solidly on its beliefs, unshaken by time or its vagaries.