There’s a strange little town in India where none of the 300-odd buildings – homes, schools, and even banks – have doors. It’s called Shani Shingnapur.
It goes beyond doors, however. There’s no concept of locks there. Cash and valuable gold jewelry is no exception either. They are stored in unlocked containers.
Here’s where it gets weird. The public toilets don’t have doors either.
“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 a village shopkeeper Parmeshwar Mane.
The villagers see no problem with the no-door rule. As far as they’re concerned, 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.
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.
The villagers do not feel the need to have doors for security. 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.
This nonchalance for security may seem strange but for the villagers, it’s very normal. They give credit to their undying faith in the local deity Shani, the God of Saturn and they one in whose memory the town is named. 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 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.
“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.”
Does this mean Shani Shingnapur is free of theft? No.
In 2010, a visitor complained that cash and valuables worth $567 were stolen from his vehicle. But Bankar dismissed the incident, insisting that it took place outside the village.
In 2011, gold ornaments worth 70,000 rupees ($1,135) were stolen from an unlocked cupboard in the house of a temple trustee. Other 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.”