Around 400 women activists, who tried to head for Shani Shinganapur temple in Ahmednagar district defying prohibitory orders to worship the deity, were released by police on Tuesday after detaining them for a few hours.
Ahmednagar police stopped the activists of 'Ranaragini Bhoomata Brigade' protesting against the alleged gender bias by the temple authorities, led by Trupti Desai, at Supa, about 70 km from the temple premises, foiling their bid to offer worship at the sacred platform, traditionally barred for women.
The activists have got support from various quarters, including activists and rights groups from across the country.
Maintaining that women have right to pray, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Tuesday favoured a dialogue between authorities of Shani Shingnapur temple and activists to find a way out over the ban on entry of female devotees into the inner sanctum of the shrine.
He urged the temple authorities to hold a dialogue with campaigners.
"Indian culture and Hindu religion gives women have the right to pray. A change in yesterday's traditions is our culture. Discrimination in praying is not in our culture. The temple authorities should resolve the issue through a dialogue," tweeted Fadnavis, who also holds the Home portfolio.
Minister of State for Home Ram Shinde said the government will facilitate talks between the temple authorities and women activists to arrive at an amicable solution.
"If there is a dispute between activists and temple authorities over allowing women access to the (Shani Shingnapur) temple, the state government will act as facilitator for talks between them so that the issue can be resolved amicably," Shinde told PTI.
"The activists (members of Bhumata Brigade) were detained as they had violated the law. CrPC Section 144 had been imposed by police (banning Assembly of people) which they did not adhere to.
"As far as their religious views are concerned, it is the government's duty to ensure that the issue is resolved," he said.
Spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also backed the campaign and said the movement is justified as there is no scriptural sanction for discriminating against female devotees.
"Women are justified (in seeking to enter the sacred sanctum of the temple) as there was no sanction to gender discrimination in our scriptures.
"If men can enter, women too can...different temples follow different rules, but if men can enter a place, (of worship) women can also do so. There is no scriptural sanction for any gender discrimination," he said.
"Many people are not even aware of such a thing so we need to educate our people that women and men have equal rights. A few years back women were not allowed to chant 'Gayatri mantra' but today women are learning Vedas (scriptures) and becoming priests in Pune," Sri Sri said.
"Awareness (on gender equality) has to be created, scriptures have to be understood properly. It is the work of religious and spiritual leaders to make people understand.
Though they may be following some traditions, it has no scriptural injunction," he said.
"In some ways this is good that people are taking a stand, in another way we need to bridge the gap. It should not become just an ego issue and people hold on to their stands."
The founder of Art of Living, an educational and humanitarian movement, said religious leaders should intervene in such issues.
"This can be resolved without much friction if the religious people take a pro-active role... I am with them (the women). They want to claim their right to worship.
"The other side is, they fear if they do something which has not been done for centuries, may be some bad thing will happen. This sort of psychological fear or concern needs to be addressed.
"Shani bhagwan won't be angry at you for allowing women. Shani bhagwan will be very happy for women coming inside and offering prayers," said the popular religious guru, who has been this year chosen for Padma Vibhushan, the country's second highest civilian award.