The village with no locks or doors

Imagine a village where homes have no front doors, shops
are always left unlocked and locals never feel unsafe.
This is the story of Shani Shingnapur in India’s Maharashtra
state, where villagers eschew security because of their
undying faith in Lord Shani, the god of Saturn, who is
considered the guardian of the village.
Legend has it that about 300 years ago, after a bout of rain
and flooding, a heavy black slab of rock was found washed
up on the shores of the Panasnala River, which once flowed
through the village. When locals touched the 1.5m boulder
with a stick, blood started oozing out of it.
Later that night, Shani appeared in the dreams of the village
head, revealing that the slab was his own idol. The deity
ordered that the slab should be kept in the village, where he
would reside from here on. But Shani had one condition: the
rock and its colossal powers must not be sheltered as he
needed to be able to oversee the village without hindrance.
Shani then blessed the leader and promised to protect the
village from danger.
After the villagers installed the huge slab on a roofless
platform in the heart of town, they decided to discard all
doors and locks. They didn’t need them anymore, not with
the Lord to watch over them.
This tradition has continued for generations. Locals
occasionally lean wooden panels against their front door
frames to keep stray dogs out – but they have no permanent
doors, and leave their jewellery and money unsecured,
firmly believing that their holy guardian will protect them
from any mishap. Even the public toilets in the village
square just have a thin curtain at the entrance for privacy.
New constructions have to honour these protocols, too. The
police station – which only opened in September 2015 and
has not yet received a single complaint from the villagers –
has no front door; while the United Commercial Bank
opened India’s first “lockless” branch in Shani Shingnapur in
2011, installing a glass entrance in the spirit of transparency
and a barely visible remote-controlled electromagnetic lock
in respect of the villagers’ beliefs.
Locals are so nonchalant that they don’t even ask their
neighbours to watch over their house while they are out of
town. They believe that thieves will immediately be
punished with blindness, and anyone dishonest will face
seven-and-a-half years of bad luck. In fact, local lore says
that when one villager installed wooden panes at the
entrance of his house, he had a car accident the very next
day.
Because of this strange history, Shani Shingnapur attracts
devotees from across India. At least 40,000 visitors pour in
each day to see the once-humble shrine that has grown into
a large temple with extensive property and donations.
Although Shani Shingnapur has officially remained free from
thefts for centuries, a 2010 visitor reported that cash and
valuables worth 35,000 rupees were stolen from his vehicle.
Another theft of gold ornaments worth 70,000 rupees was
reported in 2011. However the charges were dismissed as
the villagers insisted that they took place outside the village.
Sceptics argue that the low crime rate in the area is due to
the village’s remote location rather than the miraculous
powers of the lord.
Whatever the truth, times are changing and some villagers
are challenging this age-old custom, seeking permission
from the gram-panchayat (local self-government
organisation) to install doors and locks to ensure the safety
of their family.
But most villagers at Shani Shingnapur hope that the
tradition will continue – that Shani continues to protect them
from every evil eye for many centuries to come.

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