A group of women activists were prevented from entering a temple in western India despite court orders that there could be no gender discrimination at Hindu religious places of worship.

The high court in Mumbai had on Friday ruled that women had a fundamental right to enter and pray inside temples across Maharashtra state. It ordered the state government to ensure that the women were not prevented from entering temples.

Calling it a victory for their campaign, 25 activists from the Bhumata Ranragini (Women Warriors of Mother Earth) Brigade attempted on Saturday to enter the Shani Shingnapur temple, which has been traditionally only open to men.

But they were stopped by angry villagers from offering prayers in the temple's inner sanctum.

"The ruling should have been implemented by the administration. We will file a police complaint against the chief minister and the home minister," Bhumata Ranragini Brigade chief Trupti Desai told reporters.

'Age-old tradition'

Police teams later whisked off the activists to a safe location as irate villagers threatened to attack anyone who entered the shrine.

The Shingnapur temple, located 300 kilometres east of Mumbai, is dedicated to the celibate form of the male god Shani who personifies the planet Saturn in Hindu mythology.

Bhumata activists had attempted to storm into the temple earlier in January but were stopped by police, some 90km away.

The court later heard a petition challenging such bans in certain temples in Maharashtra, enforced by caretakers who say they are part of traditions that go back centuries.

"Our age-old tradition cannot be violated. Our village has decided that women cannot be allowed into the inner sanctum," a villager told news channels.

The state authorities had earlier assured the court that they would follow orders. Under a 1956 state law, anyone preventing women from entering temples could be imprisoned for six months.

Source: Agencies