Vrindavan, a small town in the Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh, is home to thousands of widows who strive hard to pave their own way and sustain against all odds. Many of them travel hundreds of miles to reach here to live a secluded and peaceful life. Whereas some reach here after being disowned by their families, the rest simply go to get rid of their loneliness.
Usually elderly women, these widows here can be seen dressed in white sarees. They are considered inauspicious for festive occasions by society. To make ends meet, most of these women resort to seeking alms from people and live with the hope of finding solace in their ‘Thakurji’ or Lord Krishna. While India is moving ahead economically, Vrindavan is one place where traditions and customs seem to have frozen in time. Widows spend their lives here in order to attain salvation and meet their Lord in the afterlife.
Being deserted by their family, these helpless women consider themselves ‘servants of God’, for they think that the almighty alone can share their agony and ecstasy.
India is a crisscross of pilgrimage sites and godly destinations. But Vridnavan, which is situated on the banks of the Yamuna, is special since it is associated with Lord Krishna.
According to the Indian epics, Mathura is the birth place of Lord Krishna, and Vrindavan is the place where he grew up and spent most of his childhood. People of the land, till today, recall tales the mysticism and divinity associated with Lord Krishna.
There are several legends associated with the festival of colours – Holi. And one of them is linked to Lord Krishna. It is believed that the festival originated from the ‘leela’ of Radha, Krishna and his troupe of ‘gopis’.
Mathura and Vrindavan usually begin celebrating Holi days before the rest of the country does. The different temples in this area celebrate Holi on different days. The celebrations at the Banke Bihari Mandir in Vrindavan or the Gulalkund Temple in Braj are all fascinating to watch as they drown themselves in the Holi festivities.
This explains the enigma of Mathura and Vrindavan, where one can still feel the divine presence of the Lord. This is the reason Holi is celebrated with great zeal here.
Cut to the Vrindavan widows’ life. For the first time in the town`s history, hundreds of widows who were earlier never allowed to play Holi, celebrated the festival on March 24, 2013 with flowers in ashrams of Vrindavan during the four-day celebration.
Centuries-old social barriers came crashing down here when scores of Vrindavan widows took part in Holi celebrations (by sprinkling colourful flower petals at each other) along with social activists.
They also shared food with some of the outsiders and foreigners, which is also an unusual practice for widows here.
Non-governmental organisations like ‘Sulabh International’ and ‘Maitri’ have been instrumental in providing food and shelter for some of these widows over the years.
Founder of Sulabh International Bindeshwar Pathak said, “In an effort to bring widows to mainstream and help their social assimilation, we have organised several events to encourage them participate in Holi celebrations at Vrindavan.”
He added, “As widows do not play Holi traditionally in Vrindavan, the event may need some amount of attitudinal change in the mindset of the society.”
Whereas Shravan Kumar Singh of Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, who came from Agra to join the ‘cultural revolution’, said, “This was no routine Holi celebration, it had a purpose. I appreciated the effort to draw these women into the mainstream."
Recently, Sulabh International had also launched a programme to provide medical facilities, job training and a monthly allowance of Rs 2,000 to every registered widow.
“This initiative, at the suggestion of the Supreme Court, has fundamentally changed the lives and mindsets of the inmates of the shelter homes,” said social activist Padmini Iyer.
Widows in India no longer throw themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands. But life still is no less difficult for them. Most prefer to seek refuge in Krishna’s land to escape the atrocities society doles out to them.
However, it is quite difficult to explain why this particular town attracts widows from across the country. After this Holi, widows too can live lives of their choices, maybe. The step to let widows take part in the Holi festivities this year has certainly given a new lease of life to them. Here’s hoping that their lives too are filled with colours and they feel joyous and blissful. After all, happiness is meant for everyone, isn’t it?