Vrindavan (Uttar Pradesh): Centuries-old social barriers came crashing down here when scores of Vrindavan widows took part in Holi celebrations with social activists on Sunday.
"Cutting the umbilical cord from the past is no easy task, and you can`t do that without raising eyebrows," said social commentator Paras Nath Choudhary.
"It is reflection of changing times that instead of opposition, people came forward to support the social reform movement," he said.
At the five widows` homes in Vrindavan, the ambience was infectious, the fervour and an air of victory was felt by all Holi revellers.
"This was no routine Holi celebration, it had a purpose, The effort to draw these women into the mainstream was widely appreciated," said Shravan Kumar Singh of Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society who came from Agra to join the "cultural revolution".
Said social activist Padmini Iyer: "This is a clear departure from tradition. Who would have thought till a few years ago that hundreds of widows would be able to sprinkle colourful flowers and petals on one another to play Holi?"
Sulabh International recently 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, Iyer said.
The Holi celebrations shall continue for four days. More than 800 widows will be part of the new initiative.
"In an effort to help widows in their social assimilation, we have organised several events," Sulabh International founder Bindeshwar Pathak told a news agency.
"The Vrindavan Holi is an effort to free the widows from the shackles of age-old tradition. Not only will the widows play Holi, they will also participate in cultural programmes," said Pathak.
The widows also shared food with some of the outsiders and foreigners.
This too is an unusual practice for widows.
Right from the morning, the 100-year-old Meera Sahbhagini Ashram, an abode for 350 odd widows, began to throb with life. The ashram is one the five government-run centres for widows.
Among the widows are many who lost their husbands at a tender age of 16 or 17 and have since lived an obscure life, abandoned by their families and awaiting `moksha` -- as the feeling goes -- by serving the Lord.