Holi celebrations were organised by Sulabh Foundation, which has been striving to bring back these widows to the mainstream
Hasna mera kaam, hasana mera kaam, hass ke dikha do, hass ke dikha do, hass ke dikha do ji!
(Laughing and making others laugh is my motto, laugh for me!)
These are the words echoing in rhythm as one enters the ancient Gopinath temple in Vrindavan town in Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh. A set of three young girls are singing similar melodies, mostly inspirational and high in spirit. The speakers allow their words to reach all the 1,500 widows sitting across the temple hall. They have gathered from various ashrams situated in the ‘city of widows’ to celebrate the festival of colours, of Holi. Aid group Sulabh International, has been organising the celebrations for them since 2013. And this year, for the first time, they chose a Krishna temple to mark the occasion.
Being a widowed woman in India bears with it certain stigmas that ostracise them from social gatherings. They give up colour, make-up, perfume and jewellery. Abandoned by their families, these destitute women have gathered in this city from all over the country. Known as ‘miras’ of Lord Krishna, they spend most of their time in ashram’s doing daily chores and singing hymns. But during this month of March, these women look forward to celebrating the festival that lasts a fortnight.
Fistfuls of powdered colours are repeatedly thrown into the air; blue, red and green, the cheerful colours settling into their white sarees, the symbolic attire of a widow. Women cover each other’s faces with colours while dancing to the beats of music played by Sulabh volunteers.
They enthusiastically talk to tourists and pose for cameras as many onlookers try to capture these beautiful moments. Bucketful of fresh rose and marigold petals are thrown from the first floor balconies on the crowd below that encompasses widows, volunteers, visitors and well-wishers. As one tries to make way to join the dancing circles, fresh piles of colours and flowers are thrown generously, making sure that no one is left with even an inch of their bodies without colour. As many of these women laugh and excitedly move around the hall, some of them choose to sit aside just looking at the scene in front of them. As they refrain themselves from colouring others and occasionally try to cover their faces from splashing colours, they seem to be content in seeing others, the smile on their faces never fading away. Outside the temple is a line of widows sitting on the side of the corridor. They are mostly old women trying to avoid injuring themselves in the crowded hall. But even as they sit away from all the merriment, they too seem to enjoy listening to the music and loud cheers of the crowd coming from inside. The celebrations that break away all their taboos and feelings of abandonment, last for almost three hours. Towards the end, as they all get up to dust the Holi colours off their bodies, and continue to the next room for lunch, followed by changing into fresh set of white sarees, these colourful days remain intact in their hearts, yearning for their next Holi.