In most of India, widows like Samaddar have no place in this joyful celebration of Holi, the Hindu festival of colours.
In most of India, widows like Samaddar have no place in this joyful celebration of Holi, the Hindu festival of colours. The country’s millions of observant Hindu widows are expected to live out their days in quiet worship, dressed only in white. They are typically barred from all religious festivities because their very presence is considered inauspicious.
So for Samaddar, Monday’s celebration was a joy long denied.
“I am so happy. I am playing Holi after 12 years. I am happy, very happy,” said Samaddar, who appeared to be in her early 30s. The powder made her white sari and those of the widows around her shimmer in myriad colours.
So deep is the ostracisation of widows that they’re often shunned by their families and forced to seek shelter in temples.
Vrindavan city, in Uttar Pradesh state, is known as the City of Widows because it has given so many women shelter. And in recent years, widows have found a bit of colours and joy here as well.
Aid group Sulabh International has been organising regular Holi celebrations in Vrindavan since 2013. Samaddar and more than 1,000 other widows gathered in the courtyard of one of the city’s oldest temples – devoted to Hindu deity Krishna. The festival of Holi falls on Thursday this year, but in Vrindavan and many other parts of the country, the playing of colours begins a week ahead.
Hindu priests chanted religious verses as hundreds of widows splashed coloured powders and played with water pistols filled with colored water. Showers of flower petals filled the air.
“Their participation in Holi symbolises a break from tradition, which forbids a widow from wearing a colored sari, among many other things,” said Bindeshwar Pathak, the head of Sulabh International.
Sulabh was asked to oversee the lives of widows of the city by India’s Supreme Court following news reports of the widows being forced to beg for food and into prostitution. While there are tens of thousands of widows in Vrindavan, the group has been appointed caretaker for about 1,500.
The organisation looks after their basic needs and gives them a monthly stipend of Rs2,000 ($30) to buy essentials. They are taught to make incense sticks and garlands to ensure that they can earn a small amount of money on their own.