By: Aarti Dhar
The world may not have changed in the past five years for thousands of widows who have made Vrindavan their home, but one thing certainly has – they are now accepted as part of the neighborhood they live in. No more shunned and no more apologetic about themselves. Three years ago when these women were asked to participate in the Holi celebrations, almost all of them had said `no’. The following year, some came forward to celebrate the festival of colors with flowers. However, this year was different. Amid blowing of conch shells and sprinkling of color, hundreds of widows from Vrindavan and Varanasi played Holi – first time inside any temple in Vrindavan in a marked departure from age old tradition.
It was for the first time that celebration was organized inside the ancient Gopinath Temple of Lord Krishna marking their further social assimilation. This time a number of Sanskrit students and Pandits also took part in the Holi celebration with ostracized widows living in the temple town for several decades, said Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International who waged campaign against widowhood in the country. In the light of Supreme Court’s observation, Sulabh started taking care of around 1500 widows in Vrindavan and Varanasi since 2012. In an effort to bring them into the main stream of the society, Sulabh stated organizing Holi for them about three years ago in widow ashrams. But, in an attempt to make it open to the society, this time Holi for them was organized at a famous temple to give a kind of social acceptance. Holi was celebrated in the presence of Hindu Pandits and Sanskrit scholars.
“It is an effort to break the age old tradition prevalent in Hindu society where widows were not allowed to play with colors,” said Dr Pathak adding that much had changed over the years and these women now wanted to live life to the fullest. Last year it was a riot of colours when around thousand widows living as recluse in ashrams in Vrindavan and Varanasi celebrated a special four-day Holi in Vrindavan. This time at least 1200 kg ‘gulal’ (coloured powder) and 1500 kilograms of rose and merrygold petals were arranged for the event.”I have never celebrated such grand Holi ever in my life.” Savita Mandal told Theindiasaga.com. The widows who wear only white sarees wished to splash colors on each other to celebrate the festival, breaking away from years of social stigma attached to women who have lost their husbands.
In many parts of India, widows are not permitted to play Holi or participate in any other festival and auspicious function. Vrindavan is known as the ‘City of Widows’ for the sheer number of women who find shelter there after being shunned by their families. Most of them hail from West Bengal. Sulabh has taken up their cause on humanitarian grounds and made various arrangements for their health care, food and other necessities. Adopting hundreds of widows of Varanasi, Sulabh International has launched a campaign against “widowhood” in the country. On the encouragement by the Supreme Court through the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) Sulabh took up the programme for improving the living conditions of the widows of Vrindavan. The programme has now been going on for more than 9 months and as of today we are giving Rs. 2000/- per month per widow for their food.
Further, adequate arrangements have been made to give them education in three languages – Hindi, Bengali and English – for which teachers have been appointed. They are also being provided vocational education for making garlands, preparing incense sticks, doing sewing and embroidery.