Centuries old social barriers came crashing down when the splash of colours of different hues made a riotous comeback in the otherwise dull, drab and colourless lives of hundreds of widows of Vrindavan, the city of Lord Krishna, two days before Holi.
It indeed was a Holi with a difference for the widows, who broke free from the age-old tradition and sprinkled “gulal” (coloured powder) and flower petals on each other to play Holi among themselves and with others.
Though earlier also the widows used to play Holi but only with the “thakurji” (Lord Krishna) and not with each other. Around 800 widows will participate in the festivities in these ashrams of Vrindavan during the four-day celebrations that began on Sunday.
The event has been organized by the Sulabh International, a voluntary organization engaged in sanitation field and rehabilitation of the Vrindavan widows. “It is an attempt to bring widows to mainstream and help in their social assimilation,” founder of the NGO Bindeshwar Pathak said.
“The widows of the holy town feel that such celebrations would prove to be a big step towards ending the social prejudice against them,” he said, adding that as widows do not play Holi traditionally in Vrindavan, the event this year may need some amount of attitudinal change in the mindset of the society. Though age-old social tradition bars widows from playing with colours, this year they broke the shackles of the past and sprinkled gulal on each other.
As part of Holi celebrations, traditional “Raas-Leela” dance and other programmes have been organised at the Ashrams. Right from the morning, the 100-year-old Meera Sahbhagini Ashram, an abode for 300 widows, began to throb with life. The ashram is one of the five government-run centres for widows.
Sulabh has been working for the empowerment of these widows. In August 2012, the Supreme Court directed the UP government to ensure at least proper cremation and last rites for widows in Vrindavan.
The apex court had suggested that the NGO could be contacted to extend help. Since then the NGO is taking care of widows by providing them healthcare facilities and even monthly allowance of Rs 2,000.
“The Vrindavan Holi is an effort to free the widows from the shackles of age-old tradition. Not only will the widows play Holi, but they will also participate in the cultural programmes,” said Pathak.
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 by serving the Lord.