Breaking taboos: First Holi ever for Indian widows

Breaking away from the societal pressures, thousands of Indian widows take part in playing Holi – a Hindu festival of colours – in the northern city of Vrindavan.

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Having been bereft of their families and living life normally after the death of their husbands, any chance of indulging in festivities is enough to uplift their spirits.

According to Hindu mythology, Vrindavan – a historic town in the Mathura district of northern Uttar Pradesh state – is a place where Hindu Lord Krishna grew up.

Today the city, some 150 kilometres from capital New Delhi, is known as the ‘abode of widows’ that shelters widows, mostly destitute, from across India after relatives and friends reject them.

In orthodox India, widows dress in white most of the time; forever grieving the loss of their husbands. They are not allowed to play with colours and partake in any function after their husbands’ death.

Organisers told Media that it was a “herculean task” to get these widows to play Holi in Vrindavan.

“It’s very difficult to protest against the social order. Usually widows are not allowed to enjoy the arrival of spring and play Holi. This is war and we’re fighting our enemy – Bad tradition,” Bindeshwar Pathak, advisor of Sulabh Movement told NNP.

To Bindeshwari Devi, 92, whose husband died 25 years ago, her dream of playing with the colours has come true.

“It’s my first Holi after my husband’s death. It’s like a dream come true. None of my relatives are here. They have abandoned me. But I will remember this day. Not only I played Holi but I was also photographed for the first time in my life,” she told NNP.

And Urmila Tiwari, 65, doesn’t want to return to her family in eastern West Bengal state who abandoned here immediately after her husband’s death in 1990.

“At home widows have borders. But here (at widow shelters) there is no barrier to happiness. If I would ever go back to my home, I will feel like a guest there.”

She said playing Holi against the harsh customs is a “new revolution.”

“The change has come. And that is how a change must be celebrated,” she told NNP.

India is celebrating Holi on March 6.