The festival of colours painted the otherwise grief-stricken lives of over a thousand widows of Vrindavan and Varanasi into hues of red, pink and yellow as they broke a centuries old tradition and played Holi.
In a country where widows have always been subjected to acute hardships – from the times when sati-pratha was practiced to the times when they’re still supposed to perpetually don white garments, this departure from age-old customs is a sign of an evolving society. The precincts of the ancient Gopinath temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna, in the holy city of Vrindavan, reverberated with tears of joy of these widows, young and old, as they courageously broke the tradition of abstaining from religious festivities. Amidst the blowing of conch shells, they smeared colour on each other’s faces and took a temporary break from the irreversible pain that their lives are subjected to.
This Holi celebration, organized by Sulabh International, a social service organization, saw the participation from a number of Sanskrit students and scholars, denoting the social acceptance of widows. Although Sulabh has been organizing Holi for them in their ashram for three years, this year was marked special because of the location change -a famous temple.
Many of the widows lost their husbands as teenagers, and have been living a pitiful life shunned away by their families and the society for decades. There is no measure for their level of happiness, as they let go of their agony for the day and rejoiced in the 1200 kilograms of gulal and 1500 kilograms of rose and marigold petals and danced to the liberating tunes of braj holi songs.
This brings us to mind Neil Armstrong’s “A small step for Man. Giant leap for Mankind.” quote. Playing holi is ordinary for us – even mundane; But for the widows of Vridavan, this one small step is ushering in a change of epic proportions, and we’re amazed that we get to be a part of it.