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Let Vrindavan open up your soul

Hundreds of widows marked the spring festival of colours in Vrindavan, a holy town that is considered a magnet for bereaved women.

These women have been celebrating Holi for some years now. In the hinterland,widows are not encouraged to celebrate Holi or not encouraged to participate in any religious festivals. But it is changing in the cities and also in Vrindavan, where pious pilgrims arrive to do the temple circuit and purify souls.

The widows say they are extremely happy that they are no longer considered the harbingers of bad luck, they thank Lord Krishna, the town’s reigning deity, for this unique change.

Legend has it that Krishna, the god of love and compassion, spent his childhood in Vrindavan.

Once, elderly widows came to this holy town only to Elderly widows come to this square to die in the sun. When they walked, they looked like they were moving white bundles of clothes.

Shunned by their relatives and left to fend for themselves, elderly and middle-aged widows have been coming here for centuries. Some were children. They sang bhajans for a gruelling six hours every day and lived off alms and charity.

Vrindavan photo - 1

They wore only white, shaved heads. Not any more. Despite unimaginable hardship, there is something extremely elegant about these women who persevere and devote themselves to living a truly spiritual life. They felt no bitterness. Like Hindus who visit Varanasi and Mount Kailash to perish and attain salvation, these widows died in Vrindavan.

But now, these widows are coming out of their homes to celebrate a festival as colourful as Holi, they light earthen lamps to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights.

Some are returning home following calls from their grandchildren, seeking to revive the intimacy with grandparents that once existed in Indian families.

Vrindavan photo

The push is from the grandchildren, even great-grandchildren, who strongly feel that grandparents, especially grandmothers, are the best bridges back to old lands, languages, and cultures.

Once, the courtyard of the popular Banke Bihari temple used to be awash with widows in white. Not anymore. Pilgrims are no longer encouraged to visit the ashrams to give alms to the widows for spiritual brownie points.
Indian families are realising that grandparents form deep bonds with grandkids and look after their wellbeing. It works both ways. The children also have a positive impact on the lives and physical health of their elderly relatives.

The widows of Vrindavan are a much happier lot today.