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Photoblog: Shedding A Dark Tradition On Holi

The widows of Vrindavan celebrate the festival with youthful abandon.

11/03/2017 10:27 AM IST | Updated 13/03/2017 2:54 PM IST

It's probably the most cheerful festival of all, associated with fun, frolic and a lightness of being. People shower bright colours on each other, symbolizing blessings of peace and tranquility.

This Thursday, the festival took on a particularly meaningful hue in the narrow lanes of Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, with thousands of widows gathering to smear colour on each other. These widows have been abandoned by their families and have travelled from various parts of the country to stay in this holy land where Lord Krishna spent his childhood, and where his blessings are believed to linger.

While, traditionally, enjoyment of any type is proscribed for widows, extending to wearing coloured clothes or playing Holi, these archaic rules have been broken in Vrindavan for some years now, with special festive celebrations planned for widows every year.

Holi festivities start almost a week early in Vrindavan, with widows congregating at the Gopi Nath Temple to pray and play. The celebration starts with what is known as "phoolon wali Holi" (Holi with flowers) and is followed by the singing of bhajans and dancing... the widows moved in a devotional fervour, dancing like the Gopis of Lord Krishna.

After the flower Holi the air was filled with the gulal, coloured powered in different colours and in moments not only the widows but all the others present were consumed by the heady spirit of the festival. More than 1500 kilograms of gulal and flower petals were arranged for the huge celebration.

The initiative was taken by the well-known social reformer and mentor of the Sulabh Movement Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, who has been taking keen interest in the welfare of widows and all-round development

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A shower of flowers kicks off the Holi celebrations at Gopi Nath Temple in Vrindavan.

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The widows play with abandon, not stinting on their gulal.

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Almost every surface in the vicinity is saturated with colours and flower petals.

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The widows dance freely, almost as if in a trance.

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On this day at least, they enjoy a rose-tinted view of the world.

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Saffron powder, with its blazing intensity, is a popular choice.

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A tourist joins in the fun, and shows a widow the view through the lens of his camera.

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A moment of pause and reflection amid the colourful chaos.

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Happiness in their hands.

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Leaving a colourful mark.

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The drab saris the widows are bound by tradition to wear are unapologetically bright today.

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There's palpable joy and excitement in the air.

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A young girl twirls and dances.

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Widows, who were once forbidden to participate, rest covered in coloured powder.

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They have each other to dance with, even if no one else.

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