06/03/2015 8:11 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Photoblog: The Widows of Vrindavan And Varanasi Reclaim Holi

The temple town of Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh witnesses widows breaking away from centuries-old shackles over three days of Holi revelry, in which colours, flowers, dance and music are an affirmation of life.

Sameer Mushtaq

As the festival of Holi approaches, families in North India start their preparations for their most awaited celebration of colours and love. For a few members of society, though, this day is usually just like any other. Traditionally, widows in North India are expected to relinquish all joy and pleasure. They are banned from participating in the colourful revelry of festivals. Despite reforms, things haven't changed much for the widows of Vrindavan.

"We are considered worse than animals, just because we lost our husbands," says Malatidevi, an 88-year-old widow. Her husband died when she was 24 and she has not celebrated Holi for more than 60 years.

"It is a social stigma more than anything else," says Vinita Varma, VP, Sulabh Hope International, an NGO that has been striving to improve the lives of widows from Vrindavan and Varanasi by organising events around festivals. Shunned by their families and sidelined by society, some widows will finally reclaim their right to add colour to their lives.

More than 1000 widows are participating in the three-day celebrations at Pagal Baba Widow Ashram in Vrindavan, revelling in the over 1,400 kg of flower petals and 1,000 kg contributed by the NGO.

"Life is tough in the widow ashram. I lost my husband eight years ago. We are expected to give up on all earthly desires and just wait for death. However this celebration is giving me hope," said 49-year-old Lakshmi Sharma from Varanasi. Her sentiments were shared by 70-year-old ashram resident Sheena Das, who lost her husband when she was 42. "I am the happiest when I see colours and I want to keep celebrating this wonderful festival as long as I am alive," she added.