Widows of Vrindavan and Holi: The Connection!

Widows of Vrindavan and Holi: The Connection!

Widows of Vrindavan and Holi: The Connection!

Image and article by Tania Chatterjee


Widows in Vrindavan!

After my husband’s death, my son and daughter-in-law abandoned me in Vrindavan”. Ever since, Mira Das (name changed to maintain privacy) never went back to her native place. For Mira and many widows like her, Vrindavan is there home. They spend their time in temples of Vrindavan, singing bhajans and kritans (songs dedicated to God). They have no worldly possessions. Most of the widows depend on prasad / bandaras (free food) from the temples for their meals. Observe closely and you would realize their plight till their last breath.


Research suggests cramped living conditions might be accelerating the spread of coronavirus. It is increasingly clear that your risk of severe illness and death increases with age. The novel coronavirus has been found to multiply the complications that aging brings to elderly people. The lives and living condition of the widows in Vrindavan is conducive for rapid spread of coronavirus. Moreover, their age and existing health conditions would pose a serious challenge. The present lockdown in the country and closure of temples must have disrupted the daily routines and meals of the widows in Vrindavan. I am sure that government and non-government organisations have taken adequate measures for the safety of the widows in Vrindavan. Looking forward to see their smiles in the Holi 2021.


The holy town of Vrindavan is home to thousands of widows who have either been cast away by their families or are just alone in the world. Most widows hail from poor families. Large number of widows in Vrindavan hails from the eastern states of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. Most of these widows stay in Charitable Ashrams (shelter homes) spread across Vrindavan. The city has many shelters (ashrams) for widows run by the government, private enterprises and NGOs. Ashrams have free common lodging and washroom facility; the shelters are often cramped. Very few ashrams have cooking arrangements but in most ashrams the inmates need to arrange their own food. Therefore, most of these widows depend on free food donations provided by the temples. Sizable numbers of widows are visible on the street begging for money or food. The ashrams operate through various donations and charities.



As per old Hindu tradition a widow should wear white sari after her husband’s death. It also symbolizing a colorless life for her. A widow is not supposed to put up make-up, and use accessories to look beautiful. She is supposed to renounce all worldly charm and devote herself to worship and prayers. Widows in India are subjected to vegetarian diet. Widows are often stigmatized as women who failed to protect her husband’s life; they are often prevented to attend any auspicious occasions. Widows are not supposed to play colorful festivals like Holi.


Vrindavan and Holi

HOLI is the festival of colors, love and enjoyment. Rich Indian mythological stories are associated with Holi festival. Holi in Braj (Vrindavan) is historical and one of the most famous festivals in India. Braj is a historical region which covers the area Mathura, Vrindavan and some nearby areas. Mathura is the birth-place of Lord Krishna, and Vrindavan is the place where he grew up in his childhood. Braj is the historical place where Lord Krishna performed Raslila. Raslila is known as the dance of divine love. It is a depiction of the romance between Lord Krishna and Radha.


There is a mythological story behind Holi. When Lord Krishna was young he complained his mother that he has a dark complexion whereas Radha is fair. Mother advised Lord Krishna to apply color on Radha and her friends so that there would be no difference in complexion after that. Lord Krishna and his friends did the same and this began the famous festival of colors “Holi”.

Holi and Widows of Vrindavan

Sulabh International is a non-government organisation working towards empowerment and mainstreaming of widows in Vrindavan. As a part of this initiative, Sulabh International organises a special Holi for the widows at Gopinath Temple in Vrindavan. The Holi is organised to increase social acceptance and respect to the widows in Vrindavan. It is also an effort to bring a day of happiness and fun for the widows in Vrindavan.

On this especial day of widow Holi, hundreds of widows gather to play Holi at Gopinath temple complex. They play Holi with each other with gulal (coloured powder) and flower petals. Widows’ dance, throw flower petals and colours on each other, meanwhile they all sing and play bhajans (devotional songs) of Lord Krishna. It is a remarkable experience to observe the widows dancing, laughing and enjoying the moment. It is like a day of colour in the monochrome life. During Holi the monotonous white dresses of widows turns red/pink; it symbolises a moment of respite in their challenging lives.

Photographing Widow Holi!

It is a great opportunity to witness and document the Widow Holi. Photographing Widow Holi is not about taking pictures of an event; it is an opportunity to document the moments of happiness within a person’s prolong hardship and challenges. It’s an absolute satisfaction to photograph the widows in their joyous mood. The event provides unlimited scope to capture candid moments of emotions. Any wide angle lens (16-35mm), along with a portrait lens (e.g. 50mm OR 85mm) is recommended for the event.

Over the years the widow Holi is becoming a popular photographic event. Every year the numbers of photographers are increasing. There is always a rush to take great pictures within the limited space but it is also significant to pay due respect to the widows. The widows are too meek to protest and might agree to your demands but deep within she might be hurt. It is important to keep in mind that your act should not hurt her dignity.

NOTE : In year 2019 due demise of Goa’s Chief Minister and 2020 due to Covid 19 pandemic precaution; therefore at short notice the widow holi event was cancelled. 


If you are interested, to join my Holi Photography Tour 2021, visit FOTORBIT WORKSHOPS for updates.

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1 Comment

  • Saumitra Banerjee on April 14, 2020 10:30 pmReply

    White plays a perfect background for the colours. This is very ironical in the Widow Holi of Vrindavan. Thin line of happiness appears in the face of the Widows which is the perfect moment to be captured more by the heart of the photographer than by the camera. Best emotions are caught when your heart and fingers synchronize properly. Tania’s write up and photographs clearly indicates that she has involve herself emotionally in the life of the Widows of Vrindavan and so she could capture the right moments. The use of fast and slow shutter speed could get the best of the still and the flow of the colourful and emotional moments. The eyes of the Widows tell the whole story.

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