India’s shunned widows spray colour to celebrate Holi spring festival
12 Mar 2017 - 21:23
NEW DELHI: Widows in India’s northern town of Vrindavan smashed social taboos by spraying each other with brilliant powdered colours to celebrate Holi, a Hindu festival that ushers in spring.
Tradition bars Indian widows from celebrations as their presence is considered ominous. Although fast dying out, the custom still persists in some places.
Such women are ostracized and, irrespective of age, obliged to wear drab clothes, often white to signify mourning, and avoid jewellery or adornment.
But a hermitage in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh is working to change public attitudes toward widows during Holi, which falls on Monday this year.
Widows smeared each other with colour, danced and sang during Thursday’s celebration at the hermitage run by a non-profit group, Sulabh International.
“I have not played Holi like this in the last 30 years,” said one participant, Gaurbani Sheel. “This has changed my mood, despite being a widow.”
Holi, one of the most popular festivals in the Hindu calendar, can last nearly 10 days in some parts of the state, although it is more often limited to a day elsewhere.
Besides throwing colour, people eat quantities of a traditional sweet dumpling called ‘gujiya’.
In the nearby ancient holy city of Varanasi, devotees and “sadhus”, or holy men, daubed each other with ashes from funeral pyres at the Manikarnika Ghat, where Hindus cremate their dead on the Ganges river.
Devotees sounded pellet drums and danced amid the pyres during the customary sprinkling with ashes, days before the main festival, that is meant to appease a principal Hindu deity, Lord Shiva, widely seen as the god of creation and destruction.
“It is the ancient traditional belief of Varanasi that Lord Shiva comes to the crematorium to celebrate Holi with his devotees and ghosts,” said worshipper Gulshan Kapoor.
(Reporting by Reuters Television; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)