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Celebrating Holi in Vrindavan

Vrindravan Holi Festival
Vrindravan Holi Festival

 

One doesn’t have to go far to find a place in India to celebrate Holi—the Hindu Festival of Spring.

Holi, one of the biggest Hindu holidays, is celebrated all over India, actually all over the world, so our tour company (Jim Cline Photo Tours) had lots of choices to take us to capture the experience on our cameras. For more about Holi see earlier blog posts.

They chose Vrindavan, known as the City of Widows, telling us that they thought it would be safer and less chaotic than the big cities where not only do people enthusiastically throw powdered paint and flower petals, but large amounts of colored water gets sloshed on happy participants. The ground gets slimy and slippery and some times folks who have had too much to drink get a little crazy.

Doesn’t sound good for folks with cameras so Vrindavan seemed like a smart choice.

At the time I really didn’t totally understand the significance of this city, but I do now and I’m really glad we went there.

Vrindravan Holi Festival
Vrindavan Holi Festival

Vrindavan–The City of Widows

Vrindavan is known as the City of Widows because it is a magnet for widows from all over India. In India widows are frequently ostracized, shunned as bad luck and kicked out of their homes when their husbands die with barely the saris on their backs. It is sometimes believed that they caused the death of their husbands.

Their plight is bleak. No money. No resources. No one to care for them. In a country known for vibrant and joyous color, they are expected to wear white. It’s like striping them of their personhood. Hindu tradition frowns on widows participating in occasions like weddings or Holi, considering their presence to be bad luck.

One article I read on-line said, “It’s something India doesn’t want the rest of the world to know about. “

Historically the Hindus have a tradition of Sati—or a widow killing herself when the husband dies by throwing herself on his funeral pyre. While this is no longer practiced, life for widows in India is often described as “A Living Sati.”

No one really knows why the widows are so drawn to Vrindavan but the theory is that they flock to this city because it is the birthplace of Krishna and the beautiful Radha. Their love affair is legendary.

We celebrated Holi several times in Vrindavan, one of them at the Ma Dham Ashram, a center for widows.

The mission of this Ashram is to provide a home, medical care, education and a good life for as many widows as possible. Over the 11 years they have been operating they have served 500.

Vrindravan Holi Festival
Vrindavan Holi Festival

Ma Dham serves widows in India

This is a drop in the bucket as estimates are that India has 40 million widows, many of whom live on the streets and beg for money for food.

When we arrived at Ma Dham, the widows were sitting on the floor in their great room, pulling the petals off the flowers in anticipation of our festivities. We took pictures. Oh, how I wanted to hear their stories. Some sat elegant and proud, others with worry and age lines etched into their faces.  It broke my heart to know they had been cast off by their families.

Vrindravan Holi Festival
Vrindavan Holi Festival
Vrindravan Holi Festival
Vrindavan Holi Festival
Vrindravan Holi Festival
Vrindavan Holi Festival
Vrindravan Holi Festival
Vrindavan Holi Festival

After we took pictures indoors,  we gathered outside where we were told by our Tour Leaders that the women would dance and throw flowers in the Holi tradition while we photographed them.

Vrindravan Holi Festival
Vrindavan Holi Festival

Joyously Celebrating Holi

Hah. The idea of  the ladies dancing and throwing flowers while we stood on the sidelines clicking away lasted about three minutes. Almost immediately we were drawn into the midst of the festive  celebration, trying to capture the moment on camera while dancing, scooping up flowers from the ground to throw and having them heaved at us. All in joyous fun.

This scenario was repeated over and over.  A smiling widow would advance towards me with both hands filled with flowers and we’d meet eye to eye in a moment of recognition and then, POW, she’d plaster me with the colorful blooms while laughing gleefully.  I’d let my camera hang on its strap while I reached  for the ground to scoop up as many flower petals as I could and chase after her in happy revenge.  We’d both laugh and then head off to find someone else to pelt with color while dancing to the booming music.

Pure fun.  Pure joy.

Vrindravan Holi Festival
Vrindavan Holi Festival
Karl, Tour Leader, takes a selfie with a joyous widow
Karl, Tour Leader, takes a selfie with a playful widow who is getting ready to toss a handful of marigold petals.
Holi Festival, Vrindravan
Holi Festival, Vrindavan
Dv, Tour Leader, dances with abandon
Dv, our Tour Leader, dances with abandon at Holi Festival

Out-of-focus photos but plenty of fun.

As you can imagine I got a lot of out of focus images because of all the jumping around and laughing. It was pretty hard to take photos while scooping up handfuls of flowers to throw at my new friends.

But you know what?  It didn’t matter.  It was a  special privilege to celebrate the coming of spring  with women who have had so much taken from them.  Their ability to find pleasure in the simple festive dance was truly an  inspiration.

Holi Festival, Vrindravan
Holi Festival, Vrindavan
Watching the fun at Holi Festival
Watching the fun at Holi Festival
Watching the fun at Holi Festival
Watching the fun at Holi Festival
This lady threw flowers from the side line.
This lady threw flowers from the side line.
Holi Festival
Worn out? Holi Festival
Holi Festival Vrindravan
Holi Festival Vrindavan
Holi Festival Vrindravan
Holi Festival Vrindavan
Holi Festival Vrindravan
Holi Festival Vrindavan
Holi Festival Vrindravan
Holi Festival Vrindavan

For more scenes from Ma Dham Ashram, join Oprah on her visit there in 2012.  

 

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.

Comments

13 Comments
  1. posted by
    Kathy
    May 8, 2017 Reply

    Your comments about the widows was very educational. It did my heart good to see the joy and happiness beaming on their faces during the celebration. Your photography is so meaningful!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      May 8, 2017 Reply

      Thank you so much. It is lovely to share the experience and know that you and others enjoy.

  2. posted by
    Richard Edelen
    May 8, 2017 Reply

    Hello Susan , I have learned more reading your story than I did there! You have done a very good job.
    Thank you

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      May 8, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Rick, I think we were really focusing on taking pictures and enjoying the moment. It was a very special experience.

  3. posted by
    Sha
    May 9, 2017 Reply

    Beautiful photography. You are the best!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      May 9, 2017 Reply

      Thank you, Sha. I appreciate your kind comment.

  4. posted by
    Mark Holzbach
    May 9, 2017 Reply

    Hi Susan, I happen to be traveling in central Mexico (between Queretaro and Xilitla) at this moment: a lovely and amazing region filled with warm & friendly people, amazing biodiversity, history, culture, and gorgeous landscapes. I learned that the plight of widows and of older women in Mexico (especially those who find themselves living alone for any reason) is also bleak. This seems like a larger global problem, not confined to India. XO Mark

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      May 9, 2017 Reply

      I am glad to hear that you are having a good trip. Sad to learn that widows have a difficult time in Mexico.

  5. posted by
    Mary Kathryn Boland
    May 9, 2017 Reply

    Susan,
    I LOVE your India series…. I have been there for a short visit and would go back in
    a flash… it was fascinating, incredible beauty in the places and the people, and all
    in all a country that engaged my emotions, all of my senses, and my imagination like
    no other. Thank you for such wonderful coverage. Kati Boland

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      May 9, 2017 Reply

      Thank you so much, Kati,
      I am glad you are enjoying my blog posts. The trip was truly memorable and I’m having a great time reliving the experience by writing and posting blogs. Expect to see more. The trip was two weeks so there are a lot of images to sort though.

  6. posted by
    Barb Rohwer
    May 9, 2017 Reply

    A “special experience” indeed! Fabulous photo – as usual!

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      May 9, 2017 Reply

      Thank you so much.

  7. posted by
    Nihangs–Warrior Monks of the Sikh religion | DesignDestinations
    Jul 25, 2017 Reply

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