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As the sun set on Thursday, there was a new light in Meera Sahabhagni Ashram, a century-old widow shelter in Vrindavan. The women living here, most of them in their seventies, celebrated Diwali for the first time after living for decades in the ashram.
Vrindavan is known as the City of Widows for the sheer number of women who find shelter here after being shunned by their families. They have been traditionally forbidden from doing a lot of things, including celebrating festivals.
Octogenarian Manu Ghosh broke from a routine of 30 years on Thursday to paint designer diyas and arrange a box of crackers. Excited about celebrating the festival of lights, she said, “I am not a child who will play only with phooljharis (sparklers). I have asked my caretaker to bring powerful bombs.”
Wearing a new Kolkata print saree, Ghosh helped 73-year-old Anjana Goswami, who also lives at the ashram, to make rangoli. This is the first time in 10 years that Goswami will be celebrating Diwali.
Earlier this year, nearly 800 widows of Vrindavan, where Lord Krishna is believed to have grown up, played Holi with flowers for the first time. It symbolised a break from tradition which forbids a widow to sport colours.
Vrindavan widows break shackles, celebrate Holi
“The mere thought of Diwali celebrations brings joy. Rangoli and firecrackers add more fun to it,” said Goswami, who along with hundreds of other widows -- deserted by their families -- gathered in Vrindavan to celebrate Diwali after decades of darkness and social apathy.
“The celebrations will go on till Diwali day. We wanted them to celebrate at least for a week. Hence, a five-day programme has already been chalked out,” said Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International that arranged the celebrations for the widows. The organisation also organised Holi celebrations.
Dressed in traditional sarees, these women made rangoli near the ashram temple at noon, went for shopping in the afternoon and then celebrated with firecrackers in the evening. At the market near the ISKCON temple, they purchased sarees and shawls of their own choice.
The women lit diyas, burst crackers and had sweets prepared in the ashram. “The aim was to kindle a ray of happiness in their twilight years,” said Pathak.