In India (as well as in all other places where Indians live) the celebration of Holi announces the arrival of springtime. Rose petals, marigolds, multi-hued powders and water-balloons are tossed in the air, signifying a time of renewal, forgiveness and the joy of being alive. Widows, however, are frowned upon for participating in many religious ceremonies like Holi, including weddings and funerals, due to ancient superstitions that suggest that their very presence in such ceremonies is polluting — a very undesirable, and unworthy restraint upon them, to be sure. Many are often outright rejected by their families and left to fend for themselves after the deaths of their husbands.
Gandhi, who worked hard on the question of the treatment of widows, including the challenge of child marriage, would be pleased to hear that many widows are beginning to rebel against such dehumanizing treatment. In Vrindavan, a town made sacred because Sri Krishna is believed to have spent his earthly life there, yet also known as “the town of widows,” groups of widows who have retired into its ashrams have decided to participate in the Holi festival. The white saris that widows usually must wear will be dyed several other colors while powder is being tossed at them, while others dance and play and even decide to wear make-up to mark the special occasion. As the principle goes in nonviolence: “Ask what they are holding over you. Renounce that, and you are free.” These widows are showing us that by renouncing the taboo that looms over their existence, they, even for a day, experience a freedom that shows them the way forward–in joy, playfulness and power.
Learn more about the situation of widows in India and explore some of the good work that is taking place to change their social status.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org