Among the multitude of venerable places, no venue is more closely associated to joyous Lord Krishna than Vrindavan, in India. Here people pray, dance and celebrate life. Except tens of thousands of unlucky widows…
Vrindavan the story
A few hours drive south-east of Delhi, Vrindavan is the place where they say the divinity has grown. A chaotic City among the most sacred in India, Vrindavan is located in Uttar Pradesh.
According to the great epic Mahabharata, Krishna is said to have been born here, in the nearby forest between Mathura and Vindravad. Here the tradition tells the young god have seduced legions of milkmaids (gopis) with his irresistible good humor and joie de vivre. Krishna playing the flute is often represented next to his great love, the goddess Radha – his female equivalent.
Every year, in addition to Hindu believers, Hare Krishna followers from all around the world flock to pay homage to Lord Krishna in this sacred place. Men and women gather in Vrindavan following the precepts of the mystic Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who came here from Bengal in 1500, chanting and dancing the Hare Krishna mantra and experiencing the ecstasy of the holy name of Kṛiṣhṇa. Thanks to the teachings of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the Hare Krishna movement (ISKCON) born in the 70s spread world wide. Vindravan has become a place of joy and joyful spirituality.
hare krishna hare krishna
krishna krishna hare hare
hare rāma hare rāma
rāma rāma hare hare
According to Hindus, those who die in Vrindavan can once and for all be released from the cycle of life, death and reincarnation. Therefore, in addition to the ranks of singing and dancing Hare Krishna followers, Vrindavan has a record for a less joyful population: old people and widows.
Vrindavan and the widows
Among the multitudes of people who crowd the streets, you can’t help but notice the hundreds “widows” dressed in white saris, begging and praying in the temples. Vrindravan is in fact known as “The city of widows”, it has become home for thousands of old women who come to live here seeking a way out of their painful living conditions, and await death with hope and resignation
Many of them come to escape the brutal fate often reserved to widows in India.
Widows in hindu tradition
An estimate 6,000 widows live in Vrindavan, arriving here from the surrounding countryside, but also from the Bay of Bengal. Most of them arrived here following in the footsteps of the Master Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Some come on pilgrimage to devote their remaining lives to Goddess Radha and to Krishna’s service. But many of them come here to escape the brutal fate often reserved to widows in India.
Nowadays indian widows will not throw themselves into their spouses’ funeral pyres, as it happened in the past (sati). The sati was abolished by the British since 1829, though it counted in the rural and underdeveloped areas until 1945. However many cases still escaped the authorities until in 1987 the Indian government issued Sati (Prevention) Act which punishes with the death penalty or life imprisonment those who inflict or force someone to commit sati, while glorifying sati is punishable with one to seven years in prison.
Surviving this unfortunate fate, however, does not mean to have a better widowhood. Indian widows outliving their husband still go through difficult times. Traditional Hinduism wants widows to live modestly, dressed in white saris, shaving their head and abandoning any possession, tinsel or jewelry. Even the sweet or spicy foods are prohibited to them.
Some widows are considered bearers of bad luck and held responsible for the death of their spouses.
Still a sad destiny for widows in India
Often widows are not welcome in their home villages and within their very family. Among the poorest areas and backwards castes, the widows are considered bearers of bad luck. So, in addition to be an economic burden for the family they are held responsible for the death of their spouses. And often sent away from home and forced to live in hardship and beg for food.
Backward caste women in rural areas are not entitled any of their husband’s inheritance, nor to any form of state subsidy. Some non-governmental organizations, such as Delhi Maitri, help provide food and shelter for widows in India. Four government ashram where built in Vrindavan where many women are given hospitality. Sometimes they receive a little aid, but still a vast majority have to beg to pay for rented accommodation.
In many temples widows receive a “token” consisting in a bowl of rice and 25 Rupees (0,34€ or 0,37USD) a day to chant the sacred songs of Krishna. Widows of this city live a miserable life of memories, begging and chanting…and waiting for the day of their death. Their family members, often contacted by the local authorities, refuse to participate in their modest funeral. The last hope for these widows is found here, on the banks of the Yamuna. The end of their human existence. Finally safe from the cycle of suffering and reincarnation.
Many are the organizations that deal with health and give shelter to widows in India. MAITRI-India is a NGO based in Delhi, fighting discrimination and violence that millions of women face. Maitri-India operates a shelter for 150 widows, providing them with essential elements for life, including daily meals, nutritional supplements, clothing and health care.
INFO VIAGGIO: RAJASTAN