It turned out to be a different and memorable Friday for hundreds of widows in this temple town as their white attire was smeared in different hues when they, for the first time, played holi on the banks of the holy Ganga river.
Breaking a centuries-old tradition that prohibited Hindu widows from any and everything that had to do with colour, hundreds of widows from five major shelter homes (ashrams) – the Nepali ashram, Birla widow home, Durga Kund ashram and from two ashrams in Sarnath, enjoyed the festival of colours, the organizers – Sulabh International, called ‘Vasantotsava’.
Ageing women helped by young widows let their hair down and to the beat of the dholak and the majeera, danced and threw marigold petals on each other as some overzealous ones smeared each other with gulal (dry colour). Bindeshwari Pathak, founder of the sanitation NGO also played Holi with the widows and billed the event as "one of the happiest days of my life."
"Being part of and witnessing the breaking of the centuries-old tradition where merry making was out of bounds for the widows was a very satisfying and heartening experience," Pathak told IANS amidst the riot of colours at the recently excavated Assi Ghat.
The unique celebration was organised for the first time in Varanasi by the Sulabh International which takes care of thousands of widows in Varanasi, Vrindavan and Uttrakhand. Sulabh had organised Holi for the widows of Vrindavan two years ago which was seen as a path-breaking initiative to break the centuries-old barrier.
To mark the cleanness and restoration of Assi Ghat, Pathak also formally inaugurated boating operations from the Assi Ghat by welcoming widows in the presence of saints and Sanskrit scholars. During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to his parliamentary constituency a few weeks back, Pathak had promised him that before Holi, the ghats would be made operational so much so that boating would be possible.
"We are happy that the Assi Ghat has been restored to its ancient glory and we have been able to keep our promise to Prime Minister Modi," Pathak added.
(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at [email protected])