Thursday, 24 April 2014

The Widows of Vrindavan - Breaking Tradition

Vrindavan, a town with an ancient history is regarded as one of the most sacred places in many prominent religions, such as Hinduism and the Hare Krishna Movement. The town is also home to thousands of widows who traditionally spend their remaining days without a family leading a life of religious dedication. Living communally in ashram temples, they fill their time praying and chanting to Krishna in exchange for small amounts of rice, water and a bed. They also beg on the streets to eke out a living. In recent years, traditions have been broken as NGOs, along with international fashion designers, are training women in textile and other craft production, which they are paid for. The widows are provided with lessons in Bengali, English and Hindi literacy, as well as financial and healthcare support. They are often sent to Vrindavan by their families, rejected as inauspicious and seen as a burden. Living together with a sense of solidarity, this community of widows lead a simple and poverty-stricken life but with dignity and purpose.

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A woman walking in the Vrindavan province. 

A widow enters an ashram in Radhakund where Maitri, an Indian NGO,  is providing a one day free health service to widows.

Widows wash plates and cutlery together in Meera Sahabhagini ashram, Vrindavan.

A widow in Meera Sahabhagini ashram, Vrindavan.

A widow in the Radha Kunj ashram, Vrindavan.

Each widow has a small personal shrine and also keeps a small statue of Krishna. Everyday the statue is washed, its clothes are changed and prayers to Krisnha are chanted.

An effigy of Krishna.

Widows chanting the Hare Krishna mantra in Meera Sahabhagini ashram. The women congregate twice a day to worship Krishna.

A widow adorns herself with the Tilak, symbolising eternal dedication to Krishna. 

With the help of Indian NGO Sulabh, widows work on textiles that will later be sold on local markets.  The women are also being trained by Kopal, a New York-based fashion designer.

Widows also make other crafts such an incense sticks to be sold at local markets. The women are paid a cut for the items sold. 

In a move that breaks regular tradition, women are now being taught literacy in Bengali, English and Hindi in an attempt to give develop their skills and education.

The language training is provided by NGO Sulabh.

Widows often have to beg in the streets to raise more money for food.

A widow sits in the doorway of her government-run ashram.

Women cook inside their quarters of the Swadhar Matila Ashram.

A widow holds picture of her self and deceased husband from a past time.

A flower pot, old but still beautiful stands in Meera Sahabhagini ashram.

A widow feeds a monkey scraps outside Radha Kunj ashram, Vrindavan.

Usha Dasi, 65, cleans an old portrait of her own mother.

Basanti Dasi, 70, sits in her quarters at Radha Kunj ashram

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