Today in the news papers Oprah Winfrey is making a wave and while reading about her visit to Vrindavan and her intention of making a documentary on the widows of Vrindavan made me think of this “city of widows”.
Vrindavan is the birth place of Lord Krishna and according to legends the long lost city was rediscovered by the saint Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. He located the places where the important events occurred during Krishna’s times in his meditative state and a steady flow of pilgrims started from then onwards. Even now Vrindavan is a must see for anyone interested in Hindu mythologies.
The place is now well known for the presence of a large number of widows. In earlier times widows did not have much of an acceptance in the society and they were barred from taking part in anything auspicious. The belief is that they have done something bad in their previous karma and that is why they have become widows and hence inauspicious. Widows had to meet with many unpleasant or even torturous experiences as the relatives thought of them as a burden and wanted to get rid of them somehow .
It is noted that even as back as 500 years ago this system of widows coming from other parts of India to Vrindavan to spend the rest of their lives was prevalent. This might have started with the good intention that all widows who suffer in isolation could come in one place, they would be given food and shelter, and their lifetime is passed by singing the glory of the Lord in a spiritual atmosphere. Now thousands of widows are seen in the city of Vrindavan, from young teenaged widows to very old and ailing ones.
With lack of infrastructure to provide good food and shelter to the large number of widows, it is no longer a comfortable place for them to be in, even though they are managing with whatever is available. It is said that feeding the widows in Vrindavan bestows one with good merits and pilgrims often do a customary offering to the widows.
We need to understand the plight of these women who even in this century are ostracized by the society, the near and dear ones abandoning them, left having to coping up with illnesses and loneliness of their own. They have either come out of their homes on their own due to the odd behavior meted out to them or are abandoned by the relatives after coming to Brindavan during pilgrimage.
In this scenario where do one needs to work on? To change the attitude of the people towards the widows or help maintain a better shelter for them in Vrindavan? I think both are necessary. Some of the practices in the society become irrelevant as the times pass by. The ostracization of widows is one such thing. Remarriage is no longer a taboo now and if anyone wants to stay unmarried, they are never to be labelled as “widows” or something “inauspicious”. People should be made aware of this fact, especially in the Northern parts of India from where most of these women are coming from. Some awareness program has to be launched to address this problem.
Secondly, if at all anyone wants to come and stay there and spend the rest of their lives chanting the glory of the divine, there needs to be a decent shelter available to them. Each one of us can do something for it which will definitely bring merit to us as taking care of the well being of a woman is a highly revered act in any religion, in any part of the world.
It is definitely time for a change and let it happen the earliest.