Shunned by their families after the deaths of their husbands, a group of widows living in ashrams in Vrindavan would participate in the Durga Puja celebrations in Kolkata this year. Around 50 widows had attended the Puja celebrations last time and a new batch of as many widows in their 80s will have the privilege this time.
It is not just a Puja tour for them but will also take them back to their roots, back to the land of their ancestors. Their trip to Kolkata is an effort to bring some joy and sense of belonging to their lives and a pleasant break from their monotonous life in the ashrams.
The international social service organisation, Sulabh is looking after 1,000 Vrindavan widows as part of a Supreme Court directive to remove the stigma attached to their lives. Festivities will unfold when they reach Howrah station on September 25, as they will be welcomed with the beat of traditional drums by dhakis and the blowing of shankhas (conch shells), besides the showering of flower petals.
During their week-long stay, they will visit the clay modellers' colony of Kumartuli to see for themselves how life is breathed into the idols of Devi Durga. They would also be visiting dozens of Puja pandals in the city and take a tour of important landmarks like Victoria Memorial. Several widows, including 95-year-old Kanak Lata Devi, who is living in Vrindavan for around 45 years, have desired to meet the governor and the chief minister for which appointments have been sought by Sulabh.
Forced into a life of isolation, dejection and poverty, these widows were living under pathetic conditions without any proper fooding, medical or hygienic facilities. Besides giving them vocational training and employment, Sulabh has now started providing pension, food, health and other facilities to these women.
The women belonging to the ashram are excited to see the iconic Howrah Bride, experience tram rides, ride ferries and take a trip down memory lane during their week-long tour. Fifty widows will reach Howrah by train from New Delhi on September 23, that is, tomorrow, while five more will fly down to Kolkata on September 25. They couldn’t have chosen a more apt time to experience the fervour of the City of Joy.
No amount of political pushback has been able to take a toll or dampen the spirits of these Vrindavan women. After all, it’s the time for Maa Durga to arrive.
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