Widows brighten the day as India celebrates Holi

India’s colourful festivities to mark Holi are underway, unburdened by coronavirus fears for the first time in three years, including in a town usually associated with grief as a so-called “city of widows”.

The raucous spring festival sees millions across the country hurl coloured powder at each other in a kaleidoscopic celebration of the end of winter and the triumph of good over evil.

Revelries peak on Friday when a public holiday will see large street carnivals around the country, but the party started early in the northern city of Vrindavan, where elderly women daubed in splotches of saffron danced the day away together.

“Because of the coronavirus lockdown over the last two years, we could not celebrate Holi,” 72-year-old Shakuntala Davi told AFP.

“Now there’s no lockdown, no coronavirus,” she added. “We are so happy, I have no words to explain.”

Vrindavan is a holy pilgrimage town, traditionally associated with the Hindu deity Krishna.

But it is also home to around 2,000 widows who have been shunned by their families after the deaths of their husbands.

The idea of their participation in festive occasions has traditionally been taboo in India’s conservative Hindu heartland, and their involvement in Holi celebrations only began a decade ago.

Coronavirus derailed last year’s Holi party, with the capital New Delhi and several states banning public gatherings out of fear they would become super-spreader events.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced he was not participating in festival celebrations in March 2020, as the pandemic accelerated its alarming initial spread throughout the world.