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Soma's Tales

Aabir -Colours of Holi

Prelude: March 2015.

The air is filled with colour, thick with aabir or gulaal. Rose and marigold petals waft in this coloured powder. Swaying like these delicate petals is a group of about 200 women.

Their white sarees are drenched in coloured water, their faces smeared with aabir. They are dancing in utter self-forgetfulness; some are singing kirtans to Krishna, accompanied by the harmonium, khol and kartal. In the holy city of Vrindavan, these widows are playing Holi in the premises of the Gopinath Temple.

Binodini is one of these dancing widows. She dances as if in prayer: eyes closed with mind, body, soul immersed in the music. She would be in her 50s. Her face glows with the beauty born of courage. It glows, also, out of pure joy.

As she is dancing, two younger widows, Jaya and Mita, come to Binodini and hug her. Mita’s eyes glisten. This freedom seems surreal to her. With tears of joy, she congratulates Binodini: this celebration is because of her.

Sab Krishna Murari ki ichha hai re, unhi ka ashirwad hai,” Binodini folds her hands and touches them to her forehead, attributing all her success to her beloved Lord Krishna. Some younger widows pull Jaya & Mita back into the thick of the dancing crowd.

Binodini edges out of the group, gazing contentedly at the exultant women. Leaning back on the wall of the temple, Binodini looks up at the powdery red sky and reminisces.


Aabir or Gulaal: auspicious coloured powder, usually red or pink

Kirtan: devotional music

Khol: an Indian drum that accompanies Kirtans

Kartal: small hand-held cymbals

Photography: Jassi Oberai

Location: Vrindavan, Mathura, India