Aabir – Red colour, redder blood

Red colour, redder blood. 

Religious leaders & temple priests were enraged by Binodini’s insolence in supporting Meera and Madhav’s wedding. As a result, Binodini was declared an outcast. Under the pressure of religious organizations, most people withheld donations from her when she sang in the morning. The widows of the Gokul ashram were harassed in more than one way, but they remained strong in their support of Binodini. 

During this difficult time, news reached Binodini that her father had passed away a few months back. Though she had been detached from her family since coming to Vrindavan, she wanted to visit her home in Bengal and meet her mother. 

She visited her family home only to find her mother living miserably as a widow. “Tu sahi kehti thi, Binu. Reet riwaz vidhwaon ko jeene nahi deti, unke marne ka intezaam karti hain,” Binu’s mother cried as she hugged Binodini, complaining about the traditions that she had once defended. 

Binodini spent many hours with her mother, telling her all about her new life in Vrindavan. Holding Binu’s hand tightly, her mother praised her endeavours and blessed her, urging her to continue her work in Vrindavan. 

This short meeting with her mother motivated Binodini to return to Vrindavan with an even stronger resolve. She was more eager than ever to break the shackles of outdated social norms. The next year, just before Holi, Binodini led the entire population of widows to the local police station. She wanted police protection for the widows, so they could celebrate Holi in public. However, instead of assuring protection to the widows, the policemen ridiculed them. They insulted them and shooed them away. 

Moreover, word spread that the widows of Gokul ashram were planning to celebrate Holi. Temple priests instructed local authorities not to endorse what they called “so much nonsense.” They also warned shopkeepers against selling aabir or gulal to any widow. 

Amidst such resistance, Binodini had an idea. She urged all the residents of the ashram to gather flower petals. They would dry and crush them to a powder and make their very own all-natural aabir or gulal. Little did Binodini know that she was initiating a revolution, sowing the seed for what would develop into organic aabir or gulal

As the women of the ashram crushed the dried petals, the entire ashram complex was filled with floral fragrance. After working tirelessly for a week, the widows of Gokul ashram were ready with enough aabir with which to play Holi. Even so, Mr Pandit and some other well-wishers suggested that they should celebrate Holi within the ashram precincts only.

All the widows of the ashram were bubbling with excitement for the morning of Holi: “Sare ang mein aabir lagakar, Radha ki tarah holi khelenge hum.” And the day for which they had prepared and struggled relentlessly finally arrived. On Holi, the widows of Gokul ashram sang kirtans and celebrated Holi within the ashram premises, daubing each other with dry organic aabir. As their white sarees came alive with colour, they relived the simple pleasure of playing Holi. 

Impressed by the widows’ courage, Somnath Pandit informed national media in Delhi about the Vrindavan widows who were playing Holi. Binodini was interviewed by leading newspapers and magazines. The ashram was even filmed by a TV channel for the entire nation as a shining example of progress for the entire nation. Binodini became a household name in Vrindavan and nearby towns. 

However, success came to the widows at a terrible price. One evening, goons stormed into the ashram, breaking anything that they could lay their hands on and throwing the widows’ belongings out on the streets. When Binodini and some other widows protested, they were brutally pushed aside by the hefty men. Some were even hurt as they clung to their belongings. Somnath Pandit could not come in time to help the ashram residents, but once he did come, he vowed to set things right. In fact, his team was able to salvage many of the widows’ belongings.

However, Binodini was not so worried about things. She was more worried about the spirit and confidence of her fellow widows. As she looked around her that evening, she saw a mass of defeated women, women who had been battered by life’s blows into passive submission. The blood that had once fired them into rebellion was now coagulating on their open wounds. Binodini could not watch her lot so forlorn. The battle had just begun. She prayed to Krishna for a miracle, asking for his guidance to a lasting victory. 

Photography:Jassi Oberai

Location: Vrindavan, Mathura, India

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