Why do Widows go to Vrindavan

  • What is the historical perspective why widows go to Vrindavan? Why are  maximum number of widows from West Bengal?

Years ago Lok Sabha MP Hema Malini asked  why widows from Bengal and Bihar came to Vrindavan. For long I wondered why widows from east India  went to Vrindavan in western Uttar Pradesh.


I was fortunate to speak to Shri Jagganath Poddarji, Editor of Vrindavan Today, who kindly shared historical reasons. Vinita Vermaji of Sulabh International gave me a current perspective. I also referred to The History and Culture of Indian People Volume 6 published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan.


The sacred sites of Vrindavan were forgotten. Their recovery by the Vaishnavas of Bengal, at the instance of Chaityanya Mahaprabhu (1485 to 1533) and conversion of place into a great religious centre must be regarded as one of the most important events in the history of Vaishavism. Vol 6, Pg. 567


Chaityanya Mahaprabhu made it popular, reiterated its association with worship of Sri Krishna. He started a new type of devotional song called kirtana that often consisted of chanting the names of Hari and Krishna, sung in chorus to the accompaniment of loud instrumental music.


KRK Murthy wrote in Bhavan Journal (31/3/2023 issue), “At Vrindavan, he lost himself in the love of Krishna and would sing and dance in a trance. He became known for his ecstatic devotion, which was thought to be a participation in the divine Lila, the source of creativity itself. He saw the Lord in everything in the world.” 


To digress a bit some people say that Bengal’s rulers were tolerant hence Chaitanya lived in Bengal. 


Note that for the 24 years after he renounced the world to become a sanyasin, he lived for only one year in the dominion of Husain Shah and for over 20 years in the Hindu kingdom of Orissa.  Vol 6 Pg. xxxii.  Chaityanya infused a new spirit in the Hindus of Bengal, who abjectly surrendered etc caused by 300 years of political servitude and religious oppression.


KRK Murthy also wrote, “The ISKCON (The International Society for Krishna Consciousness), has its principal aim to lead people in this Kali Yuga to attain salvation in the form of permanent Krishna Consciousness, by way of Bhakti Yoga. Their Maha Mantra is “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare; Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare.” They follow the Gaudiya Vaishnavism of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.” Founder of ISKCON Swami Prabhupadha was from Bengal. According to its website, “Vrindavana is the most sacred place within this cosmic universe, and people seeking to achieve spiritual emancipation by entering the kingdom of God may make a home at Vrindavana and become serious students of the six Gosvamis, who were instructed by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.” The world’s tallest religious monument is being made in Vrindavan.


To read more about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu  


Chaitanya lived in the 16th century and we are in the 21st. Society is a function of the conditions that exist at a point of time.


The tradition of sending widows from Bengal started around 500 years ago. We must understand that those who came then were mainly child widows. They came to escape Sati or and prevent persecution by invaders/locals. It is also possible they were unwanted in their homes.


Thinking logically child widows existed because girls were married early then. Their husbands were either killed in war or by invader rulers.


The widows came to Vrindavan because they treated Krishna as their husband and Vrindavan is associated with Sri Krishna.


The widows who were well off took houses on rent whilst others managed to stay afloat. Remember Bengal (consisting of modern day West Bengal, Bangladesh, Bihar, Orissa) was rich then. With time Bengal became impoverished so the money flow stopped. Read The British Plunder of Bengal


Due to the reforms in Bengal during the 18-19th centuries the incidences of sati fell and widows looked at sympathetically.


Around 100 years ago some Marwari businessmen started Bhagwan Bhajnashram. Here women were encouraged to come for bhajan-kirtans every morning and evening say three hours each. In lieu of that and to help them survive they were given grains in the morning and a fixed grant in the evening.


As Bengal became poorer this way of providing for ladies welfare encouraged more widows and elderly ladies to come to Vrindavan. However, this scheme no longer exists.


If persecution and killings of Hindus continue in West Bengal, a large number of widows might move to Vrindavan. 


For a contemporary perspective I spoke with Vinita Verma, coordination of Sulabh International’s Widow Project who support the cause of widowhood. According to her the average age of widows in Vrindavan is 60 plus going up to 80 and app 70% are from West Bengal. Post the 2013 disaster in Garwhal, Uttarakhand a number of young girls had become widows. Sulabh helped them get remarried. After Bengal, the maximum widows are from Kashi, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. 


Widows also go to Kashi because it is the City of Light and Moksh. Widows wish to spend their last years in a holy city. Since people are aware of this tradition organised facilities need to be provided. I do not know if such facilities exist and if they are adequate. Read about them here The age of widows featured in this article is 65 plus.  


Change is intrinsic to Indic faiths because they are not ruled by one book so not stuck in time. Thus, I hope and expect that problems of widows will get taken off. Can someone tell if large number of widows, under 45, are coming to Vrindavan today? 


Krishna Kutir Ashram, Vrindavan opened for widows by CM Yogi Adityanath

Click on PDF to read Sulabh’s Appeal to Support the Widows program. Read and decide yourself. eSamskriti is only sharing the appeal. 

Surajit Dasgupta shared insights – “While people associate only gurudwaras with langar, saying no one goes hungry at a place of worship of Sikhs, the community inherited this charity from Hindus. Vrindavan was known for not chasing away anybody who sought shelter. Many businessmen donated to keep the community and its institutions thriving, beginning with the era of the Bhakti movement.

Child widows were also a result of several incurable diseases that claimed lives of young men. These diseases are all treatable and curable today: cholera, jaundice, tuberculosis, etc. 

But now there are no child widows because there is no child marriage. Yet, the population of widows in Vrindapan does not drop! In Bengal, women tell their children in a lighter vein, "If you don't take care of me when I'm old, I'll go to Vrindavan. Don't assume I'll depend on you. Don't do me any favour. There are people to take care of me." Most of these women have no idea what sustains this economy of Vrindavan, but they know widows get a shelter in the holy town. 

There is also a dark side of Bengali society, which I have witnessed first-hand. Children do become insensitive as they grow. It will pain you to notice in Kalkaji, Delhi, for example, the number of old Bengali tenants. They have their own houses in next-door Chittaranjan Park, but their sons have kicked them out of their families. Mostly, the son turns hostile towards his parents at the insistence of his wife. Ironically, the same fate awaits that young bride of the family when she grows old and her children refuse to take care of her, and the vicious cycle continues. 

 The fate of men is worse than that of women. Because the daughter-in-law sees some 'utility' in providing for her mother-in-law where the latter turns into a glorified maid servant in her old age. The bahu does not know how to 'make use' of her father-in-law, which is why he is considered a useless liability.”

Also read

1. Vrindavan themed masks by widows of Vrindavan

2. Sulabh International Widows Project

3. Pictures Widows of Vrindavan

4. Read about individual stories of Widows

5. Widows get another home in Vrindavan – includes skill development. 



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