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Come to Kashi and die. For centuries, devout Hindus have descended on the ancient town on the banks of the swiftly-flowing Ganga to do just that.

It is believed, if anyone dies in Varanasi they attain salvation and freedom from the cycle of birth and rebirth

On the banks of the holy River Ganga, breathes Benaras also called Kashi/Varanasi, which is believed to be the oldest living city in the world.

For centuries, the mystic of this place has been attracting pilgrims from across the globe. It is believed that widows in India ply to Varanasi to seek shelter in the abode of Lord Shiva.

Varanasi is a city with more than 38,000 widows at its various ashrams and Widow Houses.

It is the highest in any city after Vrindavan in India. Over the decade’s widows of Benaras has been considered an important research topic for social scientists and scholars of India and the world over.

I as a student, indeed have my head held high, to be joining these learned scholars in trying to unravelling this mystery of the widows living in isolation.

Putting my best foot forward in aid to help them I travelled the street of this holy town to know more about their lot! Durga Kund Ashram Widows of the Durga Kund HelpLine ashram spend time by organizing Bhagwad Katha & spiritual get-togethers.

In the absence of family support, they spend most of their time praying and looking for food. While visiting here, the first one I met was a strong, tall woman putting on light ornaments and clean tied-up bun, Somvati, a resident of Fatehpur Sikri in Uttar Pradesh took us to a happy positive world despite staying away from family.

It is nothing less than a home away from home for her as she is residing here for 18 years. Skinny Shanti Devi, whom I met second was looking weak as she was stepping down the stairs but her conversation was clean and crisp.

She is a resident of Bihar and has been putting up at Kashi for 20 years now. About 40 people are staying here for 15 years.

The Birla Ashram While neglected by authorities, widows of Birla Ashram here are lost in a state of desolation. In one of the many narrow by-lanes behind Kashi Vishwanath Temple, stands the Birla Ashram with a narrow entrance gate. Faded walls of an old damaged haveli with tiny 10 rooms is the adobe for 10 widows.

The first widow I met here was Gita Agarwal from Kolkata, she gave up on her family after the wedding of her 4 daughters.

Though uneducated she has a bold voice and is partially happy with the services here. These widows display a strong faith in routine and they follow it rigorously despite their falling health.

Early in the morning, they take a dip in the Holy Ganga, braving the chill in the air, and start their daily chores. Most of the women here are a stickler for their privacy and do not entertain interactions from strangers.

However after much coaxing, they inform that some ran from their homes after their sons took all their money and property, some had failed to be useful for their families while a few were thrown out of their houses due to failing health.

The deep scare visible on their faces, frail voices, and tears rolling down their eyes narrates the unfortunate circumstances that have befallen them.

Mata Anandmayi Ashram On visiting Mata Anandmayi Ashram, we found that their major focus was Sanskrit studies, preserving the old teaching of Mata Anadmayi, spiritual equality for women. Here we found women or devotees rekindling thoughts of Ma amongst people.

Nepali Mandir Ashram Nearby Lalita Ghat is famous for housing the Nepali Mandir, which was built by the King of Nepal almost 20 years ago.

Set in this tranquil backdrop, is a widows’ ashram that is supported by the temple. After spending some days with these unfortunate women, some important issues related to the social-economical problem of the widows of Benaras came to the fore. Benaras can be considered as one of the rehabilitation hubs for these destitute widows of Indian society. Widows choose this place as their secure shelter! THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY THE AUTHOR ARE PERSONAL

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