Lord Krishna has given a purpose to the widows of Vrindavan to continue with their lives after being left alone in this world, says 88-year-old Gayatri Devi, for whom Janmashtami is more than a festival.
A native of Bisra in Odisha, Ms Devi was thrown out of her home by her children 17 years back following her husband's death.
After begging at Vrindavan's Banke Bihari Temple for some years and selling incense sticks later, she finally found a home in 'Krishna Kutir', a 1,000-bed facility for widows inaugurated by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi on Friday.
"When our husbands passed away and we were shunned by our families, it was Lord Krishna who guided us in those dark times," Ms Devi, who was among the 23 widows to move into the facility, said.
"There was no place I could think of going other than Vrindavan. I bought a train ticket (for Vrindavan) after selling my silver ring which was my husband's first gift to me," Ms Devi said.
She is one of the around 3,000 widows living in Vrindavan, where, it is believed, Lord Krishna spent his childhood. Many of them reside in ashrams across the city and beg outside temples to earn a living.
The Supreme Court had last year taken cognisance of the plight of widows living in Vrindavan and ordered the centre and the Uttar Pradesh government to take "all steps to rehabilitate the widows of Vrindavan so as to bring them to a stage where they can live with dignity".
Developed by the Ministry of Women and Child Development under the 'Swadhar Greh' scheme on 1.4 hectares of land, 'Krishna Kutir' is equipped with a large modern kitchen and a skill-cum-training centre to teach the widows stitching, embroidery, among other things.
According to a WCD official, the building's construction has been funded by the centre and will be managed by the state government.
The facility has 100 room and 200 bathrooms, and equipped with amenities like ramps and elevators for senior citizens and differently abled persons.
But due to its distance from the city, many widows are apprehensive about it, as they feel that the facility might act as a jail for them.
Sumitra Singh, a social activist, said till the widows are made aware of the facilities and advantages, they would remain apprehensive.
"These widows have become very apprehensive because of their situation and they feel this home is too good to be true. Only when they see its success through its existing members, they would realise that it has been made for their betterment and might decide to move in," she said.
Union minister Maneka Gandhi tried to allay the fears of the widows, saying 'Krishna Kutir' is twice the size of a five-star hotel and equipped with all modern facilities.
"There would be no restriction on anyone's movements. The widows can come and leave as per their wish," she had said.
Soumya Kumari, 45 from Ranchi, who was one of the widows who moved in the facility, said she hopes the skill development centre would help her get back on her feet.
"I wanted to be a fashion designer. There is no age bar to pursue one's dreams. I hope I can get the necessary skills at the centre and stand on my feet," she said and hoped that this Janmashtami, Lord Krishna would bless her with a better life.
The whole of Vrindavan has been decorated with lights to celebrate Janmashtami, the day of Lord Krishna's birth, and devotees from all over the country have started pouring in for the occasion.
But Devi says Janmashtami is much more than a festival for widows like her. "It is a day when we feel like everyone else, we feel equal."
This Janmashtami is even more special for her as she plans to visit the 'Rang Mahal Temple' where, according to mythology, Lord Krishna used to perform 'raas leela' with 'gopis'.
"I have always been a follower of Lord Krishna and every year I wait for Janmashtami when our Lord was born. He gave us a reason to continue living despite losing everything," she added.
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