On the eve of Diwali, hundreds of Indian women swathed in white and carrying traditional earthenware lamps file through winding streets to the edge of the Yamuna river.
The women, chanting as they walk through the streets of Vrindavan to mark the Hindu festival of Diwali, are widows who have left their families or have been abandoned by them.
AdvertisementUntil recently, they were kept hidden from society and virtually forbidden to celebrate. But that is now changing.
Local residents cheered the women on as they passed through the streets of the temple-filled town, many proudly wearing brand-new saris donated by a local organisation.
Later they lit their lamps and offered prayers on the riverbank before heading back to their ashram to celebrate, some dancing late into the night.
"These lights, crackers and dancing reminded me of happier times with my family," said 60-year-old Meena Pradhan, who came to the town after the deaths of her husband, son and a daughter 10 years ago.
The celebrations were held on Tuesday and were organised by Sulabh International, a group that has been helping the thousands of widows who flock to Vrindavan in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International said the women should continue to defy the tradition that widows should not celebrate Diwali and other festivals.
Meenakshi Dasi, one of the thousands of widows who live in Vrindavan, agrees. She is celebrating the Hindu festival of lights for the second year running.
"It is the best day of the year. We have all come together, heard loud music, danced, burst crackers and made beautiful Rangoli," Dasi told AFP, referring to a traditional decoration made of flowers and lamps.
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