Moksha: The Widows of Vrindavan
BY: FAZAL SHEIKH
Mar 4, VRINDAVAN (SUN) India’s near-meteoric rise in economic performance in recent years and its related modernization boom has dominated global headlines. Along with its highly-educated workforce, India has established itself as a world economic player.
However, such modernity does not always mean the loss of traditional beliefs and practices within that society. For instance, in Hindu society widows are still often shunned - and even prohibited from re-marrying. In fact, they may be blamed for their husband’s death by their in-laws or face domestic abuse after their husbands have died.
With few economic prospects - and often little help from extended or immediate family members - many women have chosen to flock to the Hindu holy city of Vrindavan in Northern India.
Vrindavan is known by Hindus around the world as a holy city, but within India it has acquired the name of “the city of widows.” It is this side of life in Vrindavan that Zurich-based photographer Fazal Sheikh captures in his book “Moksha”.
Sheikh’s images evoke this sense of patiently waiting and acceptance of fate. The delicate creases in the widow’s faces and hands complement their linen veils - and make them appear at times statuesque.
He also spent much time talking with the widows - and has reproduced their testimonies offering a rare and often riveting insight into the lives of some of these women.
Their stories are heart-wrenching and the situations they have lived through would be enough for anyone to despair. But throughout all of their testimonies runs a common theme of hope. They have all found comfort in Vrindavan with the Hindu deity Krishna - and with each other.
Waiting for eternity
Indeed, this feeling is reinforced by the dusty and gray street scenes and hazy landscapes which are interspersed throughout the book. It seems as though a permanent morning mist has settled all over Vrindavan, subduing the mood of the entire city.
Stray dogs sleep in the streets - or meander slowly through side-allies. Two monkeys on a dirt road gaze off into the haze. A lone calf stands tied to stake near a crumbling brick wall. A woman sits on the floor in prayer.
“Moksha” literally means heaven, or more accurately the loss of one’s individual identity and absorption into the absolute. In waiting to reach this state of being, these women come to Vrindavan to live out the rest of their lives - however long that may be - in prayer to Krishna.
The circumstances surrounding their decision to come may differ, and for some grief weighs heavily on their minds. Yet, all have accepted their fate in this life and hold onto the hope and comfort they find in their belief in Krishna - and in waiting to reach Moksha.
About the photographer
Fazal Sheikh was born in 1965 in New York City. Since graduating from Princeton University, he has collaborated with displaced communities across East Africa, in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Brazil, Cuba and India.
His awards include the Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography, the Prix d’Arles, and the Leica Medal of Excellence. He has received fellowships from the Fulbright Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.
His previous books include "A Sense of Common Ground","The Victor Weeps", "A Camel for the Son" and "Ramadan Moon." Exhibitions of his work have been presented at Tate Modern, London; the International Center of Photography and the United Nations, New York.
His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the George Eastman House, Rochester; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He is represented by Pace/ MacGill Gallery in New York City.
For more information about Fazal Sheikh and to see many more images of Vrindavan widows, and his other work, visit http://www.fazalsheikh.org/