The World of Widows

VARANASI, INDIA

Offered by: Vinay Tripathi (Street photographer, journalist and local Varanasi expert)

$250 for entire experience

up to 2 people

approx. 3 hours

Documentary photography

Want to explore a spiritual world largely unknown to most visitors?

Varanasi, known for its iconic Shiva temple, bathing ghats, and 3,000-year old culture, opened its doors to widows in the early 18th century. Today, about 5,000 widows find hope along the ghats of Varanasi, as they live a life meant to be spent in mourning. This experience gives you a first-hand account of the daily lives of these women – spent between ancient scriptures, meditation, singing hymns and daily chores.

Widow ashrams are private and secluded hermitages for marginalized women neglected by families and society. This is an aspect of Varanasi largely hidden from the public eye with no easy access. Yet, these women bring in and represent powerful, emotional and highly individual stories that are worth observing. It is unlikely that any visitor to an ashram like this has seen such a stark contrast of life and is bound to make one think of everything we take for granted around us.

Anybody visiting India or Varanasi with an interest in age-old customs and an authentic glimpse into a locally relevant community of women. Travel, documentary and portrait photographers will particularly find this very rewarding.

  • Visit the Nepali mandir (temple), also known as mini Khajuraho, one of the oldest temples in Varanasi built by the King of Nepal
  • Visit the widow ashram (hermitage) where women, mostly from Nepal have taken refuge into a life of meditation and prayers, till their bodies peacefully exit the material world
  • See first hand the daily lives, routines, and interactions of these widows – from performing chants and recitals of the Bhagwad Gita, to meditating, singing, and cleaning
  • Depending on circumstances, we may also interact one-on-one with some of the widows to listen to their personal stories, talk to them for their perspectives, and shoot portraits
  • After the ashram visit, we will also quickly visit a few other locations in and around Lalita Ghat

Additional information

Meeting point
Rajendraprasad Ghat

Recommended equipment
Any camera and lens are fine. A fast lens such as f/1.8 is helpful as some parts of the ashram are poorly lit

Activity level
Medium

Important Notes
Widow ashrams are private homes and a sensitive place. Please respect the privacy of residents and do not click any photos without asking first. Many residents might be meditating or performing prayers, please be mindful of who and when you approach someone. It is strongly recommended to approach people through me.


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