The holy city of Vrindavan in northern India, home to 4,000 temples, is known as the city of widows. An estimated 3,000 women have made their homes there begging and praying at the temples. Widows flock to Vrindavan and neighboring Mathura because Hindus believe that people who die there are freed from the cycle of birth and death and can obtain moksha (emancipation). Dressed mostly in white, the color of widowhood, the women spend most of their day in prayer earning five rupees a day and a handful of rice or begging on the street.
For Indian women there are few fates worse than losing a husband. Widows have no place in Hindu society. They are often forced into a life of poverty and isolation, relegated to the bottom rungs of society, and prevented from remarrying. Although widows with wealth or an enlightened family may escape this situation most of India's 30 million widows face persecution and stigma as they are shunned by their families and often blamed by their in-laws for their husband's death. Some have been widowed at a very young age and have spent most of their adult lives in Vrindavan.