5 September 1992
CHOOSING TO BEG
Sir: Tim McGirk might have better understood the position of the widows of Vrindavan (” City of Widows” , 29 August) if he had found out more about several strong currents in the spiritual life of a Hindu.
The last stages of a Hindu’s life have to be spent in a spiritual quest. Lord Krishna promises in the Bhagvad Gita that ”one who meditates on me at the point of death comes to my kingdom, thus attaining liberation from cycles of birth and death”. The constant chanting of the Lord’s name prepares one for that final moment. Contrary to what Tim McGirk suggests, the vast majority of widows come to Vrindavan of their own free will, to spend their life in the holy land, away from any distractions. They do not starve but frugally-not unlike monks in some Christian traditions.
When holy men and women-or sadhus and sadhvis – beg, Hindus consider them beggars in the conventional sense. Holy men and women in India shed all material trappings and depend on ”worldly” people for food. Indeed a Hindu considers it a great act of charity and a privilege to feed these mendicants.
Lastly, the widows of Vrindavan are not denied meat, fish and eggs: they are strict vegetarians and choose not to eat these foods. Vegetarianism is the central pillar of their beliefs.
West Croydon, Surrey