Holi or the festival of colours falls on a full moon day (Phalgun Purnima) and heralds the arrival of spring – a new beginning. It is joyously celebrated all over India by different communities in their own way, and although a lot of dairy is used, significantly none of the special dishes prepared are non-vegetarian.

People light a bonfire (Holika Dahan) on the eve of the festival, whereas the day itself is celebrated by having fun playing with colours.

The colours used, including gulal, are usually oxidised metals or industrial dyes of mineral origin, and compounds of metals like lead oxide, copper sulphate, aluminium bromide, chromium, mercury, and even mica, silica, glass, aniline, etc., mixed with harmful solvents. For example, red is derived from mercuric oxide, green from copper sulphate, purple from chromium iodide, black from lead, and the glitter is mica and glass.

During Holi 2012 spurious colour caused over 200 persons to be admitted into a Mumbai Hospital’s ICU and were diagnosed with methaemoglobinema, a condition characterised by the presence of benzene in the blood leading to reduced oxygen flow to tissues. Those who were given the antidote methylene blue survived the toxic colour.

The harsh chemicals, more often than not, result in severe allergic conditions on skin and hair. Moreover, they are harmful to the environment because they clog drains and sewage pipes, pollute the earth’s water and soil, and are responsible for the death of many innocent creatures.

Gulal gotas are made of lac and filled with gullal. Although rubber and water balloons are now used in most places, Jaipur is the city where these cannonballs are made and sold for Holi.

Eco-friendly Colours

On the other hand, eco-friendly colours are usually based on talcum powder or a mixture of wheat/rice flour, and alum in a ratio of 1:2.

Different flowers, leaves and other crushed ingredients are used for the desired colour. For example, the red and magenta can be obtained from bixa seeds, beetroot, hibiscus flowers, pomegranate seeds and madder herb; green from palak, glyricidea, nirgudi, hibiscus, tulsi, henna, coriander and leaves of gulmohour; yellow from marigold flowers, turmeric, tamarind, lemon and chickpeas/chana dal; orange from cocum and turmeric; black from harda; blue from the indigo plant; and brown from bark of walnut trees.

These colour releasing ingredients are mixed with the talcum powder or wheat/rice flour to form a smooth paste to which alum and water is then added. Since the colours are from botanical sources, they are safe for humans, our earth and the environment.

It is certainly worth one’s while to locate and use eco-friendly colours only. Several social service organisations produce and market them, while some others teach children how to make them. Likewise, campaigns are undertaken to encourage people to play Holi with such natural colours.

Not only Organic Colours…

Responsible citizens respect Nature and their fellow beings and so do not fell trees to fuel bonfires, or light them in areas where the smoke adversely affects people. Cow dung cakes are increasingly being utilised.

Animal welfare societies remind people that domestic animals (dogs, cats, cattle, goats, sheep, donkeys, etc.) do not like colour thrown on them. Most Holi colours are harmful if inhaled and known to result in severe skin infections which have easily spread among other animals and humans.

A couple of days prior to Holi there is a brisk sale of percussion instruments such as daphlis, duffs, halgis, dholaks, dumrus, dhols and tashas. Some are made of leather (goat, cow), few plastic, but the traditional drums contain deer skin.

Sookhi Holi

To save water that gets wasted every year during Holi, the Tilak Holi has been encouraged by the state government of Jharkhand, as a result of which lakhs of people play Holi with Abir-Gulal or dry colour.

Bizarre and Macabre Holi

At Sohana village, on the outskirts of Chandigarh, Holi has always been celebrated in a ghastly manner because for generations people have believed that by doing so the village would not be poor.

Animal skeletons and rotting body parts of cattle and dogs are therefore brought in the dead of night from a dumping ground and hung up outside shop and house doors. At the end of the following day they are taken down and sent back to the place from where they came. Holi is played on the streets by throwing ash of carcasses and sewage water at each other, but inside their homes they use the usual colours.

Aeda Alert

The Forest Department of Rajasthan has to every year on Holi warn the youth or certain villages that are situated adjoining the jungles not to celebrate Aeda despite which they illegally go on hunting sprees with axes, sticks and country made guns into the forest and bring back carcasses of small animals like rabbits, birds and peacocks which they cook and consume. Aeda is played for fun mostly in old Beawer, Masuda and Pisangan blocks and on the periphery of Siriska and Ranthambore but the Aeda Alert is issued for the whole state and squads are deputed in sensitive zones.
Page last updated on 18/01/24