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How to celebrate a Green HOLI

A modified version of this article is published in today’s edition of Tabla! a Singapore newspaper by SPH

Holi hai!! Holi which is just around the corner, is the most energetic and vibrant of Indian festivals. People literally take to the streets in India and play with a riot of colour, smearing it all over the faces and clothes of friends, families and even strangers. This is done with coloured powders or “Gulal” or coloured water using syringes or “pichkaris.”

Colour is a symbolic way to denote the passing of winter and to welcome the brilliant hues of spring blossoms under the warming sun.

In earlier times till about the 1950s, Holi colours emanated from the very same flowers that blossom in spring, such as the bright red ones from the Flame of the Forest(Kesu) or the Indian Coral Tree (Parijat).

However now, what is commonly used is a gamut of colours made of chemicals which are quite toxic to human health and to the environment. According to Toxics Link, a think tank investigating chemical use in India, dry colours are made of bases which are usually asbestos (a known carcinogen even in minute quantities) and silica which can dry the skin intensively. Colourants used in Gulal comprise mainly of heavy metals like lead, chromium, cadmium, nickel, mercury, zinc, iron. These are systemic toxins which get deposited in the kidneys, liver and bones and may disrupt human metabolism, apart from causing nervous system disorders and allergies.

Download a document from Toxics Link website called “The Ugly Truths behind Holi” pastes, dry powder and water colours. It outlines in greater detail the kind of chemicals and metals in their composition apart from the specific health effects.

In our joyous fervour, we need to be mindful of the impact of these colours on our health, as well as on the air and water which are polluted during production as well as in end use. We are also exposing factory workers in India manufacturing these colours, to toxic effects which come from touching and inhaling these chemicals.

There are many organisations and NGOs in India promoting the use of eco-friendly Gulal. CLEAN India which stands for Community Led Environment Action Network teaches school children all over the country to prepare Gulal from natural sources.

Kalpavriksh is an Indian NGO which encourages the extraction of Gulal from the flowers and herbs grown by a womens farmers group called Vanastree. This provides valuable income to women farmers on the lower rungs of the economic ladder as well as provide a truly eco-friendly alternative to chemical colours. The brand, Rang Dulaar is marketed by a social enterprise called E-coexist  and is available in a few stores in India such as Dorabjees( Pune), The Bombay Store(Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore), Spencers Hypermart(Mumbai and Pune), Either Or( Pune), Nilaya(Pune), Temple Tree( Pune), Namdharis(Bangalore) and Gifts of Love( Delhi)

Here’s a video showing their joint efforts:

Organic India is another company that has introduced organic HOLI colours. These can be ordered online at www.organicindia.com or bought in India.

With a little bit of imagination, exciting, natural and eco-friendly colours can be made at home too. Feel free to experiment textures and strength of colours to your taste.

For dry powders you may use these:

GREEN: Mehandi or henna powder or powder from dried tulsi
RED: Grind dried petals of hibiscus or rose flowers
YELLOW: Grind dried petals of marigold or chrysanthemum flowers, or use turmeric powder
BLUE: Grind dried petals of jacaranda or blue hibiscus flowers

To increase the bulk to the above, you can add any flour such as chickpea flour(besan), wheat flour(atta or maida) or rice flour:

For wet colours, you can derive them in the following manner:

GREEN: Grind into a fine paste spinach, mint, coriander and dilute with water
RED: Soak pomegranate peels or red hibiscus petals in water overnight. Juice of tomatoes and carrots give an orange-red colour though they need to be strained and diluted
YELLOW: Boil turmeric in water to get a concentrate. Allow to cool and dilute as required. Alternatively, boil marigold or chrysanthemum petals in water, and leave overnight to cool.
MAGENTA: Grate beetroot and soak in water. To get a stronger colour, boil and allow to cool.
BROWN: Boil tea and/or coffee in water and strain
BLACK: Boil dried Amla(Indian Gooseberry) in an iron pot (kadai) and cool overnight. Dilute as necessary. Alternatively, grind black grapes, dilute and strain.

(preparation ideas condensed from www.holi.org)

All these home made preparations are totally harmless, and can be quite therapeutic. You could use the dry powders, along with multi-coloured lentils for making a chemical-free rangoli for your Holi decorations.

Wish you a really fun and “green” Holi!

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Posted by on Mar 5 2009. Filed under Chemicals, Green Festivals/Events. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “How to celebrate a Green HOLI”

  1. Interesting article.. stunning revelations.. was taken aback by the effects of the chemicals used in the colors.
    Making colors oneself, would truly make Holi all the more fun and exciting!
    Happy Holi!

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