Monday, March 3, 2008
Holi (Hindi: होली) or Phagwah (Bhojpuri) is a popular, Hindu spring festival, observed in North India and Nepal, also called the Festival of Colours. In West Bengal, it is known as Dolyatra (Doljatra) or Boshonto Utsav ("spring festival").
The colorful festival of Holi is celebrated on Phalgun Purnima which comes in February end or early March. Holi festival has an ancient origin and celebrates the triumph of 'good' over 'bad'. The colorful festival bridges the social gap and renew sweet relationships. On this day, people hug and wish each other 'Happy Holi'.
Holi celebration begins with lighting up of bonfire on the Holi eve. Numerous legends & stories associated with Holi celebration makes the festival more exuberant and vivid. People rub 'gulal' and 'abeer' on each others' faces and cheer up saying, "bura na maano Holi hai". Holi also gives a wonderful chance to send blessings and love to dear ones wrapped in a special Holi gift.
History of Holi
Holi is an ancient festival of India and was originally known as 'Holika'. The festivals finds a detailed description in early religious works such as Jaimini's Purvamimamsa-Sutras and Kathaka-Grhya-Sutras. Historians also believe that Holi was celebrated by all Aryans but more so in the Eastern part of India.
It is said that Holi existed several centuries before Christ. However, the meaning of the festival is believed to have changed over the years. Earlier it was a special rite performed by married women for the happiness and well-being of their families and the full moon (Raka) was worshiped.
Calculating the Day of Holi
There are two ways of reckoning a lunar month- 'purnimanta' and 'amanta'. In the former, the first day starts after the full moon; and in the latter, after the new moon. Though the amanta reckoning is more common now, the purnimanta was very much in vogue in the earlier days.
According to this purnimanta reckoning, Phalguna purnima was the last day of the year and the new year heralding the Vasanta-ritu (with spring starting from next day). Thus the full moon festival of Holika gradually became a festival of merrymaking, announcing the commencement of the spring season. This perhaps explains the other names of this festival - Vasanta-Mahotsava and Kama-Mahotsava.
Reference in Ancient Texts and Inscriptions
Besides having a detailed description in the Vedas and Puranas such as Narad Purana and Bhavishya Purana, the festival of Holi finds a mention in Jaimini Mimansa. A stone incription belonging to 300 BC found at Ramgarh in the province of Vindhya has mention of Holikotsav on it. King Harsha, too has mentioned about holikotsav in his work Ratnavali that was written during the 7th century.
The famous Muslim tourist - Ulbaruni too has mentioned about holikotsav in his historical memories. Other Muslim writers of that period have mentioned, that holikotsav were not only celebrated by the Hindus but also by the Muslims.
The festival of Holi also finds a reference in the sculptures on walls of old temples. A 16th century panel sculpted in a temple at Hampi, capital of Vijayanagar, shows a joyous scene of Holi. The painting depicts a Prince and his Princess standing amidst maids waiting with syringes or pichkaris to drench the Royal couple in coloured water.
A 16th century Ahmednagar painting is on the theme of Vasanta Ragini - spring song or music. It shows a royal couple sitting on a grand swing, while maidens are playing music and spraying colors with pichkaris.
There are a lot of other paintings and murals in the temples of medieval India which provide a pictoral description of Holi. For instance, a Mewar painting (circa 1755) shows the Maharana with his courtiers. While the ruler is bestowing gifts on some people, a merry dance is on, and in the center is a tank filled with colored water. Also, a Bundi miniature shows a king seated on a tusker and from a balcony above some damsels are showering gulal (colored powders) on him.
Legends and Mythology
In some parts of India, specially in Bengal and Orissa, Holi Purnima is also celebrated as the birthday of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (A.D. 1486-1533). However, the literal meaning of the word 'Holi' is 'burning'. There are various legends to explain the meaning of this word, most prominent of all is the legend associated with demon king Hiranyakashyap.
Hiranyakashyap wanted everybody in his kingdom to worship only him but to his great disappointment, his son, Prahlad became an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana. Hiaranyakashyap commanded his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap. Holika had a boon whereby she could enter fire without any damage on herself. However, she was not aware that the boon worked only when she enters the fire alone. As a result she paid a price for her sinister desires, while Prahlad was saved by the grace of the god for his extreme devotion. The festival, therefore, celebrates the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of devotion.
Legend of Lord Krishna is also associated with play with colors as the Lord started the tradition of play with colours by applying colour on his beloved Radha and other gopis. Gradually, the play gained popularity with the people and became a tradition.
There are also a few other legends associated with the festival - like the legend of Shiva and Kaamadeva and those of Ogress Dhundhi and Pootana. All depict triumph of good over evil - lending a philosophy to the festival.
Rituals of Holi
Rituals of the ancient festival of Holi are religiously followed every year with care and enthusiasm.
Days before the festival people start gathering wood for the lighting of the bonfire called Holika at the major crossroads of the city. This ensures that at the time of the actual celebration a huge pile of wood is collected.
Holika Dahan Celebrations
Then on the eve of Holi, Holika Dahan takes place. Effigy of Holika, the devil minded sister of demon King Hiranyakashyap is placed in the wood and burnt. For, Holika tried to kill Hiranyakashyap's son Prahlad, an ardent devotee of Lord Naarayana. The ritual symbolises the victory of good over evil and also the triumph of a true devotee.
Children also hurl abuses at Holika and pray pranks, as if they still try to chase away Dhundhi who once troubled little ones in the Kingdom of Prithu. Some people also take embers from the fire to their homes to rekindle their own domestic fires.
Play of Colors
Next day, is of course the main day of Holi celebrations. The day is called Dhuleti
and it is on this day that the actual play of colours take place. There is no tradition of holding puja and is meant for pure enjoyment.
The tradition of playing colours is particularly rampant in north India and even in that region, there can be no comparison to the Holi of Mathura and Vrindavan. In Maharashtra and Gujarat too Holi is celebrated with lot of enthusiasm and fun.
People take extreme delight in spraying colour water on each other with pichkaris or pouring buckets and buckets of it. Singing Bollywood Holi numbers and dancing on the beat of dholak is also a part of the tradition. Amidst all this activity people relish gujiya, mathri, malpuas and other traditional Holi delicacies with great joy.
Drinks, specially thandai laced with bhang is also an intrinsic part of the Holi festivity. Bhang helps to further enhance the spirit of the occasion but if taken in excess it might dampen it also. So caution should be taken while consuming it.
Holi Celebrations in South India
In south India, however, people follow the tradition of worshiping Kaamadeva, the love god of Indian mythology. People have faith in the legend which speak about the great sacrifice of Kaamadeva when he shot his love arrow on Lord Shiva to break his meditation and evoke his interest in worldly affairs.
After, an eventful and funfilled day people become a little sober in the evening and greet friends and relatives by visiting them and exchange sweets. Holi special get togethers are also organised by various cultural organisations to generate harmony and brotherhood in the society.
Significance of Holi
In spite of being such a colourful and gay festival, there are various aspects of Holi which makes it so significant for our lives. Though they might not be so apparent but a closer look and a little thought will reveal the significance of Holi in more ways than meets the eyes. Ranging from socio-cultural, religious to biological there is every reason why we must heartily enjoy the festival and cherish the reasons for its celebrations.
So when, its time for Holi, please don't hold yourself back and enjoy the festival to the hilt by participating with full enthusiasm in every small tradition related to the festival.
Holi gets us close to our religion and our mythology as it is essentially the celebration of various legends associated with the festival.
Foremost is the legend of Prahlad and Hiranyakshyap. The legend says there once lived a devil and powerful king, Hiranyakshyap who considered himself a god and wanted everybody to worship him. To his great ire, his son, Prahlad began to worship, Lord Vishnu. To get rid of his son, Hiranyakshyap asked his sister, Holika to enter a blazing fire with Prahlad in her lap, as she had a boon to enter fire unscathed. Legend has it that Prahlad was saved for his extreme devotion for the lord while Holika paid a price for her sinister desire. The tradition of burning Holika or the 'Holika dahan' comes mainly from this legend.
Holi also celebrates the legend of Radha and Krishna which describes the extreme delight, Krishna took in applying colour on Radha and other gopis. This prank of Krishna later, became a trend and a part of the Holi festivities.
Mythology also states that Holi is the celebration of death of Ogress Pootana who tried to kill infant, Krishna by feeding poisonous milk to it.
Another legend of Holi which is extremely popular in Southern India is that of Lord Shiva and Kaamadeva. According to the legend, people in south celebrate the sacrifice of Lord of Passion Kaamadeva who risked his life to revoke Lord Shiva from meditation and save the world.
Also, popular is the legend of Ogress Dhundhi who used to trouble children in the kingdom of Raghu and was ultimately chased away by the pranks of the children on the day of Holi. Showing their belief in the legend, children till date play pranks and hurl abuses at the time of Holika Dahan.
Celebration of the various legends associated with Holi reassure the people of the power of the truth as the moral of all these legends is the ultimate victory of good over evil. The legend of Hiranyakashyap and Prahlad also points to the fact that extreme devotion to god pays as god always takes his true devotee in his shelter.
All these legends help the people to follow a good conduct in their lives and believe in the virtue of being truthful. This is extremely important in the modern day society when so many people resort to evil practices for small gains and torture one who is honest. Holi helps the people to believe in the virtue of being truthful and honest and also to fight away the evil.
Besides, holi is celebrated at a time of the year when the fields are in full bloom and people are expecting a good harvest. This gives a people a good reason to rejoice, make merry and submerge themselves in the spirit of Holi.
Holi helps to bring the society together and strengthen the secular fabric of our country. For, the festival is celebrated by non-Hindus also as everybody like to be a part of such a colouful and joyous festival.
Also, the tradition of the Holi is that even the enemies turn friends on Holi and forget any feeling of hardship that may be present. Besides, on this day people do not differentiate between the rich and poor and everybody celebrate the festival together with a spirit of bonhomie and brotherhood.
In the evening people visit friends and relatives and exchange gifts, sweets and greetings. This helps in revatalising relationships and strengthening emotional bonds between people.
It is interesting to note that the festival of Holi is significant for our lives and body in many other ways than providing joy and fun.
We also need to thank our forefathers who started the trend of celebrating Holi at such a scientifically accurate time. And, also for incorporating so much fun in the festival.
As Holi comes at a time of the year when people have a tendency to feel sleepy and lazy. This is natural for the body to experiences some tardiness due to the change from the cold to the heat in the atmosphere. To counteract this tardiness of the body, people sing loudly or even speak loudly. Their movements are brisk and their music is loud. All of this helps to rejuvenate the system of the human body.
Besides, the colours when sprayed on the body have a great impact on it. Biologists believe the liquid dye or Abeer penetrates the body and enters into the pores. It has the effect of strengthening the ions in the body and adds health and beauty to it.
There is yet another scientific reason for celebrating the Holi, this however pertains to the tradition of Holika Dahan. The mutation period of winter and spring, induces the growth of bacteria in the atmosphere as well as in the body. When Holika is burnt, temperature rises to about 145 degrees Fahrenhiet. Following the tradition when people perform Parikrima (circumambulation or going around) around the fire, the heat from the fire kills the bacteria in the body thus, cleansing it.
The way Holi is celebrated in south, the festival also promotes good health. For, the day after the burning of Holika people put ash (Vibhuti) on their forehead and they would mix Chandan (sandalpaste) with the young leaves and flowers of the Mango tree and consume it to promote good health.
Some also believe that play with colours help to promote good health as colours are said to have great impact on our body and our health. Western-Physicians and doctors believe that for a healthy body, colours too have an important place besides the other vital elements. Deficiency of a particular colour in our body causes ailment, which can be cured only after supplementing the body with that particular colour.
People also clean-up their houses on Holi which helps in clearing up the dust and mess in the house and get rid of mosquitoes and others pests. A clean house generally makes the residents feel good and generate positive energies.
Tradition of Holi
The colourful festival of Holi is celebrated by different names in this vast and culturally diverse country. The traditions followed for the festival varies a little and at times a lot as one moves from one state to other studying the various facets of the festival and getting behind the various colours of it.
Nowhere it is celebrated with so much charm and enthusiasm as in Mathura, Vrindavan, Barsana and Nandgaon - the places associated with the birth and childhood of Lord Krishna. At Barsana Holi assumes the name of Lathmaar Holi. Here, women of Barsana give a tough time to men of Nandgaon as they come to play Holi with them. Women drag the unlucky captives, beat them, dress them in a female attire - yet all is in the spirit of Holi.
Women of Haryana, specifically the bhabhis too get an upper hand on the day as they get a social sanction to beat their devars and take a sweet revenge for all the mischiefs they have played on them. This revengeful tradition is called the Dulandi Holi.
The most enjoyable tradition of Holi, of course, apart from the play of colours is the tradition of breaking the pot. It is celebrated with much fan fair in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Here a pot of buttermilk is hung high on the streets. Men form a huge human pyramid and one on the top breaks the pot with his head. All this while women keep singing Holi folk songs and throwing buckets and buckets of water. The tradition has its roots in the mischievous nature of Lord Krishna who was so fond of butter milk that he used to steal it from every accessible house in the village. To hide the butter from young Krishna, womenfolk used to hang it high. All in vain!
Holi is celebrated in the most dignified manner in the state of Bengal. At Vishwa Bharti University, founded by Rabindranath Tagore founded the tradition of celebrating Holi as 'Basant Utsav' or 'Spring Festival'. Students decorate the campus with intricate rangolis and carry out prabhat pheris in the morning. Clad in a traditional attire young boys and girls sing songs composed by Gurudev and present an enchanting view to the onlookers who gather in large number here. In other parts of Bengal, Holi is celebrated as Dol Yatra where the idols of Radha and Krishna are placed on a decorated palanquin and taken out in a procession.
For Sikhs, Holi calls for the display of their physical strength and military prowess as they gather at Anandpur Sahib a day after Holi to celebrate Hola Mohalla. The tradition was started by the tenth and last guru of Sikh religion, Guru Gobind Singh ji and is being religiously carried forward.
In the north east, Manipuris celebrate the festival in a colourful manner for six continuous days. Here, the centuries old Yaosang Festival of Manipur amalgated with Holi with the introduction of Vaishnavism in the eighteenth century. The highlight of the festival here is a special Manipuri dance, called 'Thabal Chongba'.
Well, there are many-many more ways in which Holi is celebrated. Different states, different cities and different villages have come out with their unique and innovative styles of playing Holi. It may not be possible to describe all of them at one place. What is noteworthy though is the fact that the spirit of Holi remains the same throughout. It is the festival which generates the spirit of brotherhood and bring people close - and this is what matters most than anything else.
What enhances the spirit of Holi though is the tradition of consuming the intoxicating bhang. It is generally consumed with thandai or as pakoras. People go high on it and enjoy the festival to the hilt. Other Holi delicacies include gujiya, mathri, malpua, puranpoli, dahi badas, etc. After a frenzied play of colours people love to gorge them up.
Holi celebration takes place with lot of joy and verve throughout the country. The enthusiasm of the people reaches its peak and matches with the nature which is in full bounty at the time of Holi.
Holi is being celebrated in Indian since time immemorial but the popularity of Holi celebrations seems to be rising with every passing year and so is the level of hoo-ha. As no other festival gives so much liberty to the people to let their hair loose and enjoy their hidden crazy self.
Differences of any sort are drowned in the coloured waters of Holi and people just enjoy being a play animal. To further enhance the festive spirit of Holi celebrations we have a social sanction to get a kick with the tradition of bhang. Then there is total wildness as people dance to the rhythm of dholak and sing traditional folk songs in loudest possible pitch.
Children particularly enjoy the festival as they throw water filled balloons at passersby...and if anybody stares..they have ready answer, 'Bura na mano Holi hai..' and evoke a smile on the irritated face. Besides, they have their water missiles, called pichkaris to drench the person from far and escape further drenching.
In the midst of these colouring games are savoured the mouth watering holi specialities like gujiya, malpuas, mathri, puran poli, dahi badas etc and downed with glasses full of thandai.
In some states there is also a tradition of breaking the pot full of buttermilk which is hung high on the streets. A group of boys form a human pyramid and one of them break the pot. All this while womenfolk throw buckets of colour water on them and sing folk songs.
And after a wild and eventful day, evenings are celebrated in a dignified manner by visiting friends and relatives. People exchange sweets and hug each other conveying the warm wishes for Holi. These days there people also participate and organise Holi Meets and enjoy the festival till late in the night.
Holi celebrations that starts with the burning of Holika on the eve of Holi thus culminates with the lot of funfilled activity and bonhomie. However, at some places specially Mathura and Barsana Holi celebrations continue for a week as each major temple organise a Holi bash on different day.
Festival of Colours
HOLI HAI... Come holi and the streets will reverberate with the chants of Holi hai...
Colours will fill the atmosphere as people throw abeer and gulal in the air showing great joy and mirth in the arrival of this Spring Festival.
Holi marks the end of the winter gloom and rejoices in the bloom of the spring time. It is the best time and season to celebrate; Holi provides this opportunity and people take every advantage of it.
Days before Holi, the markets get flooded with the colours of every hues. This aptly sets the mood of the people till the actual day of Holi. It is such a colourful and joyous sight to watch huge piles of bright red, magenta, pink, green and blue every where on the streets. Buying those colours seems as you are bringing joys and colour to your home and into your life.
Children take special delight in the festival and demand every colour in loads. They have so many plans in their mind. They have to be the first to apply colour to Mama, Papa, siblings and a big bunch of friends in their colony. Nobody could miss being coloured by them and of course, they need colour for that.
These days it is easy to buy colours from the market but still some people do take up the task of making colours at home, usually from flowers of tesu and palash. These home made colours, have a special fragrance of love in them.
The other option is to buy gulal which comes in bright shades of pink, magenta, red, yellow and green. 'Abeer' is made of small crystals or paper like chips of mica. This is mixed with the gulal for a rich shine. Mischievous ones, however, go for silver and gold paints on which no colour could be applied.
Whatever be the choice of colour, nobody remains in their original texture at the end of the play. And everybody takes delight looking at the other. Really, the other name of the festival is FUN.
And, it is not just children, but the young and the old alike who take delight in this joyous festival of colours. Seniors too, move in their tolis. Their enthusiasm is at times greater than that of their children as they forget the bars of age and follow their hearts. To youth, holi gives a chance to explore the heights of their enthusiasm as they climb the human pyramids to break the pot of buttermilk and to express their love to their beloved by applying colour.
For, Holi knows no bars, everybody feels it is their right to enjoy and enjoy they do. Songs, dance, drinks, food everything goes in excess when it is time for Holi. It can be said, "Life turns Colourful" when it is time for Holi.
The Evening of Bonfires
Holika Dahan or the lighting of bonfire takes place on the eve of Holi. The day is also popularly called 'Chhoti Holi' or the 'Small Holi'.The bigger event - play with the colour takes place on the next 'big' day.
Holika Dahan is an extremely popular tradition and is celebrated with fervour all across the country and is symbolic of triumph of good over evil. There are numerous legends associated with this ancient tradition and it is difficult to pin-point as to when actually the tradition started.
A Brief History
Holikotsav finds a mention in the Vedas and Puranas. It is stated that during the Vedic period the sacred fire of Holi was burnt amidst the chanting of specific mantras which were intended for the destruction of the demonic forces. It is also said that on this very day Vaishwadev oblation commenced in which offerings of wheat, gram and oat were made to the sacrificial fire.
Some scholars believe that Holikotsav is named after fried cereals or parched grains called 'Holka' in Sanskrit. These parched grains were used to perform hawana (a fire ritual).The vibhuti (sacred ashes) obtained from this ritual was smeared on the forehead of those who participated in the ritual to keep away evil. This vibhuti is called Bhumi Hari. Till date there is a tradition of offering wheat and oat into the Holika fire.
According to Narad Purana, this day is celebrated in the memory of Prahlad's victory and the defeat of his aunt 'Holika'. The legend has it that there once existed a mighty demon king by the name of Hiranyakashyap who wished that everybody in his kingdom should worship him. His son, Prahlad became a follower of Lord Naarayana. Hiranyakashyap instructed his sister, Holika to sit in the burning fire with Prahlad in lap. She was blessed with a boon, as a result of which no fire could burn her. But the opposite happened, Prahlad survived and Holika was charred to death. Thus 'holi' is celebrated to commemorate the victory of virtue over evil.
It is because of this event, Holika (a bonfire) is burnt every year on Holi. The burning of the effigy of Holika is called Holika Dahan.
Another legend mentioned in the 'Bhavishya Purana' is also considered to be related to the festival of Holi. The legend goes back to the kingdom of Raghu, where lived an ogress called Dhundhi who used to trouble children but was finally chased away by them on the day of Holi. This is said to be the reason why the tradition of Holika Dahan is so popular amongst children and why they are allowed to play pranks on the day.
There is also a specific way in which Holika Dahan takes place. A log of wood is kept in a prominent public place on the Vasant Panchami day, almost 40 days before the Holi Festival. People go on throwing twigs, dried leaves, branches of trees left through the winter besides any other combustible material they can spare, on to that log which gradually grows into a sizable heap. On the day of Holika Dahan an effigy of Holika with child Prahlad in her lap is kept on the logs. Usually, Holika's effigy is made of combustible materials, whereas, Prahlad's effigy is made of non-combustible one. On the night of Phalguna Purnima, it is set alight amidst the chanting of Rakshoghna Mantras of the Rig Veda (4.4.1-15; 10.87.1-25 and so on) to ward off all evil spirits.
Next morning the ashes from the bonfire are collected as prasad and smeared on the limbs of the body. If spared by the fire coconuts are also collected and eaten.
Metaphorically though, the fire is meant to signify the destruction of evil - the burning of the 'Holika' - a mythological character and the triumph of good as symbolised by Prahlad. However, the heat from the fire also depicts that winter is behind and the hot summer days are ahead.
Next day after Holika Dahan is called Dhuleti, when play with colours actually takes place.
It may be noted that in some places like Bihar and UP Holika Dahan is also known as 'Samvatsar Dahan'. The concept of Samvatsar New Year varies in different provinces of our country. In some provinces the month commences from 'Krishna Paksha' while in others it commences from 'Shukla Paksha'. For Krishna Paksha, the year ends on 'Purnima' of the month of Phalgun and thus the new year begins the next day - Chaitra, first day of the Krishna Paksha.
Holi Pooja Process
Holi Pooja takes place a day before the Holi Festival. This day is called as 'Holika Dahan'. There is no special pooja performed on the Holi day. This day is only meant for celebrations and play of colors. Holika Dahan is the major ritual performed at the time of Holi which is also considered an important Holi Puja. People light bonfires on the eve of Holi festival to celebrate the victory of 'good' over 'bad' which is called Holika Dahan.
Holi Pooja Process or Holika Dahan Process
Holika Dahan preparations begin almost 40 days before the festival. People start gathering woods on the important crossroads of the city. Holi Pooja or Holika takes place on an auspicious time in the evening a day before the Holi festival. Given below are the steps and rituals for the Holi Pooja:
1.Holi Pooja can be performed at any place.
2.A log of wood is kept at a prominent public place on the Vasant Panchami day.
3.People extend the log centre with twigs, dried leaves, branches of trees and other combustible material.
4.On the day of Holika Dahan, an effigy of Holika and Prahlad is placed on the huge heap of woods.
5.Effigy of Holika is made of combustible material while Prahlad's effigy is made of non-combustible material.
6.On the eve of Holi, the heap is set alight and the people chant Rakshoghna Mantras of the Rig Veda to cast away the evil spirits.
7.Left over ashes are collected by people next morning. These ashes are considered holy and are smeared on the limbs of the body as Holi Prasad.
8.Smearing of body limbs is an act of purification.
Holi Pooja is performed in a different manner in some communities. Marwari women offer Holi puja in the afternoon and evening i.e. before setting fire to 'Holika'. It is called 'Thandi Holi'. The whole puja process is considered very auspicious for the married women. It ensures well-being and healthy life of their husband.
Just at the beginning of the year, people start looking for the Holi Date in their Calendar. This is because Holi is the first major Hindu Festival of the year. If you too wish to find out when is Holi 2008 or When is Holi in 2009 here is a Holi Calendar just for you! The page offers you Holi Calendar for 2008, 2009 and 2007 too.
Please note that the Holi Calendar given below gives you the main date of Holi celebrations. This day is celebrated with play of colors. Holika Dahan or Chhoti Holi is celebrated a day earlier. On the day of Holika Dahan people burn logs of wood to symbolize victory of good over evil and observe Holi Pooja.
So go ahead mark the Holi Date 2008 in your personal calendar and start preparing for Holi 2008!!
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Celebrate an Eco Friendly Holi
Ideally, the joyous festival of Holi is meant to celebrate the arrival of Spring while the colors used in Holi are to reflect of the various hues of spring season. But unfortunately, in modern times Holi does not stand for all things beautiful. Like various other festivals, Holi too has become ruthlessly commercialized, boisterous and yet another source of environmental degradation. To de-pollute Holi and make it in sync with nature, as it is supposed to be, several social and environmental groups are proposing a return to more natural ways of celebrating Holi.
The aim of this articles is to generate awareness amongst people about the various harmful effects around Holi celebrations and encourage people to celebrate an eco friendly Holi!
Please read on to know about the three main environmental concerns around Holi -
1.The use of toxic chemical colours.
2.The use of wood for burning Holi fires.
3.The wasteful use of water during Holi.
1. Harmful Effects of Chemical Colours
In earlier times when festival celebrations were not so much commercialized Holi colors were prepared from the flowers of trees that blossomed during spring, such as the Indian Coral Tree (parijat) and the Flame of the Forest (Kesu), both of which have bright red flowers. These and several other blossoms provided the raw material from which the brilliant shades of Holi colours were made. Most of these trees also had medicinal properties and Holi colors prepared from them were actually beneficial to the skin.
Over the years, with the disappearance of trees in urban areas and greater stress for higher profits these natural colours came to be replaced by industrial dyes manufactured through chemical processes.
Around 2001, two environmental groups called Toxics Link and Vatavaran, based in Delhi, did a study on all the three available categories of colours available in the market - pastes, dry colours and water colours. The study revealed that all of these three forms of chemical Holi colors are hazardous.
Harmful Chemicals in Holi Paste type colors
According to their researched fact sheet on Holi, the pastes contain very toxic chemicals that can have severe health effects. Please check the table below to know about the chemical used in various Holi colors and their harmful effects on human body.
Color Chemical Health Effects
Black : Lead oxide : Renal Failure
Green : Copper Sulphate : Eye Allergy, Puffiness and temporary blindness
Silver: Aluminium Bromide : Carcinogenic
Blue : Prussian Blue : Contract Dermatitis
Red : Mercury Sulphite : Highly toxic can cause skin cancer
Harmful Chemicals in Gulal
The dry colours, commonly known as gulals, have two components – a colourant that is toxic and a base which could be either asbestos or silica, both of which cause health problems. Heavy metals contained in the colourants can cause asthma, skin diseases and adversely affect the eyes.
Harms of Wet Holi Colors
Wet colours, mostly use Gentian violet as a colour concentrate which can cause skin dis-colouration and dermatitis.
These days, Holi colours are sold loosely, on the roads, by small traders who often do not know the source. Sometimes, the colours come in boxes that specifically say ‘For industrial use only’.
Action Taken by Environmental Groups
Following the publication of these studies several environmental groups took up the cause to encourage people to return to a more natural way of celebrating Holi. Amongst these,
•Navdanya, Delhi published a book called Abir Gulal, which spoke of the biodiversity that was the source of natural colours.
•Development Alternatives, Delhi and Kalpavriksh, Pune have developed educational tools to teach children simple ways of making their own natural Holi colours.
•The CLEAN India campaign has been teaching children how to make beautiful natural colours.
Make your own Holi colours
Holi festival lovers will be thrilled to know that it is possible to make simple natural colors in one’s own kitchen. Here are some very simple recipes to make natural colours:
Color Method of Preparation
Yellow 1) Mix turmeric (haldi) powder with chick pea flour (besan)
2) Boil Marigold or Tesu flowers in water
Yellow liquid color Soak peels of pomegranate (Anar) overnight.
Deep Pink Slice a beetroot and soak in water
Orange - red paste Henna leaves (mehndi) can be dried, powdered and mixed with water.
Purchase Natural Holi Colors
For those who do not have the time to make their own colours, there is the choice of buying natural Holi colours. Several groups are now producing and promoting such colours, although it is important to verify the ingredients of the colours and ensure you know enough about the source.
2. The Holi Bonfire
The burning of fuel wood to create the bonfire for Holika Dahan presents another serious environmental problem. According to a news article, studies done in the state of Gujarat reveal that each bonfire uses around 100 kg of wood, and considering that approximately 30,000 bonfires are lit in the state of Gujarat just for one season, this leads to a wastage of a staggering amount of wood.
Groups such as Sadvichar Parivar are now advocating one symbolic community fire, rather than several smaller bonfires across the city as a way to reduce wood consumption. Others are also suggesting that these fires be lit using waste material rather than wood.
3. A Dry Holi?
In the current situation, when most cities in India are facing acute water scarcity, the wasteful use of water during Holi, is also being questioned. It is common for people to douse each other with buckets of water during Holi, and children often resort to throwing water balloons at each other. The idea of a dry Holi seems alien at first, especially as the climate becomes warmer around Holi, and the water provides welcome relief from the heat. However, considering that in some urban areas, citizens can go without water for several days, it seems wasteful to use so much water simply for a celebration.
Environmental Consciousness Amongst People
It is a relief to notice that the awareness about the environmental impacts of celebrating Holi are being brought to light by various NGOs. And gradually, more and more Indians are choosing to turn to a more natural and less wasteful way of playing Holi.
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