Bearing close resemblance with the ancient Indian festival called Vasantotsav, Holi, the most colourful festival of our country, falls on the full moon in the month of Phalgun-Chaitra. There are many stories woven around the advent of this festival - some relating to the slaying of Holika, the sister of king Hiranyakashyap, and the others attributed to Lord Krishna chasing Radha and the gopikas.
This festival is celebrated by sprinkling dry or wet colours on each other. Traditionally, Holi was played by making colours from flowers and herbs which were available in plenty during the season. Many of these flowers and herbs are known for their therapeutic and beneficial health effects, particularly skin. Even today in some parts of the country, Holi is played by throwing flower petals on each other.
But with the passage of time, spirit and essence of our festivals, including that of Holi, have been taken over by deviated tendencies. Most of the Holi colours sold in the market are oxidised metals or industrial dyes mixed with other chemicals. For example, green colour comes from copper sulphate, purple is chromium iodide, silver is made from aluminium bromide and the black is lead oxide. Not to end here, shiny colours are obtained by mixing powdered glass and peels of mica cakes into these chemicals.
There are reports that some chemicals which constitute these colours are highly toxic and can even cause cancer. More and more people who handle colours or play Holi with them complain of conjunctivitis, visual impairment, asthma and skin reactions.
Apart from the danger of chemical colours, even the way we play Holi is also becoming dangerous. Throwing water balloons with force can cause injury to eyes and ears. Unnecessary rowdy and untamed behaviour also results in spoiling the prudence of the festival of colours.
Today much of gaiety and fervour supposed to be associated with Holi can be regained by opting for safe organic colours. Ayurveda suggests use of various herbs and flowers to prepare natural colours. For example, flowers of tesu or palash tree or that of simbal if soaked or boiled in water give red or yellow colour. Khadir or kattha, which is eaten in betel leaves, when mixed in water turns it into a brownish liquid.
Many other herbs such as turmeric are known for its beneficial effect on skin and so is besan. Both these household items are used for "ubtans" or face packs. Dissolving a little haldi into water prepares a bright yellow colour, which can also be used as a paste. Powder of red sandal, dried and pounded marigold, harsingar and chrysanthemum flowers and crushed leaves of henna also make attractive, natural and scented colours.
Holi is supposed to be an exuberant occasion of goodwill and cheer. Let us vow not to spoil the spirit and sanctity of our festivals. So for all times to come celebrate Holi in a healthy way - by saying no to chemicals and by adopting natural and human-friendly colours. Happy Holi!!