Dr. Dharmakanta Kumbhakar
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Holi is considered as one of the major festivals in India. It is celebrated with enthusiasm and gaiety on the last full moon day in the month of Falgun, according to the Hindu calendar, and the month of March as per the Gregorian calendar. As the festival celebrates the arrival of spring in Falgun, it is also known as Falgunika. People celebrate the changing season and the beauty associated with spring blossoms by spraying colours. The colours used in the joyous festival of Holi are used to reflect the various hues of the spring season. The colourful festival also celebrates the eternal love of Radha and Krishna. Lord Krishna is associated with Holi as the Lord played Holi applying colours on his beloved Radha and other gopies during phalguna purnima (Dol Purnima). According to Hindu mythology, the festival celebrates the killing of Holika, the sister of Hrinyakashyap. Moreover, in Holi there is the ritual of offering roasted grain to Agni, the fire deity, known as 'Navaanineshti'. In Sanskrit, roasted grain is called 'Holaakaa', from which the name of the festival 'Holi' is derived.
Holi is the festival of colours symbolizing signs of happiness, joy, love, peace and brotherhood engaging all ages of people, celebrated primarily in India. The festival has drawn world attention now and many countries have started celebrating Holi these days. Holi celebrations in India cut across sections and religious convictions. The celebration diminishes all boundaries of religion and caste. It may be celebrated by different names among the people of various States with different rituals and traditions, but the spirit and enthusiasm of the festival remain the same throughout the country which makes Holi unique and special in India. It is one of the most colourful and vibrant festivals of India. But unfortunately in modern times, Holi doesn't stand for all beautiful things. Like other festivals, Holi has also become ruthlessly commercialized and a source of environmental degradation.
One of the major environmental concerns in the Holi celebration is the use of toxic chemical colours. In earlier times, when Holi celebrations were not so much commercialized, Holi colours were traditionally made from the herbs and spring flowers; in fact, such colours actually had some therapeutic value. However, chemicals and industrial dyes, some of them toxic, slowly replaced flowers and herbs.
Every year we hear news of children and adults being admitted to the hospital after Holi because of the harmful health effects of used chemical colours. Cases with hair damage, skin dryness, discoloration, rashes, irritation, itching, dermatitis and allergies tend to double post-Holi celebrations. There was even a reported death in 2012 because of colour poisoning. The synthetic Holi colours nowadays available in the market as pastes, dry colours and wet colours may contain many toxic chemicals that can have severe health effects. The dry colours, commonly known as gulal, have two components- a colorant and a base which could be either asbestos or silica, both of which cause health problems. Heavy metals contained in the colorants can cause asthma, skin diseases and eye problems. Lead oxide in black colour may cause renal failure and decrease the learning capacity of a person. Purple colour includes chromium iodide that causes bronchial asthma and allergy. Silver powder includes aluminium bromide that may cause cancer, while red colour has mercury sulphite that causes skin cancer. If the copper sulphate that is present in green colour comes in contact with eyes then it may cause allergy in eyes and blindness. Prussian blue present in blue colour may cause contact dermatitis. Wet colours, mostly use gentian violet as a colour concentrate which can cause skin discoloration and dermatitis.
When the problems caused by chemical colours have become so widespread and rampant, opting for herbal colours is slowly becoming a necessity. Instead of using chemical colours in Holi, we should use home-made eco-friendly herbal colours. Herbal colours can be made at home using naturally colouring materials such as pomegranate peels, properly powdered dried fruits and vegetables, red sandalwood powder, shoe flower extract, alma, saffron, henna powder, talcum powder, turmeric powder, ginger root powder, cinnamon powder, besan, katha, etc. If we opt to purchase colours commercially, the colours should be naturally made herbal colours by reputed companies. The herbal colours are safe and easily washable. Most of these colours come off easily with a few washes and there is almost no need of soaps, detergents, kerosene or extra water. The herbal colours don't cause any harm to the skin, eyes and hair because they are devoid of harmful chemicals like lead, oxides, benzenes, etc. Moreover, herbal colours are environment-friendly, as they do not magnify the alarming levels of air and water pollution. As herbal colours are not harmful to the environment, using herbal colours is a small step toward becoming more environmentally responsible. By encouraging use of such safe, natural colours in Holi, people all over India can help in protecting our environment from polluting further and thus help in the conservation of our bio-diversity.
Another major environmental concern in the Holi celebration is the wasteful use of water during Holi. In the current situation, when most cities in India are facing acute water crisis, the wasteful use of water during Holi is extreme. 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. If an individual wastes more than 10 litres of water per Holi, just imagine the number of litters of water wasted in Holi across India with a billion plus population. We should keep in mind that we are not only wasting water resource, but also polluting it with harmful and toxic chemicals. We must respect our natural resources and avoid wasting and polluting water unnecessarily which is most needed for our coming generations. We should celebrate dry Holi. The idea of a dry Holi seems alien at first, especially as the climate becomes warmer around Holi, and water provides relief from the heat. However, considering the current scenario of global acute water shortage, it seems wasteful to use so much water simply for a celebration.
Keeping in consideration the harmful effects of chemical colours to public health and environment, and water wastage; there is a need for mass awareness for celebrating a chemical-free and water-preserving eco-friendly Holi. NGOs and media should create awareness for celebrating an eco-friendly Holi.
However, with the second wave of Covid-19 the number of new positive cases of Covid-19 is increasing with each passing day in India, the excitement that generally accompanies Holi is somewhat diminished in this year. The people must avoid huge events in Holi to check the SARS-CoV-2 spread. Holi is a social festival. Holi celebration is a huge gathering and goes from house to house. At such a huge gathering and go from house to house, hugging and applying colours cannot be avoided. The SARS-CoV-2 infection can be transmitted in gathering even by single SARS-CoV-2 infected person. No one can a track of all those you come across in such a huge gathering and go from house to house. In such a situation one may increase ones odds of getting SARS-CoV-2 infection. The only thing one can do is lower the odds of getting the SARS-CoV-2 infection, so nonessential attendance in crowded places is discouraged. It is better to be safe than sorry. It is better to stay at home and share our wishes instead of get-together and go from house to house in this Holi.