Dr Dharmakanta Kumbhakar
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's attention now and many countries are also celebrating Holi nowadays. According to Hindu mythology, the festival celebrates the killing of Holika, the sister of Hrinyakashyapu. Moreover, in Holi there is a ritual of offering roasted grain to Agni. In Sanskrit, roasted grain is called holaakaa, from which the me of the festival Holi is derived.
Holi is celebrated with enthusiasm and gaiety on the last full moon day in the month of falgun according to Hindu calendar, which is 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 colour. The colours used in the joyous festival of Holi are used to reflect the various hues of the spring season.
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 mes among people of various States with different rituals and traditions, but the spirit and enthusiasm of the festival remains 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 with the bhang and ganja, singing and dancing, cheer and ughtiness, mischief and drenching in colours. But unfortutely in modern times, Holi does not stand for all beautiful things. Like other festivals, Holi has also become ruthlessly commercialized, boisterous and another source of environmental degradation.
One of the major environmental concerns in the Holi celebration is use of toxic chemical colours. In earlier times when Holi celebrations were not so much commercialized, Holi colours were traditiolly made from 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 chemical colours. These can cause some serious damage to skin like discoloration, dermatitis, abrasion, irritation, itching, rashes, eczema and dryness. Cases with hair damage, skin rashes, redness, irritation and allergies tend to double post Holi celebrations. There was even a reported death in 2012 because of colour poisoning. The synthetic Holi colours available in the market may contain many harmful chemicals. The dry colours, commonly known as gulals, have two components — a colorant that is toxic 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 adversely affect the eyes. Lead oxide in black colour may cause rel failure and also stops the learning capacity of a person. Purple colour includes chromium iodide that causes bronchial asthma and allergy. Silver and red colour includes aluminium bromide that may cause cancer, while red colour has mercury sulphide that causes skin cancer. If copper sulphate contacts with eyes then it may cause allergy in eyes and blindness. 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 colour is slowly becoming a necessity. 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. Herbal colours do not cause any harm to skin, eyes, ears and hair because they are devoid of harmful chemicals like lead, oxides, benzenes, etc.. Instead of using chemical colours, we should use home made eco-friendly herbal colours made with powder of flowers. If we opt to buy colours commercially, the colours should be turally made by reputed companies.
Keeping in consideration the harmful side effects of chemical colours to public health and environment and water wastage, one feels the need for mass awareness for celebrating chemical-free and water-preserving, eco-friendly Holi. NGOs and media should create awareness regarding the celebration of eco-friendly Holi. We should be a bit more concerned about these vital issues of public health concern.