Many colours of Holi, the Spring Festival-How to play it safe...?

The much awaited Spring Festival of India-Holi, a festival of colours, joy and merriment is around the corner. According to the Hindu calendar it is celebrated on the Phalgun Poornima (Full moon) which falls this year on Saturday 19 March 2011. This festival, especially celebrated with great enthusiasm and gaiety in northern India and even in rest of the country is  meant to welcome the spring and win the blessings of Gods for good harvests and fertility of the land. As with all the Hindu festivals, there are many interesting legends attached to Holi, the most popular being that of Prince Prahlad, who was a devout follower of Lord Vishnu. After Diwali, Holi is being considered as the second most important festival of India.  It is a festival of fun and frolic and has been associated with the immortal love of Krishna and Radha. The exuberance and the festivity of the season are remarkable.

Unlike all the other festivals of India, the Holi festival crosses the social taboos and people indulge in the intoxicating drinks (bhang) and sweets prepared by using opium. It is a festival of romance often represented by the love-play of Radha and Krishna. Brij Holi is famous all over the world for its gaiety and fun. Each year, young and old, men and women, all indulge themselves in the spirit of colours and for once forget the social taboos.

Holi celebration begins with lighting up of bonfire on the eve of the Holi festival (Saturday, 19 March 2011).  On the next day (Sunday, 20 March 2011) known as ‘Rang Panchami’ children, young and old apply various colours on the forehead and face of  their family members, friends, neighbours  and relatives and express their joy and happiness. Sometimes the revelry extends into drenching each other in water mixed with bright colours.

However, in modern times, the joyous festival of Holi that is meant to celebrate the arrival of spring has considerably lost its religious significance and has become ruthlessly commercialized, boisterous and  another source of environmental degradation.

The burning of fuel wood to create the bonfire for ‘Holika dahan’ presents a serious environmental problem. According to a study done in the state of Gujarat, 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 and pollution of atmosphere. One can imagine the total amount of wood that is being used for bonfires throughout the country and the amount of pollution created in this process.

There has been a number of NGOs and Groups such as ‘Sadvichar Parivar’ who advocate one symbolic community fire rather than several smaller bonfires across the city. There are also environmentally conscious groups which suggest that these bonfires be lit using waste rather than wood.

In traditional celebration of the Holi festival, colours that were being used to play with on the Rang panchami day  were prepared from the flowers of trees that blossomed during the spring season. The natural flowers provided the raw material from which the brilliant shades of Holi colours were made. Most of these trees also had medicinal properties and Holi colours prepared from them were actually beneficial to the skin.

However, over the years, with the disappearance of trees in urban areas, commercialization of the festival and with greed to profits,  these natural colours came to be replaced by industrial dyes manufactured through chemical processes. Few know that the colours used usually contain harmful chemicals and can cause blindness and even cancer. Skin irritation and itching of eyes are other harmful effects. Holi colours, like gulal contain chemical compounds such as oxides, metal, glass particles, powdered mica and even anelyne.

Doctors also point out the harmful effects of the colours brought from roadside vendors. Artificial colours available as powder or paste or water colours are made of chemicals which can be extremely harmful. Apart from causing irritation, they can also cause toxicity in higher doses. The commonly used chemicals include copper sulphite for green colour, lead oxide in black colour, mica granules in gulal and various other heavy metals. These can cause skin allergies, dermatitis, rhinitis, asthma and allergic pneumonitis.

Gone are the days when everyone would participate in the fun and joy of the Holi festivities. According to a report in the Times of India dated 17 March 2011, fear of getting groped by men is keeping women of Vrindavan and Mathura in Uttar Pradesh at home during the festival of colours. As Holi gets closer, young girls are not allowed to step out of the house without parents’ permission. Holi celebrations in Uttar Pradesh begin much in advance of the festivities in other parts of the country. The famous ‘Lath Maar Holi’ where the women of Barsana hit men with sticks and men shield themselves, started on 14 March and culminated in the compound of Mathura’s Krishna Janma Bhoomi temple on 16 March.

Even before the beginning of the Holi festival, in cities like Mumbai and suburbs miscreants use water filled balloons to harass people who walk on the roads. Hiding on the terraces of buildings or from their balconies these mischievous elements aim  water-balloons at strangers at their unguarded moments causing a lot of embarrassment and inconvenience. There had been instances when the colour water filled balloons thrown at commuters in local trains had resulted in the loss of eye sight of unsuspecting travelers. Rather than the festival becoming an occasion of celebration and fun, many people dread to step out of their homes on the Holi day for fear of being harassed.

However, these above facts should not deter people from celebrating Holi in a befitting and meaningful manner. There has been a lot of awareness that has been spread by various NGOs and environmental groups as to how Holi can be celebrated in a more healthy manner. In an attempt to ensure safer Holi celebrations, the department of environment and social forestry of the government of Maharashtra has organized sale of natural colours for the festival in Mantralaya on Saturday. Eco clubs  across the state have made natural colours and are distributing  them through NGOs. 

People can prepare organic colours on their own by using available cheap ingredients. For example, yellow colour can be prepared by mixing turmeric (haldi) powder with gram flour (Besan); for pinkish red colour palash and marigold flowers can be soaked, crushed and boiled; beetroot and carrot can be boiled in order to get red and orange colours respectively; purple colour can be obtained by boiling amla and black grapes; spinach, coriander and mint leaves can be boiled to avail green colour.

 It is important that rather than finding fault with the way the festivals are being celebrated, it would be proper to spread awareness among the people regarding the spiritual essence and social relevance of such festivals. Holi has been an environment friendly festival in olden days. It was known for its social significance and spiritual content, and was regarded more for its proximity with nature. Nowadays,  the social aspect and the pompous celebrations have taken over its essence. There is greater need to educate the people in general and youth in particular to respect the values and spirit associated with these festivals, more so about Holi.

By Dr. Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
To submit your article / poem / short story to Daijiworld, please email it to mentioning 'Article/poem submission for daijiworld' in the subject line. Please note the following:

  • The article / poem / short story should be original and previously unpublished in other websites except in the personal blog of the author. We will cross-check the originality of the article, and if found to be copied from another source in whole or in parts without appropriate acknowledgment, the submission will be rejected.
  • The author of the poem / article / short story should include a brief self-introduction limited to 500 characters and his/her recent picture (optional). Pictures relevant to the article may also be sent (optional), provided they are not bound by copyright. Travelogues should be sent along with relevant pictures not sourced from the Internet. Travelogues without relevant pictures will be rejected.
  • In case of a short story / article, the write-up should be at least one-and-a-half pages in word document in Times New Roman font 12 (or, about 700-800 words). Contributors are requested to keep their write-ups limited to a maximum of four pages. Longer write-ups may be sent in parts to publish in installments. Each installment should be sent within a week of the previous installment. A single poem sent for publication should be at least 3/4th of a page in length. Multiple short poems may be submitted for single publication.
  • All submissions should be in Microsoft Word format or text file. Pictures should not be larger than 1000 pixels in width, and of good resolution. Pictures should be attached separately in the mail and may be numbered if the author wants them to be placed in order.
  • Submission of the article / poem / short story does not automatically entail that it would be published. Daijiworld editors will examine each submission and decide on its acceptance/rejection purely based on merit.
  • Daijiworld reserves the right to edit the submission if necessary for grammar and spelling, without compromising on the author's tone and message.
  • Daijiworld reserves the right to reject submissions without prior notice. Mails/calls on the status of the submission will not be entertained. Contributors are requested to be patient.
  • The article / poem / short story should not be targeted directly or indirectly at any individual/group/community. Daijiworld will not assume responsibility for factual errors in the submission.
  • Once accepted, the article / poem / short story will be published as and when we have space. Publication may take up to four weeks from the date of submission of the write-up, depending on the number of submissions we receive. No author will be published twice in succession or twice within a fortnight.
  • Time-bound articles (example, on Mother's Day) should be sent at least a week in advance. Please specify the occasion as well as the date on which you would like it published while sending the write-up.

Comment on this article


    Sat, Mar 19 2011

    wish u all indians happy holi.

  • Mumbaikar, Mumbai

    Sat, Mar 19 2011

    These days holi festival is becoming more and more dreadful with people throwing baloons and plastic bags filled with dirty filthy water. you will see plastic bags strewn all over the place which is environmental hazard. In some areas, boys as young as 12 years first start with thowing colours then dirty water finally they take hard drinks and roll on the ground and do all stupid things. In this, the sanctity of festival is lost.

  • ashok, Dubai

    Sat, Mar 19 2011

    Wish you all Happy & Safe Holi.

  • Jossey Saldanha, Mapusa

    Sat, Mar 19 2011

    Happy Holi Guys!!!!!!!!
    Have fun and play with safe colors.
    Finally, stay away from all Holi functions organized by politicians.
    They are all rogues and will take unnecessary mileage and advantage.


    Sat, Mar 19 2011

    Beautiful, festival of colours.
    "Holi ke din dil khil jaate hain
    rangon mein rang mil jaate hain".
    Happy holy to all the hindu brothers and sisters.
    Thanks daiji and Dr,Eugene. Keep it up.

  • Rahul P, Mangalore, Delhi

    Sat, Mar 19 2011

    Wish you all happy holi.

Leave a Comment

Title: Many colours of Holi, the Spring Festival-How to play it safe...?

You have 2000 characters left.


Please write your correct name and email address. Kindly do not post any personal, abusive, defamatory, infringing, obscene, indecent, discriminatory or unlawful or similar comments. will not be responsible for any defamatory message posted under this article.

Please note that sending false messages to insult, defame, intimidate, mislead or deceive people or to intentionally cause public disorder is punishable under law. It is obligatory on Daijiworld to provide the IP address and other details of senders of such comments, to the authority concerned upon request.

Hence, sending offensive comments using daijiworld will be purely at your own risk, and in no way will be held responsible.