Holi: Lively festival ruined by synthetic colors


Holi is the festival of color and is one of the most awaited festivals in India. The celebrations start at dawn, with white color clothes waiting to meet their fate; on a full moon day in the month of Phalgun, i.e., March. Before the day of Holi, a ritual, Holika Dahan is performed, symbolizing the victory of love over evil. It is a bonfire of all the unnecessary things. It is also a representation of burning all bad habits and the darkness in and around us. Moreover, people walk around the fire, celebrating happiness after burning off the bad.

Why do we celebrate Holi as a festival?

Mythological reason

Hiranyakashipu, a king in ancient India, wished to take revenge from Lord Vishnu for killing his younger brother. He wanted everyone to pray to him rather than Vishnu. However, his son, Prahalad, was against him. In a plan to kill his son, he asked his daughter Holika to sit on a pyre with Prahalad on her lap because Holika has a boon of remaining unaffected in a fire. But, Prahalad, who recited Lord Vishnu’s name all along, was safe, and Holika burnt to ashes and hence the reason for celebrating Holika Dahan, a day before the Holi festival.

Moreover, Lord Krishna is the reason we play with colors. Krishna used to play with Radha and other Gopikas in Vrindavan; making it the origin of the festival. It is the reason why every other Holi celebration remains unmatched to the celebrations in Vrindavan.

Scientific reason

Holi falls in the month of March when we experience a sudden change in the climate from cold to hot. The moderate temperature is a favorable environment for the growth of various microbes. During a Holika Dahan, we expose ourselves to high temperatures due to the fire. This temperature kills the microbes that harm us in the long run. On the fun-filled festival, everyone plays with colors, promoting good health and other benefits.

Besides, during the change of temperature, people start feeling lazy. To counteract this lethargy, our ancestors came up with this beautiful, fun-filled idea. On top of the color play, people also dance to the beats. This festival hence needs physical performance helping us stay active during the transforming phase.

The colors used on a Holi-day are usually natural. The yellow comes from turmeric and turmeric added with Calcium Hydroxide gives red. Other colors are from leaves and flowers of different plants. Moreover, these natural organic colors strengthen the ions in the system, promoting good health.

Synthetic color exposure

For the beautiful festival of Holi, people started preferring artificial colors over natural as they look more vibrant and are much cheaper than natural. The natural colors do not retain their look for a long time; they fade with sunlight exposure. For instance, the blue-green color from Spirulina is not vibrant and requires ten times more material than the synthetic ones to obtain the same brightness.

But, using these colors ruins the true essence of the festival. The synthetic colors comprise toxic chemicals, including heavy metals, and Asbestos (highly carcinogenic, even in small quantities). These chemicals interfere with the systems’ metabolism harming us. The particles used are capable of inducing inflammatory responses. The contamination also includes molds. If it is not dried quickly, then it can lead to the growth of fungi.

The most commonly used powder is ‘Gulal.’ Although the powder is essentially 95% cornstarch, contamination of the cornstarch with cosmetic dyes, as available in the market, is the reason behind the adverse reactions. They cause dryness of skin, frizzy hair, and hair loss over time. Skin lesions, burning, and eye irritations are among other allergy effects of using the synthetic colors. Above all, prolonged and severe effects are poisoning, impaired vision, and cancer. The risk increases when mixed with oils.

Effects of heavy metal exposure

Heavy metal exposure is also among the negative effects. It can be a consequence of metal exposure like lead, mercury, arsenic, over a long period. The heavy metals can enter the system via inhalation or ingestion. In addition, nausea, vomiting, and headaches are a few symptoms of the disease.

  • Lead toxicity: Lead exposure can result in lead toxicity. It is a strong poison and leads to fatal conditions when accumulated in the system. It causes severe mental, intellectual and physical impairments. Abdominal pain, headache, irritability, numbness, and sleep problems are the effects of prolonged exposure. However, a standard blood test can diagnose the toxicity.
  • Aluminum bromide: It is considered a carcinogenic. Extended exposure can cause cancer.
  • Copper sulphate: The main sign of exposure to copper sulphate includes eye irritations and temporary blindness. Copper, when accumulated, is present in the liver, disrupting the typical liver functioning. Moreover, extreme exposure can lead to shock and death.
  • Mercury sulphate: The significant consequence of mercury sulphate exposure is dermatitis. It can also lead to skin ulceration and cornea complication. Other effects include nausea, vomiting, and headache.
  • Prussian blue: The most common effect of Prussian blue is constipation, and the side-effect includes blue feces.

How to make natural colors for Holi?

ColourSignificanceDry powderWet paste (dilute as needed)
RedPurityDry petals of a red rose or red hibiscus flower; and red sandalwood powderPlace sandalwood powder in water to make a uniform solution. After that, add a teaspoon of limestone powder and turmeric in water
OrangeFire and purityDry and powdered Tesu flowerTesu flowers in water overnight; or strands of Kesar in water overnight
GreenHappinessPure and good quality Henna powder with flourBoil fresh Neem leaves and allow it to cool. After that, remove the superficial water
YellowKnowledge and learning1:2 ratio of quality turmeric powder and Besan flourTurmeric in water or boil marigold in water
Blue Bravery and determinationDry and powder form of Neeli Gulmohar(Purple) Boil 1-2 kg Beetroot in the cooker and wait for 5-6 whistles. After that, remove unnecessary water.
BrownRelaxation and health1:4 ratio of Henna and Amla powder in water.

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