PRIYAMBADA DATTA on the need to celebrate this exuberant festival with some responsibility.
Holi is a festival celebrated in various parts of India, Nepal and other parts of the world. It is primarily an ancient Hindu festival but has also been adopted by other cultures. It is a time for festivities and excitement. The festival marks the arrival of Spring and celebrates new life. In terms of folklore, it signifies the end of winter and the start of Spring. The festival is marked by people throwing coloured powder and coloured water at each other, and its origins go back to the ancient times when young people would smear colours on each other to celebrate the season of Spring. However, recent years have seen the commercialisation of Holi celebrations, including sponsored events around the world that make it less about spirituality and more about marketing brands.This commercialisation and mindless celebration of the festival can cause many serious environmental problems, including an increase in pollution and waste accumulation.
The traditional way to celebrate Holi is by throwing coloured water and powder at each other, which can often end up getting into surrounding rivers and streams where it causes severe damage to the ecosystem with increased levels of sedimentation, increased turbidity levels and low dissolved oxygen levels. This can hurt both wildlife living in these areas as well as plants that grow near these waterways, causing tree deaths in some cases. Another major problem with Holi celebrations is how much littering occurs on public streets after the festivities have ended or during the event itself, when people throw any trash that they have on them, like plastic bags, on the road. So a lot more trash ends up accumulating on sidewalks, which then usually gets swept into drains — where it ends up accumulating, to eventually block the drains, or they simply flow into rivers and pollute them. Most often, people don’t bother cleaning up after the celebrations. This leaves behind a mess that attracts insects, like mosquitoes, that spread diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, etc.
It is also quite common to find artificial colours being used for the festivities. Some of these have even been found to be carcinogenic, causing severe health problems, including skin irritation and asthma attacks; these substances also release toxic particles into the air when thrown around by human hands.
While many advocates of the environment have been requesting people to adopt an eco-friendlier way of celebrating Holi, it has not yet become popular. We do not want environment concerns to ruin our Holi fun. But the solution to that is to plan for it ahead of time. The first step would be to make coloured powders at home. Turmeric power could be your yellow colour, mixed with flour or rice powder to increase the amount. To get the green coloured powder, you can try taking some good quality henna powder and mixing it with flour. Dried neem leaves, too, might do the trick. Drying hibiscus or rose petals and grinding them would give you the red coloured powder you love. You can make a red ochre colour as well, which can be gathered from nearby earthy sources, such as soil or clay pits. You can even use a base powder like maida, rice flour, besan, etc., and add food colouring or natural colours like beet juices or juices from berries to them. The added benefit of going natural is that it will not ruin your clothes, whereas artificial colours often leave permanent stains on clothes. Eco-friendly Holi colours are a great way to reduce your carbon footprint on the environment. In recent years, many cities have banned the use of toxic colourants like lead oxide in hues, with some even going so far as to ban the sale of any colours containing these harmful chemicals.
The next decision you must make is to not litter and to clean up after yourself. Playing with water is undoubtedly a favourite for most. However, water scarcity in India is real. Therefore, let’s make sure we don’t waste any more water during Holi. We can choose to celebrate Dry Holi, taking part in all the other revelries of the festival that don’t involve throwing water at others. In fact, Dry Holi parties are quite the rage now — it saves water, helps to lower pollution levels, and improves awareness about the water shortage that we are facing.
This Holi, let’s make sure that our unchecked enthusiasm doesn’t lead to some level of irresponsibility. Holi is a time for people to come together and enjoy themselves, so long as it is done responsibly.