NEW DELHI – India turned into a playful battlefield on Friday as the country celebrated Holi, the festival of colors, a tradition that is being revolutionized as people increasingly opt for organically sourced colors.
Holi, which marks the arrival of spring, and whose origins are derived from several different tales in Hindu mythology, is celebrated by people smearing or applying colors on one another, breaking all social barriers of wealth, class or caste.
A war of sorts breaks out on the streets, with water-guns, balloons – filled with water and launched like hand grenades – and even buckets used to cover “combatants” in color, after which people visit each other’s homes to exchange greetings, gifts, and share specially prepared delicacies.
The festival was traditionally played with flowers and organic colors, but over the past couple of decades, industrial dyes have been introduced to satisfy the ever increasing demand.
A backlash against the poor quality of powders, which are often difficult to remove from the skin and clothes, leading to people staying indoors and avoiding the colorful celebrations outside, has boosted the demand for safer, organic colors.
“I have been selling organic colors for five years, and the demand has been increasing at around 10 percent per year,” Vikram Singh, owner of the wholesale shop Vikram Enterprises in Delhi’s Sadar Bazar area, told EFE during the buildup to the celebrations, as merchants flocked to the crowded market’s bylines to stock up on their supplies.
Singh said that he expected organic colors to make up to 90 percent of all sales of colors this festive season, even though they are “four times more expensive” than industrially produced ones.
Despite their potentially prohibitive cost, the benefits of organically-sourced powders far outweigh those produced in factories.
“Basically, non-organic colors carry heavy metals, some of which even have pieces of glass. So when these are applied, they can lead to abrasions on the skin and can damage your hair. If they enter the eyes, the conjunctiva may be damaged,” dermatologist Soni Nanda of Max Hospital at New Delhi’s Patparganj area warned.
Not only are organic colors safer, they are also more sustainable and beneficial to the environment.
Madhumita Puri, Director and founder Madhumita Puri, Prabhat Society for Child Development, a nonprofit in Delhi working with disabled people, started in 2000 the “Avacayam” (meaning gathering flowers in Sanskrit) Organic Holi, a project to make organic colors from leftover flowers.
They started with 20 to 30 kilograms of ingredients, but now they manufacture around 15,000 kg worth of organic colors, all of which are sold out.
They recycle “flowers from temples and banquet halls and wedding houses and hotels,” Puri said, and instead of dumping them in garbage dumps or rivers, they are made into colors for Holi.
She emphasized the need for recycling, and added that their project had also helped to spread awareness about organic products and their environmental benefits.
Luvesh Garg, a businessman from Jodhpur in western India’s Rajasthan state, told EFE that they celebrate Holi with great fanfare and “always use herbal colors” as they are healthy and safe, especially for his children, who go outdoors to play.
“We are very keen to stay away from artificial ingredients and even prepare the special foods and sweets consumed during the festival at our house,” said his wife, Monika Garg.