Holi: Festival, Health & Environment

March 18, 2011 at 11:35 pm

Holi, the festival of colours, is a spring festival celebrated in different forms by Hindus all across the country. It is also known as Dolyatra or basanta-utsav in West Bengal and Orissa.

On the main day, Holi is celebrated by people throwing coloured powder (gulal) and coloured water at each other. On the day before, i.e. on chhoti holi, bonfires are lit in the memory of the miraculous escape of young Prahlad from fire while demoness Holika was burnt. The significance of this bonfire is the triumph of good over evil.

In Vrindavan and Mathura, where Lord Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna. In general, this festival is the festival of love and joy and usher in spring, the season of love.

Modern issues
Environmental impacts:
An environmental issue related to holi is the bonfire, which contributes to deforestation. This problem can be prevented by using waste materials instead of wood for the fire. Moreover, individual bonfires can be replaced by a single bonfire per community to reduce the consumption of wood. Another environmental issue is the water pollution due to the use of synthetic colours.

Synthetic colours:
Now-a-days, chemically produced dyes are used to make colours for holi. It has been found that some of the colours have potential toxic effects on human body. The black colour contains lead oxide which can result in renal failure. The silver and red are carcinogenic as they contain aluminium bromide and mercury sulphide. The green has detrimental effect on eyes due to the presence of copper sulphate and blue has been associated with contact dermatitis. These dry colours have now also become the cause of asthma, skin diseases and temporary blindness.

A little bit of precaution can help you to celebrate holi in a safer way. Instead of using chemical colours, use of organic colours or natural homemade colours is good for your health. To find out on how to make home made safe organic colours, click here.

Before you start playing, apply a thick layer of good quality moisturiser or edible oil to prevent colours from coming in contact with your skin and let it absorb oil for 15-20 minutes. Wear clothes that covers maximum part of your body to protect your skin. Tie your hair into a bun to avoid excessive damage. Try to cover your hair with a cap or any other cloth.

What to do?
Sometimes, even after taking care, it may happen that you feel irritation in your skin or eyes because of colours. In this scenario, immediately wash the affected part with water and apply some calamine lotion to soothe the affected part. If the problem persists, contact a physician.

We wish all of you a very happy and colourful holi!

Rusha Patra
Research Scholar, Department of Electrical Engineering, IIT Kharagpur


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