This Holi, let’s aspire to be ‘holier than thou…’ 

A citizen journalist writes about the need to celebrate an eco-friendly Holi, replacing synthetic dyes with flowers or organic colours and using minimal water.

Move over. I hear the flowers whispering to the colours with their mild scent wafting through the air, symbolizing a rather straitlaced demeanour – Holier than thou.

After all our festivals are replete with symbolism and rituals. Holi, the festival of colours, is no exception, as it signifies greyish winter coming to an end, heralding vividly colourful spring with a burst of blooms of different hues. Typically Holi, as we know, is celebrated with dry or wet synthetic colours aided by water balloons and Pichkaris.
But did you know traditionally the colours were made from flowers? ”Palash” or Flame of the forest was used to collect coloured dust or “Abir” or “Gulaal” to play Holi. Somewhere down the line, we lost it to the chemical laden synthetic colours.
Did you know that at Bankey Bihari temple at Mathura Holi is celebrated with a shower of flowers on Ekadashi day that falls a few days prior to Holi? It is “Phoolon ki Holi ” celebrated with winsome flowers and petals of rose/marigold/lotus here that is an absolutely splendid sight to behold.

Students and teachers from Sloka, the Hyderabad Waldorf school celebrates Holi with flower petals. Credits: Sloka

Closer home we have Sloka, the Hyderabad Waldorf school founded 22 years ago celebrating Holi exactly this way, as revealed by its Founder and Trustee Ms Nirmala Diaz. She started celebrating Holi with the blooming beauties when her son was a toddler and wanted to steer clear of the harmful effects of chemical based colours. Ms Diaz added that though there are dry options and colours made from organic material, one needs an abundant amount of water to bathe, wash the clothes and clean the floor area stained with such colours.

So they moved to flowers and petals and composted the organic matter the next day. This practice is more than a decade old in their school and quietly continues to date.
The change made a decade ago has indeed been a constant.  Changes such as these are truly transformational and awe-inspiring, apart from being absolutely worthy of one such flower shower. It contains pollution, conserves water and also prevents health hazards from synthetic colours.
How simple. As always the greatest thoughts and deeds are most often the simplest.
The very thought of flower showers devoid of hooligans with holi-guns is so pleasant and peace generating. While flowers replacing colours seems ideal, it does call for certain courage of conviction that seems a little far fetched. And that’s not all. There are other concerns that remain to be addressed such as :
  • Pollution from Holi bonfire
  • Wastage of wood
  • Water wastage
But hold on. There are alternatives, best practices to fill in, till such time a sustainable idea takes form, shape, gets ridiculed & judged before getting critical acclaim and eventually validated by replication!
Till then let us celebrate Holi in an eco-friendly manner with these ‘Best Practices’ put together by Team Namma Ooru Foundation with contributions from Janani Venkitesh, Janani Jagan, Lavanya, Priya Ram, Nithya, Priyadarshini, Vidya Shankar, Viji Ganesh:
  • Ration per capita water usage and penalize excess usage
  • Insist on using wastewater from RO to be used for playing Holi
  • Residents in communities should pay for water usage
  • To apply oil on hair and sunscreens on the body to reduce penetration of colours leading to less usage of water
  • To play dry Holi to save water
  • To use organic colours
  • Use worn out clothes if playing with water and colours that will require minimal water to wash
  • To avoid water balloons. Balloons take many years to decompose.
  • To demarcate an area for playing Holi so that only that area needs to be cleaned
  • Encourage community bonfires instead of individual bonfires to control air pollution and reduce wastage of wood
  • Make every individual playing Holi plant a tree and nurture it
  • Avoid Rain Dance / artificial rains that result in huge amounts of water wastage

So, make a choice that is sustainable and earth-friendly. Holi is in your hands.

[This was originally published in Namma Ooru Foundation’s Collective blog titled Kuppai kirukals and has been republished with minimal edits. The original post can be viewed here.]

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