Holi, the most colourful
festival of our country, bids adieu to winter and heralds
spring. Holi matches the riot of colours of spring in full bloom
and traditionally was played by making colours from the flowers
blooming at that time and even herbs etc. The fragrant natural
colours also had therapeutic value and were beneficial for our
skin and health. The ingredients of Gulal were purposely chosen
for their emollient qualities which were far from today’s toxic
Vrindavan Holi was and is still played with actual flower petals
chosen for their fragrance and colour such as rajnigandha and
But over the years, natural colours have been replaced by
synthetic colours to the extent that most Holi colours sold in
the market are oxidized metals or industrial dyes (like those
for dyeing our clothing). All these are toxic and can result in
anything from skin allergies to cancer, eye irritation to
blindness... and much morec. When washed, they enter our water
and soil, and cause even more pollution.
Students learning to make
natural colours for Holi
CLEAN-India has been campaigning against toxic Holi colours and
through workshops and lectures has taught many students how to
make simple, cheap yet beautiful environment and human friendly
natural colours with which one can enjoy Holi. To get you
started, a few colours that can be made easily at home are given
below. They are just a few examples. Ask your parents and
grandparents for more ! Experiment with different plants having
colourful flowers or leaves. (Cross check to see if it the
plants is not an allergen and not a weed). Crush the plant parts
to extract concentrated juice or dry them in shade and powder to
obtain beautiful natural colours.
- Use mehendi / henna
powder, separately or mix with equal quantity of any
suitable flour to attain a lovely green shade. Use only pure
mehendi and not the one mixed with amla (meant to be applied
to our hair) as this would be brown in colour. Dry mehendi
will not leave colour on your face as it can be easily
brushed off. Only when it is a paste (i.e. it is mixed in
water) will it leave a slight colour on your face. Thus, it
can be used as a pucca / fast colour. Many people like
smearing other person’s hair with colours. How about doing
it with mehendi powder and saving a trip to the parlour?
- Dry and finely powder
the leaves of Gulmohur (Delonix regia) tree for a green.
- Crush the tender
leaves of the Wheat plant to obtain a natural safe green
- Mix two teaspoons of
mehendi in one litre of water. Stir well.
- Green colour can also
be obtained by mixing a fine paste of leaves like spinach /
palak, coriander / dhaniya, mint / pudina, tomatoe leaves, etc. in water.
- Mix two teaspoons of
haldi / Turmeric powder with double quantity of besan (gram
flour). Haldi and besan are extremely healthy for our skin,
and are also used widely as a ubtan while taking bath. You
can use the ordinary haldi or "kasturi" haldi
which is very fragrant and has enhanced therapeutic effects.
Besan can be substituted by atta, maida, rice flour,
arrowroot powder, fuller’s earth /multani mitti and even
- Flowers like Amaltas
(Cassia fistula), Marigold / Gainda (Tagetus erecta), Yellow
Chrysanthemums, Black Babul (Acacia arabica) yield different
shades of yellow. Dry the petals of these flowers in shade
and crush them to obtain a fine powder. Mix appropriate
quantity of the powder with besan, etc. or use separately.
- Dry the rind of the
Bael fruit (Aegle marmelos) and grind to obtain a yellow powder.
- Add one teaspoon of
haldi to two litres of water and stir well. This can be
boiled to increase the concentration of colour and further
- Soak Amaltas (Cassia
fistula) or Marigold / Gainda (Tagetus erecta) flowers in
water. Boil and leave overnight.
- Red Sandal Wood Powder
/ Raktachandan / Lalchandan (Pterocarpus santalinus) has a
beautiful red colour, is extremely beneficial for the skin
and is used in face packs, etc. This can be used instead of
- Dry red hibiscus
flowers in shade and powder to make a lovely red colour. To
increase the bulk add any flour to it
- Sinduria, called
Annato in English has a water chestnut shaped fruit which
contains lovely brick colour red seeds. These yield both dry
and wet colours.
- Put 2 teaspoons of Red
Sandal wood powder in a litre of water and boil. Dilute and
- Peels of Red
Pomegranate boiled in water give red.
- For a bright orangish-red,
mix thoroughly a pinch of chuna / lime powder (the one that
we eat with our paan / betel leaves) with 2 spoons of haldi
powder and a few drops of water. Use only after diluting
with 10 litres of water.
Playing Holi with flower
- Buras (Rhododendron
arboreum) known as Burans in the Garhwal hills and Brans in
the Kumaon hills gives a lovely red colour when soaked in
- Red hibiscus flowers
soaked in water overnight give a red which also has
- The Palita Madar /
Pangri / Indian Coral tree/ (Erythrina indica), found
commonly in coastal regions, has large red flowers. Soak the
flowers in water overnight.
- Boil wood of Madder
Tree in water for a deep red.
- Red colour can also be
obtained from juice of tomatoes and carrots. This can be
diluted with sufficient quantity of water to remove the
- The Jacaranda flowers
can be dried in the shade and ground to obtain a beautiful
blue powder. The flowers bloom in summers.
- The blue Hibiscus
which is found in Kerala can be dried and powdered just like
the red hibiscus
- Crush the berries
(fruits) of the Indigo plant and add to water for desired
colour strength. In some Indigo species the leaves when
boiled in water yield a rich blue.
- Slice or grate one
Beet root. Soak in 1 litre of water for a wonderful magenta.
Boil or leave overnight for a deeper shade. Dilute.
- Boil the peels of 10 -
15 pink Onions in half litre of water for an orangish-pink
colour. Remove the peels before using to remove the smell.
- Soak Kachnar (Bauhinia
variegata) flowers (pink variety) in water overnight, or
boil for a pinkish colour.
- The Flame of the
Forest (Butea monosperma), known as Tesu, Palash or Dhak in
vernacular languages, is the source of the wonderful,
traditional colour for Holi. The flowers are soaked
overnight in water and can also be boiled to obtain a
fragrant yellowish – orange colored water. The dried
flowers can be dried and powdered for a orange powder.
Legend says that Lord Krishna used to play Holi with Tesu
flowers, and the flowers also have a lot of medicinal
properties. Tesu blooms during month of March.
5. Soak a few stalks of
Saffron / Kesar in 2 table spoons of water. Leave for few
hours and grind to make a fine paste. Dilute with water for
desired colour strength. Though expensive, it is excellent
for our skin.
Boil flower petals of
red variety of Semul / Silk Cotton (Bombax ceiba ) in water.
3. Collect and dry the
stalks of Harashringar / Parijatak (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis)
flowers during the early winter season. Soak them in water
to get a pleasant coloured orange.
4. Mix a pinch of
Sandalwood powder from Ujjain (also used in our temples) in
1 litre of water for an instant, beautiful and fragrant
- Kattha (Acacia
catechu), the one eaten in pan, when mixed with water will
give a brownish colour.
- Boil Tea or Coffee
leaves in water. Cool and use.
- Boil dried fruits of
Amla / Indian Gooseberry in an iron vessel and leave
overnight. Dilute with water and use.
- Extract juice of black
grapes and dilute with sufficient quantity of water to
Colours: Ugly Truth
Holi is played with various hues of red, yellow, blue, green,
magenta, purple, orange, …..
But do you know that most of the
Holi colours sold these days contain many harmful chemicals?
Infact most are dyes meant for industrial uses like dyeing
textiles and are not meant to be applied on humans. These
colours include heavy metals, acids, alkalis, powdered glass….
The black paste has lead oxide, green contains copper sulphate,
red is mercury sulphite etc. All these are toxic and can
result in anything from skin allergies to cancer, eye
irritation to blindness… and much more.
Even the base in which these
chemical are mixed are highly toxic. Several powder or dry
colours use a base of asbestos talc, chalk powder or silica.
Asbestos is a known human carcinogen which gets built up in
the body tissue, even micro quantities can result in cancer.
Silica may dry as well as chap the skin. The shine in the
colours is due to addition of powdered glass or mica. Many
water colours have an alkaline base capable of causing severe
injuries. If it enters the eyes, it can pose a great danger to
the vision. Colours in the form of pastes have toxic compounds
mixed in a base of engine oil or other inferior quality oil,
capable of causing skin allergy, temporary blindness… (Sources:
Toxic Links and Vatavaran)
Even the way we play Holi is
becoming dangerous. Throwing of water balloons can cause
injury to the eyes and ears when thrown from a distance and
Is it not ironical that while
the whole year we take utmost care of our appearance ,skin and
eyes everyday, on Holi we damage it joyfully with toxic
colours. When washed, these chemicals enter the rivers, the
soil, and cause even more pollution. Do our festivals and
celebrations need not be at the cost of our life and
environment? Let us vow to play and motivate others to play
Holi with environment and human friendly natural colours.
you a Colourful Holi for all Times to Come
With Natural and Safe Colours !!!
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