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Holi - A Hindu Festival of Colours

 Holi - A Hindu Festival of Colours Its March 4th, 2007 and I would like too Happy Holi to everyone.  Have you wondered what the significane of Holi  is. Holi  or Phagwah (Bhojpuri) is an annual and popular Hindu spring festival. It takes place over two days in the later part of February or early March. As per the Hindu calendar, it falls on the Phalgun Purnima (or Pooranmashi, Full Moon). It is also called the Festival of Colours. In West Bengal, it is known as Dolyatra (Doljatra) or Boshonto Utshob ("spring festival"). 

Friends celebrating Holi in Pune, IndiaOn the first day, a bonfire is lit at night to signify burning Holika. On the second day, known as Dhulandi, people go around until afternoon throwing colored powder and water at each other. A special drink called thandai is prepared, sometimes containing bhang (Cannabis sativa). People invite each other to their houses for feasts and celebrations later in the evening. Rangapanchami occurs a few days later on a Panchami (fifth day of the full moon), marking the end of festivities involving colours.

Celebration of HoliThis festival occurs at the onset of spring. This period, during which the weather changes, is prone to cause viral fever and cold. Thus, the playful throwing of the coloured powders has a medicinal significance as the coloured powders are made of Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva, and other medicinal herbs prescribed by Ayurvedic doctors.

In 2007, Holi will be celebrated on March 3rd, the burning of Holika will be on March 4th, and then Dhuleti on March 5.

Although a Hindu celebration, other religions in India celebrate it as well. In fact, some of the best Holi celebrations are said to happen in Punjab, where Hindus and Sikhs celebrate together. This celebration in Punjab typically involves Dholi's and other musical instruments as kids and adults celebrate.


 A painting from the collection of Smithsonian Institute depicting Krishna-Radha and Gopis celebrating HoliIn Vaishnava Theology, Hiranyakashipu is the king of demons, and he had been granted a boon by Brahma, which made it almost impossible for him to be killed. The boon was due to his long penance, after which he had demanded that he not be killed "during day or night; inside the home or outside; not on earth or on sky; neither by a man nor an animal; neither by astra nor by shastra". Consequently, he grew arrogant, and attacked the Heavens and the Earth. He demanded that people stop worshipping gods and start praying to him.

Despite this, Hiranyakashipu's own son, Prahlad, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. In spite of several threats from Hiranyakashipu, Prahlad continued offering prayers to Lord Vishnu. He was poisoned but the poison turned to nectar in his mouth. He was ordered to be trampled by elephants yet remained unharmed. He was put in a room with hungry, poisonous snakes and survived. All of Hiranyakashipu's attempts to kill his son failed. Finally, he ordered young Prahlad to sit on a pyre on the lap of his sister, Holika, who could not die by fire by virtue of a shawl which would prevent fire affecting the person wearing it. Prahlad readily accepted his father's orders, and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as the shawl flew from Holika, who then was burnt to death, while Prahlad survived unharmed, after the shawl moved to cover him. The burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi.

It is also said that later Lord Vishnu came in the form of a Narasimha (who is half-man and half-lion) and killed Hiranyakashipu at dusk (which was neither day nor night), on the steps of the porch of his house (which was neither inside the house nor outside) by restraining him on his lap (which is neither in the sky nor on the earth) and mauling him with his claws (which are neither astra nor shastra).

In Vrindavan and Mathura, where Lord Krishna grew up, the festival is celebrated for 16 days (until Rangpanchmi in commemoration of the divine love of Radha for Krishna). Lord Krishna is believed to have popularized the festival by playing pranks on the gopis here. Krishna is believed to be complained to his mother about the contrast between his dark colour and his consort Radha's fair colour. Krishna's mother decided to apply colour to Radha's face. The celebrations officially usher in spring, the celebrated season of love.

There is another story about the origin of holi. Kamadeva is a god of love. Kama's body was destroyed when he shot his weapon at Shiva in order to disrupt his penance and help Parvati to marry Shiva. Shiva then opened his third eye, the gaze of which was so powerful that Kama's body was reduced to ashes. For the sake of Kama's wife Rati (passion), Shiva restored him, but only as a mental image, representing the true emotional and mental state of love rather than physical lust. The Holi bonfire is believed to be celebrated in commeration of this event.

Rituals of Holi
In this festival main emphasis is laid on the burning of Holika or lighting of Holi. The origin of the traditional lighting of Holi is attributed by some to the burning of demonesses like Holika, Holaka and Putana who troubled little children or to the burning of Madan according to others. According to some scholars this is probably a remnant of the tradition of fire worshippers. However one should not light Holi during the day. First the doer should purify himself and pronounce the resolve €œI am performing the worship along with my family to overcome the trouble of the demoness . After the Holi is over it should be extinguished by sprinkling milk and ghee and then fruits like coconuts and pomello should be distributed to the people assembled there. The entire night should be spent in dance and song.

An environmentally sensitive Holi
In recent times, like most other Indian festivals, the festival of Holi too is having a significant impact on the environment and on personal health. While, traditionally, Holi was a festival that celebrated the coming of spring, and therefore was deeply connected to natural cycles, these days its social significance has overtaken its roots in Nature. Several groups are now proposing a return to more natural ways of celebrating Holi.

The three main issues around Holi are related to the use of toxic chemical colours, the use of wood for burning Holi fires, and the wasteful use of water during Holi.

Toxic impacts of chemical colours
Originally, the colours that were used to celebrate Holi, came from the flowers of trees that blossomed during spring, such as the Indian Coral Tree and the Flame of the Forest, both of which have bright red flowers. These and several other blossoms provided the raw material from which the brilliant shades of Holi colours were made. Most of these trees also had medicinal properties and were beneficial to the skin.

Over the years, with the disappearance of trees in urban areas, these natural colours came to be replaced by industrial dyes manufactured through chemical processes.

Around 2001, two environmental groups called Toxics Link and Vatavaran, based in Delhi, did a study on the contents of these chemical colours and published its results in a factsheet on Holi. This research revealed that Holi colours come in three forms; pastes, dry colours and water colours.Toxics Link (February 2000). "The Ugly Truth Behind The Colourful World Factsheet no 8". 8.

The pastes contain very toxic chemicals that can have severe health effects as follows: Black contains Lead oxide and can cause Renal Failure
Green contains Copper Sulphate and can cause Eye Allergy, Puffiness and Temporary blindness
Silver contains Aluminium Bromide which is Carcinogenic
Blue contains Prussian Blue whcih can lead to Contract Dematitis
Red contains Mercury Sulphite which is highly toxic and can cause skin cancer
Source: Vatavaran

The dry colours, commonly known as gulals, have two components €“ a colourant that is toxic and a base which could be either asbestos or silica, both of which cause health problems. Heavy metals contained in the colourants can cause asthma, skin diseases and adversely affect the eyes.

Wet colours, mostly use Gentian violet as a colour concentrate which can cause skin discolouration and dermatitis.

These days, Holi colours are sold loosely, on the roads, by small traders who often do not know the source. Sometimes, the colours come in boxes that specifically say €˜For industrial use only€™.

Playing a Natural Holi in PuneFollowing the publication of these studies several environmental groups took up the cause to encourage people to return to a more natural way of celebrating Holi. Amongst these, Navdanya,[2] Delhi published a book called Abir Gulal, which spoke of the biodiversity that was the source of natural colours. Groups such as Development Alternatives, Delhi and Kalpavriksh, Pune have developed educational tools to teach children simple ways of making their own natural Holi colours. The CLEAN India campaign has been teaching children how to make beautiful natural colours.

The Holi bonfire
The burning of fuelwood to create the bonfire for Holika dahan presents another serious environmental problem. According to a news article, studies done in the state of Gujarat reveal that each bonfire uses around 100 kg of wood, and considering that approximately 30,000 bonfires are lit in the state of Gujarat just for one season, this leads to a staggering amount of wood.

Groups such as Sadvichar Parivar are now advocating one symbolic community fire, rather than several smaller bonfires across the city as a way to reduce wood consumption. Others are also suggesting that these fires be lit using waste material rather than wood.

A dry Holi?
In the current situation of water scarcity faced by most India cities, the wasteful use of water during Holi, is also being questioned. It is common for people to douse each other with buckets of water during Holi, and children often resort to throwing water balloons at each other. The idea of a dry Holi seems alien at first, especially as the climate becomes warmer around Holi, and the water provides welcome relief from the heat. However, considering that in some urban areas, citizens can go without water for several days, it seems wasteful to use so much water simply for a celebration.

In these ways, the awareness about the environmental impacts of celebrating Holi are being brought to light and more and more Indians are choosing to turn to a more natural and less wasteful way of playing Holi.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holi