Colours of Nature

The Hindu, 23 Feb 2007

Holi marks the end of winter and the coming of spring.
Many colours are made up of chemical colorant with a base of asbestos or silica, and these are harmful to the skin.

Holi is around the corner! So many of us love playing this colourful festival and look forward to it with excitement! But, did you know that some of the colours we buy in the market are not meant for use? Holi began as a celebration of the end of winter and the coming of spring. This was also the time when crops like wheat and barley were harvested and the festival was a way of thanking nature. There are several legends about the festival. The bonfire on the night of Holi is symbolic of the victory of good over evil.The colours of Holi were, originally, the colours of trees that flower in spring. These colours were made from flowers, roots and herbs and had therapeutic and medicinal value. Some of the common plants that were used include henna, hibiscus, and marigold. In addition there are roots such as beetroot and tubers like turmeric that also give bright colours.

Highly toxic

But today, toxic chemical substances, many of which are meant for industrial use only, have replaced the beautiful colours of nature. The commercial colours include pastes, dry powders and watercolours and they are mostly made up of a chemical colorant with a base such as asbestos or silica. The colorants contain heavy metals like mercury, lead and chromium, which can cause damage when they enter the body causing rashes, allergies and breathing difficulties. Some industrial dyes take a long time to come off the skin and slowly enter the body through the skin!You can understand more about natural colours by exploring the work of the following groups on their websites: Navdanya, Delhi; CleanIndia, Delhi; Kalpavriksh Environment Action Group, Pune. To read more about the health impacts of industrial colours visit the website of Toxics Link, Delhi.This year play a safe and natural Holi.

Make your own colours
Yellow: Mix turmeric powder with besan for a lovely yellow. 
Red : Did you know that if you add a few drops of lemon juice to turmeric powder it turns bright red?Magenta: Slice or grate a beetroot. Soak in one litre of water for a wonderful magenta. 
Orange : Boil the peels of 10 – 15 onions in half litre of water for an orangish-pink colour. Remove the peels before use, to remove the smell of the onions.
Green : Mix a fine paste of leaves like spinach, mustard, coriander or mint in water. Use mehendi / henna powder, separately or mix with equal quantity of any flour for a lovely green shade.If you don’t have the time for this then make sure you buy only natural colours. Locate a shop you that can supply you with genuine natural colours. How will you know that they are genuine? First, verify that the packet of colour does not say “For Industrial use only!” The terms — herbal, natural, non-toxic and organic — indicate that the colours are probably sensitive on the skin.Check the ingredients of the colours on the packets.

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