Thursday, March 8, 2012

Festival of Colors

Holi is a religious spring festival celebrated by Hindus. The main day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit, also Dhulheti, Dhulandi or Dhulendi, is celebrated by people throwing scented powder and perfume at each other. On the first day of this festival, Hindus participate in a public bonfire. Prior to the event, men prepare for this by collecting extra wood. The fire itself is lit near midnight, as the moon rises. The main day, Holi, also known as Dhuli in Sanskrit, is celebrated by people throwing scented colored powder and perfume at each other. This is why Holi is given the name “Festival of Colors.”
In Bihar, Holi is known as Phagwa in the local Bhojpuri dialect. Here too, the legend of Holika is prevalent. On the eve of Phalgun Poornima, people light bonfires. They put dung cakes, wood of Araad or Redi tree and Holika tree, grains from the fresh harvest and unwanted wood leaves in the bonfire. Following the tradition people also clean their houses for the day. At the time of Holika people assemble near the fire. The eldest member or a purohit initiates the lighting. He then smears others with colour as a mark of greeting. Next day the festival is celebrated with colours and lot of frolic. At some places people also enjoy playing holi with mud. Folk songs are sung at high pitch and people dance to the tune of dholak and the spirit of Holi. Intoxicating bhang is consumed with a variety of mouth watering delicacies such as pakoras and thandai to enhance the mood of the festival. Vast quantities of liquor is consumed alongside ganja and bhang, which is sometimes added to foodstuffs.
Holi is a part of Goan or Konkani spring festival known as Śigmo, one of the most prominent festivals of the Konkani community in Goa, and the Konkani diaspora in the state of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala. Śigmo is also known as Śiśirotsava and lasts for about a month. The colour festival or Holi is a part of entire spring festival celebrations.
In Maharashtra, Holi is mainly associated with the burning of Holika. Holi Paurnima is also celebrated as Shimga. A week before the festival, youngsters go around the community, collecting firewood and money. On the day of Holi, the firewood is arranged in a huge pile at a clearing in the locality. In the evening, the fire is lit. Every household makes an offering of a meal and dessert to the fire god. Puran Poli is the main delicacy and children shout "Holi re Holi puranachi poli". Shimga is associated with the elimination of all evil. The colour celebrations here traditionally take place on the day of Rangapanchami, 5 days after Holi, unlike in North India where it is done on the second day itself. During this festival, people are supposed to forget about any rivalries and start new healthy relations with all.
The Legend of Holi:
In Vaishnavism, Hiranyakashipu is the great 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 in the 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 praising him. Now Hiranyakashipu's own son, Prahlada, was a devotee of Lord Vishnu. In spite of several threats from Hiranyakashipu, Prahlada continued offering prayers to Lord Vishnu. He was poisoned by Hiranyakashipu, 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 Prahlada to sit on a pyre on the lap of his demoness sister, Holika, who could not die because she also had a boon. And a boon which would prevent fire from burning her. Prahlada readily accepted his father's orders, and prayed to Vishnu to keep him safe. When the fire started, everyone watched in amazement as Holika burnt to death, while Prahlada survived unharmed, the burning of Holika is celebrated as Holi.
Traditional Holi
The spring season, during which the weather changes, is believed to cause viral fever and cold. The playful throwing of natural coloured powders has a medicinal significance: the colours are traditionally made of Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva, and other medicinal herbs prescribed by Āyurvedic doctors
As the spring-blossoming trees that once supplied the colors used to celebrate Holi have become more rare, chemically produced industrial dyes have been used to take their place in almost all of urban India. In 2001, a fact sheet was published by the groups Toxics link and Vatavaran based in Delhi on the chemical dyes used in the festival. They found safety issues with all three forms in which the Holi colors are produced: pastes, dry colors and water colors.
Their investigation found some toxic chemicals with some potentially severe health impacts. The black powders were found to contain lead oxide which can result in renal failure. Two colors were found to be carcinogenic: silver, with aluminium bromide, and red, with mercury sulphide. The prussian blue used in the blue powder has been associated with contact dermatitis, while the copper sulphate in the green has been documented to cause eye allergies, puffiness of the eyes, or temporary blindness.
The colorant used in the dry colors, also called gulals, was found to be toxic, with heavy metals causing asthma, skin diseases and temporary blindness. Both of the commonly used bases—asbestos or silica—are associated with health issues.
They reported that the wet colors might lead to skin discolouration and dermatitis due to their use of color concentrate gentian violet.
On a personal note:
It seems like coincidence that elections in Goa ended on a colorful note as rival groups enjoyed the revelry of this beautiful Festival of Colors. Just as all the colors of the rainbow merge to form the color White, which represents peace, may we all put aside our personal and party grudges and unite to bring True Peace to Goa. Let not our efforts be mechanical like the synthetic colors used nowadays for this may lead to permanent blindness and unending unkindness. Lets use the traditional colors of piety (saffron), peace(white) and prosperity(green) of our National flag to usher in a new Goa and hopefully a new India!

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