Holi – Traditional Sources of Colours

Traditional sources of colours

During the mutation period of winter and spring, is believed to cause viral fever and cold. The throwing of natural coloured powders like gulal has a medicinal significance. Colours are made traditionally from Neem, KukKum, Haldi, Bilva (Bael) and other medicinal herbs prescribed by Āyurvedic doctors.

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Orange and red

The typical source of bright red and deep Orgnge colours are the flowers of Palash and Tesu tree.  Powdered fragrant red sandalwood, dried hibiscus flowers, radish etc. are alternate sources of red. Mixing lime with Haldi powder also is an alternate source of orange.


Dried leaves of Gulmohur or Mehendi offers a source of green colour. Leaves of spring crops and herbs are also an alternate source of green pigment.


Haldi (turmeric powder) is the source of yellow colour. Bael fruit, Amaltas species of chrysanthemum, and species of marigold are alternate sources of yellow colour.


Species of grapes, Indian berries, Indigo Plant are the main sources of Bleu colour for Holi

Magenta and purple

For purple and magenta colour Beetroot is the traditional source. Beetroot is directly boiled in water to prepare coloured water.

Synthetic colours

Ancestors used turmeric, sandalwood paste, extracts of flowers and leaves to celebrate Holi. The spring blossoming trees that supplied the colours used to celebrate Holi have now become rarer. Now a day’s chemically produced Industrial dyes are used in their place in almost all the urban areas in India. As these commercial chemical dyes have the attractive pigments, slowly the natural colours are replaced by them.

These chemically produced industrial dyes cause mild to severe symptoms of skin irritation and inflammation. These colours are sold without labeling and the lack of awareness among the consumers on the sources of colours and their contents and possible toxic effects.

Recent years, some nongovernmental organizations took the charge of campaigning for safe practices related to the use of colours.

In urban areas, people are aware of the usage of nose mask and sunglasses to avoid inhaling pigments and prevent chemical exposure to eyes.

Environmental impact

A recent survey estimates that across India, Holika Dahan celebration contributes deforestation. This Holika causes 30,000 bonfires every year, with each burning approximately 100 Kilograms of wood. This represents 1% of 350 million tons of wood India consumes every year, as one of the traditional fuels for cooking and other uses.

Some of the commercial pigments used during Holi consume heavy metals, in turn, causes temporary wastewater pollution, where it takes a minimum of 5 days to recover for the pre-festival drinking levels.