Celebrating the colours of nature

Celebrating the colours of nature

Colours prevail in Nandi Honda, a hamlet in  Sonda of Uttara Kannada district, months before the celebration of Holi. We can see rural women, under the guidance of Manorama and Suryanarayana Joshi, engaged in various activities to prepare eco-friendly colours for Holi. The couple, who are organic farmers, grow areca nut with banana, pepper and coconut as intercrops. That apart, they also cultivate paddy and sugar cane. "Areca is an annual crop and its price keeps fluctuating. So, we wanted to take up a short-term activity that is profitable and also eco-friendly," Manorama says. An enterprising woman, she started making sukeli (sun-dried banana) 15 years ago, with support from her husband, Suryanarayana Joshi.  

Around the same time, a civil society organisation in Pune, which was creating awareness about eco-friendly Holi colours, came to know about Manorama's efforts and checked with her about the possibility of producing such colours. Manorama, who was not familiar with the tradition of Holi, felt it challenging and decided to take it up. She felt that it won't be difficult to prepare four to five colours from the numerous colours available in nature. Then there weren't any standard methods to prepare these colours. "I used to try with everything that was available. My family used to feel amused by my ways of extracting colours from dry flowers, beetroot, palak, red soil etc. My husband and children supported in their own ways," says Manorama.

The first year, the family produced 60 kg of colours. Gradually, the market expanded from Pune to Bengaluru. Now they prepare five colours - red, blue, saffron, green and yellow. The colours are prepared using different combinations of kumkum, indigo and turmeric, while rice flour is the main base. They add  some herbs that have soothing properties as well.

Manorama has  standardised the methods through trial and error. As market improved the production has increased and this has become a reliable income generating activity for the family. They engage women from the neighbouring villages for three months a year for the purpose. "This activity has helped us utilise our time productively and make some earnings," says Savitha who helps in packing the colours. The stages of preparation include drying the extracts, mixing the colours, sieving the powder and packing. "If others play Holi for a day, we celebrate the colours for three months," feel the team members.

Most of the ingredients are sourced from farmers. The colours are sold in the brand name of 'Maitri' and are available in the organic outlets in Bengaluru, Dharwad, Goa and Pune. This year, the quantity of colours produced is over one tonne. "People who play Holi don't place orders well in advance and these colours go a waste after the festival. It becomes difficult to supply the product if the orders are placed just before Holi. We struggle to balance the demand and supply," says Manorama. Many schools and colleges buy natural colours from them regularly. "These colours are good for the skin and nature. Unlike chemical colours, these hues can be washed off and we can reuse the dress," say the students of Balabalaga school in Dharwad. Jagadeesh Mayya, who runs an organic outlet in Bengaluru, says that consumer response to natural colours is encouraging. Those who are interested to celebrate Holi with eco-friendly colours can contact the Joshis  on 9480265616.

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