Celebrating Holi the Eco-friendly way

Holi is perhaps the only festival in India to have a tagline of its own. Bura na maano, Holi hai! (Don’t be offended. It’s Holi!) captures the essence of this festival. Celebrating the triumph of good over evil, the origins stem from Hindu mythology - the slaying of the demon Hiranyakashipu, and his sister Holikai. Also considered to be the day Lord Kama released five arrows, there is every reason to get in on the festivities - whether you’re taken by the colors, the season, or good old-fashioned love.

This culturally loaded festival is naturally accompanied by a practice that has been around for years. And with the passage of time, the way Holi is celebrated has changed in more ways than one.

Today, Holi comes with its fair share of environmental endangerment. There are rising concerns about pollution - smoke and toxic substances released by fireworks, noise created by large gatherings, and the usage of megaphones, water pollution, so on and so forth.

Other concerns include the skin problems caused by commercially manufactured colours, and how children, stray animals and even pets are exposed to these synthetic materials leading to short and long term damage.

So, let’s resolve to make Holi this year an environment-friendly festival. With climate change in tow, it is imperative that we do so, in what little ways we can.

One of the simplest practices to begin with, is making the gulaal (Holi Colours) at home. Grinding dried hibiscus flowers for red, crushing fresh mint for green, mixing turmeric powder and gram flour for yellow, or simply adding food colour to rice flour are alternatives that are not just good for the environment, but are also a lot of fun to make.

Another way to celebrate a sustainable Holi is to play it dry this year. The thrill of dousing friends with buckets of water, or throwing water balloons at them, may seem irresistible. But, the growing water crisis calls for us to be more reflective and responsible. Spare the pichkaris and play Holi with dry colours.

Holi bonfires from burnt wood are also a major source of environmental degradation as they reduce the much needed green cover provided by trees. Burning organic substances like cow dung or other waste materials instead of wood, prevents trees from being cut down.

At the end of the day, Holi is all about community. So, pledge as a collective to use organic, dry colours and build a grand communal bonfire, rather than one too many around your neighborhood. More the merrier.
May this year’s Holi be a celebration of a life, for one and all.


Recipe for a Holi meal

A Holi meal is never whole without the inimitable gujiya (sweet dumpling), a traditional pan-indian delicacy. Imaginatively shaped as a half-moon, its rich layered textures and sweet flavours produce a gratifying adventure for the palate. Here’s how you can make gujiya at home for your near and dear, and celebrate Holi in spirit. After all, festivities are all about food and family!

Filling: Add a few spoons of sugar to milk and boil until solid. When cooled to room temperature, add desiccated coconut, sooji( semolina) roasted in ghee, powdered cashew nuts, almond shreds, and raisins to the milk solids. Mix into a sticky paste.

Dough: Mix maida (white refined flour), with a cup of water, a pinch of baking soda and a few tablespoons of refined oil. Add more water and knead to make a soft elastic dough.

Use gujiya molds to get that perfect half-moon crust out of your dough. Fill in the stuffing and fry until golden brown. Dig in and let the delightful milky shreds of almonds, and raisins crumble into your mouth.

Offbeat things to do in Chennai

The Sun God has turned his magnificent Ratha (chariot) drawn by seven horses towards the northern hemisphere. It is Ratha Saptami, anannual celebration that falls on the seventh day of the Tamil month of Maasi . Celebrated at homes and temples, on the occasion of this planetary event, this quaint festival marks the movement of the seasons into spring. Cue for Chennai to brace for the imminent summer.

While you enjoy this brief courting with spring, and herald the fierce Chennai Summer, here are some offbeat things to do with your friends and family this season, and fall in love with this sizzling city again.

 

Thalankuppam Pier

Tucked away in a picturesque fishing hamlet in Ennore beach, 15 kms down the famed Marina, Thalankuppam pier is the perfect place to catch a quite sunrise. You can get there by a scenic drive along the Ennore High Road. The pristine beaches here are every photographer’s delight. A walk along the pier leads you right into the hem of a colorful montage of luminescent orange, turquoise blue, and ocean grey. You could also hitch a boat ride with the local fishermen and ride into this breathtaking view, as the waves wash you over with a spirit of love and peace.

The Leisure Yacht Company

A twilight cruise on the east coast, watching the sun go down leaving golden freckles on the sky, kissed by the cool sea breeze...wouldn’t that make for a great summer evening? This summer dream is what the Leisure Yacht Company has to offer. At TLYC, you can try your hand at fishing in the solemn sea waters and if you get lucky, there is an electric barbecue on the outdoor deck to help you cook your catch, and pack more fun filled action into your evening. You can also spot container ships, groove to happy tunes, and have your best selfie moments aboard their aptly named yacht ‘Moon Beam’.

Olive Ridley Turtle walks

Between January and April every year, migrating Olive Ridley turtles swim ashore and lay eggs on the coast of Bay of Bengal. To safely relocate these eggs into hatcheries until they hatch 45 days later, volunteers and conservationists organize turtle walks in the night along the beaches of Chennai.

Instated in 1972 by wildlife conservationist Romulus Whitaker, the Madras Olive Ridley turtle walks not only offer a glimpse into this beautiful natural phenomenon, but also raise awareness on ecological issues that confront the city. Take part in the walks along the Palavakkam beach, Elliot’s or Marina beach and feel your miniscule place in the larger fabric of nature.

Barefoot Scuba Dive

You can hop on a catamaran, sail past the vanilla foams into cobalt waters, guided by a seasoned coach. Take the plunge and dive underwater to discover the enthralling marine life of Covelong, with shimmering coral reefs and colourful schools of fish from the honeycomb morays to snappers, and bewildering octopuses. You can take a professional course or just do a fun dive at Barefoot Scuba.

There is more to summer in Chennai than the draining sun!

When you hear drums, think weddings, not bands.

As the new year begins, and people set their sights on new goals, there’s a different type of new beginning brewing for many. In the South of India, the wedding season picks up just after the harvest festival (Pongal). And there’s something for everyone, whether they’re in the inner circle or not.

While you might be used to the sight of the bride and groom finalising a marriage with vows, or tying of a sacred thread, there’s so much more to a South Indian wedding (a term which honestly doesn’t do justice to the diversity between communities). Some weddings such as the Kerala Christian ceremony follow a traditional, one day itinerary, whereas a Tamil Chettiar wedding could go on for six days! Throw into the mix a keen interest to mimic North Indian customs such as the Sangeeth and Mehendi, and there’s really no telling what you’re signing up for!

No matter the customs, the wedding party usually has their hands full for a couple of months leading up to the event. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and distant relatives pour their hearts and souls into the festivities, to make sure there’s not a flower out of place on the big day(s). Though the list is long and endless, here are some idiosyncrasies that make each wedding a unique affair:

  • Kashi Yatra – common across a number of weddings, this roleplay closely connects to Vedic literature, according to which, a man of marriageable age would have to visit holy places in search of spirituality. As tradition goes, the groom, in a last ditch effort to save himself from the shackles of marriage, departs on a journey to Kashi to lead life as an ascetic. But his father-in-law-to-be stops him dead in his tracks and convinces him that a life of solitude isn’t for him. It’s quite a scene to watch with most of the groom’s friends egging him on to protect his interests!
  • A Coorgi wedding affair – the simplest of all weddings, the Coorgis don’t stand on ceremony. The entire celebration is an intimate affair with song and dance signalling the start. A simple exchange of garlands is all it takes to call another one’s own. Ending with a famous delicacy ( Pandhi or Pork curry) in the parts is likely the only tradition that will last for eons to come!
  • Sadhya and Biryani – continuing the tryst with food, Nair and Muslim weddings have their love for feasts down to a T. Sadhya served at Nair weddings comes with 25 items served on a plantain leaf, and is every foodie’s heaven. On the other hand, the exotic biryani served at a Muslim wedding will likely invade your dreams for months after the fact!
  • All that glitters, is most definitely gold – if Karnataka and Kerala take the cake with food, then Tamil weddings are a feast for the eyes. The wedding industry in this South Indian state may very well be keeping the jewellery industry afloat! The extensive Chettiar and Gounder weddings are characterised by grand shows of wealth, intertwined with their strong ties to tradition.
  • The Andal kondai and oonjal – a typical Brahmin wedding in Tamil Nadu has all the hallmarks of a great Bollywood film, and none of the Hindi. The festivities begin early in the morning, with bouts of song, and a show of feeding sweetmeats to the bride and groom, as they are seated on a swing, in anticipation of a happily ever after.
  • Celebrating childlike innocence – what has sad beginnings in the practice of child marriage from the yesteryears, is now a fun, family-friendly celebration after the wedding. Many different customs include some variation of playing with coloured rice, rolling coconuts, and fishing for rings, to keep the bride and groom entertained after the long rituals they navigate to become husband and wife.

Every wedding is unique in its own way, and there’s really no way to capture it on paper. All that’s left to say is, if you have the chance to attend a South Indian wedding, you might not want to miss it!