Making Holi Colors in America.

Being one of the organizers of Holi at UCSD I went out to buy some Holi colors in San Diego. Alas, the ‘pukka’ water based colors was not available anywhere, and the ones that were available were Gulal which were selling at Rs 500/kg ($5.99 per pound). Heck thats even more expensive than buying Almonds. This got me thinking. A sign for the world that something is coming up. I wanted it to make it cheap, and what could be more cheaper than making them myself 😉

I needed both dry ‘gulal’ type color and the wet ‘pukka’ colors. These were my constraints

  1. They had to be cheap
  2. They also _had_ to be non-toxic.
  3. The ingredients should be commonly available in America.
  4. This one was my self imposed constrain – they need to be ‘interesting’

A brief online search revealed that plagiarism is quite popular on the internet. All the pages had the _exact_ same content. This is the page that tops google search. These pages do have some ideas, but most of them do not satisfy Constrain-3. Like where do you get Delonix regia (Gulmohar) in America? Or where do you find “The Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma), known as Tesu, Palash or Dhak” even in India?. They have some more suggestions to use various flowers – Buras (Rhododendron arboreum) for Red, Jacaranda for blue, “Amaltas (Cassia fistula), Marigold / Gainda (Tagetus erecta), Yellow Chrysanthemums, Black Babul” for yellow etc. But I am sure it will not satisfied the Constrain-1. I did not even try to see if they passed Constrain-3. However everything was not a waste and I did get some ideas from these pages.

Being in America is both a bane and a boon. Bane because many commonly available stuff in India is hard to find in America, or at the very least too expensive. I had some knowledge that Arrowroot is used to make the base for Gulal, but it was a tough time finding it. Also my dad told me (yes I had to involve my family too to get some ideas, and they were much better than the internet), to find talc(um) powder in bulk, but I was not able to. I am not saying that they are not available in America, only that they are not easily accessible. However, America gave me the benefit to trying to find something new altogether. Something that is not thought of when playing Holi in India. The rescue came from the various homemade recipes for Face Painting colors. These introduced me to non-toxic colors, and did satisfy all constrains.

So this is what I tried, along with the cost details, and interestingness quotient (IQ ). I got most of the things from North Park Produce(NPP), Henrys(HNY) and Micheals Art Store(MAS). (Conversion factor – 16oz = 1 pound = 450 gms)

1. Dry Yellow (IQ 4/5)

This is the easiest to make. Very fragrant, Good for skin, cheap. The idea is to use Turmeric Powder ($2.49/14oz/NPP) along with some talcum powder($3.49/22oz/Walmart) which makes it fragrant. These two are sufficient to get a nice ‘gulal’ type of color. To make it still more cheaper, one can add any finely ground flour. I used Corn Flour ($0.49/16oz/HNY). Final Cost ~($2/16oz). People loved the smell of Turmeric and Talcum Powder.

2. Tempera Paint (IQ 4/5)

Tempera paints are non-toxic paint used by artists. They are really cheap, available in lots of different colors, which is an additional point. I also found a ‘finger-paint’ for kids, that was supposed to be applied using fingers (that made me sure that they are not harmful to the skin). I got ample quantities of these paints from MAS. A 200ml bottle (thick paint) was $2.00

3. Food Colors (IQ 3/5)

There are two types of food colors. Dry and Wet. I’d highly recommend for the dry food colors, but they are more difficult to find than the wet ones. I got some dry food colors from NPP at $2.20 for a small box (2 oz). These work like magic. A pinch of food color is enough to color 5 liters of water. We had a running source of water which was continuously filling large trash cans. A small amount of food color was added to this to make is colorful.

I also used food colors to make a gooey paste (read below). My mom told me to try making some dry gulal based colors from them. I did not make them, but now with some experience with food colors I am sure that the process would work – Take a pinch of food colors, add a drop of water to it and mix it with corn floor/corn starch/arrowroot/gram floor etc.

4. Colorful Gooey Paste (IQ 5/5)

The idea is simple, take some flour and water to make a gooey paste. Add some food colors. Simple. Cost – really really cheap. You can play with the consistency of the paste. More viscose paste is good for directly smearing on the face. A slightly less viscose is great for pouring on the head. They start to harden as they dry, which makes the prey wonder what was it. Of course its easy to remove by making it wet again.

5. Vegetables (Wet) (IQ 2/5)

It sounds great, its epitome of non-toxic and edible, but they did not create a stir among the rowdy public. I tried few different vegetables. The best were grated beetroot and red cabbage. What did not work was spinach. Beetroot gives a deep red color, and red cabbage a dark violet. These can be used to make colored water. Colored water can be then used to color more water (instead of food color) or make a gooey paste (again, instead of using food color). All organic and edible colors.

6. Vegetables (Dry) – Did not use

I also tried to make some dry colors from vegetables. Finely grated beet root was baked in an oven for some time to remove the moisture. The hope was that on re-application of water they should yield some nice colors. They did, but the colors were too light to be interesting. So I dropped the idea.

7. Henna (IQ 2/5)

Similar to the Turmeric process, Green color can be made from mixing henna and talcum powder. I was not successful in making it green. The henna I had was not green enough to turn the whole concoction green. So I also added some spirulina powder to it. Note that spirulina is quite expensive. I just used it as I had some at my home. But on the whole this was not appreciated a lot. The idea of using Henna did excite people, but it failed to stand up to the excitement.

8. Spray Colors (IQ 1/5)

I found some Hair spray colors from Walmart ($2 for a small bottle). But these were bad. They smelled bad and did not look like they would be safe (although the spray was meant for application on hair). I suggest to stay away from these.

9. Eggs (IQ 5/5)

Eggs are always a nice option. Got it for $2.5o for 12 eggs. Just make sure you release them at the right time – when people start to get bored of the normal colors.

10. Tomato Ketchup (IQ 4/5)

It creates a sticky feeling. Good to end the Holi with. You can get ketchup pouches from any fast food joint for free.

The only thing that missing in all these is something that can substitute the toxic ‘pukka’ colors available in India. Food colors are close to that, but they are easy to wash off. Nevertheless, it was a great Holi celebration. Some pictures from Ameet’s Album.

23 thoughts on “Making Holi Colors in America.

  1. Hi,
    Nice effort..
    (i am allergic to lot of artificial colors(commonly used in India) and hence didnt dare venture out to participate)

  2. I was there at Holi. I smelled the colors, tasted them, and then it took me 2 hrs showers to get rid off them. Awesome job, Babaji!


  3. Hi Im a student from Mills college, Oakland. we are celebrating holi on the 3 April. Would it be possoble to buy some holi colors from you?

  4. a bit late to comment but you continue to amaze. just when i think this person cannot get any weirder, you do 🙂 Great job (but as you know, I can only appreciate the effort, not the result 🙁 )

  5. Hie there,
    Great job, I never thought that someone would have so much patance to make the colors, that too without the required indegriants. Congratulations.
    By the way I am manish Drolia from INDIA. I am engaged in manufacturing and exporting the best and authantic Indian gulal. Our material is made up from edible grade rawmaterial and have very sharpe and floroscent colors.
    Next time you need any gulal just let me know, beforehand.
    Manish Drolia
    +91 98931 55008

  6. Great ideas!! Thanks soo much. Would you happen to know if any of these ideas had side affects on grass? We will be playing holi on a college campus and its going to be on the grass. If you can e-mail me that would be great. Thanks again.

  7. I totally agree…I am trying to celebrate Holi in The Bahamas, and am having a really hard time finding recipes on the internet. Yours is the best! thanks!

  8. This is wonderful! I’m a Den Leader for my son’s Tiger Cub Scouts (6yr olds), and we’re planning a “Celebrations Around the World” meeting. Holi is one of the holidays we’ll be researching, and I think the kids will love this–especially since they’ll be able to make the colors themselves…and it fits our budget.

    Thanks a ton for sharing your findings! :0)

  9. We’re having an event similar to Holi in the town I live in near Los Angeles. I couldn’t find the dry food coloring so am trying to blend the wet with cornstarch. So far the colors either come out really vibrant or dull 🙁 I wanted to know if you have any experience with using the food coloring and how hard it will be to get it out?

  10. AWESOME JOB WITH THIS SITE!! I’m a preschool teacher learning about Holi and we wanted to end the week of learning with the throwing of colors…this was perfect and the temper paint idea was great…especially mixed with flour and creating the gooey colors. Thanks so much

  11. Wow! Wonderful ideas! I am scheduled to teach @ my kid’s class re: holi and this is a wonderful resource. Thanks for sharing the info.


  12. You really made a lot of effort to reach this conclusion. We in India don’t have to encounter such kind of problems because all the ingredients for making Holi colours are easily found in our grocery stores. With this post, you have not only helped out American folks but also people across the globe who wish to celebrate Holi. However just to bring to your note that we are company that sells genuine organic, herbal holi colours and you can contact us on +91-92232-11777 for any kind of queries pertaining to Holi colours.

  13. Awesome! I’ve been looking for ideas on making Holi powders in the US for a long time. Thank you so much for posting this online! It is a blessing to me!!!!

  14. Hi!
    My name is Priscila and I’m a history teacher in Brazil. My students are searching about HOLI to show it in a gymkhana. Thanks for sharing this information about “how to making holi colors by yourself” =) We will do our own HOLI at school! =)

  15. For the Dry Pukka powders- Tempera paint also comes in Dry powder form that you can use for throwing color powder. It is safe, non-toxic, and you can get a 1lb container of it online for about 3 dollars, plus shipping.

  16. Hello,

    Great job man.
    This is PRANJAL SINGH from AMA HERBAL LABORATORIES PVT.LTD. .We are the leading manufacturer of natural and complete herbal gulal. Our company products are certified on GOTS VERSION-3 by CONTROL PANEL ,NETHERLAND. We are the leading manufacturer of gulal which is non-toxic, free from irritation and no chemicals are used in any stage of manufacturing of gulal.
    If you need 100% organic herbal gulal ,you can contact us anytime.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *