Happy Holi 2019: It was back in 2005, after getting communication from the West Bengal government, the chemical engineering department of the Jadavpur Univesity (JU) took an initiative to make gulal (colour powder) eco-friendly. The market during those days was flooded with chemical colours that were cheap and hazardous to health.
“The initiative started after a request of the state education department to make Holi eco-friendly and to use tons of waste flowers which was dump into River Ganga by vendors of Asia’s largest flower market Mallik ghat,” said Siddhartha Datta who was the head of the varsity’s Chemical Engineering department at that time.
The initiative was the first in the country and after a constant effort of three years, the JU department got success in producing the herbal gulal in 2008, said the retired pro-Vice Chancellor of the JU.
VIDEO | Watch how people celebrate Holi in Vrindavan
The making was headed by the then dean of the department Siddhartha Datta, Professor Chiranjib Bhattacharjee including other professors and some students. The initial processing of floral abir was done in a pilot plant in Bagnan.
Unlike the colours available in the market, the Puspa Abir is prepared on a talcum powder base which doesn’t irritate skin. “After collection of waste flowers from the market and the beds of River Ganga, it is chopped into pieces. Then the flower pieces are boiled into the hot water at a temperature of 60-70 degree Celsius followed by the mixing of the solution with talcum powder of different colours and alum. Once done, natural scents of flowers like jasmine etc are mixed and dried under the shed for 24 hours.”
The varsity makes six varieties of gulal — green, orange, pink, yellow violet, and white produced from marigold, butterfly bee, flame of forest, China rose, rose, and bixa seed.
The initial response was encouraging. To learn the gulal-making process, varsities from the United States, Canada, England sent their team, said Siddhartha Datta who won the national patent for herbal dye in 2009. The Jadavpur University also trains NGOs to produce gulal.
However, the product is unable to find buyers as the cost of making the herbal gulal is twice than the regular one. “If one kg of preparing chemical gulal costs Rs 15, the same for the herbal is around Rs 25 to 30,” said the Professor.
Also since Holi comes once in a year, they do not have a proper set-up. “We received a demand of around 50 kg of abir gulal, but due to lack of infrastructure, we could not meet the target. Moreover, the wide disparity in the cost is also a reason that the product is unable to compete with the chemical one,” said the Professor.
Asthana Dutta, an ex-student of the varsity said that the product is good but the supply is low. “The initiative is great but due to the poor strategy of the institute, it is unavailable in the market. In my place at Shyambazar, North Kolkata, there are fewer shops selling the gulal.”