Culturally, India is a diverse mosaic of religion, tradition, and geographic influences, but the overall use of color across cultures stands out as a unifying representation of the country.
Vibrant color is pervasive in all aspects of Indian life; in fact, India is sometimes referred to as the land of colors. There is even a festival of colors, Holi, an annual tradition to mark the onset of spring, characterized by the joyful throwing of colored powders and water on people.
Working with the re-purposed Indian saris brings me joy, in part because of the dynamic and diverse fabric colors.
Just as I was curious about the symbols woven in silk fabrics, I also was curious about color meanings in India. In part this comes from the special nature of working with garments that hold another woman’s energy (fodder for a future blog). Hence, I embarked on another info quest.
Associated Meanings : Purity, Spirituality, Protection, Commitment
Throughout India’s history, red has remained a predominant color in many traditions and rituals. It has stood for purity, spirituality, protection, and commitment.
It is a ritualistic tradition to place a mark of red vermillion, called a tilak, on the forehead, the center of wisdom and concentration.
Another symbolic use of the color is to tie a red string around the wrist for protection.
Because red is associated with purity, the color is used as a spiritual symbol as a bride prepares to enter into matrimony and during the matrimonial ceremonies. Red fabric is often used for wedding saris, red henna is used to adorn the bride’s hands, and red sindoor powder is placed on her head.
Red Chakra – Red is the color associated with the first chakra, or root chakra, located at the base of the spine. This chakra represents earth and being grounded.
SAFFRON and YELLOW:
Associated Meanings: Spirituality, Peace, Wisdom
Saffron is a highly spiritual color. In Hinudism, saffron is the color of fire, which reflects the Supreme Being. The saffron color also has spiritual meaning to the Sikhs, the Buddhists, and the Jains. In Buddhism, the spiritual value of this color is marked by the wearing of saffron-colored robes by monks.
Yellow – In Hinduism, yellow has been associated with knowledge and learning and has symbolized happiness, peace, meditation, competence, and mental development. Hindus wear yellow to celebrate the Festival of Spring
In Buddhism, yellow is a sacred color, and is significant because it is the color closest to daylight.
Chakra – Yellow is associated with the third chakra, or solar plexus, the seat of self-esteem.
Associated Meanings: Krishna, infinity, humanity, healing
Lord Krishna, one of the most favored gods in India, is colored blue. There are many theories surrounding the meaning of the blue depiction of Krishna, most of them associated with protection of humanity.
In Buddhism, light blue or turquoise is associated with the sea and sky. The blue Buddha is also known as the medicine Buddha and is colored a deep shade of blue.
Pertinent to fabrics, because of the influence of the caste system, blue saris historically were associated with the working class. Historically, high class Hindus would avoid the color blue because the indigo fermentation process used for cloth dying was considered impure. Artisans, farmer, and weavers commonly wore blue.
Chakra – The color blue governs the throat chakra, which is the center of, speech and hearing, self-expression, and decision making.
Associated Meanings: prosperity and fertility
In India, green is associated with the harvest, new beginnings, and prosperity. Significantly, it is one of three colors in the country’s flag and symbolizes faith and fertility. It is also the color of Islam.
In Buddhism, green represents balance and harmony.
Traditionally, in India, the green sari was worn by the merchant class. Today, green is a popular color clothing choice for Muslims.
Chakra – The color green governs the Heart Chakra, the seat of unconditional love and the balance between body and spirit.
Associated Meanings: Creativity, Vitality, Mysticism
I could not find much information about the meaning of purple in Indian culture. We don’t get our hands on many purple sari fabrics, but when we do, they sure are in demand here in the west.
Chakra – The color purple is associated with the 7th chakra, the crown. It is associated with spiritual connection, understanding, knowing, bliss, and God.
Associated Meanings: purity, truth
Because it is the mixture of colors, white symbolizes qualities of various colors. It has been associated with purity, cleanliness, peace and knowledge.
As the middle color in the Indian flag, white stands for light and the path of truth.
Due to its association with purity, white was a common color historically used in saris worn by the upper classes. Today, white fabric is reserved for special occasions and is also a color of mourning.