When I think of India one of the first things that comes to mind is vibrant and beautiful color. This is no coincidence as color plays a significant symbolic role in India’s cultural traditions. Although the meanings of certain hues may vary slightly across regions and religions, the place of color as an important player in everything from religion and politics, to art and dress, is unchanging (Smith, 2007).
One of the largest annual celebratory festivals in India is Holi, which is also known as the Festival of Colors. In early spring people all across India celebrate the victory of good over evil by throwing brightly colored powders and water (Festival of Colours, n.d.). The festival is a joyful affair and in India color is the ultimate representation of that joy.
According to a Sanskriti Magazine, “Proper use of colors creates an environment, which should keep a person cheerful (Meaning of Colours, 2014, para. 3).” Many Indians believe in the power of color to affect mental, physical, and psychological states. This belief makes the meanings that they associate with colors all the more profound. The most sacred color for the Hindu is saffron because it represents religious abstinence and the burning of impurities (Meaning of Colours, 2014). For followers of Islam, which make up over thirteen percent of India’s population, green is the most sacred color because of its association with the Prophet Muhammad (Smith, 2007). For others in India green represents life and happiness while yellow symbolizes peace, knowledge, and learning. Blue is highly symbolic as the representation of nature as well as of bravery, manliness, determination, and stability (Meaning of Colours, 2014).
I found the meanings and uses of black, white, and red to be particularly interesting. White is believed to represent peace and knowledge but it also represents the lack of color and is therefore symbolic of grief, making it the traditional color for mourning. Black is the most negative color in India. It is associated with evil and undesirability and is sometimes used to ward off evil (Smith, 2007). Red represents both purity and sensuality—two characteristics that in western culture are often seen as being at odds with one another. Brides traditionally wear red to their weddings and the color is also worn at occasions such as births and festivals (Meaning of Colours, 2014).
Understanding the symbolism of these colors is important as we travel through India because we will encounter these colors everywhere that we go. It will give us a key to unspoken meanings and a window into a culture different from our own.