By Kumkum Bhatia
Colours play an important part in how we perceive and interact with the world. It seems that each colour emits specific signals that affect our mental, physical and psychological states.
Opinions of scientists and psychologists vary regarding the actual influence of individual colours. However, all agree that colour can dramatically affect moods, feelings and emotions. Certain colours can raise blood pressure, increase metabolism, or cause eyestrain.
Red, orange and yellow are known as warm colours that evoke feelings of warmth and comfort, but also of passion, anger and hostility. On the other hand, blue, purple and green are cool colours that bring calmness as well as feelings of sadness.
In Hinduism, colours play a very important role and have deep significance.
Three Gunas – Three Colours – Three Goddesses
In the Bhagawad Gita, the Lord describes the three Gunas, their qualities and expressions:
Purity, passion and inertia – these Gunas, qualities, O mighty-armed, born of Prakriti, bind fast in the body of the embodied, the indestructible. (XIV/5)
Knowledge arises from Sattva; greed from Rajas; heedlessness, delusion and also ignorance arise from Tamas. (XIV/17)
All creation is made up of the three Gunas. These three qualities that comprise and provide a balance to the natural world are symbolized by the colours, white, red and black. Sattva, harmony and purity, is symbolized by white; rajas, energy and passion, is symbolized by red; and tamas, inertia and ignorance, is depicted by black.
White represents purity, cleanliness, peace and knowledge. The goddess of knowledge, Saraswati wears a white dress and sits on a white lotus. White is also the color of mourning.
In most cultures, white symbolizes truth, purity, peace, and protection. White can sometimes have a negative meaning as well. It can symbolize the pallor of death. In Christianity white symbolizes joy, glory and the road to heaven.
In Hinduism, red is considered to be an auspicious colour depicting happiness, prosperity, fertility and strength. Hence the bride wears a red sari on her wedding day and puts red vermillion on her hair parting. A red mark is put on the forehead during ceremonies and important occasions. Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, wears a red sari and sits on a pink/red lotus.
Universally, red is the most exciting colour and is known to escalate the body’s metabolism. Dark red indicates anger, high energy, determination, and passion. A red ruby was worn in China to promote long life. The colour is also a symbol of love.
Black represents ignorance or death. Both in art and in religion black signifies despair, sin and mourning, In Christianity, it stands for death
In Hinduism, Goddess Kali is black in colour. The blackness symbolizes her all-embracing, comprehensive nature, because black is the colour in which all other colours merge; black absorbs and dissolves them. ‘Just as all colours disappear in black, so all names and forms disappear in Her.’ Or black is said to represent the total absence of colour, again signifying the nature of Kali as the ultimate Reality.
As Lord Krishna points out: ‘When the seer … knows that which is higher than the three gunas, he attains my Being.’ One who can go beyond the three colours, beyond the world of names, forms and colours, that person becomes fit for immortality.