The significance of colours is deeply rooted in the Indian psyche. Big, bold colours define almost every aspect of life, be it the choice of attire, food or home.
It can be seen in the crimson wedding dresses that brides wear, in the sindoor (vermilion) and kumkum that women adorn their foreheads with, in the turmeric and saffron used in food that impart it that gorgeous yellow colour. And mind you, it is not just for prettifying things. Red denotes power and strength while yellow and saffron are symbolic of knowledge and learning. The saffron robes of holy men and women are indicative of the quest for light and truth. Lord Vishnu, who is one of the Trinity gods, is seen clad in yellow, while blue is the colour of Lord Krishna and Neelkanth (Shiva). The blue stone Neelam (Blue Sapphire) denotes prosperity.
The importance Indian’s attach to gemstones — cat’s eye, hessonite, coral, sapphire, pearl, emerald, yellow sapphire, diamond and ruby, among others – has no parallel anywhere else in the world.
The soft yellow-brown sandalwood and sandal paste is integral to Hindu religious ceremonies. The hypnotic yellow colour of the mango fruit is widely used in fabrics all over the country. And it is the same orange-yellow mango that gave birth to the Indian paisley design!
Colours signify celebration, best represented in the festival of Holi that creates a dazzling display of brilliant hues, while white is meant for funerals and ceremonies that mark death. When a widow wears white, she disconnects herself from participation in the social life around her.
In India, entire cities are known by the colours which dominate their homes and architecture. Jaipur is known as the Pink City, Jodhpur, the Blue City, while Jaisalmer has come to be known as the Yellow City! The tie-and-dye fabrics of Rajasthan are famous all over the world for their resplendence. Unique patterns in the form of block printing or weaving can be seen in almost all states of India. Each region has its own technique of beautifying drapes and fabrics using colourful threads, blocks, mirrors and other accessories.
The importance of colours in Vastu Shashtra (Science of Architecture) is also quite pronounced. It is believed that colours have the power to inspire our behaviour, create illusions or simply set the mood for a house. In ancient times, every house had a colourful pattern drawn on the walls or a colourful rangoli on the floor to create happy vibes.
Seasons are also known by the Nature’s predominant colours: Spring or Basant is synonymous with yellow and Sawan celebrates the verdant green hues.
Essentially, colours in India are carriers of belief, traditions and customs. In a country as diverse and culturally dynamic as India, it is perhaps these very threads of colour that hold the social fabric together despite all the differences.