Sadhguru looks at the role and meaning of colors for a spiritual seeker, and how colors can have a significant effect on our lives.
Read in Hindi : रंगों का महत्व
Sadhguru: How is color significant for human consciousness as such, or for any kind of spiritual process? It is significant in the sense that the color that you reflect will naturally add to the aura that you carry. People on the ascetic path don’t want to wear anything because they don’t want to add anything new to themselves. They just want to work with what they have. They don’t want to take on anything more. What you are right now, to work that out is quite substantial. Adding one more thing complicates it. So they walk naked. If walking naked is difficult socially, they put on a loincloth. But the idea is they don’t take on anything more than what they are. They know that what they are is itself substantial. There are other aspects to it but this is in terms of the color.
What is color, first of all? The color of any substance is not because of what it is, it is what it rejects or what it gives away or reflects. Something looks red not because it is red, but because it holds back everything that white light contains and reflects red. So red does not mean it is red. Red means it is not red! Whatever you give away, that will be your quality in the world also.
The meaning of the color red
If you walk in the forest, it is all green but there will be one spot of red – somewhere one red flower blossoming – that draws your attention because in your perception, red is the most vibrant of all the colors. All other colors may be pretty and nice but red is vibrant.
Many things which are significant to you are red. Red is the color of your blood for example. In human consciousness, colors have a big impact upon how you feel, and red creates maximum vibrance. Anything exuberant means red. You may have heard of “painting the town red!” Among the deities that you create, the feminine forms are the most exuberant. Linga Bhairavi’s color is red because she gives away red. Devi signifies that vibrance. Her energy is absolute vibrance and exuberance. Because of that, Devi is red – not because she is red, because she is not red!
The meaning of the color blue
Blue is the color of all-inclusiveness. You will see in the existence, anything that is vast and beyond your perception generally tends to be blue, whether it is the ocean or the sky. Anything which is larger than your perception tends to be blue because blue is the basis of all-inclusiveness. It is based on this that so many gods in India are shown as blue-skinned. Shiva has a blue skin, Krishna has a blue skin, Rama has a blue skin. It is not that their skin was blue. They were referred to as blue gods because they had a blue aura.
There is another aspect to this. In terms of one’s evolution, there are various hues that one’s aura can take. If we make the Agna very important in our sadhana, then orange will be the dominant color. That is the color of renunciation and kriya. If someone has a pure white aura, that means this is a pure being. Such a person’s presence will be fantastic, but he will not be so action-oriented. When someone attains to their highest but chooses to be active in the world, his aura will always be electric blue. Anyone who was dynamic was blue. It is this type of aura which allows you to function in the world in a way that other people think is superhuman.
The meaning of the color orange
Why people who walk the spiritual path choose orange as their color, at least in this country, is because orange suggests so many things. When a person is moving towards Agna, it can be very visibly noticed that the color of Agna is orange. It is organically and naturally so. If you go into certain meditations, you will clearly see that Agna is orange or saffron. The color is not actually saffron, it is ochre. The Agna chakra is the chakra of knowing or enlightenment, and is known as the third eye. There are 114 chakras in the body. Two of these do not ascribe to any color because they are not physical in nature. The rest of the 112 chakras ascribe to some color. Anything that is physical in the existence naturally reflects light. Once it reflects light, it will have color in your perception. People who are on the path where the whole process is about enlightenment and opening up that dimension of perception referred to as the third eye, will always seek ochre because they want to radiate that color.
If you have become transparent, if what is behind you is red, you turn red too. If what is behind you is blue, you turn blue too. Wherever you are, you become a part of that, but nothing sticks to you.
Normally, a person who switches to orange drops everything that was old – his name, his identity, his family, his looks, his everything – and shifts into a different life. That means he is making a new beginning, a new sun has risen in his life. A certain realization has come where he is willing to shed everything and walk into another dimension of life or another possibility. It also suggests gnana and vision. Either a person has developed or he wants to develop a new vision, that’s why he is going into it. For both people it is good to wear orange.
Orange is also a symbolism. When the sun rises in the morning, it is orange. You wear this color to indicate that a new light has come into your life and a new rising has happened within you – a new udaya. A new sun is beginning to rise within you. Another aspect is, when the fruit matures, it becomes orange. Orange is a symbol of maturity. When a person has attained to a certain level of maturity or ripening, he uses this color.
The meaning of the color white
White or aatvarang means the eighth color. There are seven colors; white is the eighth color. This eighth color or aatvarang means that dimension of life which is beyond. White is not really a color. When there is no color, only white is there. It is the absence of color that makes it white. At the same time, white is all-inclusive. The white light that you see contains all of the seven colors. You can refract those colors and separate all seven of them.
White has a good impact on you. Especially when you live in a tropical country, white is the best color to wear. It is comfortable weather-wise. Traditionally, a person who wears orange cuts himself off from family and social situations. The one who chooses white walks the spiritual path, but is still involved in the other aspects of life. Those who are on a path where they don’t want to gather anything will wear white. Their sadhana is mild, but they are on the spiritual path, but they are involved with various aspects of life, they don’t want to gather life around them. They want to be participating in life but they don’t want to gather anything, such people will choose to wear white.
The meaning of the color yellow
In the Buddhist tradition, monks, who graduated to what Gautama called arhats, wore ochre robes. The rest wore yellow robes because the process that Gautama gave to the initial stage of Buddhist monks was a very rudimentary process. He chose this process for them because it did not need any preparation. He wanted to cause a wave of awareness. That means he didn’t stay in any town for too long. He was continuously moving from village to village and town to town. There was no time to prepare people for any kind of practice, so he gave them a very rudimentary process. But still he was converting them into monks. He was fixing their life but not giving them enough preparatory steps, so he told them to wear the yellow robe because yellow is the color of the Muladhara chakra. The most basic chakra in the body is Muladhara. He wanted them to be stable.
Such a process is taught when you are charting out a spiritual path for a few lifetimes. That tradition still continues in the Buddhist way of life. They keep coming back and coming back to do more work because the process is of stabilization, not of realization. So he told them to wear yellow robes.
The meaning of the color black
If you are in a certain space which is powerfully energized and you want to imbibe, black is good. Black does not give out anything, it absorbs everything. If you wear black and go to a good space, you will absorb that. But if you wear black and go to a bad space, you will absorb that.
So, not everyone is qualified to wear black. If you continuously remain in black clothing and expose yourself to a variety of situations, you will notice that your energies will fluctuate and it sucks out all the emotion from you and gets your mind into very volatile, imbalanced states. It makes you into a silent suffering. You will suffer in such a way that you cannot even find expression to your suffering.
But if you wear black in a situation which is very vibrant and positive, you will absorb a tremendous amount of energy, which is good for you. Black should be worn only if you are ensured of the quality of the space.
You may have heard the word “vairagya“. “Raga,” means color. “Vai” means beyond. “Vairag,” means beyond color. You have become transparent. If you have become transparent, if what is behind you is red, you turn red too. If what is behind you is blue, you turn blue too. If what is behind you is yellow, you turn yellow too. You are unprejudiced. Wherever you are, you become a part of that, but nothing sticks to you. Only if you are like this, only if you are in a state of Vairag, then you will dare to explore all dimensions of life when you live here.
Editor’s Note: Happy Holi!
Colour is a powerful and important communication tool, and it is tied to religious, cultural, political and social influences.
By stopping to consider what each colour represents and is linked to in the ‘real world’ we can make informed design decisions that ensure we appeal to our target audience. Without this consideration we run the risk of offending the very people were are designing for.
[Notice: Learn more about colour and design processes at The Future of Web Design New York City on Nov 16-17]
#1 It Affects your Mood
Most of us have a favourite colour or prefer some colours over others. This is because can affect our moods so we surround ourselves in the colours that have a positive impact on our mood.
Red can boost your energy, yellow often makes people feel happier, and blue is proven to bring down blood pressure and slow your heart rate which is why it is often associated with being relaxing. If you combine the happiness of yellow and the relaxing feel of blue you get green, a very pleasing colour for many people.
Mental health units are known to use pastel tones on their walls so that patients feel calm, happy, and relaxed. Walls that are beige with a pink tint combined with mint green floors are a popular combination as it is said to create a soothing, harmonious and calm area. At the other end of the spectrum, literally, schools tend to user bright colours that appeal to children.
When choosing colours for your next design it is important to consider how they will combine and sit with the other elements on the page and what impact that will have on the mood of your audience.
#2 Colours Communicate Invisibly
Wassily Kandinsky was one of the first pioneers of colour theory. A renowned Russian painter and art theorist, he is often considered the founder of abstract art. Kandinsky believed the following colours communicate the following qualities:
- Yellow – warm, exciting, happy
- Blue – deep, peaceful, supernatural
- Green – peace, stillness, nature
- White – harmony, silence, cleanliness
- Black – grief, dark, unknown
- Red – glowing, confidence, alive
- Orange – radiant, healthy, serious
#3 Colour has Cultural Significance
Different colours mean different things in different places. This is extremely important for designers to know because without an awareness of the cultural significance of a particular colour, you risk offending your entire target audience.
Purple for example is a colour of mourning in Thailand. In western culture however, it is associated with royalty, luxury, wealth and sometimes magic. The brand colour for Thai Airways is purple. On first glance this seems like a huge error on their part because as mentioned above, purple is a colour of mourning in Thailand.
It is most likely however, that the Thai Airways website isn’t aimed at locals but at tourists, therefore if westerners view the site and see purple it will associate Thai Airways with values such as luxury and comfort.
Other examples are:
- In western cultures black is a colour of mourning
- In Japan however it is a colour of honour, with white the colour of mourning
- Red in the west represents danger, love, passion
- In India it is a colour of purity, in China it is a colour of good luck and in South Africa it is a colour of mourning
- Yellow represents courage in Japan, mourning in Egypt and hope in the West
#4 Colour can be Inspired by our Surroundings
We live in a colourful world, a world that acts as the perfect inspirational trigger for design. The best thing about looking to the environment for design solutions is that the palette is always changing, from autumnal oranges to cold winter blues. So where better to look than out of your window, take in the colours and then apply them to your designs.
Drawing inspiration from nature for your designs also makes you look at the world differently. Normally we whiz by from place to place but you notice the finer details and undiscovered gems when you actually stop to take it in.
#5 Colour has Political Associations
Individual political parties are associated with one colour or another. Depending on whom your audience is, this might prove to be valuable information when designing.
The association between political parties and colours isn’t a new connection but it is often taken for granted. In the UK for example the following pairings exist:
- Labour – Red
- Conservative – Blue
- Liberal Democrats – Yellow
- The Green Party – Green
If a colour is representative of a political party then the values and behaviours that the party is known for can be suggested through the use of this colour.
- Red is often linked to socialism and communism
- White has links to pacifism and the surrender flag. In contrast to this, black is a colour that is used in conjunction with anarchism.
- Working class Nazism is associated with the colour brown as the SA were known as the ‘brownshirts’.
A design with one of these colours as the dominant shade may well hint at a right wing or a left wing preference or at extreme behaviours.
#6 Religion can be Linked to Colours
As with politics, colours are representative of certain religions. So as not to unintentionally offend anyone through your designs, some examples of these colour/religion associations are:
- Green is considered to be the holy colour of Islam
- Judaism is represented by the colour yellow
- In Hinduism, many gods have blue skin
- White is linked to peace across many religions
Again this may only be necessary information if you are designing a site that has specific links to religion but it also emphasises that a thorough knowledge of your audience is a fundamental part of the design process.
#7 Age Affects People’s Colour Preferences
Colour expert Faber Birren carried out many studies into this area and in his book Color Psychology and ColorTherapy, he states that for both genders, blue and red “maintain a high preference throughout life”. He found that yellow is popular with children but as become move into adulthood it shows less popularity. Birren found that “with maturity comes a greater liking for hues of shorter wave length (blue, green, purple) than for hues of longer wave length (red, orange, and yellow)”
Another factor that influences people’s colour preferences is that throughout their life there will be social and cultural changes and this can directly impact on their favourite colours. Some knowledge of what colours certain age ranges prefer can be valuable for designers. If you were designing a website for a toy store or a children’s TV channel, then knowing they prefer bright colours and yellow in particular would help with your design decisions.
Likewise, if you designed a website for a charity whereby the audience was to be the older generation then blue, green or purple might be ideal, based on Birren’s findings.
Colour is a complex subject with many strands and it has the power to subliminally convey values and stories. Please share your thoughts and opinions about colour, in the comments below.