India | A Country of Symbolic Colors

India has always been exalted and remembered fondly as the country of symbolic colors. To an outsider, its colorful culture, streets, and stories seem like a page out of an ancient folk tale. But color, in essence, has been a large part of the Indian consciousness.

Symbolic Colors of India

Symbolic Colors of India

From the deep orange marigold flowers that bejewel almost every celebration to the deep hues of red that deck up the bride on her most important day, color in India has, over time, become synonymous with religion – an expression of faith and beliefs. In a country where a deep understanding of the prevalent diversity is perhaps the only common thread that ties its people together, India is a magical experience that ought not to be missed.

Menakshi Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India
Menakshi Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

In a country as diverse and culturally vibrant as India, it is perhaps the common, simple expressions of color that hold together the multitudes of outlooks, lifestyles, and traditions. The symbolism of color stands out and controls every aspect of life in India, be it religion, politics, festivals, or celebrations. In India, be it the north, south, west, or east, color and culture go hand in hand. Just like many other cultures across the world, there are some typical classifications of color to be found in India.

Turbans For Sale In India

Colorful turbans for sale in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India

Black in India has connotations with lack of desirability, evil, negativity, and inertia. It represents anger and darkness and is associated with the absence of energy, barrenness, and death. Black is used as a representation of evil and is often used to ward off evil. This can be found in an age old custom amongst Indians where an infant or, for that matter, anyone looking really spectacular is often traditionally blessed with a little black dot on the chin or under the ear to ward off the evil eye. And while white stands for everything desirable in the west, in India it takes on a more somber connotation.

White is the absence of color, and is the only color widows are allowed to wear. It is the acceptable color at funerals and ceremonies that mark death in the family. It reflects the basic quality of the color itself, in principle; white, as a color, repels all light and colors and therefore, when a widow wears white, she disconnects herself from the pleasures and luxuries of active and normal participation in society and life around her. White is also widely accepted as the color of peace and purity and is diametrically opposite to red, the color of violence and disruption in the southern half of India.

Indian Women Dressed Up For Desert Festival
A group of women at the Desert Festival in Jaisalmer, India

Red is dynamic and constantly breathing fire in the eyes of the beholder. It incites fear and is the color associated with one of the most revered goddesses in Hindu mythology – Durga. Her fiery image is enhanced by her red tongue and almost red eyes. Red also stands for purity and is the preferred color for a bride’s garment. Red has a deep meaning in the Indian psyche.

Gorgeous Indian Bride in Red

A beautiful bride

It commemorates the union between two people and is visible right from the wedding, where the bride is decked in brilliant hues of red to the red tikka (spot on forehead) that she adorns after the wedding as a sign of her commitment. It is perhaps easy to see why red also symbolizes fertility and prosperity. It is the color of the fertile clay that reaps harvests and better lives and is used widely in prayer ceremonies and offerings. And India could hardly be celebrated as the land of spices without its most feisty ingredient — chilies. And while red symbolizes fertility and purity, it also connotes a certain sensuousness and demands positive energy.

India: Home To Myriad Symbolic Colors

Because of the obvious diversity in its population, India is home to myriad interpretations and representations of symbols and colors. Colors represent different emotions to people living in different regional, geographical, and religious divides. And perhaps certain colors that have a special place in a particular area may not necessarily enjoy a similar status elsewhere. Some of the universally celebrated colors find their origins in the spices that are used widely across geographic and religious divides. Turmeric, for instance, while being used for cooking in both the north and the south, is also used in ceremonies offering prayers and marriages. Yellow symbolizes sanctity and is an essential herbal ingredient applied on the body and face by women in the sub continent. In a country steeped in religious beliefs, the origin of most colors lies in the powers and mythical lives of its gods.

Colorful Tika Powders on Orcha Market in India
Colorful Tika Powders at the Orcha Market in India

The color blue, for instance, is associated with Lord Krishna, perhaps one of the most favored gods in India. And, as is obvious for any agricultural economy, green symbolizes a new beginning, harvest, and happiness. It is also the revered color of Islam, a large religious presence in India.

Green symbolizes nature and therefore is a manifestation of God himself. India is steeped in tradition, culture, and a rich and a fabulous history. Kings and kingdoms, saints and followers, rebels and fighters have traversed the paths of its glorious past and have all played a small but significant role is ascertaining the perception of color today.

Some of the glaring differences between the perception of color in the West and the East are due to the simplest elements in history. Royalty, in the West and in the Christian culture, is represented by a deep, mystical shade of purple, while in India, it is the deep hues of red and ochre that symbolize wealth and grandeur. Perhaps one of the most poignant factors in the perception of colors in the Indian psyche is the religious undertones that coexist at almost every phase of an “Indian’s life.”

Today, colors are used as symbols of fear, conformity, and blind faith across the country monopolized by the contorted ways of politics. Yet India remains colorful and vibrant in more ways than one. It stands strong as perhaps the most stoic example of unity in a world so divided. And the colors that hold it together are the colors of faith, pride, and love – feelings that overcome all differences.

The colors of India have mesmerized rulers, outsiders, and visitors – perhaps more so because of the stories and legends that bind its people, its culture, and its beliefs. The “rani” pink of mystical Rajasthan, the pastel hues of southern India, the joyous, bright hues of the northern frontier, and the balmy bright colors of the east offer a kaleidoscopic insight into an almost perfect blend of history and modernism. And perhaps a trip down its many roads will lead you to an understanding of its pulse. Maybe you’ll take the road untaken and bring home a whole new hue to your life.

India -- A Country of Symbolic Colors

‘India — a Country of Symbolic Colors’ was chosen
as the feature story in CMG‘s Color Chips Magazine

Images: Licensed from BigStock or Freshstock. Click on any image to find the source.

You also might be interested in these articles:

India | Bollywood Colors The WorldIndia | The Color Red — Simplicity, Purity and CandorIndia | Holi, The Festival Of Colors India | Colorful Jaipur, Rajasthan The ‘Pink City’India | Colorful Jodhpur Rajasthan – The Blue City

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  1. One of the best things about India is colour! There is no shortage of colour here 🙂

  2. Krishna is Black for the record there never has been a race of blue people in the past or present or future SO whatever Sri Krsna represents so does the color Black.

    Its funny how people like to distort the truth to fit their own selfish racist ideals

    • Kate Smith says

      Thanks for sharing your point of view. My research found that the Sanskrit word in its language of origin is primarily an adjective meaning “black” or “dark” however Krishna is often depicted as blue-skinned in art or drawn representations so there are two color associations.

      All of my articles on India were reviewed by an editor native to the country specifically because I wanted to make sure I had not misunderstood or misinterpreted any of the color meanings or symbolism.

      • Sajiwan Naicker says

        Krishna is neither black nor blue. He is said being krishna skinned or nila skinned. Krishna has three meanings, in terms of colour, and that is ‘black,’ ‘blue,’ and ‘dark.’ Nila has two meanings, and that is ‘blue,’ and ‘dark.’ Since we can all agree on the fact that there isn’t a race of blue-skinned men, the only option left is dark. Therefore, he was dark-skinned. This doesn’t mean that he is black definitely. It is an option in the range of dark coloured skins, but it isn’t the only option. He could be brown or in the range thereof. Plus, he was born in Mathura where people are of brown or wheatish hue so that’s a more historically correct and likely colour for him. (plus his colour doesn’t matter in the first place. Poetic meanings of colour is common in India. For example, instead of saying that a man is of angry temper, they would say that he is red (red symbolizes boldness, anger, and blood in the battlefield in this case).

  3. Thank your for your very interesting article. You answered many questions I had regarding the use of the colors we so often see associated with India. The photos I’ve seen are a feast for the eyes. Maybe someday I will get to see them for myself.

  4. Hi there,
    i am very fascinated with Indian colours but i have an odd question… what would the colours on a dark red and brown horse breast plate represent ?

  5. Thank you for your article. I’m doing research about Indian aesthetics in a religious context. Do you know more about the meanings of the color pink? Thanks.

  6. Wonderful Colors of Dresses!!!
    Red,Black,and White Colors.

  7. what date was this website made ??

  8. Ashish Shrivastava says

    As pohindu said the blue color or dark color of krishna depict a kind of racism but Indian found that wheatish color attractive than any other skin color at the same time there ate many more stories about the color khishna had got.

  9. my favorite is green

  10. Your article is very interesting and helped me in my homework a lot.
    So thanks for your article.

  11. harishchandramouli says

    Its quite amazing to know that all of the symbols and colors associated with Hinduism has a deep meaning and significance with our daily life. Adding an interesting article that elaborates on the significance of Saffron in Hinduism.

  12. Deep Vam Dev says

    Hi Kate,
    Thanks for this great post!
    Do you happen to know which color each Indian state represents by, if there is any such thing?

  13. Is there a significant color once should use for a baby blanket?

  14. when u mix all d colours u get u know why krishna is black. He is in everything.

    • I hadn’t thought of it in that way. Thanks for sharing your point of view.

      • S. Satyarthi says

        Further to above, anything vast, infinite and calm and superior gets blue in colour for example Ocean and a clear sky… similarly the aura or radiation around Sri Krishna is such that sages could see not his skin black colour but the colour of strong aura around him which was blue due to infinity, calmness and omniscient associated with the Lord. So the almighty is painted blue & black both.

        • Ah now I have a better understanding of why Krishna is sometimes shown as black and sometimes blue. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  15. Perfect description for meaning of different colors in India. Very nicely explained. Thanks for the article.

  16. sanjana sathyanarayana says

    An amazing and an incredible article written on the indian belives on various colors. Helped me in my speech a lot.

  17. Thanks for writing about Symbolic Colors of India Loved it!

  18. Hello Kate,
    I would like to know if I can use the picture of colorful Tika Powder for an article I am writing about India. I will credit the source Would this be ok? This would bring any interested individuals to visit your website to learn more. Appreciate a prompt reply. Thank you. Good write-up btw!!

    • Hi Melina. Thanks for your interest my article/imagees and your kind compliment. The picture of Tika Powder is not one of my own photos but one I licensed from BigStock. You have two options — 1. use as you mention in your comments with credit to the souce where you found it but this is using it without permission from the owner. 2. you can purchase the rights. I recommend the second because I think you will only need a small size, which costs 1 or 2 credits, which is just a few bucks. Here is the link so you can take a look at the options: ~Kate

  19. ‘Krishna’ is associated with ‘dark skin’ color, not black. Krishna’s myth confirms his dark color. The use of ‘blue’ color is a metaphorical representation of dark skin in ‘blue’. Similarly, when Shiva had consumed poison his throat (Neel-kantha) is colored with ‘blue’ color not because he had consumed poisoned which has turned into blue color. It is turned dark the color of the skin because of the effect of the poison. In most places, in the traditional work, color does not reflect the reality but metaphorical representation of the color.

  20. I have two very precious friends in Chennai, India and they are expecting their first baby. I live in Colorado in the United States. I’m crocheting a white baby blanket for them but would like to know if there is a more appropriate color for their first baby. Can you give me some suggestions of a better color or is white appropriate? In my process of picking white I was thinking it represented purity and innocence. Please help me. Thank you!