The Color Red

Features Issue 79 Jul, 2010
Text by Amendra Pokharel / Photo: Kishor Kayastha

The color red is omnipresent in Hindu culture just like the 33 koti (crore, in Sanskrit)  gods and goddesses Hindus worship. It is a well known fact that a long time ago the hermits practicing Hinduism spent eons in an isolated state, and meditated about life and various factors affecting it. These ancient researchers had ascertained the effects of colors much before the pioneers of color therapy and healing sciences like Feng Shui and Reiki discovered them. The hermits certainly should not have ignored the nature and influence of colors on human well being for in Hindu society each color has distinct and important roles to play. Followers of Hinduism, therefore, are very particular about the use of colors in their daily lives. Red reflects energy and can motivate an individual to action. Therefore, at the beginning of any event, be it a festive procession or a family function, Hindus put a red tika on the forehead. Red flags, confetti’s with ample mix of red and flowers in various shades of the color dominate such events.

Red is generally taken to be the color of life, of the glowing sun and of passion. Married women in Hindu society, therefore, are encouraged to wear dresses of red colors or other hues close to the color. They wear bindis (artificial tika worn on forehead by females), sindur (a dash of red powder put on by married Hindu women by partitioning the hair on two sides from the center of the forehead), tilharis (traditional necklace specially made out of beads) and bangles all in red colors. During Teej,  when women fast and celebrate all day long praying for long life of their husbands and for the well being of the family, women look as red as on the day of their marriage. Red is also the color of desire. The sexual urge, the impulses and general vigor of individuals are attributed to the color red. It is for this reason that during the time when Hindu orthodoxy prevailed, widows, particularly females, were refrained from wearing clothes in red color, as they were not allowed to remarry.

Red holds similar attraction for young and old. Nobody seems to mind being splashed in red color during holi (a Hindu festival of color during the month of February/March) or at pujas (sacred ceremonies). During Dashain, the greatest of all Hindu festivals, the forehead of Hindus brim with achheta (tika made by mixing red powder called abeer, yoghurt and rice grains) as younger in the family seek blessings of the elders.

When a young lad sets out to achieve his goal and when he returns back, his parents put a red tika on his forehead to bless him. This is a long tradition in the Hindu culture which is followed even today. In the past during the wars, the mighty Gurkhas, as the Nepalese soldiers are called, were never sent off to the field without a red tika. Since it has been scientifically proven that red color also symbolizes war, violence, blood, and aggression, the logic behind the ritual is all too apparent.

But Hindus don’t paint only themselves in red. Even the gods and goddesses are not spared of the red rage. A visit to temples and courts that houses the deities reveals it all. The statues are found covered with the flecks of red from feet to toe. The original color of a temple’s architecture is camouflaged by several layers of red colors. Inside the court everything appears to be sloshed in red as the color gets mixed with water, milk, cow’s urine and other liquids that devotees pour over the deities.

Red also symbolizes fire, which has been seen in the Hindu culture as a divine energy that can be both destructive and creative. The living goddess Kumari, kept inside the Kumari House adjacent to the Basantapur Palace, therefore, is clad in a red dress. She, as per the legend, has the power to undermine the authority of king’s who rule the valley. The red color, covering her forehead, brought into prominence by the white dots, combines with the thick dark kajal to give her the sharp and vigorous look that can cut the power of any mighty lord to size.