India isn’t colourful the same old way
To nobody’s surprise, India is a photogenic country awash in colours — as if she were an unscathed bride idling away ages, for Kodak to invent its Eastman Color.
Along her parting hairline, the red streak of ancient vermilion is marriage hallmarked. Jaipur is sandstone pink, Jodhpur azure blue. Tea gardens make Assam leafy green, while Rajasthan is a stunning shade of sandy brown. She holds to her bosom a veritable rainbow.
Head north-east, the hills are blue. Proceed southwards, the rounded Vindhyas — the mountain range that separates northern India (the Indo-Gangetic plain) from southern India — are characteristically green.
Colours have such sacred significance in this country that the mighty Brahmaputra is called the Red River, even though it is hardly red. In every sight and every scene, India’s colours tell her timeless story.
The colours have gone beyond India’s cultures — into the rough and tumble of her politics. It is no surprise that India’s National Flag has three vibrant colours — hence the name, Tricolour. It is the symbol of our national pride. All three colours have great significance.
One of our founding fathers, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, beautifully described the significance of the colours and the blue chakra (wheel) on the National Flag in the Constituent Assembly, which collectively adopted the Tricolour.
The saffron band at the top stands for sacrifice and renunciation, the white strip in the middle for peace and purity. The green stripe at the bottom denotes prosperity, essentially agrarian abundance.
Speaking at the Constituent Assembly, Dr. Radhakrishnan said: “Bhagwa or the saffron colour denotes renunciation of disinterestedness. Our leaders must be indifferent to material gains and dedicate themselves to their work. The white in the centre is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct. The green shows our relation to soil, our relation to the plant life here on which all other life depends. The Ashoka Wheel in the centre of the white is the wheel of the law of dharma. Truth or satya, dharma or virtue ought to be the controlling principles of those who work under this flag. Again, the wheel denotes motion. There is death in stagnation. There is life in movement. India should no more resist change; it must move and go forward. The wheel represents the dynamism of a peaceful change.” Click here
According to Hindu philosophy, life is defined by three types of guna or qualities, i.e. tamas, sattva and rajas, each characterised by a different colour. White represents sattva or purity. Red stands for rajas , indicating energy. Tamas is a state of darkness, death and inertia, represented by Black.
Along the way, the colours have changed their connotation. Or is it that we have changed our colours?
From shaping India’s cultures, the colours now define her conflicts.
In the Islamic tradition, God’s favourite colour is supposedly green. That’s why the world was created predominantly green, with its forests, agriculture and plant life. Green became the thematic colour across Muslim civilizations. Therefore, almost anything related to Islam, be it mosques, Islamic art or even attire, is overwhelmingly green.
The rich green, signifying prosperity, now sometimes bobs up as an extremist shade of a few potent Muslims who kill in Islam’s name, just as there is a tint of radical Red, whose most potent form is the Maoist insurgency.
Not to be left behind, saffron, representing “renunciation of disinterestedness”, to use Dr. Radhakrishnan’s words, has long branched out into a brand of intolerant Hindu extremism.
Hemmed in by aggressive Saffrons and Greens, the White is paling. It is not for nothing that White is placed in the middle of our National Flag. It emphasizes the middle path, which is being increasingly shunned.
Today, as they did long time ago, Green, Red and Saffron still tell India’s tale. It’s a story of digression.