In science, color is simply a property of an object that causes visual sensation due to the reflection of light, as a result of which we see things as either red, blue, green, white or black.
But human civilization has travelled beyond this nomenclature, connotations and significance that today, color not only is a visual symbol but is also widely acknowledged as a pictogram of human perceptions and thinking to characterize emotions, religion, art, politics or mythology. It is virtually a form of a non-verbal communicative language that expresses the meaning of the things without having to communicate. Adversely, due to its stimulation of our senses, colors have widely implicated and impacted on our belief system, impression, visual attractions and even on purchasing decisions. Some colors cause a lasting influence on our sense organs to an extent that it can sway our thoughts based on how it soothe or irritate our vision and ultimately cause either change of actions or reactions.
As much as color is used as an identity to signify some meaning across the world, in a country that follows Vajrayana Buddhism as its state religion, colors form an integral part of our belief system that are strongly pulsated with the religion and spiritualism. Therefore in Bhutan that ubiquitous prayers flags found fluttering over the bridge, across the mountain range, around the stupa (chöten), fortress, or temples shares the religious ideals and insights utterly grounded on Buddhism. The colors of white, yellow, red, green and blue (commonly in this sequence) which are simply universal represents the 5 elements of Nature viz. air (wind), earth, fire, water and space respectively. Buddhists belief that, to have harmony in the environment we share, and to bring fortunes and good health to oneself and other sentient beings, these elements has to be perfectly balanced. As the wind blows, the blessings of the Buddhist scriptures, mantras or sutras inscribed on it will be moved along with the wind to an unlimited space and anything that gets touched results in accumulation of better fortunes, eternal peace and happiness.
|Prayer flags of 5 significant colors erected in the school campus|
Unlike any other nation, Bhutan’s capital Thimphu, the only capital city in the world (I guess), doesn’t have traffic lights, a signal that uses red to ‘stop’, yellow to ‘slow’ or green to indicate ‘go’. As a substitute, we have human traffic regulated by the city traffic police.
But alike the world, we do have yellow
school buses, the color which signifies ‘safety’ and scientifically is visible
under dimmer conditions (as its “lateral vision to detect yellow is 1.24
greater than red”). Similarly, the machines used for earth-moving and
road-buildings used in our country are also yellow to indicate warning and
|Traffic police regulating the vehicle movement in Thimphu (Photo source: Click LINK)|
|Road widening in process with the help of yellow crane|
Another interesting fact of its influence of color is entrenched in our tradition and cultural system where colors are largely used as a symbol to represent rank by the color of scarf (kabney) we wear (alongside patag that denotes power for officials of higher rank). Embedded in our unique Bhutanese etiquette, popularly branded as ‘Driglam Namzha’, the colors of the scarfs are worn as follows:
Saffron: His Majesty the King and the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot)
Orange: Lyonpos (Ministers)
Red: Dasho and male members of Royal family
Blue: Members of Parliament
White with red stripes (khamar): Gups (village headman)
White: Ordinary citizens.
|Village head headman (Gup) with khamar kabney during one of the school functions|
|This is me, wearing a white kabney, a scarf worn by ordinary citizens (men in particular)|
In general, the yellow color which signifies temporal authority of His Majesty the King (as decorated in our National flag) and color red are regarded as divine colors due to its association with the monk’s rob, the followers of the Buddha and thus, symbolizes renunciation and separation from the materialistic world. White that connotes purity (the color of dragon on our national flag) and ceremonial scarfs (khadaar) is significantly another color that matters a lot.
|The hills and mountain ranges, revered as spiritual homes to the local deities are adorned with prayer flags|
|The National flag of Bhutan. Yellow signify temporal power of a king, orange denotes spiritual tradition and Druk (the dragon is the native name of the Kingdom)|
While understanding that the knowledge of how color matters is imperative in our lives, what I share here is just a piece from its oceanic vast. As much as realization is important, learning about its importance is necessary because as long as human civilization survives, colors can be one fundamental element and a communicative tool to distinguish religion, culture, politics and societal influences. Thus, as name is to a person, so is color to life.
“Color is not just color but mood, temperature and structure” – Van Day Truex