ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Colours of Love and Hate

Modern politics often completely transforms and abuses older concepts and meanings embedded in the symbolism associated with colours in political and cultural traditions.

This is not a piece in praise or defence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his unique sartorial sense, which is often trending on social media. Modi wore a traditional Malaysian jacket in green for a gala dinner on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit late last year, the fuller significance of which may not be known to many, including the wearer who might be thinking he was playing to the gallery by donning the “Islamic green.” Green is the colour of love in ancient Hindu traditions, which medieval Sufis picked up to express their own love for God. This was then passed on to, or appropriated by, various strands of modern Islam emerging from the Indian subcontinent since the early decades of the 20th century. Much as Saudi Arabia, Iraq or Syria monopolise the limelight for matters Islamic, the crucial Indian connections with international Islamic movements—political and cultural practices—are often ignored. One such interesting link is the adoption from India of green as the predominant colour in Islamic societies in modern times. There has been a reverse flow from India of many things Islamic, which even the most experienced of the Islamologists in the West have not discerned and appreciated.

Drawing here from my ongoing research on colour symbolism in Islam and how modern politics often completely transforms and abuses older concepts and meanings embedded in them, green was the colour of sublime expression of love and attractions in ancient India’s cultural traditions. Of all the principal emotions or rasa, Sringara is recognised as the finest, while others like Rudra (furious) and Bhayanaka (horrendous) will be identified as abhorring or repulsive. Each of these rasas—nearly 11 of them—has a colour and a presiding deity associated with it. Sringara is celebrated in green with Vishnu as the deity, whereas the colours of terror and violence are red and black, with their own presiding deities prone to violence of the ultimate kind.

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