Colours are an important thing to consider in any kind of attire and in a colourful country like India; hue plays probably the foremost role. Since the Vedic times, colour symbolism in Indian sarees has been playing a very important role. In Sanskrit, another word for caste is `varna`, this means color, and there are some particular colors that are traditionally related to different castes. If you consider traditional clothing, there too caste-colour association has been reflected. This aspect of clothing is something which is still adhered to today.
The four varnas consist of the Brahmins or the priestly caste, Vaisyas or traders, merchants, scribes, Kshatriyas or the warrior caste including most kings, and Sudras or farmers, artisans, weavers, manual labourers and groups like manual labourers, tanners, indigo dyers. The tribals or the `adivasis`, Muslims and foreigners were not included in the caste system but they were usually considered better than the untouchables. The colors of sarees play a fundamental role in Indian sarees as the colour depicts the supremacy of castes in Indian caste distinction.
According to the color symbolism, white is the predominant colour for the clothing of upper classes like Brahmins. It was believed that any form of dyeing is impure, although in the `color belt` of the west and south, traditional Brahmin sarees are still dyed bright colors. In the Jain sect, the Svetambaras are known for wearing only `white cloth’. However, in the present day, color has become a more dominant factor in women`s clothing. The white colored garments are especially worn on ritual occasions like special pujas. In Hindu religion, white is the color of mourning and the widows of north India traditionally wear such white sarees without having any coloured embellishments.
Red colour is associated with the Kshatriyas. Red is usually used in marriages as this color is a must in the closet of the bride. The brides of almost all castes nowadays prefer sarees of red color during weddings. Red is also auspicious because it reflects emotional and fertility-related qualities, thus making it a suitable color for brides and young married women. The artisans create beautiful sarees and designs in India keeping in mind the factor of colour symbolism. The colour combinations and conventional saree designs are also based on the color symbolism.
The Vaisyas were once customarily related to the colour green. Though the Hindu tradition thinks green to be the colour of Vaisyas, today the Islamic connotations consider green being their main color. In areas of the central Deccan and the south, a green wedding saree comes in place of the yellow saree during certain marriage rituals. The name for green is often similar for the color yellow or the `pitambara`. The Sudras follow the banished color of blue; the high-caste Hindus usually avoided this color due to the fact that the fermentation method used to create indigo was regarded by the Hindus as ritually impure. Hindus considered both blue and black as inauspicious colours. These colours generally reflect sorrow and ill omen.
After the mid-nineteenth century, this concept was somehow faded and women of all castes used blue and black sarees; sometimes blue with black embellishments were also used in white sarees. These sarees were worn by older married women, especially in the eastern India. In the west, many tribal and low-caste groups used blue garments and considered it as a protection against the evil eye. Today, blue is one of the favourite colors of women and also the designers and whole range of garments are coming up in sole blue colour. Many older women and widows are seen to wear modern sarees with muffled tones of blue, black and even green, rather than the more traditional pure white saree.
Yellow is another most commonly used colour in Indian sarees that depicts religion and asceticism. The yellow colour is closely associated with the Saddhus and other individuals who have relinquished their caste and family and have spent a spiritual life aiming at releasing themselves from the never-ending round of rebirths. On the very first day of the Hindu wedding ceremony, the bride is washed in turmeric that actually purifies her, during and after which she wears a yellow saree according to the tradition. Yellow sarees are also worn during the Telegu wedding ceremony among non-Brahmin communities. Yellow saree is also worn for seven days after the birth of a child, when the mother is into the ceremony of various pujas. Yellow is thus an auspicious colour that still has religious implications among the Hindu.
The colour symbolism has been holding a very important place amongst the Indians. Thus, the dyeing techniques and methods have also seen much of advancement and improvement from the ancient days of Mohenjodaro. Colour symbolism in Indian Sarees is mainly due to the rich tradition of Hinduism. Though the rigid concepts of colour are now faded and somehow the basic concepts are still intact.