Blog, Culture


In honor of this week’s Holi festivities, I wanted to talk about the deep significance color carries in lives of South Asians. As the popular Amitabh Bachchan song states states, “rang barse” or “shower of colors,” the lives of desis are a kaleidoscope of color that are derived from our customs and feed into our superstitions. During Holi, colorful perfumed powder is endearingly smeared on friends, family, neighbors and strangers in hopes of removing demons from their path. In daily life, colors can symbolize emotions, the flow of energy, religious/regional affiliations, or even one’s status in life.

The most significant colors are those tied to the spices and flowers used by our ancient ancestors. Red is most commonly associated with brides, as it indicates sensuality and Shakti – the female principle of divine energy. Green’s affiliation with nature, and its ability to calm the mind, represents new beginnings, peace, and happiness. For Muslim’s, green is not only the prophet Mohammed’s favorite color, but is also used in the Quran to describe. Yellow, most widely used due to turmeric’s popularity, stands for knowledge, as it possesses the ability to activate the mind. Blue, as the color of Krishna and Rama, stand for courage and the reminder that evil can always be extinguished.

Most interesting, however, is the use of black and white in South Asian culture. White, as the combination of all the colors, carries meaning from each. But most notably it stands for purity. White is the color we wear at the time of mourning and is inauspicious for married women, as it is regarded as invitation for widowhood. Black, on the other hand, is completely taboo due to its association with evil and darkness. With children, it is used in the form of a tikka (round dot on the forehead) to ward off wicked spirits and nazar langa (the evil eye). Black is regarded as impolite to be worn at any functions, especially those in which well-wishes are expected. It is for this reason my mother forbade me from having any black ethnic wear for years. And when I finally mustered up enough guts to go against her teachings, the outfit sat in my closet for years, until I turned it into casual wear.

Despite the whole debacle over the color black, the South Asian color palate does not fall short of variety. The variance of shades available is unlimited, and which is why the color combinations used in our clothing is sometime extreme. My personal favorite combination is marigold and pink – as it reminds me of the religious customs I preformed growing up.

The current color of the moment is ultra violet – due to its selection as Pantone’s color of the year. Violet is related to the seventh chakra of our bodies energy centers – where all of our consciousness emanates, at the top of our heads. It relates to the mystery of the cosmos, where once can encounter god. Although violet is a rare color in South Asian wear, it doesn’t mean your dreams of wearing purple like European royalty have to fade. Keep in mind that certain fabrics are dye-able and can be matched to color your heart desires. Simple fabrics, such as cotton, nets, and certain silk are easy to die and the style. For a more updated look, I recommended a purple dyed Chikinkari suit – for a mix of old world style, with new world pizzazz.