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India in color- a photo essay

June 4, 2007

From my travels in Africa, the West, and the Far East, I had noticed that those in warmer countries wear warmer, brighter colours and those in cooler climes wear cooler colors. These are my personal observations only and there are probably exceptions.
I am fascinated by colour and their meaning and decided to take some photos on the streets here. The photos have been taken on the streets of Pune and Mumbai. The people I captured are simple folk, but as the pictures show – fiesty and full of life. The temperatures at the time I took these pictures were over 40 degrees, but these people were happily walking along, without a thought for the unbearable heat. Some of them were dressed in their finest, apparently going for a party, or perhaps a wedding. Bright clothes are favoured when it comes to dressing to go out.

In the photo below are saree-clad women – except for the girl in pink (on the right) who is wearing a salwar kameez. The bright orange and green was dazzling to the eye, specially in the bright sun.

Men tend to wear lighter colours. In fact in India men prefer white, or sober colours. It can create a remarkable contrast to the way women dress.

These people below, clearly from a village, were crossing the road in Belapur, a small township near Mumbai. Their bright attire with its jazzy pattern was eye-catching.

The woman in the photograph below was selling magazines on a street in Pune. Her cool blue and the umbrella giving her a respite from the heat.

This woman is not as lucky. Her work means walking on the heated concrete, which she was doing with alacrity.

In all the photos above you will notice how very common it is for men to wear white or light colours. So common in fact that it can appear to be a uniform! I guess its everything to do with the fact that women are supposed to wear colourful clothes to look attractive and beautiful. Children too are usually dressed in colourful clothes.

Men, if they do wear bright colours, either don a colourful turban on their white attire or leave it to the holy men to make up for their lack of colour. Saffron is usually associated with Hinduism. This man approached me when our rickshaw halted briefly due to the traffic. He was downright scary!

The man in the picture below came to my uncle’s house to conduct a pooja and happily posed for a picture.

Some young of men today do wear bright colours…

But its not common

Colours like red, orange, and yellow mean energy, love, passion and joy and perhaps that explains why women traditionally dress up in bright colours. Blue signifies coolness and that is a colour that men prefer if they do choose to wear colour. Men are supposed to possess the qualities of coolness and control, while women are traditionally permitted to express their emotions…

9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2007 6:52 pm

    Nita – it makes sense that men wear the white and light colours. In hot weather white reflects heat and keeps the wearer cooler. The bright- coloured sari wearing women look like butterflies. I wonder if women in India, as they get old might wear more sober colours? here in Canada, ladies who wear the salwar kameez, tend to wear darker and more sober colours in their later years, and I have noted when going to temple here that older ladies also wear less brightly coloured saris. When my husband went to India 5 years ago, I asked him to bring me back sari length in saffron yellow. It is so beautiful, but when i put it on I looked like a very large marigold, and it looks odd with my steel grey hair – but i love that colour – it is the colour of the sun!

  2. June 4, 2007 7:59 pm

    Yes, I guess colours do get duller as women grow older. But during weddings and important functions even older women wear bright colours.
    Also, I guess the Indians you see might quite likely wear duller colours over there. My cousins for example, when they shop in India go for different colours than we do. They avoid the very bright purples and greens and oranges, but these colours with bright gold borders are traditional wear during weddings. Weddings here happen in a traditional way and everyone is dressed to the hilt, and jewellery is mainly gold. Gold is bright yellow and if I am not mistaken India is the largest consumer of gold in the world.

  3. June 5, 2007 1:31 pm

    Trends are changing. Nowadays women of older age also wear bright colours. In Rajasthan and Gujarat married women irrespective of their age wear very bright colours.Infact in the case of NRI’s the punjabis at least very bright and jazzy dresses.

  4. axinia permalink
    June 6, 2007 3:21 pm

    Nita, what a wonderful report!!
    Your observation about colors depending on climate is very true, I also noticed that. But is seem to me illogical – if the nature is gloomy and pale in Europe, why not wear bright, joyful colors?
    That is why it is such a great thing to come to India and to enjoy all this color galore…
    I do hope that with East and West coming closer we can have a new fashion philosophy based on lively colors and beautiful designs.

  5. Shombie permalink
    June 7, 2007 10:18 pm

    Hello. Psycho-spiritually speaking, we choose colors to express ourselves. Yes, I agree that colors mean something. (As you mentioned, “Colours like red, orange, and yellow mean energy, love, passion and joy”.) This expression can come in two ways:
    1. to express who we are or what we have; 2. Or, to express what we don’t have but desire for it. For example: If I choose to wear bright colors, it can mean that I am an energetic, love-filled, passionate or joyful person. Or, it can also mean that I want to be energetic, love-filled, passionate or joyful.
    Axinia asked, “if the nature is gloomy and pale in Europe, why not wear bright, joyful colors?” Off hand, let us consider some factors. Europe is cold. India is hot. Europe is first world. India can be considered as third world/developing country. Europe has a fast-paced life and India has a slow-paced life comparing to Europe. So, what have colors got to do with all this?
    If most women in Europe do not wear bright colors like the women in India do, it can mean that their life is not full of energy, love, passion, and joy? Or, they don’t need to express themselves by way of colors because they are already energetic, etc. The same goes for women in India.
    So, why are women in India so colorful? I hesitate to share this here but I will share it for all the women who painstakingly pursue truth and self-actualization. A friend of mine once wrote me. She said, “The women here wear colorful sarees. They adorn themselves with so much gold. Why is this so? To compensate for their slow, dull and oppressive lives? They are so refined. They quietly and faithfully do their duties as mother, daughter, and wife always to the point of self-sacrifice and self-denial. But, the colors are amazing. They are cathartic! They seem to explode from the center of their quiet souls, waiting to be heard, waiting to be freed, waiting to be who they really want to be.”
    So, as women in India: do we really LIVE the bright colors of life? Or, are we SILENTLY LONGING to make them as our own?
    Godspeed to all.

    • Tracy D'Souza permalink
      August 11, 2010 8:20 am

      I don’t think it prudent to make widecast generalizations as to whether Indian women lead subordinate lives in comparison to European women. I live among Italian and Portugese women, I hail from India, and I know many Hungarian women. I see the realm of women living self defined versus community defined lives in all the ethnic groups. Colourful garb vs monchromatic black hues….We may read into things as we wish…but unless we actually talk and inquire our commentaries may just be suppositions.

  6. axinia permalink
    June 8, 2007 1:33 pm

    Interesting point, Shombie!
    I would almost agree with you that people in Europe are too energetic and in India too lethargic, and they just compensate what is missing – sounds rather reliable.
    1. Especially women in the West are rather blocked on the emotional level – they may have lots of energy but are not living their feelings! – believe me I live here and can watch it every day.
    What I feel in that case that wearing nice, lovey colors would really help them to open up and to fully enjoy life.
    2. In my own case I wear ONLY joyful colors like red, pink, little white, purple, etc.And I am a very joyful, happy person. So these colors just reflect my personality? Or do you think I should better wear black in order to compensate my bubbling character???

  7. June 8, 2007 1:55 pm

    Shombie, Axinia, very interesting observations.
    Well, Axinia, I do think that if you wear deep colours it speaks something about your personality. Your joyfulness and expressiveness definitely – or at the very least a great desire to be in that state. And it appears as if you have succeeded in your goals.
    I am not sure what you mean by western women being blocked on an emotional level. I find this observation very interesting and wonder if you could elaborate on it? Do you perhaps mean that they are reserved? But then aren’t all westerners like that, both men and women?
    I mean, in India we think nothing of asking personal questions of even strangers. Its like we want to connect with the person right away which one cannot if one wastes time in niceties. When I was younger I used to watch the elders in the family do this and at times used to be appalled. However most people are okay with it here and now I find myself doing it at times… 🙂

  8. June 8, 2007 11:02 pm

    Hello. Very interesting talk.
    Maybe it is true that Europeans and including those in the Western part need to wear more vibrant colors to compensate for the lack. Axinia mentioned specifically: “to open up and to fully enjoy life.” Maybe they unconsciously don’t prefer vibrant colors like yellow because consciously they give importance to Privacy or personal space which Indians and most Asians also have but not as much. Nita used the word “reserved”. Yellow is the color or friendships/relationships also indicating the importance given to family ties. Gold or golden-yellow means connection to God. India is known for spirituality. Sadhus and sannyasis wear golden yellow robes indicating celebration of their search and union with the Ultimate.
    It is very interesting to observe that even in weddings or formal parties, westerners will prefer dark colors and black is the most formal of all. I remember the film “Runaway Bride.” In the wedding, the New Yorkers were mostly in black. So, there was an air of seriousness. Black also means authority, in control, and mystery among other things. If we are mysterious, then we are reserved (enclosed to our own selves.) Too much of black can lead to depression.
    If Axinia wears bright colors and she said that she is a happy or cheerful person, then she is living the colors inside-out! I celebrate you. 🙂 You said you wear purple? That’s the color of (empowerment of) women and of Spirituality (or the fervent desire for both.) I don’t think you need to wear black to compensate your bubbly character. Unless you want to look serious, formal and mysterious sometimes or just to temper the bubbles 🙂

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