Blue, Green, Black – Colors of God (Part 1 of 2)?

How would we describe color? What do they mean to us and to others? In his first directorial venture Avatharam (incarnation), Thamizh film artiste Nassar has a beautiful song composed and sung by Maestro Ilayaraja that wonders how to describe the notion of color to his blind wife.

Perception of Color

தென்றல் வந்து தீண்டும் போது என்ன வண்ணமோ மனசுல

எண்ணங்களுக்கேற்றபடி வண்ணமெல்லாம் மாறுமம்மா

Transliteration: 
thendral vandhu theendum pOthu enna vaNNamO manasula

eNNaNgalukkEtrapadi vaNNamellAm maarumammaa

Translation:
What colors are perceived by the mind when feeling a gentle breeze?

The colors shift in our eyes as per our thoughts and feelings

In marketing and branding, Color Theory plays an important role. The logos that we see for various brands didn’t happen by chance. According to color theory, there are certain combinations of colors that are more pleasing than others and also each color evokes a certain emotion and so must be chosen wisely to reflect the company’s core principles.

காக்கை சிறகினிலே (Kaakkai Siraginile) …

One of BharathiAr’s most popular and classic poems is KAkkai Siraginile (in the feathers of a crow). The beautiful lyrics were made immortal by the melodious music of L Vaidyanathan and the sonorous voice of K J Yesudas in the film Ezhavathu Manithan (seventh man), which is still arguably considered the golden standard for the music behind BharathiAr’s songs.

காக்கை சிறகினிலே நந்தலாலா

நின்றன் கரிய நிறம் தோன்றுதையே நந்தலாலா

பார்க்கும் மரங்கள் எல்லாம் நந்தலாலா

நின்றன் பச்சை நிறம் தோன்றுதையே நந்தலாலா

கேட்கும் ஒலியில் எல்லாம் நந்தலாலா

நின்றான் கீதம் இசைக்குதடா நந்தலாலா

தீக்குள் விரலை வைத்தால் நந்தலாலா

நின்னை தீண்டும் இன்பம் தோன்றுதடா நந்தலாலா


Transliteration:
kAkkai siraginile nandalAlA
nindRan kariya niRam thOndRuthaye nandalAlA
pArkkum marngaL ellAm nandalAlA
nindRan pachai niRam thOndRuthaye nandalAlA
kEtkum oliyil ellAm nandalAlA
nindRan geetham isaikkuthadA nandalAlA
theekkuL viralai vaithAl nandalAlA
ninnai theeNdum inbam thondRuthadaa nandalAlA

Translation:
In the black feathers of  crow, I see your black color.
In all the trees that I see around me, I see your green color.
In all the sounds that I hear around me, I hear your melody
If I put my finger inside a fire, I get the pleasure of having touched you.

As with most poems, a direct translation doesn’t do justice to the nuances of the song itself. While sounding seemingly straightforward, upon a bit of a research, we found some fascinating explanations, all of which seem very apt to the words and the character of BhArathi.

The choice of words (and colors) is very interesting in the song. The first verse likely refers to Lord Krishna – his favorite. Krishna is depicted in scriptures as “dark-skinned”, which in turn, has been represented in shades of dark blue to black. His color is often referred to as கார்மேக வண்ணம்  (kArmega vaNNAm – color of dark thunder clouds).

As the analogy goes, he could’ve easily said something about thunderclouds and would still be in line with the nature theme. But a crow seems more apt here. Crows are generally considered scavengers and not necessarily portrayed in good light. As someone known for raising his voice against social injustice, he might be implying here that even in such creatures, he sees the nature of Krishna.

Second verse is another color analogy. While he could’ve picked the blue sky or something else, the choice of color seems to imply Lord RAma – another avatar of Vishnu. Rama is generally denoted as being green in color. ராமர் பச்சை (rAmar pachai), more Teal than Green, is a common reference point for Saris. So, it is likely that he stuck to the theme to describe RAma after Krishna. Another possibility could be the green peacock feathers that Krishna adorns in his hair.

The third verse seems to go back to Krishna, who is known to play melodies with his flute, enchanting his devotees.

So far, so good. But there is a O. Henry-like twist in the last verse. The song suddenly veers from being mundane to mystic. He equates the pleasure of realizing spiritual bliss to an incident of intense pain (being burnt)! Recent scientific studies seem to suggest that the body produces similar facial expressions and even releases similar hormones (especially Dopamine) when faced with extreme pleasure or extreme pain. The lyrics here seem to be an apt representation of this theory!

The path to bliss does not seem to be an easy one. Time and again, across proverbs and fables from regions far and wide, we have heard stories that nothing comes easy and that we have to earn our keep.

In hundreds of stories we have heard as kids, kings and demons alike do hard penance for years together in order to get a boon from the Gods. Even in Buddhism, the story goes that Buddha had to see the suffering of those around him to start his quest for enlightenment.

For some reason, the euphoria of creative genius and realization always seems to be associated with extreme pain.

Like that of many creative artists, the life of BharathiAr – a legend in Thamizh literature who we discussed in a few posts earlier – is also riddled with various hardships, all of which he attempted to tackle and potentially seek solace from them through his poetry.

Maybe it is because he lived much more recently (1882 – 1921), his life is more bare for interpretation and is not guided by legend. He was a complex person. He was deeply religious but not orthodox and in contrast, had many modern views. He was known for being brave – not succumbing to social norms and not afraid of oppression, come what may.

In poem after poem, he seems to be a soul that arrived way ahead of its time, floundering to make sense of the gap between his internal thinking and the external reality.

We don’t hear of scenarios where someone achieved enlightenment while sitting in a couch watching TV (maybe a different kind of temporal bliss!). Even the Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell has a narrative that is similar in structure, where the hero has to overcome several obstacles (leading to self-realization) before achieving the goal.

We also came across another interpretation by Subhashini, which also seems very apt to the character of BhArathi.It is written from the perspective of Bharathi wondering how people cannot see Him everywhere like he does (not just a peacock but even a crow, everywhere in nature, and in every sound one hears), and how he can explain to them the pleasure of His spiritual touch. We can very well imagine Bharathi thinking along those lines as he composed the poem.

For all we know, BharathiAr might have been sitting in his front porch looking out and happened to see a crow and trees nearby and sung this song without thinking much, but it is still a pleasurable exercise to explore the “what if”s and “could he have”s of a poem, especially from one as talented as him.

Interestingly, he is not the only one to pick these two colors for describing God. We will explore another beautiful example in our next post.

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