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The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


The Use of Primary Colours
in the Nyastra1
Thomas Kintaert
THE Nyastra (N), attributed to the sage Bharata, is known to be a seminal text in the
fields of Indian theatre, dance, music, poetry, metrics, aesthetics, etc. It is the earliest
extant scriptural source for many of these arts and sciences, regardless of whether one
tends to date this text in the first centuries BC or AD. In the history of the visual arts it
figures prominently as well, as it formulates a colour theory based on the primary colours.
Of particular interest in this connection is the fact that different chapters of the N
describe the application of these colours in specific ritual contexts. The current study
presents and interprets this application, incorporating relevant data on colours spread
over the entire work.
The N2 takes up the topic of colour (vara)3 in the chapter on hrybhinaya (N 21)
in connection with the actors' make-up (agavartana, lit. `application [of paint] on the
body'),4 which, together with their hairdo, etc., constitutes the `preparation of the [actors']

The present article has resulted from the research for my PhD dissertation on the coordination of
musical and scenic elements in the ritual preliminaries (prvaraga) to the ancient Indian drama. I
gratefully acknowledge the generous support of the Austrian Academy of Sciences by granting a
doctoral scholarship.


References to chapters and verses of the N, if not specified, refer to N 1934-92. The capital letters A
and B after stanza numbers indicate the two verses of a stanza. This has been adopted from Mukund
Lath, A Study of Dattilam. A Treatise on the Sacred Music of Ancient India, Delhi, 1978. Alternative
readings, put between square brackets, are only provided when considered relevant for the topic at


In the N the use of the term vara is not restricted to its common meanings of `colour,' `social class,'
`syllable,' etc., but occurs furthermore in a technical sense in the field of music, referring to the four
modes of producing vocal or instrumental sounds, i.e. in an ascending or descending order (rohin
and avarohin), staying on only one note (sthyin), or in a wandering movement (sacrin), i.e. a
combination of rohin and avarohin (see N 29.4A-19A). Prem Lata Sharma points out the basic similarity
between these different meanings of vara by stating that, just as in language, letter or syllable is the
primary unit, in the visual realm colour is the primary element, similarly in music, vara is the primary
unit of melodic movement. (Bhadde of r Mataga Muni, Edited by Prem Lata Sharma, Assisted by
Anil Bihari Beohar, vol. 1. [Kalmlastra Series 8], Delhi, 1992, p. 182).


N 21.78B-79A, 87A (see fn. 12). After giving the colours prescribed for the different characters in a



body' (agaracan). 5 The art of painting pictures, although not among the topics
expounded in this text on the composite art of histrionics, is testified in a number of
places. These few references to paintings and painters in the N, even though of subsidiary
relevance to the subject of this study, are now given for the sake of completeness.
1. Paintings and Painters in the N

In the chapter dealing with the construction of the theatre building, we find
references to paintings (citrakarman) produced on the plastered and polished
surface of walls, depicting men, women, `acts caused by self-enjoyment'6 and

The example of the metre citralekh (`painting', `portrait') contains a simile in

which a woman, colourfully dressed and adorned with flowers, gems and other
ornaments after having taken a bath, is compared to a picture.8

The seventh of the ten arbitrators (prnika) enjoined to assess a play is a painter
(citrakt). His or her specific duty consists in observing and evaluating the use of
ornaments, dresses, make-up, etc. (nepathya) appearing in a performance.9

In still another chapter the importance of songs in dramatic performances is

highlighted by stating that, just as a picture without colour does not produce any

play the text concludes: eva ktv yathnyya mukhgopga[v.l.: agopgeu]vartanm (N21.114A).
I favour the alternative reading, as, in the N, upga already refers to the face (mukha) (Cf. N8.14AB, according to which aga refers to the six body parts head, hands, chest, waist, hips and feet, while
upga stands for the eyes, eyebrows, nose, lips, cheeks and chin.). Paint is probably only applied on
the uncovered body parts.


Cf. N 21.5B, 77B, 161A. For its part, agaracan constitutes the third of the four subdivisions of
nepathya, which latter stands here for the costumes, props, etc., of a play. This nepathya forms the
subject-matter of the hrya chapter (cf.N 21.5A-B).


caritam tmabhogajam (N 2.85A). This appears to be a reference to amorous scenes. Cf. Ghosh1951-61,
vol.1, p. 30.


N 2.82B-85A. The verb -likh used here also appears in the nominal form lekhya in the chapter on
hand gestures as one of the things that can be represented with the single hand gesture (asayutahasta)
called sandaa (N 9.113A). This latter instance, however, might just as well refer to the act of writing,
not necessarily to painting.


N 15.118A-B:
nnratnhyair bahubhir adhika bhaair agasasthair
nngandhhyair madanajananair agargai ca hdyai [v.l.: vicitrai]|
keai snnhyai [v.l.: snnrdrai] kusumabharitair vastrargai ca tais tai
knte sakept kim iha bahun citralekheva [v.l.: citramleva] bhsi||118||
Incidentally, citralekha also refers to the first of the twenty ways of playing drums (vdyaprakra)
(N34.191 [prose] & 210A-B, which correspond to 151 [prose] & 170A-B of the alternative reading of
the same chapter).


N27.65A, 66B.

The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


beauty, a play without songs cannot become delightful.10


A painter (citrakra), lastly, is mentioned as one of the members of the theatrical

ensemble.11 In view of the specific context in which colours are dealt with in the
N it is likely that the painter's main responsibility here lies in the application of
the actors' make-up.

Having looked briefly at the painter and his art, let us now turn to his main tool:
2. Primary and Derivative Colours in the N

Of fundamental importance for the following elaborations is the theory of colours

presented in N21. 12 There, four so-called `self-arisen' or natural colours
(svabhvajavaras, lit. `colours caused by their own nature') are enumerated in the
following sequence:
white (sita), dark blue (nla), yellow (pta) and red (rakta).
These with the exception of white constitute what we call primary colours.
Before proceeding, it might be useful to elaborate a little on the specific nature of these
colours. Generally in painting, the primary colours are blue, yellow and red.13 While

yath vard te citra na obhotpdana bhavet|
evam eva vin gna nya rga na gacchati||425||


N35.37A (actually the 2nd verse of an ry stanza): citraja citrakaro [...]|


sito nla ca pta ca caturtho rakta eva ca||78||
ete svabhvaj var yai krya tv agavartanam|
sayogaj puna cnye upavar bhavanti hi||79||
tn aha sapravakymi yathkrya prayoktbhi|
sitanlasamyoge kraava iti smta [v.l.: kpota iti sajita; kpoto nma jyate; kpotaka]||80||
sitaptasamyogt puvara prakrtita|
sitaraktasamyoge padmavara prakrtita||81||
ptanlasamyogd dharito nma jyate|
nlaraktasamyogt kayo nma jyate||82||
raktaptasamyogd gauravara iti smta [v.l.: gaura ity abhidhyate]|
ete sayogaj var hy upavars tathpare||83||
tricaturvarasayukt bahava saprakrtit|
balastho yo bhaved varas tasya bhgo bhavet tata||84||
durbalasya ca bhgau dvau nla muktv pradpayet|
nlasyaiko bhaved bhga catvro 'nye tu varake [v.l.: anyas tv eka ca nicita; anyasya tu smt]||85||
balavn sarvavar nla eva prakrtita|
eva varavidhi jtv nnsayogasarayam||86||
tata kuryd yathyogam agn vartana budha|


In painting with opaque paints the primary colours are more precisely ultramarine (the dark blue
shade of lapis lazuli), yellow and carmine (the deep red of blood). Modern science has come up with



these colours cannot be arrived at by mixing other colours, the mixture of two or three
primary ones in varying quantities produces all other colours. White, grey and black are
sometimes not considered colours at all, or are labelled achromatic (`colourless') colours.
Indeed, unlike `chromatic' colours, they do not have a specific wavelength of their own,
but become visible because of the incomplete (grey) or complete absorption (black) or
reflection (white) of colour waves. Returning to the process of painting one notices that
black can be attained or at least approximated by mixing all three primary colours. It is
not, however, possible to obtain white by the combination of other colours and one is
therefore compelled to use a separate white paint. The inclusion of white in the N-list of
primary colours therefore seems to reflect practical considerations.14

After presenting the four primary colours, the N goes on to describe the secondary
colours, called sayogajavaras or `colours produced by the fusion [of two primary
colours],' and the tertiary colours, i.e. upavaras or subordinate colours. The text first
deals with the secondary colours, specifying by the mixture of which two primary ones
they are created:15

white and blue make light blue (kraava, the colour of the kraa duck [v.l.:
kpota; kpotaka: pigeon colour])16

white and yellow produce a pale yellow (puvara)

white and red combined, create pink (padmavara, the colour of the Indian lotus,
Nelumbo nucifera)

yellow and blue account for green (harita)17

different shades, i.e. cyan (a turquoise shade of blue), yellow and magenta (a pinkish red), which are
used, for instance, in modern colour printers. The commonly used acronym RGB on the other hand
refers to the colours red, green and blue. These so-called additive primary colours as opposed to
the subtractive primary colours mentioned above are put to use in the colour monitors of computers
and television sets.


From now on, whenever primary colours are mentioned in this article, the colour white is included.
In view of what will be said later on (see point 4.2.), it may well be that black is considered a shade of
nla, which would therefore include it in the group of primary colours as well.


One can observe that the enumeration of these secondary colours happens in a strict permutational
way: To begin with, the first of the given list of primary colours is combined with the second, then
with the third and at last with the fourth colour. Then the second colour is taken up, first united with
the third and then with the fourth one. Finally, the third and fourth colours are fused.


Apparently, light blue and grey are not differentiated here. Cf. in this respect point 4.2.


The Monier-Williams (MW) dictionary provides the following meanings for harita as an adjective:
yellowish, pale yellow, fallow, pale red, pale, greenish and green. As a masculine noun it gives
yellowish (the colour). The Apte dictionary gives the meanings green, tawny and even dark blue.
The specification that harita is created from the fusion of yellow and blue however leaves no doubt
that its meaning here is `green.'

The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


blue and red create purple (kaya)18

red and yellow generate orange (gauravara)19


The mixture of three or four colours, it is stated, produces many subordinate colours
(upavara), what we call tertiary colours. A rule is then formulated according to which
one part of a strong (balastha) colour should be mixed with two parts of a weak (durbala)
one. Blue constitutes an exception to this rule, as it is considered the strongest of all
colours and should therefore be mixed with four parts of a weak colour.20
Besides its practical value as an aid in the mixture of paints, the concept of primary
colours has a wide range of applications in the N. In the following pages it will be
examined in which specific contexts the svabhvajavaras are put to use.
3. Occurrences of the Primary Colours in the N

The second adhyya of the N, as has been mentioned before, deals with the construction
of the theatre building.21 In describing the erection of a rectangular (vika) playhouse
of the middle-sized variety the ideal playhouse for mortals22 directives are first
given regarding the selection of a suitable ground and the measuring of the outlines of
the future building. After these preliminary procedures the foundation should be laid on
an astronomically calculated auspicious day accompanied by the sound of different
musical instruments. Then, at night, offerings consisting of fragrant substances, flowers,
fruits and other kinds of food have to be placed in the ten directions,23 accompanied by
mantras, according to the deities presiding over the respective regions.24 Interestingly,

Again the resultant colour can be deduced from the mixture of its constituents. MW gives the meanings
red, dull red, yellowish red for kaya as an adjective and a yellowish red colour and red,
redness for kaya as a noun. Apte gives brown, red and dark red. It has to be pointed out here that
the Apte, Bhtlingk and MW Sanskrit dictionaries agree in assigning the meaning black to nla besides
dark blue (see point 4.2. and fn. 96), while the latter dictionary additionally gives the meaning dark
green. The status of nla as a svabhvajavara and the mention of the colours produced by mixing nla
with the three other primary colours however leaves no doubt about the colour expressed by nla in
the present context, i.e. blue or dark blue.


The Apte and MW dictionaries supply a variety of meanings of gaura ranging from `white', `yellowish',
`pale-red' to `red(dish)'.


Neither the N nor the AbhiBh clarify what exactly is meant by strong and weak colours, i.e. whether
they distinguish primary and secondary colours respectively, or certain colour characteristics like
shade, etc.


Variously called nyaveman, nyagha, nyamaapa or prekgha.


Cf. N2.7A-11B, 17A-B.


The four cardinal directions, the four intermediate ones, the nadir and the zenith. It is not specified
which offerings are laid in the six last mentioned directions, nor in which places the offerings for the
nadir and zenith should be placed. It should be kept in mind that ideally the theatre building is aligned
along an east-west axis, the entrance facing the east (cf. N2.33A-35A; N13.11A-B; etc.).





the colour of the food offerings in the cardinal directions is specified, starting with the
auspicious east and moving clockwise (pradakia): White (ukla) food should be placed
in the eastern direction, dark blue (nla) food in the south, a yellow (pta) oblation in the
west and finally a red (rakta) one in the north.25 Not only do the food offerings exhibit
the four mentioned primary colours, but these appear moreover in the same order in
which they are enumerated in the hrydhyya.

A little further in the same chapter, the N deals with the erection of the four supporting
pillars (stambha) situated in the intermediate directions of the theatre building. The
procedure demands that the architect fasts for three nights prior to the erection of the
pillars,26 which then takes place just after sunrise on an auspicious day.27 Next, a variety
of offerings,28 again with specific colours, are made at each of the four pillars, which
now bear the names of the four social classes (vara): 29 The offerings at the
brhmaastambha have to be of white colour (ukla),30 those at the katriyastambha should
be red (rakta), the offerings at the vaiyastambha, situated in the north-west, are yellow
(pta) and finally those at the north-eastern dra pillar should be rich in dark blue
(nla).31 Although the location of the first two pillars is not specified, the position of the

niy ca bali kryo nnbhojanasayuta||38||
gandhapupaphalopeto dio daa samrita|
prvea uklnnayuto nlnno dakiena ca||39||
pacimena bali pto rakta caivottarea tu|
yda dii yasy tu daivata parikalpitam||40||
tdas tatra dtavyo balir mantrapuraskta|


This seems to indicate that the architect stays awake during these nights, perhaps performing
preliminary rituals for the erection of the corner pillars.




Cloths, garlands, unguents and different kinds of food are mentioned (see fn. 31, below). It is unclear
whether the food items have the same colour as the other offerings, and whether only the food is
presented to the brhmaas or the other offerings as well.


Cf. N1.86A: var catvra evtha stambheu viniyojit| It is clear that these deified varas, appointed
by Brahman to protect the pillars, refer to the social classes. See also N3.6A, where the varas are
invoked together with the other gods.


See also N 2.50B in fn. 35.


prathame brhmaastambhe sarpissarapasaskta||46||
sarvauklo vidhi kryo dadyt pyasam eva ca|
tata ca katriyastambhe vastramlynulepanam||47||
sarva rakta pradtavya dvijebhya ca guaudanam|
vaiyastambhe vidhi kryo digbhge pacimottare||48||
sarva pta pradtavya dvijebhya ca ghtaudanam|
drastambhe vidhi krya samyak prvottarraye||49||
nlaprya prayatnena ksara ca dvijanam|

The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


last two seems to imply that the brhmaastambha stands in the south-eastern and the
katriyastambha in the south-western direction, so that one can get to all the pillars in a
single clockwise round.32 In this clockwise movement starting from the south-east the
social classes associated with the four pillars appear hierarchically arranged in descending
order. The colours of the oblations are once more the four primary colours, but this time
they do not appear in the same order in which we met them so far. Whereas white once
again stands first, we then get the sequence red-yellow-blue, not blue-yellow-red. I will
come back to this issue later.33

Immediately after the offering of colourful substances a piece of metal34 is put at the base
of each of the four pillars. Maintaining the same order as before, the following metals are
specified: brhmaastambha gold (kanaka), katriyastambha copper (tmra),
vaiyastambha silver (rajata), drastambha iron (yasa). Finally, gold (kcana) is
deposited at the base of all pillars, or, as per an alternative reading, at the base of the
remaining pillars. 35 Let us now examine whether the choice of these metals could be
influenced by their colour. The association of reddish copper with the katriya pillar that

Before these verses Ghosh gives the following stanza, inserted in some mss. (N,1956-67, p. 17, fn.1
for vv. 46B-50A):
candana ca bhaved brhma ktra khdiram eva ca|
dhavkhya vaiyavara syc chdra sarvadrumai smtam||
(The different reading of the second verse given in a fn. in N, 1934-92, vol. 1, p. 58 seems to be
corrupt: dhvkhya veyavara syc chatra sarvadrumai smtam|). Whether the colours of these
types of wood correspond to the colours of the social classes associated with the respective pillars is
not known to me. The material of the drastambha in any case does not seem to be connected with a
specific colour, as it is said to be made of all types of trees (sarvadruma).

This view is also advocated by Abhinavagupta, who indicates the southeast as the direction of the first
pillar (N, 1934-92, vol. 1, p. 58: prathama tv gneya koa; cf. N 3.26A: prvadakiato vahnir niveya).
The other theoretical possibility, i.e. the location of the brhmaa pillar in the south-west and of the
katriya pillar in the south-east, would involve a leaving out of several pillars during the offerings in
a clockwise (sw nw ne se sw nw ne) or anticlockwise progression (sw se ne
nw sw se ne) or in an irregular combination of clockwise and anticlockwise movements. One
would however expect any of these possibilities, if correct, to be enjoined in the text. Furthermore, it
seems unlikely that the brhmaa pillar would be situated in the southwest, so far removed from the
auspicious eastern side of the playhouse.


See point 4.3.


In the case of the piece of gold it is specified as being in the form of an ear or neck ornament (see N
2.51A, fn.35, below).


prvoktabrhmaastambhe uklamlynulepane||50||
nikipet kanaka mle kar[v.l.: kah]bharaasarayam|
tmra cdha pradtavya stambhe katriyasajake||51||
vaiyastambhasya mle tu rajata sampradpayet|
drastambhasya mle tu dadyt yasam eva ca||52||
sarvev [v.l.: eev] eva tu nikepya stambhamleu kcanam|



has previously been venerated with red offerings is convincing in this regard. Although
somewhat less obvious, the association of dark iron with the drastambha that has been
linked with the colour blue also might seem logical to a certain extent, particularly since
black and grey are often not distinguished sharply from different shades of blue in
Sanskrit. 36 Here, however, all similarities end. The colour white, associated with the
brhmaa pillar, would rather conform with the colour of silver, and the yellow colour
of the offerings at the vaiya pillar with the colour of gold, than the other way round.
The colour of the employed metals consequently is not connected with the colour of the
social classes. If it is intended to link the decreasing hierarchical order of the four varas
to the decreasing value of the four associated metals, then this would imply copper to be
considered more precious than silver. The motivation behind the particular association
of the four metals with the four corner pillars therefore remains unclear.37

Still later in the construction process the building of the stage (raga) is taken up. As a
concluding ritual thereof different kinds of gems (ratna) are placed in the four directions
of the perfectly flat ragara (`stage-head'):38 Diamond (vajra) is laid in the east, the
gem vairya in the south, crystal or quartz (sphaika) in the west and coral (pravla) in
the north. At last, gold (kanaka) is deposited in the centre of the ragara.39 If we compare
the arrangement of these gems with the food offerings in N2.39B-40A we do not only
notice the same clockwise movement starting from the east, but in addition find a more
complete correspondence to the four primary colours than we had in the case of the
metal offerings:
The association of the translucent `colour' of diamond with the achromatic white is
justifiable to some degree,40 although a white pearl would probably have been a better

See point 4.2.


Even though an exact correlation between the colours associated with the four pillars and the colour
of the four metals is wanting, a connection between the latter and the four primary colours cannot be
excluded completely. As part of a ritual act during a later phase of the construction work pieces of
iron are deposited at the base of the four pillars of the mattavra (N2.63B-64A, 66B, 99A-B), an
adjoining part of the stage whose exact nature is a matter of controversy (cf. N,1934-92, vol. 1, pp.
433-37; Panchal, Goverdhan: The Theatres of Bharata and Some Aspects of Sanskrit Play-production, Delhi,
1996, pp. 98-120). The fact that iron is associated with the dra vara on the one hand and with the
mattavra pillars on the other hand is significant, as the latter are presided over by powerful bhtas,
yakas, picas and guhyakas (N1.91A-B), i.e. beings on the lower end of the hierarchical ladder.


ratnni ctra deyni prve vajra vicakaai||73||
vairya dakie prve sphaika pacime tath|
pravlam uttare caiva madhye tu kanaka bhavet||74||


I will come back to this in point 4.1.


In analogy to water, the colour of which is often thought of as white (see fn. 143), the innate colour of
colourless, transparent diamonds might have been considered to be white as well. The reflection of
light on the polished facets of a cut diamond furthermore imparts a brilliant white appearance to the

The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


candidate had the main emphasis lain on the colour of the ratnas. It is likely that the
choice fell on diamond to be linked with the positively connoted eastern direction, as it is
the hardest and therefore most valuable of all gems.
The gem for the southern direction is vairya. While this is considered to refer to a
cat's-eye gem according to the Bhtlingk and Monier-Williams dictionaries, Apte, using
the spelling `vaidrya', translates it with lapis lazuli, and Kangle, in his translation of
Arth2.11.30, with beryl.41 The term `cat's-eye' refers to a light effect called chatoyancy
that can be observed in some polished gems and as such is not related to any specific
colour.42 Mostly, cat's-eye gems refer to chrysoberyls possessing this characteristic, which
have predominantly yellowish, greenish or brownish hues.43 Beryls can equally appear
in many shades among which greenish to light blue tones characterize the variety called
aquamarine.44 Lapis lazuli on the other hand has predominantly an intensive, dark blue
colour.45 The Arth in its section on ratnas mentions a variety of colours for vairya,
from blue up to yellow and green, while the reference to `the colour of water' (udakavara)
might indicate a highly translucent type of vairya.46 This would not seem to point to a
lapis lazuli, rather to a beryl.47 Whichever gem is referred to by the name vairya, it is
likely that its typical colour is dark blue, as is indicated in the 13th chapter of the N by
the mention of the mythological mountain range called Nla, said to consist of vairya.48
In all probability it is therefore the colour blue that is linked here with the south, as it has
been in N2.39B.
The sphaika, mentioned next, is placed on the western part of the stage floor. In the
ritual described in point 3.1. the west was associated with the colour yellow. Can a
sphaika, usually taken to mean a crystal or quartz, possibly possess this colour? This
question has to be affirmed: While quartz exists in a variety of shades including yellow,49

Kangle, 1963, p. 113. See below, fn. 46.


Hall, 2002, p. 23.


Ibid., pp. 108-09.


Ibid., pp. 75-78.


Ibid., p. 69.


Arth 2.11.30: vairya utpalavara irapupaka udakavaro vaarga ukapatravara puyargo

gomtrako gomedaka. Since water, as mentioned before, is associated with the colour white in other
contexts (cf. fnn. 51, 52 & 143), it might be that the term udakavara here describes a translucent gem
of a whitish hue.


Both Buddruss and Winder arrive at a similar conclusion. See: Buddruss, Georg: `Zum Lapis Lazuli in
Indien. Einige philologische Anmerkungen,' in: Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik 5-6. Festschrift Paul
Thieme zur Vollendung des 75. Lebensjahres dargebracht von Schlern und Freunden, Reinbek, 1980, pp. 326 (esp. pp. 5-6); Winder, Marianne: `Vairya,' in: Meulenbeld, G. Jan/Wujastyk, Dominik (eds.):
Studies on Indian Medical History. Indian Medical Tradition 5. Repr. Delhi, 2001, pp. 85-94.


N13.31A: nle tu vairyamaye siddh brahmarayas tath| Cf. also MBh 6.7.3A: nla ca vairyamaya.
Although nla might also mean black (more on this in point 4.2.), it is rather unlikely for vairya to
possess this colour.


Hall, 2002, pp. 82-87.



the colour of translucent rock crystal varies from colourless to yellowish.50 A whitish or
colourless appearance of sphaika is however documented in the N itself. In the 32nd
adhyya the sphaika jewel (sphaikamai) is mentioned thrice in verses exemplifying certain
dhruv metres. In the first example it is the moon that is compared to a bright white
crystal,51 while the other two verses speak of water with the brilliance of crystals.52 It
becomes clear that the colour of sphaika does not fit unequivocally into the scheme of
primary colours related to the four cardinal regions that appears in the beginning of the
second adhyya. 53 One might reason that, due to the lack of a typical yellow gem, a
yellowish crystal or quartz is chosen to be placed in the western part of the stage. Yet
such an argumentation is highly conjectural.54
The last ratna mentioned is pravla, coral. Among its differently coloured varieties it
is the reddish coral that is used since millennia to manufacture jewellery.55 Here again
the northern direction in which pravla is placed, coincides with the direction in which
red coloured offerings were put before the actual construction of the theatre building
was taken up.

Once the construction work completed, the stage of the theatre hall is consecrated with
a series of rituals, the details of which are provided in the third adhyya of the N. As
part of these rituals a maala is drawn on the stage floor in which the different deities
are installed and worshipped with a variety of substances.56 Then, a water-filled pitcher
(kumbha) is placed in the centre of the stage the region presided over by Brahman57
and a piece of gold put inside.58 The veneration of all deities being completed, it is now
the turn of the jarjara to be worshipped.


Hall, 2002, p. 81.


sphaikamairuciradhavalanibha [. . .] candro (N32, Sanskrit rendition of Prakrit verse 264A). Although

the term rucira can mean `saffron' as a neutre noun, and the feminine noun rucir is documented as
another name for the yellow pigment gorocan, it is highly unlikely that rucira should have a similar
meaning here, considering the comparison with the moon.


sarasi jala [. . .] sphaikanibham (N 32, Sanskrit rendition of Prakrit verse 175A); sphaikamainikarasadajale (ibid., Sanskrit rendition of Prakrit verse 267A).


See fn. 25, above.


Cf. however fn. 86.


Hall, 2002, p. 142. Cf. also Arth2.11.42, which mentions only red and pink coloured varieties of coral:
pravlam [. . .] rakta padmarga ca. According to Kangle the term vaivarika in the same sentence does
not stand for a colourless coral but refers to a specific variety of coral named after its place of origin
(Kangle, 1963, p. 115).




Cf. N1.95A = N5.72B; N3.24A.



The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


The jarjara is a staff, 108 agulas long,59 which can consist of wood but is ideally
made of bamboo.60 In the latter case it should have four nodes (granthi), separating five
segments (parvan),61 which, on two occasions, are said to be protected by different deities:
Brahman, together with all the classes of gods (devagaa), protects the upper segment,
akara/Hara the second one, Viu/Janrdana the third and Skanda/Kumra the
fourth, while the `great serpents' (mahnga) ea, Vsuki and Takaka, the highest of
the pannagas, protect the fifth segment.62 Furthermore, the vajra, most probably referring
to Indra's weapon, is associated with the jarjara as a whole.63 The evidently sacred nature
of the jarjara has to be traced back to its myth of origin, which is narrated in the first
adhyya of the N.64 According to that story, Indra once seized his flagstaff, which had
been erected and venerated during the festival dedicated to it (dhvajamaha,
mahendravijayotsava), and crushed (jarjarkta) the limbs of disturbing demons with it.
As a result the other gods suggested that, from this moment onwards, the staff be called
jarjara. The fact that the jarjara originated from the indradhvaja,65 a representation of the
axis mundi, as well as its close association with the centre of the stage,66 seems to imply
that the jarjara equally is a symbol of the sacred centre. This interpretation is consolidated
by the mention of Brahman and the three mahngas as protecting the uppermost and
lowest segment of the jarjara respectively. This corresponds closely with the
Mnavarautastra, Gobhilaghyastra and the Matsya Pura, which agree in naming
Brahman as the guardian of the zenith and respectively identify Ananta, Vsuki and
Ananta/ea as protector of the nadir.67 It therefore becomes highly probable that the
jarjara indeed is a representation of the axis mundi.
In describing the veneration of the jarjara as part of the consecration of the stage, the

A little under seven feet or just above two metres if we take the agula to be approximately three
quarters of an inch (cf. Prasanna Kumar Acharya: A Dictionary of Hindu Architecture. Treating of
Sanskrit Architectural terms with illustrative quotations from Silpsastras[sic], General Literature and
Archaeological Records. Manasara Series 1, Repr. Delhi, 1997, p. 5).


N21.174B-175B, 177A.




N1.92B-94B; N3.79A-80B.


N1.92A; N3.78B.


N1.54A-75B (esp. 69Aff.).


Cf. in this regard N21.174A-B, 180A-B.


Cf. for example, the mention of Brahman as present in the centre of the stage (N1.95A) immediately
after the description of the jarjara (N1.92A-94B), whose upper segment, moreover, is protected by
Brahman. Cf. also the veneration of the jarjara after the placement of the piece of gold in the water
vessel in the stage centre (N3.72A-73B). Unfortunately, it is not specified where exactly the jarjara is
positioned while being worshipped.


Corinna Wessels-Mevissen: The Gods of the Directions in Ancient India. Origin and Early Development in
Art and Literature (until c. 1000 AD), Berlin, 2001, pp. 10, 14.



N mentions cloth (vastra) of varying colour attached to its five segments:68 A white
(veta) cloth is prescribed for the upper segment, a blue (nla) one should be attached to
the Rudra-segment below it, a yellow (pta) cloth to the Viu-segment, a red (rakta) one
to the segment protected by Skanda, and finally a multicoloured (citra) cloth to the lowest
segment (mlaparvan)69 of the bamboo staff.70 Here the four primary colours, this time
arranged vertically, appear once more in the order encountered in the hrya chapter.

In an entirely different context, i.e. the description of hand gestures, we yet again
encounter the svabhvajavaras. Among the variety of things that can be expressed by
the single hand gesture (asayutahasta) named catura the N mentions `different colours'
(nnvara). Next it indicates how four particular colours, i.e. white (sita), red (rakta),
yellow (pta) and blue (nla), can be specifically shown.71 The information given is however
of a general nature: To convey the colour white the hand showing the catura gesture
should be held high (rdhva),72 for showing red and yellow it should be moved in a circle
(maalakta) 73 and for communicating the colour blue the hand should be `rubbed'
(parimdita), whatever this is supposed to mean.74

veta irasi vastra syn nla raudre ca parvai|
viuparvai vai pta rakta skandasya parvai||74||
ma[v.l.: mla; ma]parvai citra tu deya vastra hitrthin|


The readings mda- and maparvai (see fn. 68, above) do not seem to make any sense here.


Cf. this citra cloth of the bamboo segment protected by the three mahngas with the multi-coloured
make-up (nnvara) prescribed for the theatrical representation of pannagas, i.e. ngas, in N21.103B
(The term nnvara, however, could also indicate that a single but random colour is used for portraying
a nga. Vsuki is furthermore assigned a dark [yma] colour in N 21.99A. See table 1, at the end of this
article.), as well as the colourful (citra) clothes assigned to ngas, this time called uragas, in N21.125AB (see fn. 119). Cf. also BSam 35.1B-2A, which narrates the belief that the multicoloured rainbow
originates from the breath of the uragas, the progeny of the nga Ananta (i.e. ea): [...] indradhanu||1||
kecid anantakuloraganivsodbhtam hur cry|


nnvar ca tath catureaiva prayujta||99||
[sitam rdhvena tu kuryd rakta pta [v.l.: pta] ca maalaktena|
parimditena tu nla [v.l.: ln] var caturea hastena [v.l.: vara catura ca yujta]||]100||
Here the primary colours are mentioned in the same sequence in which they appear as part of the
veneration of the four supporting pillars.


Cf. rdhvasastha, the 2nd hastaprakra (N9.220A; AbhiBh: rdhva iraso 'py upari gacchan [N,193492, vol. 2, p. 81]).


Cf. maalagati, the 6th hastaprakra (N9.220B; AbhiBh: maalagate sarvato bhramam [N,1934-92,
vol.2, pp. 81-82]).


It is likely that Kavi has placed verses 100A-B between square brackets as they are not commented
upon by Abhinavagupta in the extant AbhiBh. Yet, as Ramaswami Sastri points out in his preface to
the 2nd edn. of the 1st vol. of the N (N,1934-92, vol. 1, p. 10), this method was not satisfactory, nor
was it successful especially because it has not been consistently followed throughout the book. It is
possible, however, that this stanza is indeed an interpolation.

The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


4. Analysis of the Ritual Application of the Primary Colours

The use of the svabhvaja colours in the ritual contexts described above and their mention
in the description of the caturahasta seem to point to a special importance attached to
them. It has however to be mentioned that in none of the cited passages it has been
specified that the colours used are svabhvajavaras.75 This information is only supplied
by the hrydhyya.76 The withholding of this information in the passages dealing with
the application of these colours is probably due to the fact that the N has been conceived
primarily as a handbook for the people involved in producing a play. Information of a
more explanatory nature has most likely been passed on orally. Yet even without any
further elucidation some rationale behind the ritual use of the primary colours emerges:
As all existing colours originate from them and as such inhere in them, the four
svabhvajavaras represent the totality of all colours. Because of this they are associated
with the four `primary' or cardinal directions as well as with the four `primary' or principal
classes of Hindu society.77 Furthermore, as none of the primary colours can be split up
into other colours,78 they, although being four in number, can be taken to represent the
non-duality in the realm of colours.79 The jarjara, standing for the generative, non-dual
centre of the cosmos, consequently has the four primary colours associated to its different
parts. The symbolism present here furthermore points to the fundamental identity of
multiplicity, embodied by the citra cloth of the jarjara, and unity, represented by the
jarjara staff itself.80

The correlation of colours with the cardinal directions and the main social classes appears

Even Abhinavagupta is silent on this matter when commenting upon the relevant verses of the N
(N,1934-92, vol. 1, pp. 58-59, 63, 80; vol. 2, p. 50; vol. 3, pp. 137-39). It is however not unlikely that he
was aware of the colours being used in these specific instances to be primary ones, but did not deem
it necessary to point this out.


To be precise, the expression `svabhvajavara' occurs only in N 21.79A (see fn. 12), which verse is
even omitted in the Chowkhamba edition of the N (see N, 1956-67, vol. 1, p. 153, fnn. 13 & 14).


It is worth reminding here that the term vara denotes both social class and colour. Whether the
appellation `vara' for class originated in the primary colours attributed to the four class divisions still
has to be determined.


As we are concerned with painting, the dispersion of white light into its constituent spectral colours is
not considered here.


Cf. in this regard the characterization of the colour kasias, already mentioned in the Pali Canon (see
fn. 148).


In this connection it is irrelevant whether the colours appearing on the citra cloth are all primary
colours, derivative colours or a grouping of both, as in any case they must be a combination either
in form of a mixture or as a juxtaposition of the primary colours on the cloths above it. The
symbolism of the jarjara is particularly helpful for our understanding of the seizing (grahaa) of the
jarjara in the prvaraga ritual called utthpana (see N 5.75B-82A). There, the attainment of unity by
the stradhra is achieved simultaneously on various levels, both spacial (jarjara) and temporal
(sannipta). This topic, which is dealt with in detail in my dissertation, however cannot be considered
here, as this would lead too far.



to be reflected in the cosmography current at the time of the N. In several places the
text reveals its Puric world-view, which includes seven concentric islands (saptadvpa)
surrounded by as many oceans.81 The central island Jambdvpa is for its part divided
into nine regions (vara)82 by mountain ranges. In the heart of the central vara Ilvta
lies the mountain Meru or Sumeru on whose summit reside the 33 gods (trayastriat).83
The Puras give us more detailed information on the appearance of Meru. The four
sides of this mountain exhibit, clockwise from the east, the colours white (veta), yellow
(pta), black (the colour of a bhgapatra)84 and red (rakta), which are connected with the
brhmaa, vaiya, dra, and katriya vara respectively.85 Apart from the ambiguous
colour assigned to the western side of Meru and the dra vara, the other three colours
are primary colours. That the remaining colour should in all probability be dark blue will
be explained in point 4.2. This association of the primary colours with the cardinal
directions does not however coincide with the one encountered in the N.86 On the
other hand, the N and the Puras agree with each other regarding the connection of
colours with the four classes, again barring the colour blue.
Meru itself is often said to consist of gold.87 Moreover, according to the Bhgavata
and the Devbhgavata Pura Brahman resides in the centre of Mount Meru's flat summit

Cf. N1.10B, 117B; N13.5B; N21.100B, 101B.


Cf. N13.21A-B; N21.101B-103A. According to the Puras, the southernmost region Bhratavara,
corresponding roughly with the South Asian subcontinent, is called karmabhmi, as it is the only region
in which people experience the results of their actions (karman). The other eight varas and six dvpas
are paradisiac regions whose inhabitants live like gods and are therefore called bhogabhmis, i.e.
regions of enjoyment (Kirfel,1920, pp. 58, 112). This agrees with the information given in the N on
the difference between Bhratavara and the other varas (N 18.97A-100B).




bhgapatra: the wing of a black bee or the leaf of Laurus cassia?; v.l.: bhgipatra: the leaf of the Indian


Kirfel,1920, p. 93; Kirfel,1954, p. 3*; ibid., pp. 89-90, vv. 15A-19B; etc.


According to Nryaatrtha's Yogasiddhntacandrik, a late commentary on Patajali's Yogastras,

Meru's four sides consist, clockwise from the east, of silver, beryl, crystal and gold (Kirfel, 1920, pp.
16*, 93). If `beryl' here refers to a blue gem, then this association conforms more fully with the N,
which assigns the colours white, dark blue, yellow and red to the respective cardinal directions. Cf.
also the following statement from Adrian Snodgrass, unfortunately given without any reference:
The colour of the face of Meru turned to our world of Jambudvpa is made of sapphire and is blue.
In India it is said that the blue colour of the sky is produced by the reflection of light from Meru.
(Adrian Snodgrass, The Symbolism of the Stupa, Delhi, etc., 1992, p. 291, fn.116). Jambudvpa, another
spelling for Jambdvpa, here refers to the southern continent of Buddhist cosmography (cf. Kirfel,
1920, pp. 183, 188). Regarding the colour of crystal, cf. point 3.4.


kanakaparvata, kanakaprabha (Kirfel,1954, p. 7, v. 3B; ibid., p. 95, v. 39A); sauvara (ibid., p. 89, v. 15A; ibid.,
p. 95, v. 39B); etc. For the characterization of Meru as a `golden mountain' (kanakaparvata), see also
MBh3.102.2A, 3.186.103B, 6.7.8B, 12.59.122B, 12.122.3A. The Amarakoa similarly includes Hemdri (lit.
`golden mountain') in its list of names for the world mountain (AmKo 1.1.50B: meru sumerur hemdri
ratnasnu surlaya).

The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


in a perfectly square city, similarly consisting of gold.88 Here we are reminded both of
the piece of gold (kanaka) laid in the centre of the stage89 after the construction of the
ragara,90 as well as of the piece of gold deposited in the water-filled kumbha91 on the
same spot during the consecration of the stage.92
Although the N does not explicitly associate the primary colours with the four sides
of the stage maala, it is highly probable that it presupposes such an association, as the
cardinal regions of the theatre building and probably of the stage itself have already
been correlated with these colours earlier.93

In most later texts the colours linked to the four social classes coincide with the ones
associated with the class pillars in the N, with the exception that the colour of the dra
vara, is usually considered to be black. Frequently it is the word ka that is translated
here. For this word the different dictionaries give the meanings black, dark and dark
blue. Indeed, the colours black and blue or dark blue do not seem to be differentiated
greatly in ancient Sanskrit literature.94 In its section on colours the Amarakoa gives the
following sequence of colours resembling ka: nla, asita, yma, kla, ymala and
mecaka.95 For all these words both the meanings black and dark blue are attested. Yet, as

Kirfel,1920, p. 94. N 18.98B mentions the earth (bhmi) of the varas excepting Bhratavara to be
golden (kcan) as well, or, according to a v.l., to consist of gold and gems (hemaratnamay). Cf. in this
regard fn. 82.


The stage centre is, as we have seen, linked with Brahman on different occasions. See fn. 57.


See fn. 38.


It is unclear whether this water vessel is in any way related to the pitcher (kamaalu) named as an
attribute of Brahman in an early description of his iconography (BSam 58.41A). Such a relation
however seems not very likely, considering that the kumbha is broken later on as part of the consecration
of the stage (N3.88B-90A).


See fn. 58.


See points 3.1. and 3.4.


The interesting topic of the socio-culturally determined perception of colours and its reflection in
language cannot be dealt with here.


AmKo1.5.14A: ke nlsitaymaklaymalamecak| As no further list of names signifying black or

blue is given, it has to be concluded that both colours are equally represented here. Some of these
colour names have been used interchangeably: Cf., as epithets of iva, Nlakaha (N1.45A) and
Asitakaha (56th unnumbered verse after N5.174B, part of an interpolated section), as well as the
association of the dravara first with asita in MBh12.181.5B (the v.l. `sita' is improbable in view of the
colours attributed to the other classes in vv.5A-B), and with ka in MBh12.181.13B. In other contexts
these colours meaning blue or black have been distinguished from each other: Cf. the association of
yma, ka and nla with different rasas in N6 (see fn. 121, below); the distinction between ka
coloured and yma coloured earth, which are respectively unsuitable and suitable for the use as a
paste (lepana) to be applied on drumheads in order to produce the desired sound (N34.129B-131A);
the colours yma and asita used as the make-up of actors playing different roles (see table 1 at the end
of this article). It is likely that the ambiguousness of the colour expressed by `nla' has caused Ghosh to
mistakenly translate the names of the svabhvajavaras (i.e. sita, nla, pta and rakta) in the hrya chapter
with black, blue, yellow and red (Ghosh, 1951-61, vol. 1, p. 421).



nla is said to be a svabhvajavara in the N, it is clear that nla, associated with the
offerings to the dra pillar, must mean blue, not black. As it is highly probable that
`ka' as the colour attributed to the dra class in other texts is intended to stand for a
primary colour as well, it should ideally be translated with `blue' or `dark blue' in such
contexts in order to identify it as a primary colour. The same goes for the colour, often
translated with `black,' that is attributed to one of the four sides of Meru.96
It is clear that the four colours attributed to the four classes do not refer to the skin
colour of the people belonging to these classes. The N, however, does associate class
and complexion when it states that the colour of the make-up used to represent brhmaas
and katriyas on stage should be fair (gaura [v.l.: rakta]), while it should be dark (yma)
for the portrayal of vaiyas and dras.97

Now that the reason behind the particular application of the primary colours in the N
is somewhat clearer, let us take a closer look at the order in which these colours appear.
The succession white-blue-yellow-red (i.e. w-b-y-r) is common to the exposition of the
primary colours in N21, the offering of food in the cardinal directions in N2, perhaps
the deposition of ratnas on the stage floor in the same adhyya and finally the colours of
the cloths attached to the jarjara in N3. A different arrangement, i.e. white-red-yellowblue (w-r-y-b), appears in connection with the offerings at the four main pillars in the
intermediate directions of the nyagha.98 In both cases a hierarchical order seems to be
maintained, more obvious in the second sequence, with its specific association with the
four social classes, 99 than in the first. In this first arrangement we only notice the

It should be noted that black paint frequently behaves in a way similar to blue paint. While the
mixture of black with yellow should theoretically produce a darker yellow, what we actually get
when mixing paints of these colours often is olive green. This is due to the fact that black paint is
seldom purely black, but mostly consists of a mixture of pigments among which figures blue. If the
same was true for some black paint commonly used in ancient India, then the observation of this fact
might have contributed to the blurred distinction in Sanskrit literature between black and dark blue,
as well as between grey and lighter shades of blue. For nla in the sense of blue, cf. the references to the
blue water lily, nlotpala (e.g., N16.51A, 58A; N22.110B). As the colour of collyrium and smoke
mahnla, for which the dictionaries provide the meanings dark blue (Apte and MW) and deep
black (MW), might stand for achromatic grey or black (N15.143A: mahnladhmjanbh).


N21.113A-B (cf. table 1 at the end of this article).


The mention of the primary colours in connection with the caturahasta follows the same sequence.
This is however not taken into account here, as it is questionable whether a strict hierarchy of the
colours named is intended, especially since rakta and pta are represented by means of the same
movement of the catura gesture (cf. fn. 71 & 73). See however fn. 103, below.


A frequently encountered interpretation of the correlation between specific colours and the four
classes is reflected in Ghosh,1951-61, vol. 1, p. 25, fnn. 2-5 of vv. 46B-50A: white symbol of purity
and learning, associated with the Brahmins. [. . .] red symbol of energy and strength, associated
with the Katriyas. [. . .] yellow symbol of wealth (gold) associated with the Vaiyas. [. . .] blue
symbol of non-Aryan origin associated with the dras..

The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


domination of white, bearing in mind the connection of this colour with the east. A
decreasing hierarchical arrangement of the colours blue, yellow and red still has to be
ascertained. Incidentally, it may be noticed that the order of the three colours following
white agrees with the one appearing in the most splendid manifestation of colours in
nature, the rainbow. There, from outside to inside, the colours red, yellow and blue are
manifested with their respective mixtures between them.100
4.3.1. White
In both colour arrangements white takes the lead.101 Its association with the important
eastern region, the brhmaa vara, the god Brahman,102 the highest segment of the
jarjara103 and possibly the diamond indicates that this colour is regarded as possessing
an exceptional quality. It therefore comes as no surprise that the N on several occasions
mentions the colour white in ritual contexts:

The cord (stra) that is used to measure the ground plan of the theatre hall on the
construction site is white (ukla).104 The ritual nature of this measuring process,
evinced among other things by the astrologically determined moment on which
the measuring should take place, has to be attributed to the fact that it initiates
the construction of the sacred nyagha.105 For the same reason the stra has to
be handled with utmost care. The breaking of the cord while measuring will
cause different kinds of disaster to occur, depending on where exactly it breaks.106


The colours of a rainbow are naturally ordered in accordance with their individual frequencies, from
low (red) to high (purple). In the case of a double rainbow, the faded colours of the higher, secondary
rainbow appear in reversed order, i.e. red as the innermost colour, etc.


White seems to have been traditionally regarded as the first colour. The section on colour names in
the Amarakoa (AmKo1.5.12B-17B) starts with white. Cf. also the reference in N14.108A to colours
associated with classes of metres, where white (veta) once again is placed first: vetdayas tath var
vijey chandasm iha| Ramakrishna Kavi elucidates with the following fn.: gyatrprabhtijagatparyantn chandas sitasragapiagakanlalohitagaur var (N,1934-92, vol.2, p. 246).
While Kavi does not give any reference for this, Abhinavagupta mentions the prtikhyas and other
texts in this context (prtikhydau [ibid.]). Incidentally, the seven chandases from gyatr up to jagat,
referred to by Kavi, constitute the divine group (divyagaa) of metres (vtta) (N14.112B-114A).


Brahman, as we have seen, is the protector of the upper segment of the jarjara, characterized by a
white coloured cloth (see point 3.5.).


It should be reminded in this regard that white is the only colour that, when expressed with the
caturahasta, is shown with the hand held high (see point 3.6.).


N2.27B: puyanakatrayogena [v.l.: yoge tu] ukla stra prasrayet [v.l.: nidhpayet]||27||


The sacredness of the theatre building is apparent among other things from the elaborate rituals
accompanying its construction and from the fact that it houses the stage maala.


N2.28A-31A. It is likely that the white colour of the measuring stra is due to white powder with
which the rope is rubbed (cf. AbhiBh : uklastratva [v.l.: uklastra] tvat piarajandin [N, 193492, vol. 1, p. 55, l. 7), as is presently done for instance in Tibetan Buddhism in order to leave visible
marks on the surface on which a maala will be drawn, pulling the stretched string up a bit and letting
it spring back. If so, white coloured powder still could have been chosen because of the ritual significance
of white.



For the construction of the stage blackish earth (mttik k) is used, which has
to be ploughed so as to be able to remove gravel, grass, etc., from it. The two
animals used for pulling the plough should possess a pure colour
(uddhavara),107 which in all probability implies the colour white.

After having installed the deities and semi-divine beings in the compartments of
the stage maala during the consecration of the stage, they are worshipped. One
requirement is that the garlands and unguents used in the veneration of deities
(devat) should be white (sita), while red (rakta) ones are offered to the gandharvas,
Vahni and Srya.108

When choosing a proper bamboo stem for the fabrication of the jarjara several
rules have to be observed, some of which are mentioned in N21. Apart from
pointing out an astrological requirement (puyanakatraja),109 it is specified that
the soil on which the bamboo grows should be white in colour (vetabhmi).110 In
view of the sacred nature of the jarjara this might be another case in which white
is prescribed in its role of a ritually pure colour. On the other hand, as we have
seen above, dark (ka) earth has been used in connection with the stage, i.e.
also in a ritual context, without any negative connotations. Furthermore, the
earth on which the nyamaapa is erected has to be either dark (k) or light
coloured (gaur). 111 Hence the reference to whitish soil in connection with the
jarjara might just as well be due to more practical concerns, indicating the type of
soil ideal for the growth of the desired bamboo.


N2.70B (read `uddhavarau' instead of `uddhavaro').


N3.35A-B. Apart from Brahman, who occupies the centre of the stage maala, the main deities of
the N iva, Nryaa [i.e. Viu], Mahendra [i.e. Indra] and Skanda as well as Sarasvat,
Lakm, etc., reside in the eastern part of the maala (N 3.24A-25B). This region, as we have seen, is
associated with the colour white. Vahni, i.e. Agni, and the gandharvas are installed in the south-eastern
section of the maala (N 3.26A-B). While this is the direction in which the brhmaastambha is situated,
venerated with white offerings, Abhinavagupta mentions the association of this region (gneya) with
the colour red (rakta) (N,1934-92, vol.1, pp. 57-58; cf. also BSam60.2B). If this colour association has
to be adopted here as well, it has the appearance as if the colours used to venerate the deities in the
present context are related to the position of these deities within the maala and the colours associated
with the respective regions. Srya, worshipped with red substances, is situated in the eastern part of
the maala according to N 3.25A. However, several mss. place Bhnu (i.e. Srya) in the southeastern section of the maala (v.l. of N 3.26A), just like Agni and the gandharvas. Some of these mss.
still place Srya, this time called Arka, in the eastern direction as well, while a ms. from Nepal does not
(v.l. of N3.25A). This question still has to be examined more closely. As to the symbolic meaning of
the colours white and red in the present context, cf. Ghosh,1951-61, vol. 1, p. 37, fnn. 1-2 of stanza 34:
`White' here seems to be the symbol of purity and good grace. [. . .] `Red' here seems to be the
symbol of energy.. Cf. also fn.99, above.


This might refer to the moment of the cutting of the bamboo, or, as Ghosh understands it, to its
planting (Ghosh,1951-61, vol. 1, p. 433).





The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


The theatrical `orchestra' (kutapa) is situated on the western side of the stage. In
the centre, his back to the wall and facing the east, the centre of the stage maala
and the public, sits the player of the three mdaga drums (mrdagika,
maurajika). 112 Of particular interest here is the fact that, after these drums are
made, they are venerated in three separate maalas drawn with fragrant
cowdung, which are presided over by Brahman, akara and Viu respectively.
One of the items offered to Brahman and the liga drum associated with him
are white cloths (uklavsas).113

While entering the stage during the ritual preliminaries (prvaraga) of a play the
stage director (stradhra) and the two priprvikas assisting him share the
following characteristics: All three of them, being initiated (dkita) and ritually
pure (uci), assume the vaiava stance, express a look of wonder with their eyes
(adbhutdi) 114 and wear white clothes (uddhavastra). 115 The entering of the
sacred space of the stage and the following actions the first of which consists
in the offering of two handfuls of flowers to Brahman in the centre of the stage116
are obviously ritual in nature. A similar situation is reported in connection
with the already mentioned ritual worship of the three mdaga drums in three
maalas. The person drawing these maalas and carrying out the subsequent
veneration on an astronomically determined auspicious day is equally said to be
pure (uci) and dressed in white (uklavsas). 117 These two instances of white


N34, prose sentences between 214B & 216A (following Ghosh [N, 1956-67, vol. 2, p. 172] I read
`dakiata' before `pavika').


N34.279B (read `datv lige' as `datvlige'). Cf. the white coloured cloth attached to the upper part of
the jarjara, said to be protected by Brahman. In N34.280A-282B no specific colours are prescribed
in connection with the subsequent adoration of the remaining two deities, although the mention of
raktakaudumbara in connection with the offerings to the three-eyed iva (Tryambaka) in verse 281B
might refer to some offerings made of reddish udumbara wood or to some other red coloured
substances (the term raktaka can also stand for a red garment or one of several red coloured or red
flowering plants, while udumbara can mean copper). The reading in the alternative version
(bhinnaphakrama) of this chapter, on the other hand, clearly states that red offerings and red cloths,
among other things, have to be offered to the iva maala (bali krya prayatnena rakto raktmbarai
saha), while the Viu maala should be venerated with offerings among which are named yellow
garlands, cloths and ointments (sragvastrlepanai ptai) (N34[alternative version].218B, 219B).


This specific glance, as its name reveals, is related to adbhuta, the sentiment of wonder and excitement
(cf. N8.51A-B), and here seems to be an expression of the divine (divya) variety of adbhuta, which,
according to N6.82A-B, is caused by the seeing of heavenly things (divyadaranaja), in contrast to the
nandaja variety, produced by joy (hara). Cf. in this regard the long list of situations generating the
adbhutarasa, in which figure among other things the seeing of celestial beings (divyajanadarana) and
the going to a temple (devakulagamana) (N6, 2nd prose sentence after 74B), which latter, in my
opinion, corresponds to the stage maala approached and `entered' by the stradhra and his assistants.




N5.69B, 72A-B.


N34.274A-B, 275B:


clothes being worn on ritual occasions agree with the rule mentioned in the hrya
chapter according to which uddha clothes should be worn by men and women
when approaching deities, on auspicious occasions, while being engaged in
penance, at the time of specific astronomical constellations, during wedding
ceremonies and the performance of virtuous acts.118 In dramatic representations
white clothes characterize old brhmaas, merchants, ministers, ascetics, people
of the three upper social classes in general, etc. (N 21.126A-127B). Even kings,
who normally wear colourful (citra) dresses,119 should exchange them for white
ones during ceremonies performed to avert calamities.120

4.3.2. Red
In the first colour sequence(w-b-y-r) white is followed by blue or dark blue (nla), in the
second sequence(w-r-y-b) by red (rakta). Turning first to the latter series, the correlation
of rakta, which as a neuter noun also means blood, with the katriya vara is quite obvious.
The N provides more examples of the same nature:

The colour associated with the furious sentiment (raudrarasa) is red (rakta).121

Red eyes (raktanayana) are mentioned among the so-called consequents (anubhva)

citrym athav haste uklapake ubhe 'hani|

updhyya ucir vidvn kulno rogavarjita||274|| [. . .]
sopavso 'lpakea ca uklavs dhavrata||275||


devbhigamane caiva magale niyamasthite|
tithinakatrayoge ca vivhakarae tath|123||
dharmapravtta yat karma striyo v puruasya v|
veas te bhavec chuddho ye ca pryatnik nar|124||


devadnavayak gandharvoragarakasm|
np karka [v.l.: kmukn] ca citro vea [v.l.: vicitro 'tha] udhta|125||
See also v. 136A in fn. 120, below.


citro veas tu [v.l.: vicitravea] kartavyo np nityam eva ca|
kevalas tu bhavec chuddho nakatrotptamagale||136||
While dresses are said to be of three types, i.e. uddha, vicitra (variegated) and malina (filthy) (N21.122A),
it here becomes clear that uddha in this context cannot simply mean pure or clean in contradistinction
to malina, as this would imply citra clothes, also assigned to gods, etc. (see fn. 119), to be less clean. It
can be presumed that uddha clothes are meant to be white as opposed to colourful (vicitra) clothes
and clean as well, as purely white clothes can hardly be imagined to be dirty.


N6.42B. The colour associations of the remaining seven rasas are: gra yma; hsya sita;
karua kapota; vra gaura; bhaynaka ka; bbhatsa nla; adbhuta pta (N6.42A-43B). Here
the choice of colours does not seem to have been led by the svabhvajavaras but rather by psychological
considerations. The fact that each of the four rasa groups consisting of a primary rasa (i.e. gra,
raudra, vra and bbhatsa) and its resultant rasa (i.e. hsya, karua, adbhuta and bhaynaka respectively)
(see N6, 2nd prose sentence after 38B-41B) has a primary colour assigned to one of its two rasas
might be a mere coincidence. A natural red (rakta) facial colour (mukharga), not applied by makeup, is furthermore an expression of the raudra-, vra- and karuarasas, intoxication (mada), etc. (N
8.162A, 164A).

The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


of the raudrarasa.122 Likewise, red, wide open eyes (aruodvttatraka) appear as

a feature of the raudrdi123 and are consequently mentioned in connection with
angry humans both men (udvttaraktanetra) 124 and women (krodhatmryatka) 125 and as a characteristic of demons for whom raudra is the
natural emotion 126 (raktodvttavilocana, 127 raktka 128 ). In the 22nd chapter
different types of character (la) of women are described, which often can be
equally taken as characterizations of the beings they are named after. Accordingly,
a woman of the rkasa type (rkasal), possessing an angry and jealous nature
(krodhery), is also said to have red eyes (raktavistralocana), 129 as does the
excessively angry (atikopan) woman of the nga type (tmralocana).130

As we have already seen, the colour red is not only linked with the katriya vara
but, as the colour of the cloth on the fourth jarjara segment, also with iva's son
Skanda, the god of war. Moreover, the only role for which red (rakta) paint has to
be applied on the face and limbs of an actor is Agraka, the deified planet
Mars,131 which, according to the Bhatsahit, presides over [. . .] warriors [. . .]
red fruits and flowers, corals, army generals, etc.132

In the N the colour red is mentioned a few times in ritual contexts as well, though
not as prominently as white. The pratisar thread, fragrant substances, flowers and fruits
used for honouring the deities while installing them in the ragamaala are all of red
(rakta) colour,133 while in the subsequent veneration of these deities, as we have observed
before, 134 red garlands and unguents are used to worship the gandharvas, Vahni (i.e.
Agni) and Srya. 135 Red offerings have also been used in the veneration of the iva

N6, 4th prose sentence after 63B.








N6, 6th-10th prose sentence after 63B.


N6, 12th prose sentence after 63B.




N22.108A, 109A-B.


N22.110A-B, 111B. In N15.213A red eyes seem to be associated with the grarasa, but refer
perhaps to a red make-up of the eyes (raktamdupadmanetra).


N21.98B (see table 1 at the end of this article).


BSam16.13A-15B: astravartnm [. . .] raktaphalakusumavidrumacamp[nm] [. . .] vasudhsuto



rakt pratisar stra [v.l.: tatra; rakta pratisarstram] raktagandh ca pjit|
rakt sumanasa caiva yac ca rakta phala bhavet||19||


See point 4.3.1.


This does not implicitly refer to the colours of these divine and semi-divine beings. Cf. N21.97A, 98B,
103B (see table 1 at the end of this article), which mention the colour of the make-up applied on the



maala and the rdhvaka drum during the consecration of the latter.136
4.3.3. Blue and Yellow
Why the colour blue figures at the second place in the first colour sequence (w-b-y-r) is
unclear. If its status as the strongest of all colours would play a role one would rather
expect blue to start the ranking. While iva protects the jarjara segment characterized by
a blue cloth, he, as we have just seen, is venerated with red substances during the
consecration of the mdaga drums. Yellow, for its part, has only received greater
importance in connection with the offerings to the vaiavamaala during the same
ritual. 137
Further references to blue and yellow in the N did not provide any information on
a hierarchical arrangement of these colours.138
5. The Use of the Primary Colours in the Make-up of Actors
The description of the primary colours in the hrydhyya of the N has been able to
substantially broaden our understanding of the colour aspect of the rituals described in
the first chapters of this text. Yet, the presentation of the theory of primary and derivative
colours has been occasioned, as we have noticed earlier, by the subsequent description
of the make-up applied on the faces and limbs of actors.139 It is therefore worth examining
whether the primary colours play any significant role in the choice of colours used in
this make-up. Table 1, at the end of this article, lists the colours used in the portrayal of
different roles, including variant readings. Let us analyze this information starting with
the colour of gold. Gold has been associated with the stage centre and the brhmaa
vara in the N and with Mount Meru in the MBh and several Puras. As the colour of
make-up, molten gold is associated with the deities Rudra (i.e. iva), Arka (i.e. Srya),140

actors portraying these beings: The gandharvas possess various colours (nnvara), Hutana (i.e.
Agni) is yellow (pta) and Arka (i.e. Srya) has the colour of molten gold (tapanyaprabh). Cf. also fn.
108, above.


See fn. 113.


Ibid. Yellow has already been associated with Viu in connection with the central cloth of the jarjara
(see fn.68).


A possible explanation for an assumed hierarchy in descending order of the series blue-yellow-red
might be seen in the order of the colours appearing in a single rainbow (see point 4.3.). The fact that,
among the colours blue, yellow and red, blue is situated closest to the centre of the circle partially
manifested by the rainbow, could have accounted for this colour to be considered superior to yellow
and red, which appear next in this order. Such an interpretation, however, is not found corroborated
by textual evidence.


Abhinavagupta, commenting on N 21.77A-B, contends that paint is only applied on male actors (N,
1934-92, vol. 3, p. 121). This would imply that the role of an apsaras (see v. 96B in table 1, at the end of
this article), as well as of the river goddess Gag (see v. 98A, ibid.) is enacted by a man.


This association is probably due to the golden appearance of the sun. Cf. taptasuvarapiasamadeha
[. . .] divasakara (N32, Sanskrit rendition of Prakrit verse 235A-B); vidyotitakanakavapu [. . .] divasakara
(ibid., Sanskrit rendition of Prakrit verse 258B).

The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


Druhia (i.e. Brahman) and Skanda (i.e. Kumra), and furthermore characterizes the
people living on the six islands (dvpa) surrounding Jambdvpa. The colour of gold is
also associated with the people living in the northernmost vara of Jambdvpa, i.e.
Uttarakuru. One could also translate the relevant verses to mean that, except for people
living in Uttarakuru, those of the other varas should have a golden complexion.141 Yet,
the fact that other colours are later on mentioned for the inhabitants of the varas
Bhadrva, Ketumla and Bhratavara favours the first translation, which is moreover
supported by a v.l. and the AbhiBh.
White, the first of the primary colours, is associated with an even larger number of
deities than gold. Some, like the deified moon (Soma), Jupiter (Bhaspati), Venus (ukra),142
groups of stars (trakgaa) and the snowy Himlaya range (Himavat) are visibly white
in their physical manifestations. Water equally seems to have been connected with the
colour white, as we have observed before.143 This might have caused Varua,144 the
oceans (samudra) and the river Gag to be represented by actors wearing white makeup. Among mortals, white paint is used to portray people living in the vara Bhadrva
and according to some alternative readings also for inhabitants of Ketumla.
Red (rakta) is, as has been noticed before, exclusively used for the representation of
the god Mars.145 As with the other heavenly objects mentioned above, it is probably the
colour of the planet Mars, visible to the naked eye, which has lead to this association.
Yellow (pta) is used to portray the deified planet Mercury (Budha) as well as the
deified, `oblation eating' sacrificial fire (Hutana, i.e. Agni). Once again the distinctive
colour of these deities corresponds to the colour of their material counterparts.
The name given in the N for the remaining primary colour dark blue, i.e. nla, is
conspicuously absent from the list of colours used to represent deities. It is only mentioned
as the colour of people living in Ketumla, or, according to an alternative reading, as one
of three possible colours characterizing these people. However, after having mentioned
gold, white, red and yellow as the colours of different deities the N speaks of the colour
yma for portraying the gods Nryaa (i.e. Viu), Nara and the nga Vsuki. In view

See, e.g., Ghosh, 1951-61, vol. 1, p. 424.


The planet Venus, known to us as the bright morning and evening star, is not only known by the
name of ukra, which literally means `pure' or `white' (cf. ukla), but also by the names of veta and
Sita, both of which again denote `white.'


See fnn. 51 & 52. This association of the colour white with water may well have had its origin in the
knowledge of the latter's close affinity with snow and ice and/or in the observation of the white foam
appearing when water is mixed with air (e.g., breaking waves, waterfalls).


In the N Varua has already become the god of waters (cf. N 3.28B, 43A-B, 64A-B; N 4.256B) and
lokapla of the western region (cf. N 3.28B; N 5.23A-B, 94A), although his Vedic association with the
sky is still discernable in N 1.85A, where he is related to the space (ambara, lit. `sky,' `atmosphere') of
the greenroom (nepathya).


Here I disregard the v.l. of N21.113A which attributes rakta to people of the brhmaa and katriya
vara as well.



of the vague distinction between Sanskrit names signifying black and dark blue, and bearing
in mind the context of the exposition of the primary colours and the practical applications
of the latter in the N, it would seem likely that the term yma in the present context
stands for dark blue, if it would not be for yma to be mentioned several times as the
colour of certain inhabitants of Bhratavara as well: It is one of three possible colours of
kings (rjan), the colour of people living in specific parts of Bhratavara like the Pclas,
etc., and generally the colour of people belonging to the two lowest social classes.
Only four more colours are mentioned:

The colour gaura, which can stand for a white, yellowish or even light reddish
hues and has been equated with orange in its role of a sayogajavara, is attributed
to yakas, gandharvas and generally to gods (deva), probably referring to the minor
deities for whom no specific colour is indicated. It is furthermore mentioned as
the colour of the natives of the remaining varas, implying the five varas excluding
Uttarakuru, Bhadrva, Ketumla and Bhratavara, also as one of three colours
of inhabitants of Ketumla as per an alternative reading, as one of the three
colours kings (rjan) can possess, as the colour of mortal (martya) religious ascetics
(sukhin), moreover as the predominant colour of people of the northern regions
of Bhratavara and as the colour of brhmaas and katriyas.

asita, i.e. dark blue or black, characterizes the appearance of daityas, dnavas,
rkasas, guhyakas, nagas (i.e. deified mountains), picas, deified water (Jala) or
Yama146 and the deified atmosphere (ka). Among humans asita is the colour
of people performing evil actions (kukarmin), people possessed by demons
(grahagrasta), sick persons (vydhita), persons doing penance (tapasthita), people
performing strenuous labour (yastakarmin) and people of low birth (kujti). It
furthermore is the colour of ascetic (tapasthita) seers (i), as well as the
predominant colour of people from southern parts of Bhratavara, etc.

The colour of lotus (padmavara) is said to be one more possible colour of kings

The colour of the badara plant is mentioned as the complexion of seers (i), or,
according to another reading, as the colour of, apparently personified, herbs

Ghosts (bhta), gandharvas, pannagas, vidydharas, the forefathers (pit) and people
equal to them (samanara) are characterized by make-up of various colours or perhaps a
single random colour (nnvara). According to another reading, nnvara applies to
ghosts, dwarfs (vmana), beings with deformed faces (viktnana) and those having the
face of a boar (varha), ram (mea), buffalo (mahia) or deer (mga).

As water in various forms has already been associated with white, I favour the v.l. Yama here.

The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


Regarding the application of the colour theory of the N in the make-up conventions
just mentioned one can observe the general tendency of secondary and tertiary colours
as well as multiple or random colours (nnvara) to be attributed to demons, yakas,
gandharvas, pits, ghosts, etc., as well as to the inhabitants of Bhratavara. People living
in the other, elysian varas and dvpas147 and above all the gods are however characterized
by one of the primary colours or gold. This is however a generalization as, on the one
hand, we have gaura, a derivative colour, being connected with gods (deva) in general
and with people living in some paradisiac varas, and, on the other hand, there is the
problematic nature of the attribution of yma, dealt with above. As to the association of
gaura with gods and other benevolent beings, it could be that these, not being characterized
by a specific primary colour of their own, are all chosen to be represented by the same
light colour that is associated with the two highest social classes, religious ascetics, etc. It
is noteworthy that Indra has not been named separately and therefore might have a
gaura complexion as well. Regarding the question of yma one might consider the
following thoughts: Just as, when moving from Bhratavara to the other eight varas,
or, beyond Jambdvpa, to the six surrounding dvpas, we leave behind known geography
and enter the realm of idealized mythological space, in the same way the colours attributed
to people of the different known regions and social classes within Bhratavara are most
probably based on objective observation, while those ascribed to beings of the other
regions of the ancient Hindu cosmography, and especially the ones attributed to the
deities residing on Mount Meru, are idealized colours heavily loaded with symbolic
connotations, i.e. the primary colours and gold. The colours mentioned for beings outside
and inside of Bhratavara should therefore probably have to be interpreted in different
ways. When referring to the make-up used to represent inhabitants of Bhratavara the
terms yma and asita should perhaps be understood in their general sense of `dark,'
implying various dark brown hues, and should not be taken to mean black or dark blue.
As the colour of certain deities on the other hand yma might denote dark blue. Being
the colour of demons, etc., asita could perhaps stand for black. The whole matter is
however far from clear, especially as the numerous alternative readings make it difficult
to reconstruct the original text.
6. Conclusion
While many colour associations met with in the N are culturally specific, the use of the
primary colours of painting, i.e. a physical, universally valid phenomenon, allows people
of different times and places to connect with its symbolism more easily. The unique
quality of the primary colours makes intelligible the specific ritual use reserved for them
in the N. Their being uncaused, indivisible and, collectively, all-containing accounts for
their association with the axis mundi of the ancient Indian cosmos, represented on the
stage maala by the vertically positioned jarjara. In the Puric cosmography, the axial

Cf. fn. 82.



world mountain Meru is equally characterized by these colours. Since all other colours
are generated from the four primary ones, the latter represent the totality of colours.
This explains their association, encountered in the N and other texts, with the world
quarters and the four social classes, each representing a four-fold division of their
respective domain.
It is clear that the preliminary nature of the present study necessitates further research
into the topics not or not adequately dealt with here.148 The incorporation of information

Only a few additional points can be touched on at this point. In post-N works dealing with the fine
arts the theory of four primary colours has mostly been adopted, although some texts teach five
primaries (C. Sivaramamurti, The Painter in Ancient India, Delhi 1978, p. 37). Cf. the two different lists
of five primary colours given in the Viudharmottara Pura (Parul Dave Mukherji, [ed.]: The Citrastra
of the Viudharmottara Pura. Critically ed. and tr. by Parul Dave Mukherji, Delhi, 2001, pp. 135,
A few stray examples might suffice to give a general idea of the broad range of contexts in which the
four primary colours the colour blue mostly termed ka and usually rendered with `black' in
translations turn up: They appear for instance as the hues of the floors between the first four of the
seven underworlds (ptla) (Kirfel, 1920, pp. 143-44; Kirfel, 1954, p. 37 [v. 3A-B], 186 [vv. 13B-15A]).
The floors of the remaining three ptlas are said to consist of gravel (arkara), stone (il) and gold
(kcana; sauvara) (ibid.). The primary colours connected with the social classes in descending
hierarchical order, i.e. white, red, yellow and dark blue, furthermore characterize Viu in each of the
four world ages, from the kta- to the kaliyuga (cf.Kirfel,1920, pp.91-92). In the Agni Pura the same
colours characterize the different body parts of Viu's mount Garua, when the latter is described as
a cosmic being, as well as the stones out of which statues of Viu-Vsudeva should be sculptured
(Marie-Thrse de Mallmann, Les Enseignements Iconographiques de l'Agni-Purana. Annales du Muse
Guimet. Bibliothque d'tudes 67, Paris, 1963, pp. 239-40). They appear as the colour of the feet of the
throne of both Srya and Sadiva, as the colour of the latter's four hypostases, as the complexion of
iva-Nlakaha's four faces, etc. (ibid.). In the BSam the primary colours, mostly occurring in the
copulative compound sitaraktaptaka and once more associated with the four social classes in
descending order, are observed in sunspots, earth, diamonds, etc., as part of the art of divination
(BSam 3.19B, 25A-B; 36.1A-B; 52.1A-B; 53.96A-B; 80.11A-B; cf. also BSam 35.8A & 86.77A-B).
Of high relevance for the interpretation of the religio-ritual application of the four primary colours is
the role they play in Buddhist practice, already attested in the Pali Canon. There, ten objects of
meditation are spoken of: the so-called `totalities' (Pli: kasia, of uncertain derivation, probably from
Sanskrit [Skt.] ktsna: all, whole, complete). The ten kasias consist of the six Buddhist elements (dhtu)
and the four primary colours in the following order: pahav (Skt. pthiv, earth), po (Skt. pa, water),
tejo (Skt. teja, fire), vyo (Skt. vyu, air), nla (Skt. id., dark blue), pta (Skt. id., yellow), lohita (Skt. id., red),
odta (probably Skt. avadta, white), ksa (Skt. ka, space, ether) and via (Skt. vijna,
consciousness). Each kasia is considered to be omnipresent, non-dual and immeasurable, as follows
from the following statement, repeated for each kasia, e.g., for the nlakasia: nlakasiam eko sajnti
uddha adho tiriya advaya appama (Dghanikya xxxiii.3.3.(ii), in: J. Estlin Carpenter, [ed.]: The
Dgha Nikya. Vol. III, London, 1911, p. 268 [cf. also Dghanikya xvi.3.29-32, in: T.W. Rhys Davids, {ed.}
& Carpenter, J. Estlin {ed.}: The Dgha Nikya. Vol. II, London, 1903, pp. 110-11]; Majjhimanikya II.3.7, in:
Robert Chalmers [ed.]: The Majjhima-Nikya. Vol. II, London, 1898, pp. 14-15 [cf. also pp. 13-14];
Aguttaranikya xxv.1-2 & xxix.4, in: E. Hardy [ed.]: The Aguttara-Nikya. Part V, Repr. London, 1958,
pp. 46, 60 [cf. also xxvi.1-3 & xxix.5-6, ibid., pp. 46-48, 60-62].), One [. . .] contemplates the blue-kasia
[. . .] above, below, and across, undivided and immeasurable. (Bhikkhu amoli [tr.] & Bhikkhu
Bodhi [ed.]: The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha. A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikya.
Translated from the Pali. Original Translation by Bhikkhu amoli. Translation Edited and Revised

The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


on colours spread over the entire N as part of the methodology of this investigation has
produced a huge amount of data. The assessment of this extensive material did not
allow for each issue to be dealt with in an equally detailed manner, but has hopefully
succeeded in offering a glimpse into the ritual use and theatrical application of some
fundamental principles of art.
Table 1: Colours used in the make-up of actors in different roles
(N 21.96B-113B)
1. divine and semi-divine beings

verse nos.


devas, yakas & apsarases



Rudra, Arka (i.e. Srya), Druhia (i.e. Brahman),



veta [v.l.: sita]

Soma, Bhaspati, ukra, Varua, trakgaas [v.l.: iva;

Arthendra], Samudra, Himavat, Gag, Bala [omitted
in a v.l.]






Budha, Hutana


yma [v.l.:

Nryaa, Nara, the nga Vsuki


asita [v.l.:

daityas, dnavas, rkasas, guhyakas, nagas, picas, Jala

[v.l.: Yama], ka


by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Boston, 1995, p. 640). The fact that the four colour kasias are identical with the four
primary colours is significant and sheds new light on both concepts.
The religious and ritual use of the primary colours has been adopted by people beyond the Indian
subcontinent as well. It remains to be seen, however, whether all of the following instances are
directly related to the use of the primary colours in South Asia described above:

In Bali the four primary colours and a mixture of these are associated with five ghosts and five gods
(Willibald Kirfel, `Zahlen- und Farbensymbole,' in: Saeculum 12 (1961) p. 243. = Robert Birw (ed.):
Willibald Kirfel. Kleine Schriften, Wiesbaden, 1976, p. 253). During a ritual related to the afterbirth of a
child an offering is presented consisting of four heaps of rice, each possessing one of the primary
colours, which are placed in the four cardinal directions, and a mixture of these four kinds of rice,
deposited in the centre (ibid.).

In Tibetan Buddhism the `four great kings' (Skt. caturmahrjan; Tibetan: rgyal po chen po zhi, or simply
rgyal chen zhi), guarding the cardinal directions and often painted on the walls on either side of the main
entrance of a temple, each are characterized by one of the primary colours. Furthermore, in paintings
depicting the Mahyna cosmography one comes upon representations of a square Mount Meru, its
four sides exhibiting the four primary colours, one of which can be clearly distinguished as blue. The
klacakramaala attracts our interest for two reasons: On the one hand, its four sides, as well as the four
faces and different body parts of its presiding deity Klacakra exhibit the four primary colours. On the
other hand, its very centre, when drawn with coloured sand, is made from five differently coloured
circular layers, one above the other (cf. Barry Bryant, The Wheel of Time Sand Mandala. Visual Scripture of
Tibetan Buddhism. In Cooperation with Namgyal Monastery, San Francisco, 1995, pp. 197-99), which
reminds of the vertical arrangement of colourful cloths on the jarjara. The colours dark blue, yellow and
red in this order are moreover frequently used in the brocade frames of religious scroll paintings
(thangka), in the cloths wrapped around religious texts, etc.



2. other semi-divine and supernatural beings


bhtas, gandharvas, yakas [omitted in a v.l.],149 pannagas,

vidydharas, pits, samanaras [v.l.: samnava]
[instead of the above, v.l.: bhtas, vmanas, viktnanas,


3. humans
3.1. humans living on the 6 dvpas surrounding Jambdvpa

people [living] on the six islands [surrounding Jambdvpa]


3.2. humans living on Jambdvpa


people living in the varas of Jambdvpa


3.2.1. humans living in the 8 varas beyond Bhratavara


people living in the vara Uttarakuru



people living in the [eastern] vara Bhadrva


nla [v.l.: veta; nla,

veta, gaura]

people living in the [western] vara Ketumla


gaura [not present in

the last v.l. given

people living in the remaining varas [except



3.2.2. humans living in Bhratavara

padmavara, gaura,







kukarmins, grahagrastas, vydhitas, tapasthitas,

yastakarmins & kujtis


[v.l.: badaravara]

is [v.l.: oadh]



tapasthitaris [v.l.: tapasvin]


(pryea) asita

Kirtas, Barbaras, ndhras, Dravias, people from

Ki [v.l.: Kci] and from Kosala [v.l.: Koala], Pulindas,


(pryea) gaura

people living in the northern region like the akas

[v.l.: kas], Yavanas, Pahlavas [v.l.: Vhikas], Bhlikas



Pclas, aurasenas [v.l.: rasenas], Mhias [v.l.:

Mahias; Sakhasas], Oramgadhas, Agas, Vagas,


gaura [v.l.: rakta]

brhmaas, katriyas



vaiyas, dras



I prefer this v.l., as yakas are already mentioned in v. 96B.

The Use of Primary Colours in the Nyastra


Bibliography and Abbreviations150


Abhinavabhrat, Abhinavagupta.
see: N,1934-92.


Ramanathan, A.A. (ed.), Amarakoa. With the Unpublished South Indian Commentaries
Amarapadavivti of Ligayasrin and the Amarapadaprijta of Mallintha. Critically
edited with Introduction by A.A. Ramanathan. Vol. 1. (The Adyar Library Series
101), Madras, 1971.


Kangle, R.P. (ed.), The Kauilya Arthastra. Part 1. A Critical Edition with a Glossary,
Bombay, 1960.
see also: Kangle, 1963.


Bhat, M. Ramakrishna, Varhamihira's Bhat Sahit with English Translation, Exhaustive

Notes and Literary Comments. 2 parts, Repr. Delhi, etc., 1992.

de Mallmann, 1963

de Mallmann, Marie-Thrse, Les Enseignements Iconographiques de l'Agni-Purana,

Paris, 1963.

Ghosh, 1951-61

Ghosh, Manomohan, The Nyastra. A Treatise on Hindu Dramaturgy and Histrionics.

Ascribed to Bharata-muni. Completely translated for the first time from the original
Sanskrit with an Introduction and Various Notes. 2 vols, Calcutta, 1951-61.
see also: N,1956-67.

Hall, 2002

Hall, Cally, Edelsteine. Naturfhrer. Aus dem Englischen von Eva Dempewolf.
Fotografien von Harry Tailor, s.l., 2002.

Kangle, 1963

Kangle, R.P., The Kauilya Arthastra. Part 2. An English Translation with Critical and
Explanatory Notes, Bombay, 1963.
see also: Arth

Kirfel, 1920

Kirfel, W., Die Kosmographie der Inder nach den Quellen dargestellt. Mit 18 Tafeln,
Bonn & Leipzig, 1920.

Kirfel, 1954

Kirfel, Willibald, Das Pura vom Weltgebude (Bhuvanavinysa). Die kosmographischen

Traktate der Pura's. Versuch einer Textgeschichte, Bonn, 1954.


The Mahbhrata. For the First Time Critically edited by Vishnu S. Sukthankar, S.K.
Belvalkar, P.L. Vaidya with the Co-operation of Balasaheb Pant Pratinidhi [and
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Nyastra, Bharata
when used in quotations, refers to N, 1934-92.

N, 1934-92

Nyastra of Bharatamuni. With the Commentary Abhinavabhrat by

Abhinavaguptcrya. Vol. 1(4th rev. edn.)-4, M. Ramakrishna Kavi (ed.), J.S. Pade
(ed.), K.S. Ramaswami Sastri (ed.), K. Krishnamoorthy (ed.). [Gaekwad's Oriental
Series 436, 68, 124, 145], Baroda, 1934-92.

N, 1956-67

The Nyastra ascribed to Bharata-muni. Ed. with an Introduction and Various

Readings from MSS. and printed texts by Manomohan Ghosh. 2 vols, Calcutta,


varia lectio (variant reading)

see also: Ghosh,1951-61.


The abbreviations of titles of Sanskrit texts have been adopted from the Kaltattvakoa series of the
Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi.