READ BETWEEN THE COLORS : DECODING COLORS THROUGH THE EYES OF BALINESE CULTURE

A BLINK OF AN EYE

color tradition in bali

300 BC is claimed to be the first year of the study of optical phenomenon. Ever since then, scientists have been trying to analyze all the illusions that come to our brain from our eyes as the open gates. Until now, color is one of the most joyful subjects in scientific discussions, and it has been a fantastic mystery not only to the scientists but also to most of us – thanks to Sir Isaac Newton who invented color wheel in the year 1666, now recognized as one of the greatest discoveries for its ability to help us comprehend the colors that we see.

COLOR AND CULTURE

Colors are decoded differently by each culture. In the Renaissance era, green was the symbol of fertility. A masterpiece by Jan Van Eyck in the year 1434 titled ‘Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride’ shows a beautiful bride wearing an immaculate green dress to mark her fertility. But to most Westerners white is the perfect color for a bridal gown, while to some of the Chinese a white gown is inappropriate for a bride because they believe that white represents mourning. Black to many cultures represents evil and sadness, while to urban modernists, black is chic. It is rather interesting more than complicating to know how cultures have different perceptions towards color.

BALI’S ANGELS

The Balinese color concept is strongly influenced by the Hindu religion. The Balinese believe in nine guardian angels – God’s manifestations that guard the island from the points of the compass – known as Dewata Nawa Sanga. Each guardian angel has its own color to represent its purpose as follows :

  • Black (North, guarded by Wisnu) represents purity, holiness, and simplicity.
  • Blue (Northeast, guarded by Sambhu) represents revival, the balance of nature, and unity.
  • White (East, guarded by Iswara) represents peace, loyalty, and trust.
  • The dice or black-and-white (Southeast, guarded by Maheswara) represents emotion, softness, and in between.
  • Red (South, guarded by Brahma) represents dignity, power, strength, and the seeds of life.
  • Purple (Southwest, guarded by Rudra) represents anger, grudges, and sacrifice.
  • Yellow (West, guarded by Mahadewa) represents envy and jealousy.
  • Green (Northwest, guarded by Sangkara) represents freedom, vitality, and youth.
  • Brumbun, or the combination of white, yellow, black, and red (the center of the compass, guarded by Siva) represents the source of life, holiness, and extinction.

 

THE TRI DATU COLOR

The tri datu color is the combination of white, black and red. You may find some Balinese wearing a tri datu bracelet, as they believe that the bracelet will help them find strength in living their lives. The idea of strength here is not physical but more to self-awareness and control – to help one in avoiding doing bad things in life. The tri datu colors are also used in many of the traditional Balinese ceremonies, such as the house-blessing ceremony. It is believed that by having the tri datu colors on every pillar of the house, the house will be protected from negative energy. And that’s why every time a Balinese holds a house-blessing ceremony, they draw three lines in black, white, and red on every pillar.

COLOR GALORE

These interesting interpretations of color have proven that culture plays a significant role in how people see colors. Even though there is lots of research available that regresses color with certain situations, it is our belief that matters the most. And if you find yourself trapped in a long argument about color, just agree to disagree. Because colors are only debris of a huge amount of information that comes to our brain translated by our eyes.

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