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The second part of the series The Colours of Navarasa explores in detail two of the nine Rasas— Hasya (Joy) and Karuna (Compassion) along with their traditional and modern colour associations.
In the Natyasastra, each Rasa, which is the essence of an emotion elicited by a performer, is ascribed specific colour families. The links formed between colour and emotion are constantly evolving to include associations that are influenced by our present day surroundings. The Navarasas, a unique feature in most classical dance forms, are best represented through Bharatnatyam. The name, Bharatnatyam, is formed by three words in Tamil— bha or bhavam (expression), ra or ragam (music), and ta or talam (rhythm). Facial expressions and hand gestures, known as mudras, are systems used to express the entire range of human emotion. While colours are also associated with the Navarasas, facial expressions take precedence in Bharatnatyam.
The first emotion explored in this series is Hasya. It is not a unidimensional emotional state, as it includes degrees of laughter, mirth, and happiness. According to the traditionally ascribed colours of the Navarasa, joy is associated with the colour white. Over the years, however, the traditional associations of joy to the colour white have evolved to accommodate changes introduced by modern Indian lifestyles. A study undertaken by Colour Quarterly earlier this year has shown that these associations have become more complex and intricate.
Emotions can evoke certain personal associations, as well as separate physiological responses. While the experiential and personal associations are learned through memory, experience, and media; generic and biological responses to emotions are innate and can be labelled typical or archetypal. The colours associated with joy are explored through these two categories.
1. Archetypal Associations
Green and yellow are the two colour families that are predominantly associated with joy in the present day Indian context. The colour quality is bright, saturated, and pure. They also directly refer to good health, nature, and the outdoors. The presence of pinks and purples reflect a more personal representation of happiness—symbolising lightheartedness and a carefree attitude.
2. Experiential Associations
Experiential associations of joy focus on nostalgia and are rooted in childhood. It is dominated by tints of coral, bright orange, and blue. Coral and orange are fast becoming colours associated with nostalgia and personal reflection. Blue refers directly to the colours of the sea and sky, with undertones of fun, play, and high energy.
Both of these categories speak of happier times, nostalgia, nature, and freedom. Activity, anticipation, and energy are also common across the categories. While the colour families might differ for different demographics, the characteristics of the colours remain constant. For example, a vibrant green might evoke a happy feeling, as would a vibrant yellow or an upbeat pink. The distilled characteristics of the emotion would primarily be strength, intensity, and vibrancy. Examples of known triggers of joy include food, nature, kites, and freedom.
The second emotion in this series is Karuna. It is a complex emotion with undertones of sadness, pity, mercy, gratitude, and helplessness. The mix of so many sentiments creates interesting and complex colour associations along with their accompanied thought processes. As with joy, compassion is reviewed under the lens of archetypal and experiential associations.
1. Archetypal Associations
The predominant colour families that are associated with compassion are light blues, rich purples, and whites, revealing an equal blend of pastel and saturated colours. Expectably, but interestingly, there are several religious connotations to colour associations with compassion. Jewel-toned purple is reminiscent of robes worn by Christian priests during Lent, synonymous with sacrifice, discipline, and compassion. In addition to religious significance, purple was a sign of power and wealth—signifying those whose duties were to show compassion and to help less fortunate people. White also denotes purity in a spiritual sense, separate from innocent or peaceful connotations. Blue is associated with strength and stability.
2. Experiential Associations
This category consists of grassy greens, blood reds, and neutral greys. Green is associated with nature and life, while red is associated with pain and bleeding. The grey stands for sadness, depression, and uncontrollable consequences.
Compassion, a universal emotion, does not have many stark differences between the archetypal and experiential associations. Compassion towards animals and nature was an unexpected, yet recurring finding of this study. The jewel-toned purple and the grey together, although contrasting, aptly outline the complex nature of compassion. The characteristics of both experimental and archetypal colours associated with compassion are purity, intensity, power, and maturity. Object associations for compassion include pain, fire, peace, security, spirituality, and health.
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