The first time I travelled to India I was entranced by the saturation of colour, the full spectrum of life in a place that vibrates with energy 24/7. One colour stood out for me in a palette of many, an enduring meaningful presence of the colour of devotion. Every shade was reflected in the unbelievable majesty that is the orange Marigold flower. I mean how on earth could so many be harvested, strung in hugging bunches of garlands, strewn on roadside altars, scattered on temple stairs, adorned on holy cows, hung on sacred statues, and sold at pop-up markets to an insatiable audience of devout seekers.
I must admit I was a bit spooked by the temple monkeys especially in Varanasi, they snatch everything from loosely swung shoulder bags to anything that looks, smells or sounds like food. These monkeys have a hungry eye for Marigolds, maybe its the colour, maybe the scent, or the bitter-sweet taste of the dazzling petals. In the Rigveda, an ancient sacred collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns, this city steeped in prayer and ceremony is referred to as Kāśī from the Sanskrit root kaś- “to shine”, giving Varanasi the title “City of Light“.
Perhaps in this holy place the monkeys too have their rituals of devotion and are drawn to this bright flower, symbol of spiritual reverence. Or maybe its just food.
Devotion has many expressions, in different cultures, religions and personal paths of practice. Even in the garden there is an unspoken commitment to the Divine when planting and harvesting flowers, vegetables, fruit trees and herbs.
My Summer garden was radiant with the colour orange, many hues of this enduring orange bloom stood guard around my precious plants, with serious intention they shone their light, warding off the uninvited bugs who would otherwise feast on my humble crops. And then as the season closed, I harvested them to dry and infuse the golden-orange petals of Tagetes, into oils made for anointing.
In the Mexican culture, this robust botanical is known as the Flower of the Dead or Flor de Muerto, and it is believed that during the celebration of Day of the Dead or Dia de Muertos Marigolds guide the spirits to their altars using their vibrant colours and intoxicating scent to attract the souls of the dead. The flowers are used to decorate private altars or ofrendas constructed in honor of those that have passed into the spirit world.
If you have ever come across a monk from almost any Buddhist path, you will notice the robes. In Buddhism, orange or ‘true saffron’, was the colour of illumination, the highest state of perfection. The saffron colours of robes to be worn by monks were defined by the Buddha and his followers in the 5th century BC and has not changed. Now that is a long lineage of devotion. There are a myriad of colour robes across various Buddhist traditions and cultures, such as maroon with yellow, black, gray, brown and white. The predominant colour that most immediately conjure this path of devotion is undeniably that brilliant saffron-orange.
Consider the effect a colour so confident, bright, and intentional has had on the manifestation of prayers answered, lives transformed, consciousness awakened. This trickles out to everything, our work, desires, relationships and our purpose on the path. I offer to my students the idea of replacing discipline with devotion when carving a new groove in the brain, altering neural pathways to shift sticky habits and build new, more positive ones. This devotion means we are infusing our life purpose and soul purpose into our endeavours rather than being a taskmaster and forcing the will which usually leads to resistance. We show up quite differently when we devote ourselves to the mundane tasks and the profound one’s alike, and the quality of what we do, the happiness we feel, the satisfaction we enjoy is the reward. My mind usually goes to visual association and there is definitely a golden orange radiance that arises when I relax my shoulders, close my eyes and breathe into the attitude of devotion.
I’m curious, when you think about it, close your eyes, relax your shoulders, what colour is your devotion?
Namaste & Be Well,