This paper begins with an examination of early Indian speculation about colors, their number, their use, and their significance. It ranges widely from the Upaniṣads
to the Nāṭyaśāstra
, from Śvetāmbara Jain canonical texts to Buddhaghosa’s treatise on meditation, the Visuddhimagga
, from purāṇas
to technical treatises on painting. It turns then to examine how select Jain and Buddhist texts used color in two important scenarios, descriptions of the setting for events and the person of the Jina/Buddha. In the concluding reflections, I compare textual practices with a few examples from the visual record to ask what role if any the colors specified in a story might have played in the choices made by an artist.
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