Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Colours & Activities Page

Colours & Activities in Himalayan Style Art | Buddhist Iconography Main Page

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Colour Description
- Four Activities Theory Explanation
- Four Colours Explanation (below)
- What Are the Colours? (Outline)
- How to Identify a Deity? (Outline)
- Four Ground Colours
- White
- Yellow
- Red
- Black
- Green
- Multi-coloured
- Other Colours
- Colour & Activity Combinations (example: white & wrathful, etc.)
- Human Figure Colour Conventions
- Confusions
- Others...

Colours have meaning in Himalayan art and iconography. There are several key topics of discussion regarding colour meaning. The first is [1] Ground Colour for portable paintings, second, [2] Four Tantric Activities and colours, third the [3] Five Buddha families and colours, fourth, [4] Four Directions and mandala colours, and finally fifth is [5] Multiple Faces and the alternating colour schemes.

1. The first topic relates to the composition and general appearance of portable paintings and their ground colors. There are four main ground colours. They were created from various circumstances unrelated to each other. The Four Ground Colours of paintings are:
- Multi-coloured Ground
- Black Ground
- Gold Ground
- Red Ground

2. The second topic is the Tantric System of the Four Activities. These are the four principal activities of Tantric Buddhism and the corresponding colours. There are of course many exceptions to these four basic relationships.
1. Peaceful-white
2. Increasing-yellow
3. Powerful-red
4. Wrathful-black
- (All activities-green)
- (Other colours)

3. The Five Buddha Families, Five Colours, and four quadrants of a mandala. The Buddhas are not always fixed to a specific direction nor are the colours.
- Vairochana-center-white
- Akshobhya-east-blue
- Amitabha-west-red
- Ratnasambhava-south-yellow
- Amoghasiddhi-north-green

4. The Four Directions and corresponding colours of a mandala.
- East-white (sometimes blue)
- South-yellow
- West-red
- North-green
- Center- (either blue or white)

5. Multiple Faces and the alternating colour scheme for the right face(s), left face(s) and upper face(s).

Jeff Watt [updated 5-2017, 12-2018]