THE COLOR GERUA
We are mindful of the most familiar connotation of certain primary colors: Green is a positive and dynamic color, red is a cautionary and forbidding color, … etc. But what about compound colors? One color that fascinates me is what is called gerua: A color of renunciation which, in its various shades, is worn by Hindu and Buddhist monks. It is probably some combination of yellow, orange and red. In the English language, the color has variously been translated as orange, saffron and ocher. These may be right, considering that gerua is not a single shade, but a range of shades.
In India and some other countries, the color gerua is given a specific place in the society. Whoever wears gerua is viewed with respect. Whether it is the freshly-washed creaseless attire on a high Buddhist priest or the body rags on a vagrant or a long robe on a wandering minstrel, it is respected. In these places, just by donning a gerua robe, you become a different person in the eyes and the mind of the society. And the respect is a respect tinged with the recognition of a higher path. Such is the power of this color – a spiritual power, I like to think. It goes as deep as the very psyche of the Hindus and the Buddhists. Poets such as Rabindranath Tagore have romanticized the color.
In looking up the word recently, I came upon an interesting perspective on the color gerua from the holy men themselves. When saffron jumpsuits were planned for US prison inmates, someone protested. In response, the US Bureau of Prisons sent the following reply:
"Bureau chaplaincy staff have consulted the Buddhist monks at the Institute of Buddhist studies in Berkeley, California, and also with the Vedanta Society in Los Angeles, California. The Buddhist monks have never given any thought to the issue you raise. They expressed no concern nor did they see any negative relationship between inmates wearing saffron jump suits and the color of the robes used by them.
The Vedanta Society states that the Hindu religion does not refer to the color as saffron, but rather as gerua. A white robe is soaked in water and then mixed with pigment of the earth to obtain a color. This will depend upon what part of India you are in and the pigment of the earth in that location. This symbolizes humbleness and the servanthood aspect of the Hindu priest. They also stated the legend that this means was chosen by Buddha in 500 bc because it was, ironically, the same color as worn by the prisoners of those days.
Peter M. Charlson, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Washington, DC, USA "