Thursday, February 13, 2014


Discourse by N. R. Srinivasan, Nashville, TN, USA, January 2014)

Do you know why   the outermost walls of South Indian Hindu temples exposed to the roads (prakara) are painted with white and red stripes?  I do not think there is any citation to this practice in Vaastu saastra or Silpasastra dealing with temples and it could be a practice of recent origin.  I do not find it also in Pittsburgh or Nashville temples sponsored by South Indian philanthropists overseas who have gone deep into temple traditions where worship is done as in  South Indian Aagama practice. My common sense, religious and spiritual thinking took me to great heights in the absence of any clue from Vaastu Saastra or religious texts which deal with temple construction,  similar to my thoughts on Chamakam odd and Even numbers failing to find any possible explanation from great Acharyas or religious and spiritual  thinkers.


Ancient temples were stone structures. Only recent structures are of mortar and lime plastered walls or cement. It is customary to white wash all our home walls white with lime.   Perhaps the practice of painting outer walls of temples with red and white stripes was to distinguish the divine abode from human dwellings.This would help people to keep the surroundings clean and not to misuse as all   passers-by will be watching. White alone could be adequate but since surrounding houses are also painted white, temple should be distinguished from normal houses and temple needs to be recognized as a holy place of worship. May be this is to bring fear in the minds of the passers-by not to misuse the temple walls, out of respect and fear  for God if not for violating public nuisance regulations of the land. We should also give credit to the ingenuity of Hindu artisans and artists. You all know Indigo was the dye produced by Indians for commercial applications from which it derives its name. Colors like red, white and yellow were easily produced from natural sources and were also long lasting.  That is why you see them prominently in all ancient paintings.  But the layman’s explanation of public nuisance does not explain why a hill temple like Tirupati and others should be painted with red and white stripes on its outermost compound. With the devotion and fear in mind people would not buy the wrath of God or passerby devotees in such temples.  May be this modern practice is not the reason why these temples are painted with red and white stripes; being old and historic, they may have a religious and spiritual significance.  These ancient temples do not adopt modern ideas easily. Electricity has not entered the sanctum sanctorum in these temples. The worship of the main deity is not televised or photographed as in American temples. It is strange some of the American temples televise Abhishekam and other worships of the main deity but display a board  stating photography is strictly prohibited and also distribute temple photographed main deity  pictures to devotees. We see such display prohibiting photography for ancient paintings like Mona Lisa. Frequent photography with flash lights fade  away these valuable paintings.

It is interesting to describe here an ancient practice of religious paintings in red and white colors. The sprawling caves of Bhimbetka are located about 45 km northeast of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh in India. Bhimbetka owes its name to Bheema from the epic Mahabharata. The rock art of Bhimbetka has been classified into various groups on the basis of the style and subject.  Superimposition of paintings shows that different people used the same canvas at different times.  The rock paintings have numerous layers belonging to various epochs of time, ranging from the Upper Paleolithic, Mesolithic Age to the early historic and medieval periods. The most ancient scenes here are believed to be commonly belonging to the Mesolithic Age.    Executed mainly in red and white, with the occasional use of green and yellow with themes taken from the everyday events,   it depicts the details of social life during the long period of time, when man used to frequent these rock shelters. These are the colors you find on Lord Jagannath also.  May be they also use these natural colors   considered as sacred!  It is a marvel that these paintings have not been fading even after several thousands of years. The colors used by the cave dwellers were prepared by combining manganese, hematite, easily pulverized red stone, and wooden charcoal. Perhaps, animal fat and extracts of leaves, vegetables, and roots were also used in the mixture. Brushes were made of pieces of fibrous plants. The natural pigments have endured through the ages because the paintings are generally made deep inside a niche or on inner walls not exposed to direct light. The oldest paintings are considered to be 30,000 years old, but some of the geometric figures date to as recently as the medieval period. Though the South Indian wall paintings with red and white are of recent origin and are of lime and red earth, it is likely they have been motivated by these ancient religious paintings dominating in red and white.

It is also customary to paint temple walls with large holy religious marks of Vaishnavites which carries white stripes enclosing red stripe in between as you see in temples like Kanchipuram and Srirangam.  In Vishnu Temples white and red stripes could mean Naamam which Vishnu followers wear after bath.   Therefore, in Vishnu temples these two stripes can be associated with the concept of Naamam (Vishnu and Lakshmi).  This may not convince one who is a follower of Siva.  Temples other than Vishnu also carry these stripes.   We have to go to temple with a pure heart to perform a religious act of worship. Here   white may mean purity and red auspiciousness in Siva Temples and Vishnu and Lakshmi in Vishnu Temples (as religious mark namam represents).   
It is a convention to associate white with red in all Hindu religious acts. South Indians have a tradition of putting Kolam (a floor design) with red and white line before their houses. Rice mixed with Kumkum is considered auspicious in worship of the Lord called Akshatai or for blessing someone.  Kolam is drawn on the floor with Chemman (Red earth) and lime and that is considered to be auspicious. In Vaishanva tradition white naamam alone is considered inauspicious and resorted only in performing rites for the deceased. In all religious acts and normal life white and red stripes go together representing Vishnu with his Power aspect Lakshmi and Bhoodevi.  Even in Saivite concept Siva without Sakti (his power aspect) is considered as Sava (dead body). White must be accompanied with red for any auspicious act which in Sanskrit is expressed as Mangalakaram.  Siva temples are also seen with Kolam of red and white lines.   Siva paintings always show his face as white and Sakti as red.  Siva is described as white outside and dark inside while Vishnu is shown the opposite, dark outside white inside in icons.  The evolution of Sakti concept—each of the gods Siva and Vishnu having the Sakti or Power as his  consort—and the explanation that creation proceeds out of the combination of the God and his Sakti has made   Brahma superfluous  and least popular as the main deity for Temple  worship except in Pushkar  in Rajasthan.  

Siva is snow white in color as you see in icons, which goes wonderfully well with that of his abode Himalayas. Siva who represents Tamas (the force of darkness and destruction) is pictured as white because of his snow white outside appearance, whereas Vishnu who represents Sattva (the force of light and enlightenment which is white) is pictured as dark (neela megha syaama) blue skinned outside. There is nothing strange in this since the opposing Gunas are inseparable. Hence Siva is white outside and dark inside whereas Vishnu is the reverse of it. Therefore the white and dark stripes in Siva temples represent Siva and Sakti while In Vishnu temples they represent Vishnu and red Sridevi and Bhoodevi as his Saktis. This justifies the Kolam with red and white lines before both the temples and painting walls with red and white stripes.

Before the use of modern colors people used only natural colors for wall painting. When the wall painted with white lime paste was painted with Turmeric paste yellow stripes turned red presenting twin painting of red and white stripes.  Saivites usually wear kumkum or turmeric or sandal paste over their religious mark of Vibhuti (sacred ash) to include Sakti aspect for auspiciousness.  Siva becomes active when Sakti combines with him.   This Sakti is red, sign of activity, which is also the color of auspiciousness.  Siva is worshiped as Prithvee Linga, as element Earth (red) in Tiruvanaikkkavil in the South.  He is worshiped as Aakaasa or Space (representing white) in Chidambaram. So, these stripes satisfy the religious aspirations of both Vaishnavites and Saivites. To Vaishanvite they represent Vishnu and Lakshmi or Mother Earth and to Saivite they represent Earth as red and Aakaasa as white both being elements and worshiped as Sivalinga.   Saivites and Vaishnavites,   both use Aaarathi of red color for all religious holy and auspicious occasions. Aaarathi is prepared by adding turmeric to colorless or white lime water which turns red. Thus it is a symbol of purity turning into auspiciousness.


Three types of characteristics or tendencies seem to engulf every created object. These have been designated as Gunas in Sanskrit in Hindu way of life—Sattvaguna, Rajoguna and Tamoguna. These three gunas in their purest form are fundamental entities. Their permutation and combination is the result of this world phenomenon.  Sattvaguna makes for lightness, goodness, and purity, knowledge and wisdom. It can be likened to centripetal force. Tamoguna which is the opposite or antithesis of Sattvaguna is responsible for all that is dark and heavy, evil and impure, ignorant and deluded. It is the centrifugal force as it were. It is the Rajoguna that maintains a delicate balance between these two opposing forces. Hence it has got to be in a state of constant internal activity and tension. It is this restless activity that manifests as chief characteristic in humans as passion and ambition in the psychological world.  

In Hinduism the two deities Vishnu and Siva whom we popularly worship in temples and Brahma the creator whom we worship in all temples unknowingly correspond to the three gunas in the cosmic play of creation, preservation and destruction.  The three aspects of Trinity combined together is Saguna Brahman. Also the Divines are addressed as Devas. This word comes from div to shine which is the characteristic of white. Hence divines are white or Sattva guna oriented. Vishnu is the custodian for white or Sattva Guna. He gives away everything and spreads all over the world protecting it.  He represents sthiti or preservation. Scientifically pure white reflects all light it receives. Black absorbs all light being opposite of white.  Siva is the custodian of tamo guna which is represented by black. He absorbs all sins. In Puranas he is depicted as swallowing Halahala poison and saving the world. He represents Laya or destruction.    Brahma is the   custodian of Rajo guna which is identified with red and fertility.  Rajoguna represents activity and creation. 

Activity starts with creation by Brahma, Vishnu takes over to maintain it and   Siva finally dissolves it or ends all activities.  This cycle is repeated endless times.  Rajoguna stands in between Sattava and Tamas, the two extremes.   Unlike other faiths Hinduism believe in reincarnation. It does not project one time hell or heaven based on divine judgment or Doomsday. Hinduism says every soul can be liberated and ultimately merge with the universal soul. It depends on the nature of individual soul and the time it needs to get out of all characteristics with which it started life. That is to attain the status of gunaateeta as Bhagavadgeetaa says, i.e. beyond all Gunas. As we all know human soul is the result of intermixing of the three gunas in varying proportions though rajo guna dominates in humans with the other two minor representations. So humans are identified with Rajo guna (red) while Devas or divines are identified with Sattva guna (White) and Rakshasas are identified with Tamo guna (black) in the Hindu scriptures.  Brahma custodian of Rajo guna symbolizes the possibility of the creation and reincarnation (srishthi)   resulting from the union of opposites, that is Sthiti and Laya.

As per one school of thought white represents   Siva as Siva appears white outside and dark inside, and red represents Brahma which show up as white and red stripes on the walls of temples. How can Brahma be justified while no temples are built for Brahma except for the lone temple in Pushkar in Rajasthan?  Even though no temples are built for Brahma and Brahma not elaborately worshiped like other deities, every temple, be it Siva or Vishnu, must have a niche in the northern wall for Brahma (Brahma represents red stripes) and must be worshiped.   Otherwise it reduces to Smasaana (Cremation ground) the favorite place of Siva as the destroyer.  In prayers Siva is referred as Smasaanavasa. Hence all temples have white and red stripes to remind the presence of these Trinity members. In spiritual sense it is Nirguna Brahman (Consciousness) turning into Saguna (Bliss) or three aspects as Trinity. Crystal linga is an example of this. Crystal Linga which symbolizes Nirguna Brahman turns into Saguna Brahman when a red flower is placed on it   showing   it is all red.     

Vishnu appears dark outside as blue skinned (Neelamegha shyaama).  Therefore in Vishnu temples the white stripes represent Siva with his white appearance and red stripes Brahma. In Siva temples white stripes represent Vishnu as custodian of Sattva Guna and preserver while red stripes represent Brahma.  Brahma is a must in both the temples. Thus the presence of Trinity should be felt in all temples.   In temple worship we pay our obeisance Brahma for the opportunity he has given us to be born as human beings. One has to be born human to get salvation. Of course all cannot get salvation but can hope to be evolved spiritually by one’s own action to reduce repeated births progressively hoping for salvation eventually. Therefore a devotee pays obeisance to Brahma. Humans depend on Vishnu for their very existence and functioning   in this world.  He gives us an opportunity to better our balance sheet of Gunas progressively. Without death our journey will not continue for salvation. Hence Siva is propitiated. Hence we go to temple to pay our respect to Saguna Brahman in trinity form whose presence must be present in all temples, be it Siva or Vishnu.   Any temple worship therefore focuses on Saguna Brahman in all the three aspects of Shrishthi (creation), Sthiti (Preservation) and Laya (Dissolution). So the red and white stripes in Siva temple remind us also of Brahma and Vishnu besides the deity of Siva in the sanctum sanctorum to be meditated upon in combination as Brahman. In Vishnu temple the white stripe represents Siva and red Brahman while the deity in the sanctum is Vishnu who in combination is to be meditated upon as Brahman.

Lord Siva represents the power of destruction, Lord Brahma represent the power of creation and Lord Vishnu the power of preservation. These three powers are the manifestation of the Supreme Reality in this world.  In fact, these powers are inseparable; they are the three facets of the same power. There can be no creation without destruction and no destruction without creation. When the morning is dead noon is born, when noon is dead evening is born, when evening is dead the night is born and when the night is dead morning is born.  The period between creation and death is the time for maintenance or preservation.
This aspect of three in one (Trinity) as the Lord of the Universe (Saguna Brahman) is well represented in Jagannath icon.  Its face is painted with black, red and white. Being Lord Krishna his nose is painted   black here deviating from the customary color of blue for Krishna being an avatar of Vishnu who is associated with blue skin (Neelamegha Syaama). Anyhow both black and deep blue are dark colors.

Let us examine this logical conclusion of all worships ending in Trinity worship in all temples irrespective of whom we worship in the light of Prayer mantras  of Mahaanaaraayana Upanishad which defines Brahman:

1) Om  tad Brahma | on m tad vaayuh | Om tadaatmaa | Om tat satyam | Om tat sarvam | Om  tat  puror namah ||  [Om that is Brahman. om that is Vaayu That means all five elements. Om, that is the finite Self (Jeevaatma). Om, that is the Supreme Truth (Paramaatman) Om, that is all.  Om, that is the multitude of citadels (the bodies of all creatures). Our  obeisance to that Brahman!]
Immediately it comes up with another Mantra as follows:

2) Om antascharati bhooteshu guhaayaam viswamoortishu | tvam  yajnastvam vashtkaara-stvam indrastvam  Rudrstvam Vishnustvam Brahmaa  tvam Prajaapatih  || [That Supreme Being moves inside the spiritual heart of all created beings possessing manifold forms. O Supreme! Thou art the sacrifice; Thou art the Yajna mantra vashat, Thou art Indra, Thou art Rudra, Thou art Vishnu, Thou art Brahmaa (the creator), Thou art the master of all subjects!

Thus in temple worship it is all directed to Nirguna Brahman through his manifestation as Saguna Brahman or Trinity in his role of Rudra for laya (Dissolution), Vishnu for Sthiti (preservation) and Brahmaa for Srishthi (creation). Sayana, a   popular commentator on Upanishads says the 2) mantra above is employed for the contemplative worship of the Supreme after Gayatree visarjana (farewell) connected with twilight devotion.   Therefore it is logical to conclude all our temple or home worships of the chosen deity   should end with contemplative worship of the Supreme by employing the above mantra in 2). To the worshipper there is nothing other than the Supreme and everything has its value derived from the Supreme.


According to Vedic scholars  the Siva lingam that you see in temples is actually Vyakta-Avyakta form of TRINITY. This form of consecrated Lingam has Pedestal   base known as Brahma Bhaga (part) , Pedestal middle portion (yoni or female component) known as Vishnu bhaaga,  which are  normally not noticed  in worship as the focus is on the decorated Linga above the pedestal.  Devotees focus on the top portion known as Linga (male component) of visible half Linga part (of the ellipsoid) in worship in all Shiva temples, thinking they are praying to Siva only.  Normally on Mahasivaratri night individuals perform Abhishekam on a miniature Linga which is just an oval shaped icon.  That is considered as exclusively Siva because on that night Hindus are worshiping the Lingodbhava Moorti only.  Similar is the ice formed Lingam in Amarnath is considered as Siva only.  If you think deep these are Jyotis and represent Saguna Brahman as fire column or bright white column. As you know Siva icons are white in pictorial presentation. There are marble and crystal Lingas also which are white or colorless.  Among the miniature Siva-Lingam, Narmadesvara Siva-Linga  is considered to be the holiest that can only be found in Narmada River bed that flows through Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and then into Arabian Ocean. It has been said that these Lingams were created millions of years ago when a meteorite collided with the earth at a place that is now the source of the Narmada River. The Narmadesvara Lingam has red marking on them representing crypto crystalline quartz, the meteorite material. These unique materials’ blending from earth and space has excellent density and rhythmic vibration that brings positive energy and fertility in a house where it is being daily worshiped. Such lingams are considered very sacred for individual abhishekam on Mahasivaratri night.  In home worship unlike Salagrama these miniature Lingas are also placed on a pedestal base and worshiped. Otherwise it turns out to be Salagrama Pooja. Perhaps you are aware there are Ganesha Lingas, as well as Devi Lingas also though not common. The red marks on these Lingams represent the Sakti aspect showing the union of Siva and Sakti which turns to Saguna form of Brahman.

The outside painting of walls with white stripes of Vishnu, custodian of Sattva Guna and red stripes of Brahma, custodian of Rajoguna in Siva temples makes one realize that when one goes inside what is being worshiped is Trinity and not Siva alone.  This is further substantiated by the niche for Brahma on the Northern wall of the sanctum in all Siva temples.   There are also Vishnu icons in many Siva temples though not prominently displayed or worshiped, to make temple habitable for Siva who normally lives in cremation or burial grounds and is called Smsaanavasa. When the devotee focuses his worship on the visible Sivalinga portion of the pedestal Lingam his thoughts   influenced by the red and white stripes  convey to him that he is in reality worshiping Trinity or Saguna Brahman reminding him to focus on the  base part as well as middle part  also in totality.  Only out   of ignorance devotee thinks he is worshiping Siva only.  In fact Rudram from Rigveda employed in Abhishekam is directed to Parabrahman only and I do not know why it can’t be chanted during Vishnu Abhishekam, similarly Purushsooktam? Mahanarayana Upanishad contains Panchabrahma Mantras, which Saivites use as Pancharudram in worship.

Yet another fact is invariably you find Nagapratishtha (Consecration of Serpent deity) under Vatavriksha    in Siva temples along with Navagraha Planetary sanctum which includes Rahu and Ketu serpent deities. These are symbols of Vishnu at the start of creation   (Vatapatra Saayee; Sesha Saayee) and show the pervading Vishnu in Siva temples.  The divine thoughts before entering the temple on red and white stripe to begin with, pedestal Linga form, niche for Brahma a must in all temples, and the feeling of pervading Vishnu all through the consecrated area in Siva temples clearly indicates that in reality devotee is worshipping Trinity or Saguna Brahman only whom he worships with the mantra    Sat-Chit-Anandaya (sacchidananda) Namah in Ashtottara(108 names of the Lord for special worship). Nagabhooshana(one  who has serpent as his jewel) and Seshasayee (one who is reclining on the serpent-bed) complement each other in Siva temple in association with Brahma.


Let us also go into yet another possible    spiritual motivation for painting temple prakaras with red and white stripes. Our purpose of going to temple is to have a darsan (audience) of symbolic God, pay our obeisance to Supreme Being through that image (Moorti) and to the five elements so essential for our existence and liberation. In Rigveda There is no mention of the word Brahman (called Tadekam) and only elements of nature are worshiped as Supreme Principal.  Please recall temple worship practices about which we talked about in the past. Our first act is to prostrate at the flag-post on earth paying obeisance to the element Earth.
Our last act is to sit at the northern end inside the temple after worship and gaze at the Vimana (temple cupola) looking at the white space above and paying respect to element Aakasa. So our aspiration is to look upwards spiritually towards divine focusing our thoughts to heaven coming from earth. In between receiving teertha (holy water) we pay respect to Water element (Aapah); we pay our respect to Agni while receiving the waving lamp and pay or respect to Vaayu (air) in the act of circumambulating the sanctum feeling its presence.   The temple white stripes remind us of the white space (Aakasa) above and red stripes Earth (Prithvee).  In Upanishads these elements are meditated upon as Brahman alone as its Vyaahriti.  Whatever deity we may worship inside the temple our focus is always on Brahman. Even in Linga worship a spiritual thinker feels he is worshiping Prithavee Linga recalling red  Earth   and Akasa linga recalling white, though Linga before him is black or off white or crystal,  both being Vyahritis  of Brahman only.   Born as humans, product of Earth or created, our next struggle in life is preservation.    Then we yearn for our liberation or Moksha or to merge with the Universal soul looking towards heaven when we complete our worship. 

Temples are usually built in places of scenic beauty such as on the hills or usually at elevated level. There are also temples carved out of cliffs.   The temple tower rises to great heights pointing towards sky. A devotee on earth who is also a representative of rajoguna goes to the temple to elevate himself to sattva guna to reach heaven (the abode of divines) or join the divines of Sattvaguna.  This aspiration of travel from earth to reach heaven is the dream of every devotee. He therefore feels temple is Bhoovaikunta or Kailasa. The white paste and red (chemman) earth stripes are therefore symbolic of heaven and earth.   Devote Hindus think the temple is heaven on Earth.  Puranas hail Tirupati and similar holy places as Bhoo-Vaikuntha.  There are always few steps to climb up to reach sanctum of the deity. In Sabarimalai and Puri-Jagannth one has to go up eighteen steps to view the lord. This symbolically means climbing to reach heaven from earth.  This could be another logical conclusion why temple walls are painted red and white conveying the feeling “here to eternity”, when you are inside the temple.  This reminds us of the Puraanic story of Bhageeratha bringing Ganges from heaven to earth to maintain the communication between Earth and Heaven.  The red stripes representing earth leads us to heaven indicated by white in our act of temple visit.  A human is a product of earth and he always looks at Heaven to join the divines.

As said above it also means to pay our respect to element earth as we enter and  pay respect  finally to the element space chanting Om Namah Narayanaya  or Om Namah Sivaaya  meaning thereby   the  five  element we have worshiped  while focusing on the deity in the temple are directed to  the Supreme Principal only. Essentially we pay our obeisance to the elements Water, Fire and Air during the worship focusing on the deity.

It is accepted in general   that   Supreme Being Para Brahman is light (Jyoti) and represents purity as white. Since Para Brahman is in the nature of giving away everything to all, the suitable color to represent Para Brahman is white as scientifically white reflects all without any absorption. Hence to represent Para Brahman the wall is painted white with lime paste. Brahman of pure white form turns to Saguna Brahman (as in aarathi waters) of activity which is indicated by red stripes.   This is achieved by painting with turmeric paste which turns lime red like the Aaarati.  Hence one goes to temple to worship Nirguna Brahman who turns to Saguna form for our sake to worship.

The prayers “mrityor moksheeya   maamritaat” and “Tamaso maa Jyotir gamaya”--liberate me from death but not immortality; lead me from death to immortality are directed to Supreme Reality. Whatever may be the deity we say in our ashtottara Sat-Chit-Aaanadaya namah.  Also while offering food   we say Brahmane swaaha.  All these mantras are directed to Brahman only.  All these explain our   sole purpose of temple visit is to focus on Brahman through the medium of Moorti (moorti upaasana) or image.  This is the spiritual inspiration that springs in the mind of the devotee seeing the red and white stripes on the outermost wall while entering the divine charged atmosphere and wanting to meditate on Supreme Principal through the deity in the temple.   It prepares his mind from the beginning of the entering the divine charged atmosphere. “Oh Lord!  Lead me from death to immortality” was the sudden outburst of our sages who were bogged down with the mystery of death!     

The above are the possible different explanations from practical, religious and spiritual concepts of thinking about red and white stripes usually found on the outermost compound walls exposed to public roads.


Let us focus our attention on the central point Bindu of Srichakra. The central point is the Supreme and transcendental (paraa), identical with Rita, Aaatman, Brahman and Sat-chit-ananda. It is the point of Consciousness. This point is also called   Meru (Sacred Mountain) that reaches Aakasa (heaven) in the three dimensional projection of Srichakra.  This corresponds to Brahmasthana or seat of Brahman (garbhagriha) of   Hindu Temple  in line with the central Kalasa at the top which points towards sky. The ninth enclosure  in  Srichakra is a triangle filled with all bliss. Although called triangle it is actually the point which is central to the primary triangle. This central point is composed of three dots—Red, white and mixed color. It is the three puras over which the goddess presides red represents   Moon, White represents  Sun and   mixed color Fire.  She is therefore called Tripura Sundari. Durga is addressed as Jataveda (fire) in Durga sooktam. Red is a symbol of fertility or Kriya Sakti. White is a symbol of Purity or JnaanaSakti. Fire is Iccchaskati or Consciousness. Red and white stripes in temple walls represent   Brahma (red)  and  Vishnu (white) which merges with fire as you visualize Garbagriha  in the  process of absorption to give you eternal bliss as you meditate.


As soon as the devotee sights the threshold of the gateway, the devotee touches down the earth before entering the temple premises beyond the flag post. To him it means a transition from the ‘way of the world’ (Red) to ‘way of God’ (White).  As you know Red is one of the constituents of white light in VIBGYOR colors. These are symbolized by red and white stripes. He gets a feeling of ascending going through the elevation and steps. The sanctum represents the concrete and worshipful (Archaa) manifestation of the divine power. The icon inside is the Antayamin (inner controller) corresponding to the divine presence in each individual called Self or Aatman. The Vimana (the top of the tower) over the sanctum represents the Vaibhava (glory) aspect of the divine. The crown-vessel on top of the Vimaana is the patterned expression (Vyooha) of the divine power. The pinnacle which vanishes to a point is the transcendent (Para) aspect. That is the reason his temple worship is not complete till he reaches the northern side of the inner praakaara (circumambulatory path), sits, gazes at the pinnacle and meditates   on Narayana. Five Paancharaartra theological aspects are; Archaa; Moorti; Vaibhava; Vyooha and Para.


The ingenuity   of American Hindu complexes where Siva and Vishnu icons  are found side by for worship with Brahma on the Northern wall,  though intended for pleasing all traditions with a variety of Siva and Vishnu family members, depicts  the ideal concept of worshiping Trinity as Saguna Brahman to meditate upon  the Absolute or Brahman. Even in India of late some Siva-Vishnu temples are built moving away from the orthodox tradition of exclusive Siva or Vishnu temples that include the individual sanctums for Siva and Vishnu family members in its complex.    It looks rather contradicting that temple-complexes in America are named after a particular deity and worship is focused more on one deity   than other deities installed in daily worship! This is perhaps based on the choice of the founding fathers of the temple to name it after their chosen deity, though they have the concept of all-traditions’ integration in mind.  However one temple in Livermore calls its temple as Siva Vishnu Temple giving equal weight-age for both Siva and Vishnu.  It would have been appropriate to have called this as Temple of Trinity as Brahma icon is omnipresent in all Hindu Temples.  Probably this temple also thinks Brahma does not deserve worship! Calling Trinity temple would have pleased the migrants coming from Rajasthan tradition too. There is a lone temple for Brahma in Pushkar in Rajasthan and there is a grand worship and celebration taking place once a year lasting for several days. Open worship of Brahma though not popular is not prohibited.   It may be of interest to recall the annual ten days festival of the temple in South India  is called Brahmotsava and the presence of Brahma for ten days is essential. Why not then for all 365 days? It is surprising that American Temples promoted by philanthropists from the South and following the South Indian Aagama tradition and architecture style do not have these red and white stripes on their outer walls, unintentional may be, or by divine intuition because they are essentially built to focus on all deities as Saguna Brahman, and to meditate on five elements as Nirguna Brahman. This concept is reflected in  their concluding prayers  when they invariably chant some Vedic mantras  pleading to Brahman and also sing the Bhajan “Om Jaya Jagadeesa Hare” addressed to Universal Lord,  though not  its theme brought to the specific  focus of the crowd or understood by the crowd. Of late it has gone further installing deities of other faiths and beliefs making it possible to have the concept of Universal Oneness in Hindu worship following the Vedic wisdom of “Eko Viprah Bahudaa vadanti” --the One, the Pundits call by many names. Hindu American thoughts are crystallizing to head towards Universal Oneness   forced by circumstances, which was started by our ancient sages by declaring “Eko  Viprah Bahudaa vadanti”—the ONE the Pundits call as many, known as Sanatana Dhrama that has turned to modern Hinduism.

I have come out with these practical, religious and spiritual explanations as there is no such   information available in temple literature as to the motivation to paint these walls red and white. I had similar approach in explaining the odd and even numbers of Chamakam in my discourse, “What do odd and even numbers in Chamakam signify?”. Hope someday our great Aacharyas will come out with better explanation on Chamakam and white and  red stripes on temple walls! 

1.       Swami Hashananda, Hindu Gods and Goddesses, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India
2.       Parthsarathy A, The Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals, Vedanta Life Institute, Mumbai, India.
3.       Mukundan T, A Concept of Hinduism, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
4.       Ramachandra Rao, S.K., Indian Temple Traditions, Kalpatharu Research Academy, Sringeri Vidhyaa Peetham, Bangalore, India.
5.       Tarun Surti, Salagrama and Linga, private communication. 6


(Information provided by coutesy Tarun Surti, Nashville, TN)
There are many reasons for using the red-white color combination as you have discussed. One other reason is that white-red colors are basic colors and were easily produced. They are also longer lasting and its proof is in Bhimketka caves where they found red-white paintings as old as 30-100 thousands years old. To read more about it, click on Bhimketka, a blog by Sandhya Maanne because it is very informative. “It is a marvel that the paintings have not faded even after thousands of years. The colors used by the cave dwellers were prepared by combining manganese, hematite, soft red stone and wooden charcoal. Perhaps, animal fat and extracts of leaves, vegetables, and roots were also used in the mixture.
 Once they found out that these colors are best, they stopped using other colors.
 Please use this link if the link above does not work.

[NOTE: I lived for many years in Madhya Pradesh and I knew about these marvels as well as all pervading Marble rocks near Jubbulpore. But I was wondering how to connect the same to the present topic of discourse. If you really think the basic colors found on Lord Jagannth mainly consist of white, red yellow black and blue. The first four colors found on the icon are the colors of the human beings all over the world. Vishnu is represented by blue color always. So these colors indicate that Lord Jagannath in his role of Vishnu among trinities takes care of the human race spread over the entire world. Also it is interesting to note that India discovered the first blue dye Indigo which derives its name from Indi. Also our ancient painters knew about paint materials that could stand for several thousand years without fading and losing its luster. Hence these colors were used in all religious motifs including Rangoli and wall paintings—N.R.Srinivasan]

 [This is a prepared lecture compiled from above references and others for a discourse at Sri Ganesha Temple, Nashville and to benefit those who are not able to attend the same in person. You are free to download and use it for your reading and reference as well as circulate to others to spread the wisdom of Vedas and Hindu values which good act will be appreciated.]