By Satsang: Swami Nirviseshananda Tirtha
Seeker: Swamiji, why does a sannyasi wear ochre colour dress? Is there a special significance?
Swami Nirviseshananda Tirtha: Ochre, gerua colour, has many implications for the sannyasi.
Firstly, it is the colour of fire. We generally compare knowledge with fire – Jnana-agni, knowledge-fire. If you put anything in fire, it will turn into ash. The original form, colour, smell – everything will be lost, and you will get uniform ash. Likewise, this knowledge of the ultimate Truth also incinerates all – our partisan outlook, preferences and prejudices. The variegated world becomes a display of one uniform Consciousness. The knowledge of Truth burns all blemishes, smallness, rigidity and constrictions.
Sannyas style of life is meant for exclusive pursuit of knowledge. We are not supposed to do any puja, yajna, homa, or religious worship. The last religious sacrifice a sannyasi performs during his initiation into sannyas is called Virajaa Homam, which means renouncing the right to perform any Vedic karma.
So, this colour represents the ultimate knowledge. Since this knowledge means renunciation of all possessiveness and ego, ochre colour also represents tyag, renunciation. That is why this is one of the three colours in our National Flag. Ours is a knowledge civilisation. It is a civilisation where tyag, leaving, and not grabbing, is given the supreme position.
Secondly, ochre colour also represents earth. Earlier, sannyasins used to dye their clothes with a special ochre-coloured earth called ‘geri-mitti’. Now, of course, we mostly use chemical dyes.
One great quality of the Earth is patience and tolerance. Normally, if someone slaps you, you hit back. Even if a friend abuses you, you return the abuse. But when you do so many wrong things on the Earth, does it ever fight back? You take away its minerals recklessly, spoil its water and air by poisonous effluents, flatten its hills for your construction material.
When there is a devastating earthquake caused by construction of a huge dam, you may say that the Earth is fighting back. That is not true. If you suddenly store huge water in a certain place, then the earth has to balance its load to keep on its orbit. Through earthquakes, the earth is only readjusting its balance. It is like bending your body to the left when 30 kg weight is put on your right shoulder. It is not fighting back; the Earth is only balancing its weight. It is extremely tolerant.
Similarly, the sannyasi has to be extremely patient. We are not supposed to fight back. If you abuse me, I will not quarrel with you. I may try to find out whether what you are saying is true. But I will not fight back. We may fight for societal reformation but not for any personal cause.
Lastly, there is a very practical reason for wearing this colour. The sannyasi is generally supposed to wander from place to place. In olden days, we used to move on foot. So naturally, the dress would become dusty. Over the earth colour, the dust would not show up or look dirty.
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Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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