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Buddhist religious figures often wear orange robes.

And I think that orange is, also, associated with Buddhist religious buildings -- and other religious "stuff" (although this may be simply a coincidence that I have given meaning it does not have) -- things like fabric, prayer flags, and religious art in temples, and painting of religious structures and artistic adornments in religious structures.

When did the color orange become associated with Buddhism? Does this have any specific significance or meaning, and if so what is that meaning or significance?

Also, sometimes a yellow or red color is used instead in the a similar context. The yellow color often looks like just a use/weather faded orange, or a trick of photography and lighting, or a different shade of orange, that may not be meaningful. But the red color (as depicted below), however, seems to be an intentional choice.

Do either of these colors (yellow or red) these have different meanings than orange? And, when did these colors gain significance?

Is it simply derived from robes -- What is the meaning behind different robe colors? -- or is there more to it than that?

enter image description here

From here (Pixabay License - Free for commercial use - No attribution required).

enter image description here

From here (Pixabay License - Free for commercial use - No attribution required).

enter image description here

From here (Pixabay License - Free for commercial use - No attribution required).

Footnote Re Color Terminology

While this question, as edited, is not predominantly about robes as that has already been answered, the photographs above are primarily included to illustrate the colors that I am talking about as I am art terminology illiterate. I have used the primary color names orange, yellow and red because I have a thin vocabulary of colors and no art background (I haven't taken an art class since I was 13 years old, and I'm now more than three decades older than that). If that is not the proper name of the relevant colors feel free to correct me.

  • Comments about whether this question is a duplicate of the 'color of robes' question are moved to chat. – ChrisW Jul 29 at 17:15
  • Thank you for the edit. I got busy at work and didn't have a chance to get back to this is quickly as I would have preferred. – ohwilleke Aug 1 at 13:55
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The oldest Buddhist robe color we know of is yellow/orange. The original monks made their robes from discarded cloth found in rubbish and on cremation grounds. After washing, the robe-cloth was boiled with vegetable matter—leaves, roots and flowers—and often spices, which would turn the cloth some shade of orange. Hence the name, "saffron robe."

The tradition stuck and yellow/orange is now the color of choice for Theravada Buddhists in Southeast Asia, as opposed to a maroon color for Chinese and Tibetan monks. This has various reasons: first, the climate is very different,so the natural dyes of South-East Asia are not found in Tibet. The harsher climate also means that the traditional triple robe would offer little protection from the elements. The second reason is traditional robes expose the arms and shoulders, which was deemed unseeming in Chinese culture. So monks began to wear a long robe with sleeves that fastened in the front, similar to robes worn by Taoist scholars. The robes worn by Tibetan monks are derived from a mixture of the clothing "rules" from the traditional robes and Tibetan & Chinese "dress code".

Japanese and Korean Buddhist monks also wear robes styled after the clothing traditions of their culture. In Japanese culture, red is associated with power and blood, and yellow is associated with nature. Shinto priests predominantly wear black, so this became the most common color for Buddhist robes in Japan.

  • Am I wrong that robe colors are also intentionally and meaningfully used in Buddhist art, textile objects, structures like temples, etc., or is this just me jumping to conclusions when there is no relationship or it is just an accidental or coincidental point based upon the fact that you suggest that the robe colors simply involve widely available dyes found in discarded materials which are used for all sorts of things in the regions in question rather than being particularly Buddhist in character? – ohwilleke Aug 1 at 14:01
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    I believe those colors can generally be traced back to other influences than the dye colors available. The best example is the Tibetan Prayer Flag, which symbolises the elements. A significant other source for color symbolism is the association of color with the realms of the wheel of life. Also, I suppose you would not necessarily have the same natural colors available for painting or sculpture as the ones used for textile. – Codosaur Aug 4 at 10:59

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