Microcosmology: Atom In Jain Philosophy & Modern Science: [3.2.2] A Critique - Pudgala : Attributes - B) Characteristic Qualities : Colour

Published: 21.02.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015
[1] The division of colour into 5 primary types agrees perfectly with the scientific views. For instance, Colorimetry Committee of the Optical Society of America reported in 1922 as follows:
"Colour is the general term for all sensations arising from activity of the retina and its attached nervous mechanisms It may be exemplified by the enumeration of characteristic instances as red, yellow, blue, black an white."

The objective and simultaneous existence of the qualities of colour, taste, smell and touch in pudgala have been amply emphasized in the previous chapter. Five elementary colours, [1] five elementary tastes, good and bad smell and four elementary touches - hot, cold, dry and gluey - makes a total of 16 varieties of characteristic innate qualities of all classes of pudgala. [1]


First of all, we should clarify, what is the meaning of the statement 'colour etc., are innate qualities of matter.' Now what is colour? It is some structural peculiarity of a material object, which interacts with light and makes the object visible and perceivable by the sensory equipment of vision.

Modern science explains the phenomenon of colour on the basis of the wave-theory of light. According to it, the normal white light from the sun contains the whole visible spectrum. Difference of wavelengths produces difference of colour, each colour having its own specific wavelength and frequency. When white light falls on any material object, it absorbs some of the radiations and on reflects the rest. The reflected radiations reach our eyes and we receive the colour of the object corresponding to wave-lengths of these radiations, Thus, when the light from the sun falls on the grass, it absorbs radiations of all other wave-lengths except one representing green colour. Consequently, only radiations of wavelength representing green colour reaches our eyes. They stimulate the optic equipment and we see the grass as 'green'. [It may be noted that a body which reflects all of the radiations will appear white, while one which absorbs all of the radiations will appear black.]

It is obvious that the reflection of the wavelengths corresponding to green colour and absorption of the rest of the wave-lengths by grass is due to its own specific structural property. Thus, on the basis of the scientific theory of colour, it becomes clear that the perception of grass as green (or rose as red) depends upon the fact as to which wave-length is reflected and not absorbed by the object, and this, in turn, is decided by something inherent in the object - some structural peculiarity of the object itself.

The Jain view regarding colour is similar to the above. Sense-organ 'eye' does not come in direct contact with the object but perceives through the medium of light. That is, the perception of colour is the result of the interaction between the inherent quality of colour possessed by the object, light and the sensory equipment. Expr

Cp denotes the colour perceived,
Co denotes the objective colour,
L denotes the function of light
S denotes the function representing sensory equipment,


Cp = f (Co,L,S)

The green colour of the grass is the colour perceived by us Cp,which is created in two steps. Firstly, there is an interaction of light (L) with the objective colour of the grass (Cp) and secondly, the resultant products interact with the sensory (optical) equipment (S). Thus all the three factors - the object, light and the subject (sensory equipment) - play an important role in the formation of perceived colour. If anyone of the three factors gets slightly changed, there would be a corresponding change in the perceived colour.

Thus for example,

  1. A sees Grass in white light as Green, but A sees Rose in white light as Red. (Example of change in object).
  2. A sees Grass in white light as Green, but B sees Grass in white light as Red. (Example of change in the obsever. B is colour-blind)
  3. A sees Rose in white light as Red, but A sees Rose in yellow light as Orange. (Example of change in light).
  • Jain Vishva Barati Institute, Ladnun, India
  • Edited by Muni Mahendra Kumar
  • 3rd Edition 1995

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