Brihadarnaya Upanishad Chapter II 3rd Bramhana 6th verse describes one of the attributes of Purusha its color as:

तस्य हैतस्य पुरुषस्य रुपम् यथा महारजनं वासो यथापाण्ड्वाविकम् यथेन्द्रगोपो यथाअग्न्यर्चिर्यथा पुण्ड्रिकम् यथा सक्रुद्विद्युतम् सक्रुद्विद्युत्तेव ह वा अस्य श्रिभवति य एवम् वेदाथात आदेशो नेति नेति न हेय्तस्मादिति नेत्नय्त्परमस्त्यथ नामधेयम् सत्यस्य सत्यमिति प्राणा वै सत्यम् तेषामेष सत्यम्॥

And what is the appearance of that person? Like a saffron-coloured raiment, like white wool,like cochineal, like the flame of fire, like the white lotus, like sudden lightning. He who knows this, his glory is like unto sudden lightning.

Clearly there is an ambiguity in this verse, how can Purusha or Atman have two colors.

1) Saffron 2) While like wool

How do we resolve this ambiguity?

1 Answer 1


First of all, it seems the translation is missing a crucial part of the verse. Here is the translation of the same verse by Swāmī Mādhavānanda:

The form of that ‘being’ is as follows: Like a cloth dyed with turmeric, or like grey sheep’s wool, or like the (scarlet) insect called Indragopa, or like a tongue of fire, or like a white lotus, or like a flash of lightning. He who knows it as such attains splendour like a flash of lightning. Now therefore the description (of Brahman): ‘Not this, not this.’ Because there is no other and more appropriate description than this ‘Not this.’ Now Its name: ‘The Truth of truth.’ The vital force is truth, and It is the Truth of that.

Now the commentary by Śaṅkara also informs us the passages are meant symbollicaly:

Objection: Why should not these forms belong to the individual self, since it too has a place in the discussion, and the word ‘that’ refers to something that is under discussion?

Reply: No, for the Śruti wants to teach the transcendent nature of the individual self. If the forms, ‘Like a cloth dyed with turmeric,’ etc. (II. iii. 6), really belong to the individual self, then it would not be described as indefinable in the terms, ‘Not this, not this.’

I think the purpose of this verse here is not to teach the color of the Ātman, but the nature of the individual self in relation to Brahman, which is: ‘Not his, not this’.

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