Black as Evil

Georg von Simson g.v.simson at EAST.UIO.NO
Fri Dec 8 15:36:37 UTC 2000

Swaminathan Madhuresan wrote:

> Sin's color isn't black always. The bible gives it as
> white too:
>    "'Though your sins are like scarlet,
>        they shall be white as snow;
>    Though they are red like crimson,
>        they shall be like wool . .  .'"  (Isaiah 1:18, NIV.)>

I have no Old Testament at hand here in my office (perhaps I should), but I
wonder whether this should not be interpreted as: your sins shall be white
i.e. they shall washed off, be no sins any more, they shall disappear?

>>There is no real point in contrasting the black god Vishnu-Krishna
>>with the white of mourning ...
> Is the God Vishnu known to be black from earliest
> Sanskrit sources? Given the portrayal of black in
> the duality theme both in Iran and India, could
> the black God Vishnu represent acculturation
> in India? Perhaps black as a God is missing in
> Persia.

The Rgveda does not yet say that Vishnu is black, as far as I know, but
since it does not say very much about the god anyway, we cannot arrive at
the conclusion that he was not conceived as black either. For me his
identification with Krishna, "the Black one" is more than a mere
coincidence, but I think that his blackness has a symbolic value and has
nothing to do with skin colour and even less with beauty. One of the most
important manifestations/incarnations of the later Vishnu is the boar, an
animal characterized by its black colour, but not by its beauty.
One of the (many) meanings of blackness is absence of light = absence of
distinct/visible forms; it can therefore indicate mysteriousness and magic,
both characteristics of Vishnu.
This is a complicated subject, and I will certainly not be able to convince
you in a few lines. I just started writing a major article on Vishnu, but -
as I have many other things to do - it will take time to finish it, so
please be patient!

>>Are you so sure that black never is associated with negative
>>ideas in Tamil literature and that white is just associated
>>with mourning and never with anything positive?
>Tamil literature does not cast black as a non-likeable
>color at all. And, the duality theme of putting
>white against black is absent too.
Experience people in South India never fear in the dark, and is black never
associated with the darkness of night or of a cave inhabited by monsters?
That would be remarkable indeed.
Sanskrit poets compare the bright (and white!) disk of the full moon with a
beautiful face. This is in fact the most common comparison of all. And the
dark (=black) spots in the moon can be considered as a blemish (doSa; see
e.g. Kalidasa, Kumarasambhava 1.3.), thus (in this context) black = ugly.
So there are many reasons "of putting white against black" and the complete
absence of this duality in Tamil literature would indeed surprise me. Is
the just mentioned comparison of the bright moon with a beautiful face
unknown in Tamil poetry? I understand well that black skin is described as
beautiful as is black hair or black eyes of women in Western literature.
But are there not other contexts where black appears as ugly, as a blemish
(like black spots on clothes)? Please enlighten us!


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