“His voice is like a kettledrum in sound. He has glowing skin and is very powerful. He is square-built and has symmetrically proportioned limbs. He is endowed with the shyama complexion.” (Hanuman speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 35.16)
dundubhi svana nirghoṣaḥ snigdha varṇaḥ pratāpavān |
samaḥ sama vibhakta ango varṇam śyāmam samāśritaḥ ||
samaḥ sama vibhakta ango varṇam śyāmam samāśritaḥ ||
You’re enjoying peace and quiet at home today. Taking advantage of the situation, you had taken out a book on the Supreme Personality of Godhead authored by a respected teacher in the Vaishnava tradition. To stay in the proper mood, you decided to read in an area of the house where there was a picture of God the person hanging on the wall directly in front of you.
Unfortunately, your peace didn’t last too long. The doorbell rings. You answer it to find that you’re getting a surprise visit from your child’s friend. They are of a relatively young age. They want to play with your child, and you give the information that your child is out right now and will be back shortly. You ask the friend to sit down and wait.
They are now in the same room that you were reading in. While enjoying some food and drink that you offer them, they can’t help but notice the book on the table. They see that the person on the cover is the same one depicted in the picture hanging on the wall. In their innocent way, they ask, “Is that Bhagavanji?” Surprised that they recognize the image, with a smile on your face you respond in the affirmative. The next question catches you off guard. “Why is He blue?”
This question is not uncommon. The uniqueness of the bhakti tradition is that it describes God the person. Even in Vedic philosophy, on which bhakti-yoga is based, the Almighty is not always described so vividly. Sometimes just His features with respect to the material nature get described. The name Ishvara, for example, says that the Almighty is the chief among controllers. The name Paramatma says that He is a soul like other living entities, but the supreme one.
From the bhakti tradition comes names like Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, and Hari. These Sanskrit words have meanings in terms of attributes, but they also reference specific personalities. The personalities are identical; they just look different due to the functions they perform and the times and circumstances of their appearances, i.e. manifestations.
paritrāṇāya sādhūnāṁvināśāya ca duṣkṛtāmdharma-saṁsthāpanārthāyasambhavāmi yuge yuge“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)
The blue color on the body of God the person is known as shyama. This word has several meanings. It can mean dark, dark-blue, or even dark-brown or dark-green. Every meaning is appropriate for the Supreme Lord since He appears on earth at different times. The creation goes through cycles. Just because there was a beginning to this earth now doesn’t mean that there wasn’t an earth before. Although everything will be destroyed at some point, creation will occur again.
“The shyama color is not exactly blackish. Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura compares it to the color of the atasi flower. It is not that Lord Krishna Himself appears in a blackish color in all the Dvapara-yugas. In other Dvapara-yugas, previous to Lord Krishna’s appearance, the Supreme Lord appeared in a greenish body by His own personal expansion. This is mentioned in the Vishnu Purana, Hari-vamsha and Mahabharata.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.337 Purport)
God the person appears in millennium after millennium, and sometimes the complexion is not the same. Sometimes it is green and sometimes it is dark blue. The thing to remember is that the complexion is not concocted in the mind. God the person is not the product of an imaginative writer. God is blue because that’s what His complexion is. We know that is the complexion because of what others have said about Him.
The above referenced verse from the Ramayana gives further confirmation. Here Shri Hanuman is describing the Supreme Lord in His incarnation of Rama, the prince of Ayodhya. The description is for the ears of Sita Devi, the wife of Rama. Hanuman is a trusted authority since he has met Rama personally. The information is fresh in his mind, as recently he was by Rama’s side. He is in Lanka now doing Rama’s work, searching for Sita.
There are other distinguishable features. Rama has a voice like a kettledrum. His skin is glowing. His body is square-built, which means it is robust. Rama’s limbs are symmetrically proportioned, which is a sign of auspiciousness. He is also highly-resplendent.
The shyama color is beautiful on Rama. Even when the color is greenish instead of bluish, the same glow is there. We may not know anyone with this type of complexion, but Hanuman’s words can be trusted. They should be trusted, in fact, if a person desires advancement in the spiritual consciousness. That shyama color is like a dark raincloud ready to shower nectar on those who are qualified to receive it. Rama is beauty through and through, and those who know Him take advantage of His association.
By God’s color bewildered are you,
Never knowing someone of complexion blue.
Instead of a speculation to make,
Just Hanuman’s words from Ramayana take.
Shyama, well-built, and resplendent,
Description of Rama, on whose arms Sita dependent.
Sometimes bluish and sometimes green,
Either way most beautiful the world has ever seen.