The Religious Significance of Turmeric
29 SEP 2017
Turmeric, a member of the ginger family, is used as a spice, a dye, and in the traditional medicines of its native India. With its yellow and orange coloring and healing qualities, it also has religious and cultural significance in Buddhism, Hinduism and throughout Southeast Asian society.
1 The Plant
Turmeric, called Haridra in Sanskrit and Haldi in Hindi, goes by the botanical name Curcuma longa. The herb grows to a little more than 3 feet in height. It produces both a rhizome and a flower, with the rhizome being the most used part of the plant and the source of both the yellow dye and the spice. Cultivated in India since ancient times, turmeric is now cultivated throughout the tropics. In addition to its uses in Hinduism and Buddhism, Hawaiian shamans also use turmeric extensively in their religious and medicinal practices.
In both Hinduism and Buddhism, turmeric is linked to fertility, luck and the sun. Because of this, turmeric is traditionally used in wedding ceremonies and the roots of its plants are often a gift to pregnant women. In nuptial customs, turmeric may be applied to the bride's skin as part of purification ritual before the ceremony. Turmeric's use is forbidden in a house in mourning. In southern India, the dried rhizome is often worn in an amulet as protection against evil and to bring about healing or good luck.
In Hindu worship ceremonies, turmeric powder is used to symbolize both inner purity and inner pride. Worshipers use turmeric paste to anoint statues and images of Hindu deities in religious ceremonies. Along with symbolizing fertility and prosperity in the Hindu religion, turmeric also represents purity. The yellow and orange coloring of turmeric add to its significance in Hindu practice with yellow representing the space between chastity and sensuality, as well as the sacral chakra. Orange represents the sun, sacrifice and courage, as well as the solar plexus chakra.
In Buddhism, yellow represents the Bodhisattva Ratnasambhava, an archetypal Buddha connected to generosity. In Buddhism, turmeric continues to be symbolic of purity and prosperity and it is used in ceremonies to anoint sacred images. Perhaps its most important use in Buddhism, however, goes back to its qualities as a dye. Turmeric is the dye most often used to create the traditional saffron-colored robes worn by Buddhist monks.