Saffron is a spice with both culinary uses and symbolic importance. Difficult to find and time consuming to gather and process, it was highly prized by many cultures and has acquired a number of important meanings over the centuries.
In Europe, the use of saffron was largely confined to the upper crust of society due to the spice's high cost. In that vein, it was commonly associated with royalty and nobility. The golden coloring was also a symbol of the sun, and that celestial body has, in turn, been symbolically associated with royalty.
Moving east, specifically to India and other parts of Asia, saffron took on a distinctly different set of meanings. The robes of certain Buddhist monks and nuns are dyed using saffron, the color symbolizing renunciation and humility. Saffron also carries meaning in other Indian religions (Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism); saffron or orange colored flags indicate a place of worship, and saffron paste is used as adornment in certain Hindu ceremonies.
In Bhutan, a small country nestled in the Himalayan mountains, saffron is once again associated with royalty. Traditional men's clothing - known as the gho - is sometimes accessorized with a long silk scarf called a kabney. The kabney comes in a variety of colors, and national law stipulates which colors can be worn by individuals, depending on his profession and position in society. A saffron-colored kabney may be worn only by two men; the King of Bhutan and the Je Khenpo, or chief abbot.
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