Colorful Nonsense: Dinshah Ghadiali and His Spectro-Chrome Device

Joe Schwarcz, Ph.D.
July 10, 2003

Dinshah P. Ghadiali (1873-1966), inventor of the Spectro-Chrome, was born in Bombay, India. At least by his own account, he was a remarkable man. He began school at the ripe old age of two and a half; by eight he was in high school, and by eleven he was an assistant to a professor of mathematics at a Bombay college. Dinshah—as he liked to be called—claimed that he began to study medicine at the age of 14. His writings say nothing further about attending medical school—probably because he saw no need to continue after he concluded that color therapy was the key to health. His publications identified his credentials as “(Honorary) M.D., M.E., D.C., Ph.D., LL.D., N.D., D.Opt., F.F.S., D.H.T., D.M.T., D.S.T., Etc.” [1]

Dinshah allegedly became enamored with color healing after curing a young girl dying of colitis by exposing her to light from a kerosene lamp fitted with an indigo-colored filter. The therapy also involved giving the patient milk that had been placed in a bottle of the same color and exposed to sunlight. Within three days, the girl was well and Dinshah’s career had been launched. He opened Electro-Medical Hall in Surat, India, and began to refine his techniques.

By the time Dinshah emigrated to America in 1911, he had a theory—albeit a bizarre one—to go with his colored lights. Every element, he said, exhibits a preponderance of one of the seven prismatic colors. Oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon, the elements that make up 97% of the body, are associated with blue, red, green, and yellow. In a healthy person these colors are balanced, but they fall out of balance when disease strikes. The therapy is simple: to cure a disease, administer the colors that are lacking or reduce the colors that have become too brilliant.

The Spectro-Chrome was a box with a 1000-watt lightbulb in it and an opening fitted with colored filters (“Attuned Color Wave Slides”). The five filters could be deployed singly or in pairs to produce twelve different colors. The device was sold together with the Spectro-Chrome Therapeutic System guide, which detailed which colors to shine on a given patient. Green light, for example, was a pituitary stimulant and germicide, while scarlet was a genital stimulant. Any disease or condition—Dinshah insisted—except for broken bones, was amenable to color therapy. He also maintained that the Spectro-Chrome was especially suited for use by intelligent people, because “drugs quickly upset the nervo-vital balance of persons of high mental and spiritual development.” A pretty clever ploy—the gullible, thinking themselves to be intelligent, ate it up.  

Dinshah claimed that the device “acts upon the Physical Body, not by absorption or penetration, but by a process of Reinforcement or Interference on the Radio Emanations of the Chemical Body, called the Aura or the Auric Vehicle.” [1] Even though this description is nonsensical, many people found it plausible. After all, they knew that premature babies were treated with blue light to cure them of jaundice, that sunlight was needed for the synthesis of vitamin D in the body, and that plants absolutely required light for growth. Add to this the fact that chemists had shown that elements, when heated, emitted different colors of light, and Dinshah’s preposterous notions started to make sense. His slogan, “No Diagnosis, No Drugs . . . No Surgery,” also sat well with a public largely unsatisfied with available medical care. The idea of a noninvasive therapy and the promise of a cure for virtually any ailment were very appealing. He also advocated strict avoidance of all “flesh,” fowl, fish, eggs, honey, tea, coffee, tobacco, intoxicants, and lard, a regimen that was healthier than the diet and lifestyle of many Americans [2].

Dinshah’s publications reflected great antagonism toward the medical profession. He called vaccination a “curse” and depicted “The Medical Octopus”—with tentacles that included the AMA, the American College of Surgeons, the Better Business Bureau, the Good Housekeeping Institute—with the “Bay of Bunk” on one side and the “Ocean of Ignorance” on the other side [3]. His Family Health Protector advised:

When it will be known that you are using Spectro-Chrome, you may probably receive adverse advice from opponents, Medical Doctors or otherwise. Take
our advice and listen to them not. Spectro-Chrome—In Every Home, means the crumbling of their age-old moth-eaten doctrines and the upholding of the Torch of Emancipation, releasing you from their orthodox and autocratic grasp. For instance, they will tell you to stop the eating of all Starches and Sugars and inject Insulin, because you have “Diabetes.” You ask for our
UIDANCE and we shall tell you: ”
Stop Insulin at once and irradiate yourself with Yellow Systemic alternated with Magenta on Areas 4 or 18 and eat plenty of Raw or Brown Sugar and all the Starches!!! [3]

Of course, it wasn’t long before Dinshah ran into trouble with the establishment. He was labeled a fraud and a charlatan by the American Medical Association but managed to portray himself cunningly as a humanitarian who was being persecuted by moneygrubbing, ineffectual, jealous physicians. To protect himself legally, Dinshah invented his own jargon. He didn’t talk of “cures,” he spoke of “normalating” the body. Instead of “treating” patients, he would “restore their Radio-Active and Radio-Emanative Equilibrium.” [1] This he would do with his light exposures, or “tonations.” Tonations would be carried out with the patient lying with his head to the north, so as to align the earth’s and the body’s magnetic fields. Dinshah also designed Spirometer Rods to measure the pressure difference between the two nostrils and thus to determine at what time of day tonations should be carried out — to take full advantage of the body’s natural tides. Special thermometers applied to the bare skin above the organs would determine whether a condition was acute or chronic and what kind of light therapy was needed. It would be hard to imagine a more convoluted and irrational form of therapy.

In 1925, Dinshah was prosecuted for transporting a 19-year-old girl—his secretary—across state lines for immoral purposes [4]. (Perhaps he had been overexposing himself to scarlet light.) He spent four years in jail. In 1931, he was arraigned on second-degree grand larceny charges after a former student complained to officials that the Spectro-Chrome did not perform as promised. In defending himself, Dinshah trotted out numerous satisfied patients, including—incredibly—several physicians. In fact, a surgeon, Kate Baldwin, claimed that she bad successfully treated glaucoma, tuberculosis, cancer, syphilis, and a very serious burn case with Dinshah’s device. The government had experts testifying that the Spectro-Chrome was merely an ordinary lamp and that any successes were due to the placebo effect or the natural course of the ailment. Ultimately, the prosecution could not prove the intent to defraud, and Dinshah was found not guilty. He went back to selling more Spectro-Chromes with claims that he had been vindicated “without a lawyer. . . in open court . . . against an array of University Professors” and that “Spectro Chrome Metry is established for all time.” [1:xii]

After the passage of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938, which gave the FDA some teeth in regulating therapeutic devices, the government again began to assemble evidence against Dinshah. Finally, in 1945, he was charged with introducing a misbranded article into interstate commerce, a violation of the criminal code. Once again, he trotted out his satisfied patients, but this time there were no supporting physicians. His fate was virtually sealed when a star witness, whom Dinshah had “cured” of seizures, had one on the witness stand. The prosecution called a witness whom Dinshah had repeatedly profiled in his advertising as having been cured of paralysis; she could not take a single step when the master urged her. Another witness described how he had contacted Dinshah after his diabetic father had lapsed into a coma and was simply told to shine a yellow light on him. He did—until his father died. And, finally, the Court heard how the celebrated burn victim described as the recipient of a miracle cure by Dr. Baldwin in the previous trial had, in fact, succumbed to her injuries.

Dinshah was heavily fined, his books and lamps were seized, and he was put on five-year probation. The day after his probation ended, he was at it again. This time, he founded the Visible Spectrum Research Institute and sold lamps labeled as having “no curative or therapeutic value.” He strenuously implied in his literature that this was only a means of keeping the FDA dogs away—just meaningless legalese that David had to resort to in his eternal battle with Goliath. In 1958, the government obtained a permanent injunction against shipping Spectro-Chromes across state lines, but the persistent Dinshah kept selling the things in New Jersey.

After his death in 1966, his sons took over and managed to have the Dinshah Health Society of Malaga, New Jersey, registered as a nonprofit, scientific, educational, tax-exempt organization. The society still sells all kinds of light-therapy books, including a history of the Spectro-Chrome by Dinshah himself in seven cloth-bound volumes priced at $220. You can also buy instructions for building an inexpensive Spectro-Chrome from a lightbulb, cardboard, and colored plastic sheets. Apparently, the society does not sell the finished product [5], but another company on the Internet did advertise Color Light Therapy Lamps “as recommended by Dinshah.” These look suspiciously like theater spotlights with colored gels. A “chromotherapy” course, “offered with the approval and blessings of the Dinshah Health Society, has been available at nonaccredited Westbrook University. And courses in “chromotherapy and “spectro-chrome therapy” are available at the Institute for Chromotherapy in Ellicottville, New York.

  1. Spectro-Chrome Home Guide. Malaga, NJ: Dinshah Spectro-Chrome Institute, 1942.
  2. Ghadiali DP. Rational food of man: A concise exponence by Dinshah. Flyer, reprinted from Spectro-Chrome Home Guide, 1933.
  3. Ghadiali DP. Family Health Protector: Revealing Exposure of the Medical Racket and Medical Trust—In 52 Articles. Malaga, NJ: Dinshah Spectro-Chrome Institute, 1943, p 90.
  4. Spectro-Chrome Therapy. American Medical Association Bureau of Investigation, Nov 1935.
  5. Spectro-Chrome color healing: An interview with Darius Dinshah. Journal of Energetic Medicine, March 18, 1999.

Dr. Schwarcz is director of McGill University’s Office for Chemistry and Society. In addition to teaching chemistry at McGill, he hosts a weekly “phone-in” show about chemistry on Montreal radio station CJAD, writes a weekly column called “The Right Chemistry” in the Montreal Gazette, and has a regular TV feature entitled “Joe’s Chemistry Set” on the Canadian Discovery Channel. This article was adapted from a section of his book Radar, Hula Hoops and Playful Pigs, a collection of commentaries on the fascinating chemistry of everyday life.

This article was posted on July 10, 2003.