In the oracle bone script, it was an ideogrammic compound (會意): 日(“sun”) + 頁(“head; man”) – man under the scorching sun; summer.
Various variants were seen in the bronze inscriptions from the Spring and Autumn period. 止 (“foot”) was often added to the bottom of the man. Additionally, in the form shown above, the 日 was removed and 𦥑 (“two hands”) was added. The seal script inherits its form from this form, with 止 replaced with the related 夊.
Various forms were also seen from the Warring States period. The bamboo and silk script above shows a common form: 日 + 止 + 頁. The “ancient script” (古文) from Shuowen (labelled as the large seal script) has deviated significantly, with 止 becoming the related 足. The top part may be a corruption of 頁.
The current form is simplified from the seal script, with the removal of 𦥑 and the legs from 頁.
Possibly related to 假 (OC *kraːʔ, *kraːs, “great”), 嘏 (OC *kraːʔ, “great”) and 廈 (OC *sraːs, *ɡraːʔ, “big house”) (Wang, 1980). Shi (2000) and Mair (2013) relate this word to Tibetanརྒྱ(rgya, “great; wide; width; size; expanse; China”).
“magnificent colours; variegated”
The sense “variegated” may be of a different origin. Compare Proto-Sino-Tibetan*Krā(H)(“variegated”) (Starostin), whence Tibetanབཀྲ(bkra, “variegated; bright; radiant; splendid”), Tibetanཁྲ(khra, “many-coloured; variegated; mottled; striped”) and Burmeseကျား(kya:, “variegated; striped; chequered”). Possibly related to 騢 (OC *ɡraː, “horse with mixed red and white colour”).