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Indian Culture And Traditions

What Does Your BINDI Say About You
By Ram Lingam, July 2011 [[email protected]]

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When an Indian woman decorates her forehead with sindoor or bindi, she  is just following a tradition that goes back atleast 5,000 years. Wear a bindi  or a decorative mark on your forehead and you will get noticed everywhere. It  is no wonder that bindi has found its way to the international fashion world. In  fact globally, the Bindi is one of India’s best recognized symbols. If you wear  a bindi what does it say about you? Is it merely a decoration or is there more  to it?

An Indian  proverb says "A woman's beauty is multiplied 1,000 times when she wears a  bindi". For many Indian women, getting dressed for a special occasion is  incomplete without the bindi. When a woman grooms herself in a lavish Indian  way, she gives special importance to decorating her forehead with a bindi. However,  modern day bindi stickers have made it easy and bindi is used more for  decoration today.

For generations, bindi has been the most  visually attractive of all forms of body decoration. In fact, in the 16  decorations for personal grooming (solah-shrungār), bindi is the first shrungaar  and has a strong religious implication.

But first - what  does the word ‘bindi’ mean? Like the various aspects of authentic Indian  culture, the bindi carries with it a wealth of meaning. Bindi is derived from the sanskrut word ‘bindu’, which means  dot. Bindi is also known as 'sindoor', 'tilaka', ‘tilak’, 'tilakam' 'tika' or  'pottu'. But kumkum and sindoor are not synonymous as unmarried women use  kumkum but not sindoor. The ancient name for bindi is tilaka and teeka or tikka  is its distorted form.

In ancient times, small decorative leaves were used (which  were made by cutting them into different shapes) and then pasted upon the  forehead. The decorative leaves (patra) were also known by various names  --'Patralekhā', Patramanjari', 'Patrachhedya' or 'Patrabhanga'.

Authentic kumkum  is of special significance and an essential item in all religious rituals,  hence auspicious. The turmeric is dried and powdered with a lime/lemon to give  the rich red colored kumkum. Every deity and every altar in Sanāthana dharma has  red kumkum. It is red in colour as red is a known colour of power.

Is the practice of bindi really  ancient? A cursory look at the ancient paintings, murals from the  antiquated Ajantā or Ellora caves, Rājasthani paintings or even sculptures from  the ancient temples of India, shows that the forehead of the Indian women is  always found decorated with ornaments and also bindi. Cave 16 at the Ajanta  caves has a mural where a princess and her lady-attendant are with a tray both  wearing the bindi. Female figurines excavated in Baluchistan seem to imply  application of sindoor to the partition of women's hair in Harappā culture.

Personal decoration practices also  go back to the times of Rāmāyana, the Māhābhārata and the Vedic period and till  today they haven’t changed because it still looks “cool”. In the Māhābhārata,  the Pāndava queen Draupadi wiped her 'kumkum' off the forehead in anguish at  Hastināpur.

The practice of using 'kumkum' on foreheads is also mentioned  in Vedic texts, many ancient texts (Purānas), the Lalitha Sahasranāma and Ādi  Shankara’s Soundarya Lahiri. In the famous eight verses (astakam) on the symbol  of Lord Shiva called the ‘Lingashtakam’ the composer says “Kumkuma chandana  lepitha lingam..” meaning “I bow before that symbol (lingam), which represents  the eternal Lord Shiva, adorned by sandal paste and kumkum”. Tilaka has been  mentioned in Sanskrit plays of Mahākavi Kālidasa and other works like  Panchatantra. Sant Tulsidās mentions it in his Rāmcharitmānas at the time of  the marriage between Lord Ram and Sitā.

Kumkum is also showered as an offering (kumkuma archana) during  the abhisheka of a deity. In the marriage ceremony, the bridegroom till today  makes a 'tilaka' mark on the bride's forehead as a sign of wedlock. It is  called the "Sindoor Dana" ceremony and married women adorn the  sindoor thereafter. Along with Indian traditions and rituals, the personal attire  and grooming (alankaar, shrungaar) also finds a permanent place in Indian  lifestyle. 

Is there a mystic element to bindi? The area where the bindi  is positioned is said to be the location of the Āgnya Chakra  (the subtle spiritual eye) in the language of yoga which is said to be the  major nerve center in the human body. To the spiritual seeker, the tilaka made  of sandalwood paste serves as a reminder of a seeker's ultimate goal i.e. enlightenment.  The tilak is applied with the prayer - "May I remember the Lord. May this  pious feeling pervade all my activities. May I be righteous in my deeds! "

Bindi is certainly a part of the detailed  Indian shrungār. In many communities, it is enjoined upon married women to  sport a kumkum mark on their foreheads at all times. In these changing times  bindis are sported by unmarried women as well. Many women in the Indian  sub-continent and Southeast Asia sport a bindi even though they are not followers  of Dharma. These days even women from Western cultures adorn a bindi.

“The entire body emanates energy  in the form of electromagnetic waves – the forehead and the subtle spot between  the eyebrows especially so. That is why worry generates heat and causes a  headache. The tilak cools the forehead, protects us and prevents energy loss.  Using plastic reusable ‘stick bindis’ is not very beneficial, even though it  serves the purpose of decoration.”

So what does  your Bindi say about you? Does it mean your culture, your ethnic identity, your  marital status or is it just for decoration? It could be ‘any of the above’, ‘some  of the above’ or even ‘all of the above’. Can ‘none of the above’ be an option?

Also read  
In Indian Culture why do we 
Question and Answers Indian Civilization

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