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Bindis - Traditional and Trendy

Being an ancient civilization, India is noted for its distinct cultural patterns, which are so intricately woven into the very fabric of our socio-religious existence, that they defy all attempts to merge anonymously with the rest of the world. A couple of decades ago, the teen-jean-generation did make a valiant go of thumbing its nose at ethnic tradition but suffered an insurmountable set-back when before long typical Indian accessories like the toe-rings, ankle-chains (Payals) and even the nose stud began to embellish the completely western garment. It was finally a crushing blow to the young czarina’s of fashion when the bindi began to be worn, rather incongruously, with a pair of jeans. The bindi thus emerged as a more definite, more enduring part of out inheritance.

An Indian woman can be clearly identified by the colourful marking called the bindi is placed almost in the center of her forehead right above the meeting point of the eyebrows.

The popularity that the bindi is currently enjoying in Indian fashion cannot be matched by any other cosmetic. A majority of the female population-whether young or old, modern or traditional wears either the traditional blood red bindi or coloured ones to match their outfits. The bindi stands out markedly outside India as an alien culture. Certain misguided and misinformed youths in the United States started to identify the bindi as an Asian symbol and when enraged by the success story of emigrant Asians they grouped themselves together as the Dot Busters their aim: to bust the race that wears dots.

The dot, the bindi, is worn only and only by Indians and it is sheer ignorance that leads anyone to associate it with all the Asians. Even in India it is only the Hindus who follow this practice of applying kumkum (vermilion) or wearing the bindi which plays a very significant role in their lives. The Christians in India do not wear the bindi though the church nowadays does encourage them to retain their Indian identity by taking on Indian names and dressing like an Indian. The Muslim women however have not adopted this Hindu custom because they believe that their fate is written on their forheads and putting on a bindi would amount to marking their fate.

Bindis show evidence of having existed in the country since the 4th century. It was transformed from a decorative addition to becoming a symbol of a woman’s wedded state during the era of Mahabhrata which was the time India introduced several regressive steps relegating the Hindu woman to a secondary status. The Hindu girls and women must wear a bindi, as a bare forehead is a sign widowhood. Even in modern India the Hindu widow unquestioningly accepts this practice and does not wear a bindi unless it’s small insignificant dot of black declaring her loss.

Traditionally, married women only work the kumkum powder which was used to apply a round bindi with the tip of the middle finger. Always red in colour kumkum was made at home from haldi, turmeric and alum. The red colour of the sindoor and kumkum was determined by the colour of blood. Animal sacrifice was a common practice and the blood o the sacrifice was smeared on the forehead of the Goddess Devi and the devotees. Fortunately, the more gory blood was replaced by the more acceptable kumkum powder. The Goddesses from the Hindu pantheon are now offered kumkum which is revered and worn by both men and woman.

The kumkum plays a very auspicious role in India. It is offered to a married woman every time she visits your home as well as on special occasions like Sankranti and navratri to the longevity of their husband’s lies. The kumkum is also smeared on to the edges of a marriage invitation card and placed before the idol of worship before the invitations are sent out. In north India, as part of the wedding rites, is the ritual of applying sindoor on the bride’s forehead and on the top of her head, where she parts her hair in south India the day the bride steps into her husband’s home for the first time, an animal is sacrificed and the fresh blood is applied to her forehead. This practice exists amongst the non-brahmins.

From blood to kumkum and then to sindoor powder to the liquid form to the now popular sticker, the bindi has traveled a long way and it looks like it has come to stay in the form of the more convenient sticker. The problem with the kumkum is that if you forgetfully touch your forehead, the bindi would be coloufully smeared or go askew.

In the hot coastal areas of India, rivulets of sweat cause the kumkum to run down the bridge of the nose making it look quite undecorative. The liquid bindi too either runs down sweatily or cakes up unbecomingly.

The sticker bindi, made of velvet, came into existence over a decade ago and is moving from strength to strength. These bindis come in all colours, sizes and shapes round, you also have them in all possible colours in the shape of a star, half-moon, clover, heart, tear, leaf or even a snake. There are also multicoloured, layered bindis with more than one colour an one shape, stuck together to form a design. Women experiment imaginatively by using different bindis to create one beautiful bindi. Some artistic ones even paint different patterns on their forehead.

The latest bindis to hit the market are pearl studded, stone and diamond embedded, enamel encrusted and tinseled sticker bindis. They are priced anywhere between Rs.50/- and Rs.75/- for about 8 to 10 bindis that come in one packet. Bottles of special glue are sold along with these bindis to allow re-use, as the sticking capacity wears off after a couple of uses. Even semi-precious kundan and meenakari gold plated bindi have found their way into jewellery shops and are priced between Rs.500/- and Rs.2000/-.

Ordinary sticker bindis range from Rs.2/- to Rs.15/-. The price increases depending on the design and finish. Bindis are sold on local trains pavements, cosmetic shops and shops that specialize in selling only bindis.

There are many different types of bindis available in the market and there is also a compact kit which panders to every taste. This interesting bindi kit contains phials of different coloured powders including gold and silver, along with some patterned blocks which when dipped into the powder and placed firmly on the forehead leave back the designed imprint, a little like block-printing. This bindi kit also has a glue-container to help the bindis in varying patterns, a couple of metal and opaque individual bindis and black and white paint, and paint brushes. Of course the traditional sindoor and kumkum are not left out because even when married women wear sticker bindis they still like to apply sindoor. This kit is priced between Rs.150/- and Rs.300/-.

As a traditional symbol of auspiciousness as well as an important fashion accessory, the bindi is here to stay, to embellish the foreheads of the Indian women in the present and the future.