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
czarinas 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 womans 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 its 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 husbands 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 brides forehead and on the top of her
head, where she parts her hair in south India the day the bride steps
into her husbands 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
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/-
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.