Bindi: The Great Indian Forehead Art
The bindi is arguably the most visually fascinating of all forms of body decoration. Hindus attach great importance to this ornamental mark on the forehead between the two eyebrows -- a spot considered a major chakra point in the human body since ancient times. Also loosely known as 'tika', 'pottu', 'sindoor', 'tilak', 'tilakam', and 'kumkum', a bindi is usually a small or a big eye-catching round mark made on the forehead as adornment.
That Red Dot
In southern India, girls choose to wear a bindi, while in other parts of India it is the prerogative of the married woman. A red dot on the forehead is an auspicious sign of marriage and guarantees the social status and sanctity of the institution of marriage. The Indian bride steps over the threshold of her husband's home, bedecked in glittering apparel and ornaments, dazzling the red bindi on her forehead that is believed to usher in prosperity, and grants her a place as the guardian of the family's welfare and progeny.
A Hot Spot!
The area between the eyebrows, the sixth chakra is known as the 'agna' meaning 'command', is the seat of concealed wisdom. It is the center point wherein all experience is gathered in total concentration. According to the tantric cult, when during meditation the latent energy ('kundalini') rises from the base of the spine towards the head, this 'agna' is the probable outlet for this potent energy. The red 'kumkum' between the eyebrows is said to retain energy in the human body and control the various levels of concentration. It is also the central point of the base of the creation itself — symbolizing auspiciousness and good fortune.
How to Apply
Traditional bindi is red or maroon in color. A pinch of vermilion powder applied skillfully with practiced fingertip make the perfect red dot. Women who are not nimble-fingered take great pains to get the perfect round. They use small circular discs or hollow pie coin as aid. First, they apply a sticky wax paste on the empty space in the disc. This is then covered with kumkum or vermilion and then the disc is removed to get a perfect round bindi. Sandal, 'aguru', 'kasturi', 'kumkum' (made of red turmeric) and 'sindoor' (made of zinc oxide and dye) make this special red dot. Saffron ground together with 'kusumba' flower can also create the magic!
With changing fashion, women try out many shapes and designs. It is, at times a straight vertical line or an oval, a triangle or miniature artistry ('alpana') made with a fine-tipped stick, dusted with gold and silver powder, studded with beads and crusted with glittering stones. The advent of the sticker-bindi made of felt with glue on one side, has not only added colors, shapes, and sizes to the bindi but is an ingenious easy-to-use alternative to the powder. Today, the bindi is more of a fashion statement than anything else, and the number of young performers sporting bindis is overwhelming even in the West.
History of the Bindi
'Bindi' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'bindu' or a drop, and suggests the mystic third eye of a person. In ancient India, garlands were an important part of the evening-dress of both men and women. This was often accompanied by 'Visesakachhedya', i.e., painting the forehead with a bindi or 'tilaka'. In those days, thin and tender leaves used to be cut into different shapes and pasted upon the forehead. These leafy bindis were also known by various names -- 'Patrachhedya', 'Patralekha', 'Patrabhanga', or 'Patramanjari'. Not only on the forehead, but also on the chin, neck, palm, breast and in other parts of the body, sandal paste and other natural stuff were used for decoration.
Myths and Significance
The vermilion, traditionally used exclusively for bindis, is called 'sindura' or 'sindoor'. It means 'red', and represents Shakti (strength). It also symbolizes love -- one on the beloved's forehead lights up her face and captivates the lover. As a good omen, 'sindoor' is placed in temples or during celebrations along with turmeric (yellow) that stands for intellect especially in temples dedicated to Shakti, Lakshmi and Vishnu.
Sindoor in Scriptures
'Sindoor' and 'kumkum' are of special significance on special occasions. The practice of using 'kumkum' on foreheads is mentioned in many ancient texts or Puranas, including Lalitha Sahasranamam and Soundarya Lahhari. Our religious texts, scriptures, myths and epics too mention the significance of 'kumkum'. Legends have it that Radha turned her 'kumkum' bindi into a flame-like design on her forehead, and in the Mahabharata, Draupadi wiped her 'kumkum' off the forehead in despair and disillusion at Hastinapur.
Bindi and Sacrifice
Many people associate the red bindi with the ancient practice of offering blood sacrifices to appease the Gods. Even in the ancient Aryan society, a bridegroom made a 'tilak' mark on the bride's forehead as a sign of wedlock. The present practice could be an extension of that tradition. Significantly, when an Indian woman has the misfortune of becoming a widow, she stops wearing the bindi. Also, if there is death in the family, the women folks' bindi-less face tells the community that the family is in mourning.
By Subhamoy Das