Sunday, January 29, 2006

The bindi and the impact of elegant Indian style

Originally uploaded by hpk.
Red forehead dot: bindi

Bindi is derived from the Sanskrit word "Bindu" or a drop. It is supposed to signify the mystic third eye of a person and therefore, when properly marked, becomes the central point of the base of the creation itself. It is a symbol of auspiciousness, good fortune and festivity.

Why Bindi?
The very positioning of the bindi is significant. The area between the eyebrows is the seat of latent wisdom. This area is known as the "Agna" (6th chakra) meaning "command". It is said to control various levels of concentration attained through meditation. The central point of this area is the "Bindu" wherein all experience is gathered in total concentration. Tantric tradition has it that during meditation, the "kundalini" - the latent energy that lies at the base of the spine is awakened and rises to the point of sahasrara (7th chakra) situated in the head or brain. The central point, the bindu, becomes therefore a possible outlet for this potent energy. It is believed that the red kumkum lies between the eyebrows to retain energy in the human body.

Myths and Significance - The color red
Bindi, which is often described as Sindhura or Tilaka, means red, and Gandha, which is also a term for Tilaka, means pleasant odour. The colour red is significant. Red represents Shakti (strength). The red colour, some believe, symbolizes the far more ancient practice of offering blood sacrifices to propitiate the Gods - particularly the Goddess Shakti. In time, communities put an end to actual sacrifices and offered gifts instead, but the colour red remained. Red, it is believed, symbolizes love. The yellow of the spice turmeric has the power to influence the intellect. That is why the red kumkum and the yellow turmeric are placed side by side in temples or in any homes during a celebration. Both are offered to women at the time of leave-taking in certain parts of the country. This is to express goodwill and the hosts' prayers for the visitors' continued good fortune.

Some scholars have seen the red colour as a symbolism for blood. We are told that in ancient times, in Aryan society, a groom used to apply his blood on his bride's forehead as recognition of wedlock. The existing practice among Indian women of applying a round shaped red Tilaka called Bindiya or Kumkum could be a survival of this.

It denotes the woman's married status in most of the North Indian communities but in South India it is a prerogative of all girls to wear a bindi. The bridegroom's make-up is incomplete without the Tilaka. The decked North Indian bride steps over the threshold of her married home, resplendent with the red bindi on her forehead. The red color is supposed to augur prosperity for the home she is entering. The mark makes her the preserver of the family's welfare and progeny.

Significantly when an Indian woman has the misfortune of becoming a widow she has to stop wearing this mark. In a woman's case a Tilaka is a sign of her being in wedlock. Among men, the Tilaka has been traditionally interpreted as a good luck charm.

Conservative women still use ages old kumkum or sindoor for making a bindi. In olden days, to get a perfect round they used to use a small circular disc or a hollow pie coin. First a sticky wax paste or Vaseline was applied on the empty space in the disc. This was then covered with kumkum and then the disc was removed.... and presto you had a perfect round bindi. Today, the kumkum has been largely replaced by the "sticker-bindi". Made of felt, with glue on one side, this is an ingenious, easy-to-use substitute. The sticker-bindi comes in all colours and design, sequinned, dusted with gold powder, studded with beads and glittering stones and in different sizes. Some are truly exotic creations, using thin metal, in gold and silver colours, encrusted with glittering stones.

The bindi today is a fashion statement. Apparently, one that is sweeping the West, judging by the number of young performers sporting bindis on music channels. The bindi is an adornment that lights up your face and gives it a focal point. Bindi, on the beloved's forehead is supposed to mesmerise her lover. Poets, through ages have composed couplets on the beautiful bindiya of the damsel. The bindi still attracts a lot of attention, as it is the first thing that catches our eye. This little dot has always received a place of importance in Indian customs. The bindi carries with it a wealth of meaning and is an on-going link with a very ancient tradition and past.

A little more about KUMKUM
Kumkum attains special importance in temples dedicated to Shakti, Lakshmi and in other Vaishnavite temples. Kumkum is of special significance of Fridays and special occasions. The little red kumkum has a long and ancient tradition. A silent watcher, the kumkum has travelled through our 5000-year-old culture. Our religious texts, scriptures, myths and epics mention the kumkum. Radha turned the kumkum into a flame- like design on her forehead, it is said. Draupadi, in despair and disillusion, wiped the kumkum off her forehead on that dark day at Hastinapur. The practice of using kumkum on foreheads is mentioned in many ancient texts - the Puranas, Lalitha Sahasranamam, Soundarya Lahhari to name a few.

In the old days, materials like chandhanam, aguru, kasturi, kumkum and sindoor were used to make the tika. Women also ground saffron together with the kusumbha flower to create a paste to use on their foreheads.

Kumkum and sindoor are of two different materials. Kumkum is made of red turmeric. Sindoor, worn on the centre parting of the hair, is used in certain parts of the country. Red in colour, it is made of zinc oxide.

Both sindoor and kumkum are auspicious. Both stand for good fortune and signs of "Soubhagya" in the case of a married woman. Men wore the mystic central vermilion dot as a mark of spiritual intelligence. The forehead dot known as the "urna" is found on the 2nd and 3rd century AD sculptures of Lord Buddha. Today, most men wear kumkum specifically during worship or religious ceremonies.

The kumkum, apart from being an auspicious adornment, also played the role of a silent communicator in the old days. Women who had lost their husbands did not wear kumkum. If there was a death in the family, women did not wear kumkum. Many married women would use turmeric as a substitute merely to indicate, not widowhood, but a state of mourning in the family.

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