The Bindi

Having lived and worked in Leicester for a number of years now, I have met a few different people of different cultures. Some folk are Hindu and I have noticed the mark on the forehead of many females, so I wondered about its significance. I have learned that the mark is known as a bindi and it is a Hindu tradition that dates to the third and fourth centuries. The bindi was traditionally worn by women for religious purposes or to indicate that they are married. But today the bindi has also become popular among women of all ages, as a beauty mark. Further research has told me that a bindi is a brightly coloured dot, or in modern times a sticker, which was originally worn on the centre of the forehead by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains from the Indian subcontinent.

A Hindu woman in Kullu, Himachal Pradesh wearing a bindi.

The bindi is applied in the centre of the forehead close to the eyebrows and worn in the Indian subcontinent, in particular amongst Hindus in India and Pakistan as well as other areas in and around South-east Asia. A similar marking is also worn by babies and children in China and, as in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, represents the opening of the ‘third eye’ chakra. It is also the point or dot around which the ‘mandala’ is created, representing the universe. Traditionally, the area between the eyebrows (where the bindi is placed) is said to be the sixth chakra, the seat of ‘concealed wisdom’. The bindi is said to retain energy and strengthen concentration, as it represents the third eye. The syllable for this chakra is ‘OM’. In metaphysics, ‘bindu’ is considered the dot or point at which creation begins and may become unity. It is also described as ‘the sacred symbol of the cosmos in its un-manifested state’. It is said to be linked to the pineal gland, which is a light sensitive gland that produces the hormone melatonin, regulating sleep as well as waking up. Ajna’s key issues involve balancing the higher and lower selves and trusting inner guidance. Its inner aspect also relates to the access of intuition. Mentally, Ajna deals with visual consciousness and emotionally it deals with clarity on an intuitive level.

The Goddess Tara depicted with Ajna, or third eye chakra.

This chakra is the point in the centre of the forehead commonly considered as the centre of consciousness. In Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, the bindi is associated with Ajna chakra and divinities in these religions are typically depicted in a meditative pose with their eyes nearly closed, with the gaze focused between eyebrows. The spot between the eyebrows known as Bhrumadhya is where one focuses one’s sight, so that it helps concentration. In South Asia, the bindi is worn by women of all religious dispositions and is not restricted to religion or region.

A relief from stupa, 2nd century BC.

The red bindi has multiple meanings and one simple interpretation is that it is a cosmetic mark used to enhance beauty. Archaeology has yielded clay female figurines from the Indus Valley with red pigment on the forehead and hair parting, but it is unclear whether this held any religious or cultural significance. In Hinduism, the colour red represents honour, love, and prosperity, hence it was worn to symbolise these aspects and in meditation, the point between the eyebrows is where one focuses one’s sight, to help concentration. The encyclopaedic ‘Dictionary of Yoga’ also reports that this ‘Ajna chakra’ is also called the ‘third eye’ and that this chakra is connected with the sacred syllable ‘Om’. On activating this centre, the aspirant overcomes ‘Ahankāra’ (the ego or sense of individuality), the last step on the path of spirituality.

Historically, the ornamental bindi spangle consists of a small piece of lac over which is smeared vermilion, while above it a piece of mica or thin glass is fixed for ornament. Women wore large spangles set in gold with a border of jewels if they could afford it. The bindi was made and sold by lac workers known as Lakhera. In Hinduism, it is part of the ‘Suhāg’ or ‘lucky trousseau’ at marriages and is affixed to the girl’s forehead on her wedding and thereafter always worn. Unmarried girls optionally wore small ornamental spangles on their foreheads. A widow was not allowed to wear a bindi or any ornamentation associated with married women. In modern times, self-adhesive bindi’s are available in various materials, usually made of felt or thin metal and adhesive on the other side. These are simple to apply, disposable substitutes for older lac bindi’s. Sticker bindi’s come in many colours, designs, materials and sizes. There are different regional variations of the bindi. In Maharashtra a large crescent, moon-shaped bindi is worn with a smaller black dot underneath or above, associated with Chandrabindu and Bindu chakra represented by crescent moon, they are commonly known as ‘Chandrakor’ in this region, outside Maharashtra they are popularly known as ‘Marathi bindi’. In the Bengal region a large round red bindi is worn, brides in this region are often decorated with ‘Alpana’ design on forehead and cheeks, along with the bindi. In southern India a smaller red bindi is worn with a white tilak at the bottom, another common type is a red tilak-shaped bindi. In Rajasthan the bindi is often worn round, long tilak-shaped bindi are also common, as well as the crescent moon on some occasions. Decorative bindi’s have become popular among women in South Asia, regardless of religious background. Bindi’s are a staple and symbolic for women in the Indian subcontinent. In addition to the bindi, in India a vermilion mark in the parting of the hair just above the forehead is worn by married women as commitment to long-life and well-being of their husbands. During all Hindu marriage ceremonies, the groom applies sindoor in the part in the bride’s hair. Apart from their cosmetic use, bindi’s have found a modern medical application in India and iodine patch bindi’s have often been used among women in north-west Maharashtra to battle iodine deficiency. But it seems that in South-east Asia, bindi’s are worn by Balinese, Javanese, and Sundanese of Indonesia. Historically, it was worn by many ‘Indianised’ kingdoms in Southeast Asia. Bindi’s are decorated on wedding brides and grooms of Java and other parts of Indonesia, even worn by non-Hindus, but bindi’s in Indonesia are usually white or green, rather than red or black as in India. Bindi’s are popular outside the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia as well, but they are sometimes worn purely for decorative purpose or style statement without any religious or cultural affiliation. Decorative and ornamental bindi’s were introduced to other parts of the world by immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. Bindi’s are also part of Bangladeshi culture and women there, irrespective of their religion, adorn themselves with bindi’s as an ethnic practice. In Pakistan, bindi’s are worn by some Muslim girls during Eid, though they are ordinarily worn by Hindu women in the Punjab and Sindh.

However, some international celebrities have been seen wearing bindi’s and the appropriateness of such uses has been disputed. Reacting to a celebrity wearing a bindi whilst singing a particular song, a Hindu leader said that the bindi has religious significance and should not be used as a fashion accessory, but an Indian actress praised the choice as ‘an embrace of Indian culture’. I have an idea that this will continue to be disputed by quite a few people.

This week…
Computers are being used more and more these days and many advances have been made regarding speech recognition. We can ask a computer to tell us what the traffic conditions are, what route to take or what the weather is like. I just hope it doesn’t get to this though.

Imagine yourself at some time in the distant future. You have computers that you talk to directly and they speak back. You have just landed on a planet you’ve never been to before and you ask your computer to check the atmospheric conditions outside. It replies: “Hmmm… it’s ok, but it smells a bit…”

(This courtesy of the late Douglas Adams, author of ‘The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy).

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