Today in India and in other Southeastern countries, that little decorative item called a ‘Bindi’ or ‘Tikka’ worn by Hindus on their foreheads, by both men and women, in between the eyebrows, is just that, a decorative item. It comes in all shapes, sizes and colors, made from powder, sometimes felt and sometimes colored glass stones and semi precious stones!! Now an item of beauty and fashion you will find the poet eloquently describing how the ‘Bindi’ enhances the beauty of the beloved.
Do you wonder whether there is any significance attached to wearing a Bindi? Was a higher thinking involved when the concept of a Bindi was conceived? Yes, the Bindi has a spiritual, health and social purpose as well as a decorative purpose.
I’ll start with the Spiritual purpose as it is the most important one of them all. As per Hinduism the purpose of life is to find your true self, to realize the Infinite Reality. Every morning one takes a bath and sits in prayer, (not to say prayers like a parrot), to seek for the absolute truth through every ritual and prayer. However, one has to make a living and cannot sit in prayer the whole day. Thus, as one leaves the prayer room one is expected to put some mark on one’s forehead (between the eyebrows – which is the seat of memory) to remind one during the day and through all activities of the ‘purpose of life’. As we cannot see the mark on our own foreheads when we see it on another we recall the purpose of our life. The idea is to remember that all actions in the external world are dedicated towards the achievement of this supreme goal of self realization. The purpose is to recall the purpose, reflect and contemplate upon Reality in and through all activities throughout the day.
Society has always wanted to categorize, tag people and groups. The Bindi performed a similar function in the ‘Social’ realm. The social purpose was to ward of the evil eye of the young unmarried girl by making her wear a ‘black’ Bindi. As a child I have been admonished many a times for not wearing a bindi not for the spiritual reason but with the reason ‘you don’t look nice without a bindi’ !!. The married women wore a red Bindi representing Shakti (strength) and blessings of Goddess Parvati. The 4 castes wore different color tilaks. The Brahmins who were priests or academicians wore a tilak of white sandal wood signifying purity. The Khatriyas (Kings and Warriors and Administrators) wore red tilak to signify valour. The Vaishyas (Business men) wore a yellow tilak signifying prosperity. The Sudra (service class) wore black tilak to signify service to the other classes. Then, differentiation based on whom you worshipped was also there. The worshippers of Lord Vishnu applied it in a shape of a ‘U’ and worshippers of Lord Shiva applied it with ash as three lines across the forehead. This is one tradition which is followed by many men in all parts of India, especially in South India, even at the cost of being mocked by the younger generations. All these cause differentiation amongst people. This to me is a far cry from the original purpose which urges us to think on the lines of oneness amongst all creatures.
From a health point of view, the Bindi is worn between the eyebrows know as ‘Ajna chakra’ or the pituitary gland. This is an important nerve center and applying sandalwood or ash keeps the nerves cool and so keeps you cool and conserves energy. In the past the Bindi was made from the yellow and red sandalwood, red and yellow turmeric, saffron, various flowers, ash, zinc oxide. All these had cooling properties. Today people wear Bindi made from felt with glue on the other side thus the health purpose is also not achieved !!
Both in the past and present the Bindi has been used for decorative purposes. It is applied on the forehead, arms and navel to make fashion statements.
Sadly everything of significance of wearing a Bindi is lost for the common man and only those creating differentiations amongst people, enhancing the external world instead of dwelling on the internal world remains.
*Sample article source: http://voices.yahoo.com/bindi-why-hindus-india-wear-it-1555637.html