The wearing of markings or decoration on the forehead has become wide spread, now worn by people of many cultures for many reasons or simply as a fashion item.
The word ‘Bindi’ is derived from the Sanskrit ‘bindu’ meaning a drop or round, it is an ornamental mark on the forehead. Bindi refers to the decorative stick on designs. In Asian culture when a mark is drawn there, it is called a “tilaka”. When there is a pendant dangling from a chain secured in the hair, it is called a “tikka”.
The mark is traditionally drawn by dipping the fingertip in red vermilion or kumkum powder and applying as round a dot as possible between the eyebrows. This spot is considered a major nerve point in the human body since ancient times and the location of the mystic third eye. This area is the site of the sixth chakra known as the ‘agna’ meaning ‘command’. It is said to be the seat of concealed wisdom, the centre 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 outlet for this potent energy. Wearing a red ‘kumkum’ between the eyebrows is said to retain this energy in the body and help control levels of concentration.
Tilaka are generally worn by religious men and married women. The look and color of them will depend on their beliefs as individuals, or which sect they are from, and what occasion it is. Vaishnavists generally wear vertical lines, where Shaivites generally wear horizontal lines, but, depending on local customs, all may wear a smudge of sandalwood, vermillion, or another colorful powder, when they have visited someone who wishes to give them a blessing or a spiritual gift.
Tikka are mostly worn for very formal occasions or weddings, though there are some that are made to be a little more casual.
The decorative bindi, has long been associated exclusively with Hindu women. In certain parts of India a red dot on the forehead is a sign of marriage. A bridegroom makes a ’tilak’ mark on the bride’s forehead as a sign of wedlock. When an Indian woman is widowed, she stops wearing the bindi. In some cases, during the husband’s funeral, the red kumkum powder once used for drawing the bindi is thrown on his body while it is wiped from his wife’s forehead. Many people associate the red bindi with the ancient practice of offering blood sacrifices to appease the Gods, so this may be an extension of that tradition.
The bindi is also said to ward off the evil eye in the form of demons or bad luck. It symbolises auspiciousness and good fortune. Considered a blessed symbol of Uma or Parvati, a bindi signifies female energy (shakti) and is believed to protect women and their husbands.
The earliest references to the bindi in literature were in the illustrations of third and fourth century texts showing Hindu women wearing them. It is assumed today that the bindi was used to distinguish women from different castes, if and by the way they wore them as well as what colour and shape they were.
Even in ancient times, bindis used to be not only red, but also white, yellow, brown and black, depending on the material they were made from – plants, seeds, fruits or soot. Red was always a colour considered auspicious and therefore used on most occasions.
The meaning of the bindi has not only shifted but got completely reversed over the centuries – from a mark of exclusion or exclusivity to a decorative (fashion) statement that unites women around the world.
When purchasing bindi, in order to be sensitve of other cultures, it is helpful to know what various symbols mean. Here is a list of common bindi shapes, and their meanings in Asian symbolism.
- A tear drop or circle – A blessing from the deities
- Design within a circle – The divine discus, presented by Vishnu to Shiva, as a gift.
- Paisley – A stylized Muslim symbol for the pine cone, or a contemporary symbol of moral freedom, tolerance, and peace.
- Swan – Tribal symbol for beauty, family, and communal values or Vishnu
- Flame – Fire, intensity, Shiva in the form of fire.
- Snake – Nag (the deity), fertility, cunning/intelligence, a “dark” sensibility.
- Spider – Creativity, weaving, creation
- Elephant trunk – Ganesha, wisdom, strength.
- Mirrors or reflective – In some tribes it means protection from evil eye, reminder that what you do comes back, karma.
- Hollow teardrop or eye shape – the Yoni, Shakti, womanhood. If it is shaped like a noose, it is the symbolof the deity of death catching his victims.
- Square/diamond – Four elements
- Sunburst – The sun
- Trident – A weapon of Shiva, symbolizing creation, destruction, and regeneration.
- Spear – Victory, the vanquishing of enemies, or removal of obstacles.
- Eye – Invokes Shiva, Kali, or shows reverence to the Nepalese “Khumari” or living goddess. The Khumari is chosen in toddlerhood, based on her fearlessness and closeness to perfection, and much revered until her term ends, at the first time she ever bleeds for any reason. However, it is said that those who marry a former Khumari are sure to have a tragic death.
This article is by no means complete and I will have more to add as I research further. I also intend to look at other body adornments including tattoos placed in this significant position, as seen in North African Tribes and the inspiration for many a Tribal belly dancers make up.