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A bindi (Hindi: बिंदी, from Sanskrit bindu, meaning "a drop, small particle, dot"; see below for alternative designations) is a forehead decoration worn in South Asia (particularly India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Mauritius) and Southeast Asia. Traditionally it is a bright dot of red colour applied in the centre of the forehead close to the eyebrows, but it can also consist of other colours with a sign or piece of jewellery worn at this location.
Traditionally, the area between the eyebrows (where the bindi is placed) is said to be the sixth chakra, ajna, the seat of "concealed wisdom". The bindi is said to retain energy and strengthen concentration. The bindi also represents the third eye. The Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda, the earliest known Sanskrit text, mentions the word vindu/bindu.
In modern times, the bindi is worn by women of many religious dispositions in South Asia and Southeast Asia, and is not restricted to one religion or region. However, the Islamic Research Foundation, located in India, says "wearing a bindi or mangalsutra is a sign of Hindu women. The traditional bindi still represents and preserves the symbolic significance that is integrated into Indian mythology in many parts of India.
Red represents honour, love and prosperity, hence it was worn traditionally by women to symbolise this.
The red bindi has multiple meanings which are all valid at the same time. It is also a spiritual symbol.
A traditional bindi is red or maroon in colour. A pinch of vermilion powder applied skilfully with a practised fingertip makes a perfect red dot. It takes considerable practice to achieve the perfect round shape by hand. A small annular disc (perhaps a coin) aids application for beginners. First they apply a sticky wax paste through the empty centre of the disc. This is then covered with kumkum or vermilion and then the disc is removed to get a perfect round bindi. Various materials such as sandal, 'aguru', 'kasturi', 'kumkum' (made of red turmeric) and 'sindoor' (made of zinc oxide and dye) colour the dot. Saffron ground together with 'kusumba' flower can also work.
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 on the parting in the bride's hair. The bride must wipe off her red bindi once she becomes a widow. This can be seen as symbolic and shows her status in society. Widows can continue to wear the black bindi but with a white sari.
Pottu is the application of a black dot kept on the forehead. Pottu can be a form of holistic medicine, in Indian traditions such as Siddha or Ayurveda, wherein herbs are heated until they turn black then made into a paste and applied to the forehead.
Many Kurdish women wear tattoo motifs on their forehead to ward off evil spirits and show their ethnic group. In Morocco women used to tattoo their foreheads for good luck. This tradition is now almost extinct. Within North Africa many tribes have used tattoo motifs to symbolise fertility especially on their forehead. Some tribes in Afghanistan still tattoo and decorate women's foreheads for cultural and traditional purposes.
Ancient Chinese women wore similar marks (for purely decorative purposes) since the second century, which became popular during the Tang Dynasty. As depicted in the films House of Flying Daggers and Mulan.
In traditional Korean weddings, the bride also wears a decorative mark on the forehead and cheeks, with origins from Mongolia, but whether this practice has roots from India is not known.
Catholic churches use ash to mark the forehead on Ash Wednesday.
Bindis are worn throughout South Asia, specifically India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, by women, men, girls and boys and no longer signify age, marital status, religious background or ethnic affiliation. The bindi has become a decorative item and is no longer restricted in colour or shape. Self-adhesive bindis (also known as sticker bindis) are available, usually made of felt or thin metal and adhesive on the other side. These are simple to apply, disposable substitutes for older tilak bindis. Sticker bindis come in many colors, designs, materials, and sizes. Some are decorated with sequins, glass beads, or rhinestones. Bindis are not worn by women in Pakistan, or typically by Indian Muslim women. However they are worn by Bangladeshi women regardless of religious affiliation.
In India there are different regional variations of the bindi. In Maharastra a large crescent shape bindi is worn with a smaller black dot underneath. In Bengal a large round red bindi is worn. In southern India a smaller red bindi is worn with a white tilak on top. In Rajastan the bindi is worn longer and with a teardrop shape.
Bindis are now popular outside South Asia as well. Sometimes they are worn as a style statement. International celebrities such as Gwen Stefani, Julia Roberts, Madonna, Selena Gomez and many others have been seen wearing bindis.
A bindi can be called:
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