Moon, star, lotus, peacock, conch, shell, leaf, snake, paisley, swastika and geometrical designs: the Indian wonan is wearing them all on their forehead in form of stick-on bindis.

Bindi is now a part of her make-up kit, the grand finale to today’s fashion fad. The bindi is much more than just another embellishment enhancing the charm of a woman. Originally being round in shape only, it is a reminder of Indian culture in its myriad aspects.

The bindi has been in vogue since Vedic times, finding mention in various ancient Indian literature. Since centuries, the bindi has been and still remains, the mangalaya or the sign of an Indian married woman, other ones being the sindoor, mangalsutra (also called ramnami) nose ring, bangles and so on. Once it was considered impertinent to ask a woman her marital status i.e. whether she was married, unmarried or a widow – her mangalaya showed all. During the time of Civil Disobedience in Chennai, a married woman who was deprived of her mangalsutra in prison, created a stir throughout the country. Eventually, the Law Member had to intervene to order the prison authorities to restore the mangalsutra to her.

Traditionally, a woman applies the bindi after a bath, even when she is seriously ill, with the right finger of her right hand. But today many women are sporting it in various designs as a mark of beauty.

Past Vedic Age, the position of women declined. It was Lord Buddha who emphasized that a woman be given a most honoured status in society. In a sermon in Banaras (Varanasi), he symbolised it by giving her the mark of the bindu (O, i.e. a drop or a dot in form of a circle) now called bindi, to married woman. In fact, he addressed every woman as bindumati. He felt that a bindumati represented eternity as she gave birth to a family which continued generation after generation. Thus the bindi came to symbolise the reproductive section of mankind i.e. a family as a distinct unit of society.

However, some modern feminists opine that the irndi pro-claimed male superiority i.e. woman was a man’s possession, a part of his dhan Mythology says that Lord Shiva had a third eye – the eye of wisdom. Those who worshipped him, symbolised his wisdom by applying the bindi, the mark of the third eye. It is believed that when man had not degenerated, he possessed the third eye, which later turned into two small eyes. Sages opine that human beings will regain their third eye when they able to conquer their desires.

As vital as the spot between one’s two brows, is the top centre of one’s head where the all powerful human eye used to exist in the days of Kubera, Arimaspes and Cyclops. Rishis and yogis symbolised God as a dot, at an infinite distance from mankind. They meditated upon this dot to keep their mind away from desires and temptations. They believed that this dot-like soul has its abode in middle of the forehead. Thus the bindi also symbolises man’s quest for self-realisation, freeing themselves from the interminable cycle of births and deaths to attain nirvana. A bindi on a woman’s forehead reminded men that a woman’s physical body was a part of God’s self and ought not to be considered as instrument for man’s lust; it was primarily for procreation.

Different form of bindis is tikkas or itlaks worn by men and women alike. The ones of sacred ashes like burnt camphor is interpreted as victory of senses over desires, thus leading to the third eye. Other ashes are supposed to bum sins, uproot dangers and protect from evil spirits all leading to attainment of spiritual enlightenment.

In South, the bindi is known as gopi, pottu and kuri, materials varying from sandalwood paste to red and black powders. The sandalwood paste, smeared on foreheads, cools the vital spot between the brows, prevents anger, thus soothing both body and mind, a necessary condition for achieving peace of mind. Sandalwood paste is of two varieties. The yellow one is known as Gopichandan (also Vlshnuchandan) because gopis smeared it on Lord Krishna’s body. Red sandalwood paste is used in rituals of worship. The red kumkum powder or sindoor which contains turmeric is used to worship Goddess Parvati. Today all colours of bindi whether liquid, powder, cream or stick-ons are available to match dresses.