Aside from the beautiful saris and gold jewelry that characterize much of the Indian subcontinent’s culture, one of the most internationally-known body adornments worn by Hindu and Jain women is the bindi, a red dot applied between the eyebrows on the forehead.
The term “bindi” stems from the Sanskrit word bindu, which means drop or particle. Because of the many languages and dialects spoken throughout India, it is important to note that bindis are otherwise known by many other names, including kumkum, sindoor, teep, tikli and bottu.
However, the meaning behind the ornament, regardless of region or language, remains the same.
Around 3000 BC, the rishi-muni (ancient seers of Hinduism) wrote the Vedas, in which they described the existence of areas of concentrated energy called the chakras. There are seven main chakras that run along the center of the body, and the sixth one (called the ajna chakra, the “brow chakra” or “third eye chakra”) occurs exactly where the bindi is placed.
In Sanskrit, ajna translates as “command” or “perceive,” and is considered the eye of intuition and intellect. According to the Vedas, when something is seen in the mind’s eye or in a dream, it is also seen by ajna. Thus, the bindi’s purpose is to enhance the powers of this chakra, specifically by facilitating one’s ability to access their inner wisdom or guru, allowing them to see the world and interpret things in a truthful, unbiased manner as well as forsake their ego and rid their false labels.
Hindu tradition holds that all people have a third inner eye. The two physical eyes are used for seeing the external world, while the third focuses inward toward God. As such, the red dot signifies piety as well as serving as a constant reminder to keep God at the center of one’s thoughts.
The bindi, especially a red-colored one, also serves as an auspicious sign of marriage. As the Hindu bride steps over the threshold of her husband’s home, her red bindi is believed to usher in prosperity and grant her a place as the family’s newest guardian. As such, when a woman is widowed, she no longer wears a red bindi due to its association with marriage. At most, she will wear a black dot on her forehead.
In modern times, however, the bindi’s symbolism is no longer strictly adhered to. Bindis now come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and are largely used as beauty accessories.
This evokes the question of cultural appropriation, as many Hollywood celebrities (Vanessa Hudgens, Gwen Stefani, Selena Gomez) have began wearing the bindi as a fashion statement. While some individuals with traditional bindi-wearing cultures criticize this act, there are others who view it simply as an attempt to embrace Indian culture.
My belief is this: if you turn up to Coachella with a jeweled bindi on your forehead along with a profound knowledge about the religious and cultural meaning behind the ornament, then by all means, go flaunt that bindi! But if you do not know the symbolism behind the dot or don’t care to learn about it, then there’s no reason for you to wear it. As proven, the bindi is more than just a red dot.