Forget the stick-on bindis and the multicoloured forehead adornments –nothing can compare with a pinch of authentic sindur for a classic vision of Indian womanhood. This vermillion powder, smudged into the hair parting, reflects marital status and cannot be worn by an unmarried girl or widow. It symbolises that the husband of the woman is alive and she is enjoying his love, care and guardianship.
According to mythology, red is the colour of power while vermilion is a symbol of the female energy of Parvati and Sati. The latter is regarded as the ideal wife who gave her life for her husband’s honour and every Hindu wife is supposed to emulate her. It is also believed that Goddess Parvati protects all men whose wives apply sindur on a daily basis.
This vermillion powder, smudged into the hair parting, reflects marital status and cannot be worn by an unmarried girl or widow
This practise carries astrological significance as well. According to Hindu astrology, Mesha Rashi (House of Aries) is on the forehead. Mars is the the Lord of Mesha and his colour is red. Hence, wearing this colour on your forehead is believed to be auspicious.
However, there is also no lack of cynics. Feminists, who eschew any symbol that “brands” a woman as married joke that sindur was devised as another means of overbearing modesty, covering even that tiny fraction of her anatomy from the gaze of anyone but her husband! And it’s interesting to note that this traditional act carries physiological significance as well: Sindur is prepared by mixing turmeric, lime and the metal mercury. Mercury, it is well established, controls blood pressure and activates sexual drive, especially when applied pto the pituitary gland where all our feelings are centered. Maybe this is why sindoor is prohibited for the widows?
Feminists, who eschew any symbol that “brands” a woman as married joke that sindur was devised as another means of overbearing modesty, covering even that tiny fraction of her anatomy from the gaze of anyone but her husband
Whatever the reasons, this vermillion powder has been a part of Indian culture since at least the past 5,000 years. Excavations at Mehrgarh, Baluchistan, show that it was applied to the partition of women’s hair even in early Harappan times. And even though contemporary brides like moi don’t really bother with it on a daily basis in today’s day and age, it’s definitely a beautiful tradition that comes out in full play during festivals and weddings.
Intrigued? You can mix up a small batch of your own with this simple yet completely authentic recipe from Almond Eyes, Lotus Feet: Soak sticks of turmeric overnight and scrape off skin with a sharp knife. Grind together two teaspoons each of papadhkar and drumsticks (savaghi), finely sieve and mix with lemon juice. Apply to turmeric sticks, which will turn red. Grind sticks into sindur powder.