The incredible wealth of India’s cultural heritage has been explored more than ever before in the last few decades by the west, but there is always much more to be uncovered. Major international stars have popularised some elements of Indian culture and tradition, bringing them to the catwalk or on stage. Traditional ingredients, from sandalwood to coconut oil, are becoming increasingly popular as staples of western cosmetics. Let’s take a look at two of these Indian cultural jewels.
The bindi, meaning ‘drop’ or ‘dot’ in Sanskrit, is perhaps the most famous Indian body decoration. Traditionally signifying the sixth chakra, the seat of concealed wisdom between the eyebrows, and representing the inner eye, the bindi has been prevalent in the subcontinent since time immemorial.
In the modern age, bindis were popularised in the west by rock singers Gwen Stefani and Bjork, who wore the decoration in the 1990s. Since that time, the bindi has been assimilated into western culture for its cosmetic value.
Mehndi, or henna, originated in ancient India, and has been used since that time to decorate brides on their wedding day. In some parts of India, including Rajasthan, grooms are also painted. The use of mehndi spread prior to the modern age to Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and parts of Africa, where it has had various cultural and religious uses. In India, mehndi represented the outer and inner sun element in a person, explaining the common use of solar patterns in the art.
The popularisation of henna in the western world needs little introduction, and the term ‘henna tattoo’ is commonly used to refer to the artwork. The west has adapted mehndi to its own purposes, following in the traditions of the multitude of Indian communities and those abroad who have adapted the artwork to their own cultures. Mehndi is truly whatever the wearer wants it to be, making it one of the most diverse and inspiring traditions to come from ancient India.