A bindi is a dot that is worn on the forehead and holds a special cultural significance as per the Hindu religion and is an integral part of the rich Indian heritage.
The dot is worn between the eyebrows over a point that is considered to be the Ajna Chakra - the location that is associated with concealed wisdom.
Pressure on this point while applying the bindi is said to energise the chakra and strengthen one’s concentration. As per Hindu tradition, the bindi is also a mark of a woman being married and her wearing it day after day signifies her commitment towards the well-being of her husband. While wearing a bindi before marriage is optional, it is mandatory for a married woman to wear a bindi everyday - it is a social symbol, much like wearing the traditional mangalsutra and the wedding band.
Of course, the cultural context of the bindi has lost its significance in the modern times, thanks to it turning out to be more of an ornamentation than anything else. It is no longer applied by taking a small amount of fragrant sandal and vermillion paste on a fingertip and gently rubbing it between the eyebrows. Today, you see women strip off a sticker from a pack of vibrant bindi designs and sticking it on their foreheads, also stripping off the bindi’s association with the Indian heritage in the process. There goes the activation of the ajna chakra out of the window! Furthermore, women are no longer wearing a bindi on a daily basis as a symbol of being married. With more and more women embracing western and Indo-western outfits, bindis no longer suit the overall look. In fact, the way things stand today, wearing a bindi with anything other than wedding or festive wear is considered regressive, at least among the youth. Bindis are pulled out of the dresser during the occasional wedding or festival to ‘complete the traditional ensemble’ and nothing else.
With Indians themselves turning it into an accessory to beautify their look more than anything else, it is not surprising that the west is also following suit. It is a pretty accessory, looks exotic enough to make one stand out and will definitely be a conversation starter - so what’s not to gain by wearing one?
This cultural appropriation by the west has raised quite a few eyebrows, especially when celebrities like Gwen Stefani and Selena Gomez wore it as an accessory during award ceremonies to make a fashion statement. True, the bindi is no longer a cultural symbol of Indian heritage when they wear it that way, but how do the ‘fashion forward’ native Indians who are aware of this trend and talking about it, perceive the bindi? Who are we to cry foul when we ourselves wear a bindi for its beauty without understanding its cultural meaning?
If as Indians we are so touchy about the west stripping off the rich Indian heritage associated with the bindi, then we should ask ourselves as to what have we done to preserve the religious, cultural and spiritual significance of the bindi better? Had we not come up with a thousand bindi designs and changed the way the bindi is perceived, there is no way it would be treated as a mere fashion accessory as it is today. But we did what we did and now we are definitely not in a position to take offence over the cultural appropriation of the bindi.
Let us face the fact that Indian culture is evolving and we no longer place the kind of significance to the bindi as we did in the past. At least not everybody does. So if the west thinks that it is a beautiful piece of accessory and wants to flaunt it, it is their choice to do so. In fact, we could go one step ahead and be happy about the west discovering the beauty of adorning one’s forehead with bindi designs rather than raising a hue and cry about it. As Priyanka Chopra said in reaction to Selena Gomez’s use of the bindi, “In today's day and age, the bindi is not restricted to religious or traditional purposes, but is actually a very popular fashion accessory.” We cannot agree more! Also, imitation is the best form of flattery. If someone thinks that this aspect of the Indian heritage is beautiful and embraces it without causing any harm to anyone, we should just let them go about it.