Tradition can be a hard thing to swallow at times. Some of us are naturally a bit more inclined towards it, while there are those of us that are a bit more reluctant. The power of customs and tradition can be great to help us solve some problems that we didn’t even know we had, but accepting things from the past without question can be hard at times.
To help bridge the gap between past and present, let’s take a deeper look at what a Sindoor is and what it means first, perhaps then we’ll be able to make a better-informed decision about whether it is still worth keeping this ancient tradition alive in the 21st century.
What is Sindoor?
Chances are you have seen a Sindoor many times before, but we should define it properly first because the name references a couple of different (although related things).
When we speak of Sindoor we could be talking about the cosmetic mark used in religious rituals by women all over India, or the powder itself.
It also goes by the name Sindooram or Kumkuma. It is the cosmetic powder used for many social and religious markings all over India. It is made out of:
- Cinnabar: A naturally occurring mineral that is widely used as a red dye.
- Turmeric: A very common plant in the region, used a lot in cooking.
- Lime: A mineral used for various purposes.
The combination of these three components makes up the powder that is later used in ceremonies. Nowadays there are synthetic versions of Sindoor available, and there are also many colors to choose from. Vermilion Red or a deep Orange are the shades chosen for a marriage marking.
The marking itself:
This is what we commonly refer to when we say “wearing a Sindoor”. It is the red marking worn along a woman’s parting of her hair that we see all over India. It is used for the first time during the marriage ceremony and later on throughout a married woman’s life to signify her commitment to her husband. It is a very important part of Hinduism that has been kept alive for many centuries.
A woman will not wear a Sindoor if she is not married, single women do not wear Sindoor on the parting of their hair, they may use the Sindoor powder to produce another marking called a Bindi on their forehead.
The Bindi is the famous dot that is so widely known throughout the world.
During the marriage ceremony, the husband will apply Sindoor powder for the first time on his wife’s hair, right where it parts in the middle of the head. Just like the exchanging of rings signifies a lasting union and commitment in other cultures, so does the Sindoor represent the new bond between husband and wife.
A married woman will usually continue to apply Sindoor to her hair daily, to show society her marital status. The actual way in which it is applied varies and is very personal. Some women will use it on their whole head, while others will use a much smaller amount of it. This is dependant on local customs. You could see Sindoor applied only on the forehead and back of the head of a woman and it would have the same significance as a complete line in the parting of the hair completely colored with Sindoor.
A woman will only remove and stop wearing her Sindoor in the event of the death of her husband. When she becomes a widow she stops wearing color on her head altogether and the Sindoor is removed to never return, this is also accompanied by a lack of color in the choice of clothes as well.
Some date the usage of Bindi and Sindoor within Hindu culture as far back as five thousand years ago, it is certainly a tradition that has survived the passage of time and is still very much alive today.
Now that we have defined it and know a bit more about its usage, let’s take a look at a few reasons why we could adopt it in our daily lives and continue to honor the traditions that brought it to us from so long ago.
- It gives society a distinct look: One could argue that the look of India is greatly defined worldwide by the use of Sindoor, it instantly gives context to what we are looking at and places us right in the middle of India. if you have actually visited some of the places where it is used you might even be reminded of colors, sounds and smells that are characteristic of the region, just by looking at a Sindoor. It has become a signature throughout the world.
- Makes social interactions easier: I believe that it certainly makes a woman’s life easier to have a way with which to broadcast to the world that she is married and not available. It is hard to imagine a more clear and distinct symbol than a Sindoor for this (or any other) purpose. Makes life a bit easier on men too, avoiding the quick glances at hands to try to find a marriage or engagement ring on a woman’s hand.
- Broadcasts your background: In such a global society wearing your, Sindoor can help give people your background very fast, avoiding confusion and even making communication easier and faster. You can instantly tell what part of the world a person is from by looking at their Sindoor, and this gives you a lot of other cultural background details as well, which can be very helpful at times.
- Symbols make you a part of something greater: Whether you embrace tradition or are more fond of questioning everything, there is great and undeniable power in feeling part of something that is bigger than oneself. This doesn’t have to mean that you simply comply blindly, but that you can embrace a common practice to enhance your everyday life in a small way.