Chopra, Prem Shil. Sangeeta Talwar, née Chopra. Photograph. New Delhi, India, 1988. Sangeeta Chopra wears a bindi at a marriage.
Hooper, Willoughby Wallace. Portrait of a Man. Photograph. India, 1870. J. Paul Getty Museum. Portrait of a native man wearing a light-colored turban and garments and a bindi on his forehead.
Chopra, Prem Shil. Prem Lata Chopra. Photograph. Madras, India, 1962. Prem Lata Chopra taking in the South Indian scenery.
Lions Club of Bombay Hilltop. A Woman with a Red Bindi Spot Representing a Pledge to Fight AIDS. Photograph. Bombay, 1996. Wellcome Collection. A woman with a red Bindi spot representing a pledge to fight AIDS.
The bindi is a colored dot worn on the center of the forehead. The etymology of the Hindu word “bindi” derives from the ancient Sanskrit word bindu, meaning particle or drop. All over the Indian subcontinent, the bindi is referred to in other languages as kumkum, sindoor, teep, tikli or bottu. Made from vermillion powder and sindoor, people of South Asian descent wear the bindi to signify their marriage status or as a cultural symbol. Children and single people are also known to wear the bindi. Sometimes, parents will mark their babies with bindis to ward off the evil eye.
Dating as far back as 1500-1200 BCE, Vedic texts which many Indians still follow today, indicate that the bindi is used to mark the Ajna chakra, or more commonly known as the “third eye.” The Ajna chakra is located in the middle of the forehead and considered a sacred place in the body. Transcending time, the chakra symbolizes wisdom, spiritual insight, and an awakening of the mind.
Traditionally, a bindi is red or maroon colored. However, these days, the bindi comes in a wide array of shapes, colors, designs, and materials. It is not restricted to any one South Asian religion or region and, more recently, it has become a form of body art or adornment for the South Asian diaspora – with some matching the color of their outfits with their bindi. The bindi has also been used by South Asians as an extension of everyday makeup.
Appropriation and Influence
Selena Gomez performances of “Come and Get It,” 2013
Selena Gomez donned the bindi in the music video and 2013 MTV Movie Awards performance of her song “Come and Get It.” Gomez’s usage of the bindi for an aesthetic without understanding the significance of the bindi left many outraged for her misuse. This outrage continued when she referred to her look as “glam tribe.” The Universal Society of Hinduism condemned her usage of the bindi to exoticize the spiritual, religious, and cultural practice of wearing a bindi. A spokesperson said that the bindi should not be “thrown around loosely or used for consumer fashion.”
For many years, Coachella was the hotspot for celebrities and others to use the bindi as a form of a trendy exotic fashion item. Some celebrities known to don the item at the music festival include Kendall Jenner, Vanessa Hudgens, and Sarah Hyland. Many South Asians were outraged at the usage of the bindi in a decontextualized way, and many media publications calling for the stoppage of cultural appropriation. Since then, bindi’s have rarely been seen at music festivals.
#ReclaimTheBindi Movement takes shape, 2015
Originally, the #Bindi hashtag was filled with many people misappropriating the bindi as a means of a fashion statement. To show solidarity with the usage of the bindi in a meaningful way, many South Asians participated in the #ReclaimTheBindi campaign; it was created to shed light on many ways Western culture misuses it as a fashion statement. The movement also aimed to empower South Asians, particularly women, who faced harassment and racism post-9/11 for wearing culturally significant garb in their normal lives.
South Asians Featured in Vogue Beauty for their Bindi, 2017
Influential young South Asians such as Simran Randhawa, Amisha Acharya, and Dejah Naya McCombe have helped to bring the bindi as a normal part of South Asian women’s fashion. Featured in a Vogue Beauty article, the trio explained how they were able to overcome external pressures to fit into Western society and learned to embrace the bindi as a beautiful part of their cultural heritage.
Dutt, Yashica. “A Cultural History of White Girls Wearing Bindis,” 2015. https://www.vice.com/en/article/xye97d/a-cultural-history-of-white-girls-wearing-bindis.
Hinduism, Decoding. “A Bindi (Hindi: बिंदी),” 2015. http://www.vedicbharat.org/2015/04/a-bindi-hindi.html.
Jha, Shuvi. “The Purpose of the Bindi.” Hindu American Foundation, September 21, 2020. https://www.hinduamerican.org/blog/the-purpose-of-the-bindi/.
Maira, Sunaina. Desis in the House Indian American Youth Culture in New York City. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2002.
Wilkinson-Weber, Clare M. Fashioning Bollywood: the Making and Meaning of Hindi Film Costume. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.
Article: “How London’s Coolest Crop of South Asian Women Are Reclaiming the Bindi,” Vogue
Article: “Selena Gomez and Other Bindi-Loving Celebrities,” The Cut
Article: “#ReclaimTheBindi Is Proof That Cultural Appropriation Isn’t Trendy,” Huffington Post Canada
Article: “Everything You Should Know Before Sticking A Bindi On Your Head,” Junkee
Article: “Five Things the Founder of #ReclaimTheBindi Needs You To Know,” i-D
Article: Bharti Kher’s Bindis Mirror The Starry Night, Sotheby’s