Folk Object: A Bindi


Explanation: A woman wearing a traditional bindi on her forehead.


Informant: “Yeah, my mom always wears a bindi. She’s a pretty big Hindu, so she wears it at all times for religious regions.”


Bindis are South Asian folk objects; they’re traditionally small, circular felt stickers that are worn on the forehead , predominantly by women. Bindis are worn by Hindus and are used to symbolize purity, spirituality, and more important, the ‘third eye’, a common symbol in Hinduism. For thousands of years, bindis were worn by married women, in the color red specifically, and wear traditionally worn 24/7. Instead of being ‘stickers’, they were usually made from a type of paste—predominantly sandalwood—or dye. More recently, even in South Asian countries, many women only adorn them for religious or special occasions as opposed to wearing them day in and day out. New bindis are made from all types of materials in all different colors in fashion; in fact, they’ve become a statement piece for younger South Asian women. Youth and young women tend to wear much more flashy versions featuring gemstones and sequins; they also are allowed to wear every color by red, which is still reserved for married women. Many older women still wear them daily, as is the case of my informant’s mother.

Bindis are still hold tremendous cultural significance for Hindu women to this day. However, they’ve also been the subject of appropriation, especially by Western women. Many celebrities and influencers, especially in the US, have been the subject of scrutiny for wearing ‘fashionable’ bindis to events such as Coachella and red carpet premieres. This has been met with outrage by Hindu women who argue that wearing bindis in non-spiritual or cultural contexts devalues the history and significance behind the item. Similarly to the outcry over other symbol of cultural value such as La Llorona, the meaning behind bindis has slowly started to erode over the years. However, for many Hindu women they still carry the same power that they always have.