India is the culturally rich homeland of Hindus with rituals that retain man’s beliefs in his religion. From birth to death, it is more or less the customs that drive the very essence of Hinduism. One of the most significant practices of India is using ‘sindoor‘ or vermilion that you would most definitely find in a household. Even though sindoor is used for several religious purposes, the practice of wearing sindoor can be dated back to 5,000 years; travelling through the Harappan civilisation to the modern times.
The excavation of female figurines at Baluchistan prove the usage of sindoor during the Harappan civilisation. Also, legend has it that Radha turned this vermilion into the design of a flame on her forehead. Draupadi, the wife of the Pandavas, wiped her sindoor in disgust after her dignity was questioned. The use of sindoor is mentioned in Soundarya Lahharis, the Puranas and other legends.
In Hinduism, the shades of red are usually denoted as the colours of goddesses and that of a married Indian woman. Legend has it, that Goddess Parvati grants ‘akhand saubhagya’ to women who wears sindoor on their forehead.
The sindoor is a red/saffron colour vermillion that is not only religiously valuable but also has many scientific benefits attached to it. While women wear mangalsutra and sindoor, married men wear ‘janeu‘.
The sindoor holds immense values in all branches of Hinduism. It must be noted that idols of Lord Hanuman in most temples are made of or are covered with orange sindoor. It is believed that Lord Hanuman had covered himself in sindoor for the well-being of Lord Ram. Besides that, the Bengali community celebrates ‘Sindoor Khela’ where Bengali married women offer sindoor to Goddess Durga and fellow ladies wishing each other a prosperous married life.
While this tradition of sindoor has been going on since time immemorial, it must be noted that increasing commodification has led to cosmetic sindoor that contains red lead (Pb304) and other toxins. Substandard oil and oxidised metals are often used by even branded companies to acquire texture or make liquid sindoor. This not only leads to hair loss but also edima and erythema.
Natural sindoor also has its own scientific and physiological benefits. It contains a mixture of turmeric, lime and mercury. It is put on the partition of the hair on one’s forehead, right at the pituitary glands. The mercury not only soothes one’s mind but the pituitary glands also awaken the sexual desires, for all our emotions are centred up at this gland. This also stands as a justification as to why the widows have been kept away from using sindoor.
But as India is trying to become a westernised nation, the custom of sindoor is slowly being forgotten by the Indian youth. It is and will remain throughout as a debatable subject whether the issue of gender equality should be dragged into this tradition.