In caricatures and illustrations, we often identify Indians not only through their clothing and high-bridged noses, but also through the distinct dots on their foreheads. But do you know what such dots stand for? If you don’t, then it’s probably time you learn Indian customs and traditions, even just a bit. So why don’t we skim the surface of such traditions that have stood as symbols of India to the rest of the world. Here are some of the most common Indian practices.
You’ve probably seen Indians, both men and women, sporting tattoos on their bodies, especially on their hand and feet. Most often, however, these tattoos are not permanent as they’re only made from henna. Henna is a kind of tree whose leaves are ground to produce a dark reddish brown sap, which is then used to tattoo the skin. This traditional way of using henna, however, is slowly getting out of mode as people can now easily buy ready to use henna powder in the local Indian markets.
Henna tattoos are applied for aesthetic purposes. Well, who wouldn’t find them beautiful with their exquisite and intricate designs? Indian tattoos are often elaborate and painstakingly done with skill and patience, which is why tattooing is considered an art. Aside from decorative purposes, however, tattoos are applied because they’re considered lucky. Thus, it’s done when celebrating happy occasions. It’s also compulsory for brides to have tattoos on their hands and feet.
Namaste, meaning “I bow to you,” is the most common Indian greeting that’s both formal and informal. They use it to greet anybody, be it a child or an elder. Emphasis on respect, however, varies through the manner of the Namaste gesture. As one says Namaste, one puts hands in the praying position in front of his chest, accompanied by a slight bowing of the head. However, if one is greeting a person of higher status, one places his hands in front of his forehead and bows. And if one is to say Namaste as a gesture of reverence to a holy person or to God, one places his hands above his head.
KAJAL or KOHL
This is the eye makeup traditionally used by Indians to line their lower lashes or eyelids. It has been used ever since the ancient times and is believed to protect the eyes from the sun’s glare and different eye ailments. Even children are applied with kajal in their eyes, nape, and forehead to protect their vision and shield them from bad luck.
Kajal can be made at home by simply collecting the soot of a castor oil lamp and mixing the soot with ghee or clarified butter.
BINDI / TILAK / SINDOOR
Bindi, which means “holy dot” in Hindi, is the most famous circular dot found on the foreheads of both Indian men and women. It is placed on the area between the eyebrows and may be colored yellow, red, black or dark orange. It is applied to the woman’s forehead at the end of the wedding ceremony to indicate that she is already married. However, the color and presence of bindi may vary depending on the occasion and the sect the individual belongs to. So it’s just normal to see children wearing them or even Hindu priests.
These are just few of the things that commonly represent the culturally rich country that is India. But if people would just exert effort and learn Indian culture and traditions, they would be able to appreciate such practices and symbols more than as elaborate rituals and pretty decorations.