These days I am always excited to don a sari for any Indian function. And a little sindoor on my forehead usually completes the whole traditional look I am aiming for.
Religiously speaking, a sindoor (vermillion) should have been a definite no-no for me. My sindoor-clad forehead would have elicited a 'tsk-tsk' from my late grandmother. Because historically (as in my Granny's days) wearing sindoor was solely a Hindu practice and a strict Roman Catholic family such as mine would have had nothing to do with it...Tsk Tsk!
That was yesteryear, and dear Granny would never have guessed that the fashion has been so well embraced by women of all denominations. This has led to a very secular attitude towards sindoor among Indian women and raised its status high above the foreheads it once adorned.
The prevalence of sindoor can be dated back to about 5000 years ago. Studies show that female figurines excavated from various historical sites reveal the application of sindoor to the partition of women's hair in the Harappa culture.
But what exactly does sindoor actually represent? Well apart from being my sari accessory, red is the colour of power and sindoor therefore denotes the female energy of Indian goddesses Sati and Parvati. Traditionally, a good wife should wear sindoor to ensure the longevity of her husband's life.
However, in many parts of India, sindoor is also used by unmarried girls, which has left many a hapless bachelor wondering! Pssst…hint to bachelors: Next time, watch out for mangal sutras or toe rings.
Be assured that in the process of sanctifying, stylising and pondering over sindoor, Bollywood has not been far behind. Trust Bollywood to take an element, any element and romanticize it. Let sindoor, rainy nights sans umbrellas and messenger pigeons remain testimony to that.
Ever since the black and white movie era, sindoor has always served as a melodrama and romance staple in many of our movies.
We all are familiar with scenes of a heroine deploying the heaving chest and glycerin-filled eyes act as the hero applies sindoor on her maang, effectively joining them as one in holy matrimony. Who needs the Indian Marriage Act and a certificate when just a dab of the red powder will do?
Sindoor has further been shown to have enriching effects on one's hair. Tomboyish short-haired actresses have been known to grow waist-length hair overnight after the application of sindoor. At least in the movies. An ingredient the hair shampoo industry might greatly benefit from.
One of my most loved ‘sindoor movie scenes’ is from the 1999 blockbuster 'Dil' where Aamir Khan and Madhuri Dixit very resourcefully complete all the requisite marriage rituals with minimum fuss. This scene must come with a 'Do not try this at home’ warning though.
In the scene, Aamir Khan effortlessly breaks a wooden stool and lights it with a matchstick, signifying the sacred 'agni' around which the couple then walk. Then he heroically cuts his thumb (without wincing, mind you) and uses the blood as sindoor to adorn Madhuri's forehead.
This scene which seemed impossibly romantic to me as a teenager now appears slightly sinister. Because every girl should think twice before hitching up with a guy who carries knives and match boxes in his pocket and proceeds to sets fire to furniture. Strangely destructive tendencies don't you think?
In more recent years, 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' portrayed yet another majestic sindoor scene. The lovely Aishwarya Rai sits on a hospital bed, trying unsuccessfully to apply sindoor to her forehead with her injured hand and fails miserably. Enter Ajay Devgan, the lovelorn husband who puts her out of her misery as wedding chants play in the background.
This action coming from the wife who is planning to ditch her husband any day and run off with her boyfriend. Sure, trying to apply sindoor on your forehead with one arm in a cast would be on such a person's priority list.
In 2007, I added the sindoor scene from the SRK - starrer 'Om Shanti Om' to my list of favourites. The scene is between the fictional Ramesh Babu, who faces grave commitment issues, and his lover who go on a pakka-bollwood style exaltation of the virtues of sindoor.
"Ek chukti sindoor ki keemath tum kya jaane Ramesh Babu?” this dialogue has already gone down in Hindi film dialogue history.
Lastly, the TV serial bahus have also done their part in stylising sindoor which is now paired up in various other combinations. Sometimes with tiny rhinestone bindis. Sometimes applied as a small dot rather than a big streak in the hair parting.
The possibilities are endless...and my Granny's would have had a field day 'tsk tsk’-ing all the way.