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Sindoor (Vermilion)

Sindooram (Sanskrit) and Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam or Sindoor (Hindustani: सिन्दूर or سندور, Bengali: সিঁদুর, Gujarati: સિંદૂર) is a traditional red or orange-red colored cosmetic powder from India, usually worn by married women along the parting of their hair.[1] Use of sindoor denotes that a woman is married in many Hindu communities, and ceasing to wear it usually implies widowhood. The main component of traditional sindoor is usually vermilion.

Sindoor is traditionally applied at the beginning or completely along the parting-line of a woman’s hair (also called maang) or as a dot on the forehead. Sindoor is the mark of a married woman in Hinduism. Single women wear the dot in different colors ("bindi" in Hindi) but do not apply sindoor in their maang. Hindu widows do not wear sindoor, signifying that their husband is no longer alive.

A version used in Hindu rituals or puja is known as Kumkum. This lends itself to the name of a wedding ritual in some Hindu communities, known as 'Haldi-Kumkum'. The sindoor is first applied to the woman by her husband on the day of her wedding and is called as Sindoor Dana ceremony.[2] After this time she must apply this every day herself in the parting of her hairline.

The wiping off of the sindoor is very significant for a widow. There are many rituals associated with this practice. The most common being the mother-in-law or older sister-in-law wiping off the sindoor when the woman becomes a widow. The widow will break her bangles and remove her bindi as well. Many Hindu women will remove their nose ring and toe rings as well. The parting of hair is symbolic of river of red blood full of life. When the sindoor is removed then the river becomes barren, dry and empty. This custom is prevalent in rural areas and is followed by all castes and social ranks.

The red sindoor is significant for the married woman as she is full of colour. When she becomes a widow she adopts the white dress and removes all colour from her face including the bright red sindoor.

Methods and styles of applying the sindoor vary from personal choice to regional customs. Many new brides will fill the whole hair line with sindoor, while other married women may just apply a red spot at the end of the hair line and forehead. Recently, a triangle shape on the forehead pointing towards the nose, added with a diamond bindi for fashion is being worn by younger women.


Woman wearing Sindoor

Female figurines excavated at Mehrgarh, Baluchistan seem to imply application of sindoor to the partition of women's hair in Harappa culture. According to the Legends, Radha the consort of Lord Krishna turned the kumkum into a flame-like design on her forehead. In the famous epic Mahabharata, Draupadi the wife of the Pandavas wipes off her sindoor in disgust and despair at the happenings in Hastinapur. Use of Sindoor is very widely mentioned in the puranas Lalitha Sahasranama and Soundarya Lahari.[3]

Jain women apply the sindoor, mostly in the cities. Jain nuns are forbidden to apply this in their hair line or foreheads. The display of the sindoor is considered very important to indicate the married status of the groom;[4][5] whereas in several local cultures, sindoor is applied on their hair partings by unmarried women.

Adi Shankaracharya writes in Soundarya Lahari[6]

Tanothu kshemam nas tava vadhana-saundarya lahari. Parivaha-sthrotah-saraniriva seemantha-saranih. Vahanti sinduram prabala-kabari-bhara-thimira-. Dvisham brindair bandi-krtham iva navin'arka kiranam.

The ritual of applying the Sindoor as part of a Hindu Indian Wedding

(Oh mother, let the line parting thine hairs, which looks like a canal, through which the rushing waves of your beauty ebbs, and which on both sides imprisons, your Vermillion, which is like a rising sun, by using your hair which is dark like the platoon of soldiers of the enemy, protect us and give us peace.)

Application of sindoor is essentially a Hindu tradition. In the 19th century, Sufi leader Sharafuddin Maneri encouraged Muslim women to apply sindoor in Bangladesh. This was severely condemned by reformist movements.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

Shop selling Sindoor (Vermilion) in Pushkar, Rajasthan

There are many Indian movies and dramas involving sindoor — Sindoor Tere Naam Ka and Sindoor released in 1987 — with their themes revolving around the ritual's significance.

Composition and toxicity concerns[edit]

Modern sindoor mainly uses vermilion, which is an orange-red pigment. Vermilion is the purified and powdered form of cinnabar, which is the chief form in which mercury sulfide naturally occurs. As with other compounds of mercury, sindoor is toxic and must be handled carefully. Sometimes, red lead (lead tetroxide, also known as minium) is added to sindoor.[8] Red lead is toxic and a known carcinogen for laboratory animals, though its carcinogenicity to humans has not been established. Traditional sindoor was made with turmeric and alum or lime, or from other herbal ingredients.[9] Unlike red lead and vermilion, these are not poisonous.[9][10] In early 2008, allegations of high lead content led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to recall batches of sindoor from several manufacturers.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Susie J. Tharu, Ke Lalita (1993-04-01). Women Writing in India: The twentieth century (Volume 2 of Women Writing in India: 600 B.C. to the Present). Feminist Press, 1993. ISBN 978-1-55861-029-3. "... Sindoor is a red powder worn by married women in the parting of the hair ..." 
  2. ^ "Vermillion/Sindoor". http://handicraft.indiamart.com. 
  3. ^ History and Significance of Sindoor
  4. ^ Ahearn, Laura M (2001). Invitation to love: Literacy, Love Letters, & Social Change in Nepal. University of Michigan : Michigan. p. 95. 
  5. ^ Selwyn, Tom (December 1979). "Images of Reproduction: An Analysis of a Hindu Marriage Ceremony". JSTOR 14 (4): 684–698. 
  6. ^ http://www.sankaracharya.org/soundarya_lahari.php Soundarya Lahari translated by P. R. Ramachander
  7. ^ Akbar, M J (2002). The Shades of Swords: Jihad and the conflict between Islam and Christianity. Routledge: London, New York. p. 111. 
  8. ^ Indian Academy of Pediatrics (1973). Indian pediatrics, Volume 10. Indian Academy of Pediatrics, 1973. "... Sindoor (vermilion), a red powder applied to the scalp, is often used by married Indian women, especially of an orthodox Hindu background. It may consist of red sulphide of mercury, or of red lead mixed with red synthetic dye ..." 
  9. ^ a b Kapoor, V P (July 2007). "Kohl and Sindoor: the potential source of lead poisoning". EnviroNews 13 (3). Retrieved 2008-03-09. 
  10. ^ "The Hazards of Synthetic Sindoor". Hinduism Today. 2004-10-12. Retrieved 2008-03-09. 
  11. ^ "After sindoor, bindi taken off American shelves". IBN Live. 2008-03-04. Retrieved 2008-03-09. 

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