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The White Hindu has moved! This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at Patheos.com.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wearing a bindi

I've been reading with interest some forums about modern head-covering for religious purposes. Most of the women there did not grow up in a religion that covered the head and are now drawn to it. They express concern about feeling self-conscious as they start covering their hair, how to transition into it with friends and family who have not seen them do it before, and what exactly to wear to not offend or tread on the toes of a different religious group. Some of these women are pagans and others are Quakers and others just want to take this spiritual step.

Their concerns sounded familiar to me as I prepare to start wearing a bindi.

I've been dressing in Indian clothes for a number of years now. Not every day, but many days, I wear the pant suit originating in North India and Pakistan. I learned from an old boyfriend how to hold my head up high and be confident while looking different from those around me. I'm very comfortable in these clothes and only occasionally feel uncomfortable if there is an Indian person nearby. I wear them to my dance classes, but there it is expected. When I wear it to the mall I wonder if the Indian people I see are confused by my clothes.

The bindi is a new step. The simple, round bindi that I want to wear is pretty unmistakably Hindu. Since I am not married and there is disagreement between regions and cultures about exactly what a bindi in what color means, I will start with a round, black bindi. Red is a marriage color and many people, Indian and non-Indian alike, associate the round, red bindi as a sign of marriage, although I have seen many young girls and women my age who are not married wearing it.

For me the bindi is a spiritual sign, like the head covering. It is an outward sign of my religion and it is a reminder to myself throughout the day to stay focused on the spiritual.

It is also supposed to focus the third-eye energies. I don't know too much about that.

It's going to take a lot of confidence and a bold spirit to start wearing it daily.

But here's why it's worth it. Have you ever had the experience of being at a class or an airport, or the grocery store, and seeing a woman or girl wearing religious clothing (a head covering or a bindi or some other marking) and thought how beautiful it was. You wished you could be that brave and that sure of your spirituality. You think this girl is lucky because she probably grew up in the culture and has the support of a community when she goes home. But maybe she doesn't. I wanted to stop wishing to be that girl and start living that life. To live my life authentically, drawn by what feels right in my heart.

I don't know if that's a common experience, but I know the women in the head-covering group have felt it and so have I.

I'll be interested to see what kind of reactions I get when I start this. I will probably start slowly, doing it at family things or at class and not at work until later. I'll let you know how it goes.

ON ANOTHER MATTER, Holi is this coming weekend. Sadly, I don't think I'll be able to do any of the events for it. Holi is the most fun of the Hindu holidays and I've participated in events for it for the last two years. It involves running around and throwing colored powder at people. It's very messy. But with the snow still heavy on the ground here, I don't think that will be happening.

I came so close to making it to that temple for the Mahashivratri celebration earlier in the month too, but record snow falls closed everything in the state for a week. The temple will be having another one in mid March, so I'm determined I'll go to that one.

49 comments:

  1. Good luck as you start to wear your bindi.

    And whenever you catch yourself feeling insecure and like you are being judged just smile and think "Well they OBVIOUSLY realize how GORGEOUS this bindi is."

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  2. Have you ever had the experience of being at a class or an airport, or the grocery store, and seeing a woman or girl wearing religious clothing (a head covering or a bindi or some other marking) and thought how beautiful it was. You wished you could be that brave and that sure of your spirituality. You think this girl is lucky because she probably grew up in the culture and has the support of a community when she goes home.

    Oh I know this feeling.

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  3. I think you are probably offending a lot of people, I am offended and I'm not even Hindu! I think you might want to try something from your own white culture, haven't white people done enough exploitation without you objectifying religious aspects as well?? If you truly are a "Hindu" you should try respecting the culture and discovering your own heritage.

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    1. I absolutely disagree.

      I was RAISED Hindu and I'm white. My mother has been practicing it for about 13 years now, she converted when I was 6. The priests always consider me Hindu. However, since some think you can convert/ some don't, she gets mixed opinions.

      If you have such an intensity to belong to a certain religion, why not do it? Why should you be reprimanded for circumstances beyond your control? (Like race?)

      It's just silly.

      Most Indians who are Hindu are pretty comfortable with Caucasian Hindus. However, there are always racists in every group, but that's how it is. I got chased out of temple when I was young by a schizophrenic Indian woman with racist parents.

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    2. Woo-hoo! Thank you very much for your input. I appreciate someone else in a similar position to me weighing in :)

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    3. You are very welcome!

      I always found it frustrating, painful, and downright heartbreaking whenever a priest would tell my mother, that although he has no problem with her practicing Hinduism, she wasn't a "real" Hindu.

      Meanwhile, I was raised Hindu, and didn't think a lot about it. At first, I wasn't as devoted nor as interested as she was.

      And, yet I was considered "a real Hindu".

      Frustrating.



      But, there are still many out there (including priests) who know, believe, and acknowledge that YOU are Hindu if you WANT to be.

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    4. LOL. I know this was posted 3 years ago but it really made me laugh out loud so I had to respond.
      Your skin color does not dictate your religion, and to say someone should stop meddling in other culture's religions and focus on their own is ridiculous!
      Minus human opinions and culture, the bindi is a dot upon a forehead. The bindi on any individual is what they believe it to be. For some it may be a mark of their religion. For others it may be a reminder to delve inside to gather their inner wisdom. For another it may show proof of their marriage or that they are widowed.
      One thing I cannot stand is one individual telling another individual how they can and cannot express their self.

      Delete
  4. Im a white Hindu too.. technically a hare krishna. Ive been dressing in a hippy style for years - sari skirts, henna ( which is kind of part of my culture since im jewish) bangles, head scarves, bindis - you name it.

    I dont know if you define yourself as Hindu, or if you go to a temple - but i would strongly reccomend you start going to one. The reason being that Hindus and Indians are very accepting. At my temple there are people from all over the world - and lots of non indians - all of us wear traditional clothing - saris, tilak, bindis - and in the temple its completely normal and very accepted. Ive never met an indian yet that was even slightly offended at the way i dress.. at the worst i get a kind of confused slightly amused curiosity - but most think that the bindis and henna look pretty on my pale skin, and even more find it nice that Hinduism works for me.

    what you do have to remember though is that being a hindu is first about belief and lifestyle - and last and least important about how you dress..
    faith, dharma is an internal thing - and although you may what to lable yourself for the world - its not required by hinduism.
    I frequently swing from full on saris to hippy indian style loose skirts - to jeans and a kurti top - none of which has any real bearing on my faith- I know i am a hindu - and that is enough for me.
    As for bindis - i dont wear them all the time - and im warning you now - be prepared from some VERY curious looks from indians who are trying to figure out if you are married to a hindu, a convert to hindu, doing some wierd fashion thing or have just got your makeup on wrong ..but they arent offended - just curious..

    it sounds to me like you want a sense of community more than anything - which is why you are so keen to advertise your faith - i was like that once - which is why im saying to join a temple - once you do that - and have a community around you - youll feel just as hindu in jeans and tshirt and a tiny black bindi as you do in punjabis and a great black dot on your forhead... and youll understand that to be a real hindu is an internal thing - not an external one ..


    I hope that helps ?

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  5. Oh - i wanted to add that as far as bindis go - experiment. If you are already wearing indian clothes then it shouldnt be a big deal to add a black dot to your head. But if you like - like me the indian look - remember it can just as easily be achieved with a long hippy style skirt - a plain t shirt - pashmina and a few bangles - without looking like youve just stepped out of some remote indian village.
    Oh - and bindis can be made using something called kum kum (available on ebay) which is a kind of paint - you just paint a dot on your forhead - but it will be much smaller - and more subtle than the stick on kind you get.
    you can also do it with Kajal/ kohl / surma sticks - or even a regular eye pencil - again - you can just do a small dot - that will be noticable but not so ''in your face'' as the stick on kind .. traditionally its applied first thing in the morning - after youve showered etc

    oh - and i totally get what you mean about the women and showing her spirituality thing - but theres lots of ways to do that .. im just as hindu in my work shirt and black pants - saying my morning prayers or chanting before work as i am in a sari and tilak ..

    i would seriously advise you to experiment a bit - and figure out why you feel you need to dress in the way you do.. much as i love punjabis and saris - and as strong as my faith is - id feel stupidly self concious wearing them to or from work or on a shopping trip - but by the time ive got my nose pin, tulsi mala and japa beads - it doesnt matter what i wear - my faith always shows ... i hope that makes sense ?? not critism intended .. be brave and dont let silly comments about only dressing white = put you off. ..

    the only negative comments ive ever had ab out my dress have come from white people - indians - whethere they are muslim, sikh, hindu etc have been nothing but accepting - so dont be afraid ...

    NAMASTE :) ANNA

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  6. Yes, Anna, it is community that I am longing for. I am tired to doing this all on my own!

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  7. I'm not necissarily Hindu - I'm a Eclectic-Pagan-Shamanic-Witch to be exact, I just usually say 'Pagan'.
    I would love to be able to wear a bindi; since for me it symbolizes female power, menstruation and intuition - being on the third-eye, and red (usually). And how a woman's intuition and menstruation are often connected.
    I did wear a pentacle (until I lost it) and people were curious, offended or just acting plain stupid about that. The lot of people are just uninformed about many things. In fact the people that are 'stupid about it' or offended are often under developed in their own spirituality. As for the curious one, they often just want to know the meaning or why etc.
    I do wear the punjabi shirts, and scraves to show my dedication to my panthenones Hindu deities. In fact most non-Indians think they're pretty or don't say anything - where I live there are lots and lots of Indians! So people are pretty used to it, but you do occasionally get the prejudice and close-minded ones.
    On a fashion note, it's very trendy to mix modern and ethnic fashion.
    As for the bindi, I would say be prideful, wear one. One you feel comfortable with, one that speaks to you (as above said) and a not-so-in your face style. Gwen Stefani style?!
    For Pagan and Hindu matters, alot of Hindu beliefs and Modern Pagans have alot in common, everything comes from one source, and no matter how deep you dig or whatever side of Earth you go to, there is always something like it on the other side of the world. Hindus and Hawaiian Spiritualists wear tumeric for the same reasons. Kohl is everywhere, middle east to south asia. Same with henna. Ancient/modern Pagan Greeks use sage for exactly the same reason as Indigenous Americans!
    As I wear my Pagan jewlery with pride, you should feel good to wear the bindi with pride!
    ~)O(~ Vanessa
    Blessed be!

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  8. Bindi looks beautiful no doubt, but it can be worn just for that reason alone also. When I wear Indian clothes I wear a bindi - sometimes I draw a pattern with black eye liner, sometimes I put a colourful dot on my forehead.

    Have fun.

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  9. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I have been wearing a bindi almost all the time since this post and it's going great.

    I do think it looks so pretty and it makes me feel that I'm being true to myself and standing up for what I believe in.

    So far, no trouble at all about it!

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  10. bindi doesnt represent marital status
    but the sindhur in maang does

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  11. tiph parrish sounds like a cunt, do what you wanna do, if it makes you happy, you aren't being violent and if anyone takes offense, tell em to kiss yer bindi.....

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  12. Hi Aamba,
    I am Prajakta from Mumbai, India. This is my second comment on your blog. You can try out different bindis. You can match your bindi with your outfit color. What I do is make a vertical straight line with black eye liner & a small dot below it. It looks really nice. Also Aamba while following Hinduism don't be so strict on yourself. Try to have fun & be happy. that's what Bhagwan(God) wants. Right? I just want to tell you one funny thing. I am maharashtrian i.e. from maharashtra state in India. My native language is Marathi. In Marathi Aamba also means Mango. :)

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  13. Mango, eh? In Hindi it is Aam, so pretty similar. How close is Marathi to Hindi? Maybe I could learn that next.

    I have been having a great time with bindis. I got some fancy ones and some different colored ones, they are so pretty!

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  14. just so you are aware, in some areas of India (esp Tamil Nadu) the round black bindi is becoming associated with widows, who previously did not culturally wear bindis. So a lot of younger Hindus (like me) have started wearing little red bindis instead

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  15. Oh goodness! I can't win :) Maybe I'll wear lovely fancy ones all the time!

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  16. Wear whatever ones you want! I am not a hindu (Christian), but I'm married to a Bengali man (he does not identify as hindu either, more universalist) but when we go to Indian cultural/religious events (Diwali party, for instance) or when we were in India visiting his family, I wear a red bindi. I also wear sindoor at my hairline, along with the red and white conch shell bangles that Bengali married women wear. My mother-in-law *loves* it when I do :-) Don't feel self-conscious about dressing like you do around Indians... in my experience, they love it! I always get compliments, especially when I wear the bindi and sindoor. When we were flying back out of Kolkata, the female security officer said "you look 100% pure Indian! Wonderful!" :-) No one should be offended by what you are doing. That's not to say no one "will" be offended... but don't let that stop you. Anything you do with sincerity and pure intentions must be good, right?

    Namaste,
    Melissa

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  17. Thanks for that story, Melissa. You are inspiring me!

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  18. Bindis are considered decorative items now and don't signify anything, so you don't have to worry about "offending" anyone. :]

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  19. Bindi or pottu(in tamizh) is an aesthetic part of Indian culture according to me. Good going.

    There will always be people in the world who will be offended by what you do, think or believe, no matter where you are and what you do. So, it is wise to ignore all these people if you are sure about your convictions and if it doesn't cause any real troubles to anyone.

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  20. I'm a Hindu - born and raised! My parents were Vaishnavas when I was born, and then they became Shaivites once I turned age 6. Aamba, wear the damn bindi. You are a Hindu, and henceforth IT IS YOUR RIGHT! You wear it and you understand the strength and meaning behind bhakti, the Vedas, and my culture, and the significance of the bindi's meaning (trinetra). You should wear it. I'd rather a non-Indian Hindu wear it than some random fashionista hose just trying to "look cool and unique".

    Listen to Anand ji; feel free to express yourself and sport the bindi! ;)

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  21. I wanted to thank you for this blog. I was searching for information about whether it is appropriate for a Caucasian woman to wear a bindi, and I have found confidence from everything I've read.

    I grew up religionless, but a few years ago started seeking out anything to help cultivate my ever growing spirituality, and I've connected most with Hiduism and Buddism. About a year ago I started having a tingling sensation at my third eye off and on, but it has been constant for the last week or so. I realized today that I wanted to wear a bindi. My third eye wanted me to wear a bindi! And for some reason I feel it should be royal blue or a dark orangish-brown, so that's what I'll start with!

    Thank you all for your comments!

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  22. Yay! Good luck, it sounds like you're on a great path.

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  23. Bindi's true meaning lies in the position of its placement. It is placed on the forehead for a reason. The Third eye - from which our knowledge, emotions and our thoughts originate.

    The bindi represents the mastery over the mind's eye, our consciousness through yoga. We, the people of Sanatan Dharma received the knowledge of "Yoga" from God Shiva - the three eyed God.

    He is the "Paramatma" - the ultimate soul from which we originate, he is our true source.

    God Shiva is the destroyer of the Demon of ignorance, and when ignorance is destroyed, only the power of knowledge is left. Hence, he is the God of Knowledge.

    Through yoga, we achieve the knowledge which cannot be achieved through the 5 senses. This takes us to a much higher level of perception, in essence understanding the true nature of the universe.

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  24. Only by living the known, the unknown reveals itself. So be yourself. Take one step at a time. Revert back if you are not sure. Drop that which you feel irrelevant (after much contemplation) and be certain that you are the embodiment of eternal love. I remember reading some articles regarding bindi years ago when I was very much into this do's and don'ts of Hinduism. From what I learnt, the bindi is placed between the eyebrow corresponding to the location of the Ajna Chakra, the seat of wisdom. In ancient times, young girls and married women were advised (by wise men) to place the bindi in order to protect themselves from the black magicians who were adept in hypnotism. The only way a person can be hypnotised is by focussing the energy to the area corresponding to the Ajna Chakra.

    More info :

    http://www.drpaulose.com/general/pottu-tilak-bindi-in-the-forehead-in-indian-culture

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  25. You wear bindis, sis. No indian would be offended.
    AND you would surely get looks frm indians + a lot of thoughts. LOLs.
    They rnt bcoz offended bt just curiousity. We hav a lot of westerns visiting our famous siva temple near my house in Vaikom.
    People look at them with curiousity and big discussions go on whether they r converts, this that etc go on. If u r comfortable then no problem. Its because we Indians share a lot, . I hav heard , if a person asks about family , kids, husband/wife etc its an offence or misbehaviour n west. But here n India , whenever a person, havng some relatn see you ,they ask whats mom, dad and ur sister doing , etc etc....

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  26. Does anyone have thoughts on microdermal implants as a bindi?

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  27. @DrLeona:
    You certainly do not want a microdermal implant for a bindi. That prevents you from using a bindi of a different color. There is a more important reason. When you wake up in the morning, the bindi would have fallen off or rubbed off the pillow. Then you look at yourself in the mirror while brushing your teeth, or before taking a shower, and you see how ugly your face is, then you apply a new bindi, and instantly you see the transformation in your appearance - your face now looks so serene and relaxed and glows with a shine that no other cosmetic make-up can match. It does not matter whether the bindi color is red or black - the result is the same. The point here is that this regular reminder every morning, of how the divine grace in you comes through, keeps your humility intact.

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  28. [quote] Eric said... I'm a Hindu - born and raised! My parents were Vaishnavas when I was born, and then they became Shaivites once I turned age 6. Aamba, wear the damn bindi. You are a Hindu, and henceforth IT IS YOUR RIGHT!
    .......March 13, 2011 4:44 AM [unquote]

    You call yourself a Hindu, and then bang, there is this sentence.. "wear the damn bindi.."

    Somehow the word damn in the present context betrays a lack of decorum and decency.

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  29. I have to say, I wouldn't want a permanent bindi! I do enjoy the putting it on. It is a ritualistic moment for me.

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  30. I am a pagan who has very strong feelings for the Hindu faith. I go to temples here and have worn both the red bindi (i'm married) and also just tear drop ones. I usually wear american style clothing and I use surma or kajal on my eyes and I find that the indian women at the temple always love when I wear a bindi. I was a little nervous to wear the red one at first - but my husband (who also goes to temple with me) bought them for me for valentine's day (how romantic is that?) and so I couldn't resist.
    I got nothing but love and interest from the indian people at the temple - but then I always felt this anyway. I say go for it. Only ignorant people will be offended and then you get an opportunity to teach them something if they will listen :)

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  31. Awwww, that is totally sweet of your husband!

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  32. I'm sure you'll find some answers here:
    http://momwithadot.blogspot.com/2012/02/why-hindus-wear-dot.html

    Feel free to post your comments on any questions you may have.

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  33. Aamba,

    It was very good to read this. I have struggled with the idea of wearing the bindi and I am a bit older than you and married for some time. You give me courage and for that and I thank you!

    Namaste,
    Nirvani

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    1. Good for you! Be proud and own it :)

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  34. I would think twice before saying one can not wear a Bindi simply because a person is not Hindu or Indian. If a Westerner was not going to use or do things that orginated in India there is a long list of things to consider like should Martin Luther King not have practiced non-violence from which he was inspired by Gandhi. If you love curry or Indian food that would have to go. By the way, the black pepper you use to season your food would be no more. I guess we would just have salt shakers. And the pop group Salt n Pepper would have been called Salt. I am not sure how you would do math without the zero which came from there, too. Oh I almost forgot, the word pijama and the paisley prints are all Indian. Clearly, the world would have been very different if we Westerners had not been smart and embraced all these things. I think of the bindi as another influence from India in a long line of things we have borrowed. And for which we are the better for doing so.

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    1. Ooo, very good points! "should Martin Luther King not have practiced non-violence from which he was inspired by Gandhi." Very smart :)

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  35. I am a man who has studied the Hindu faith for about 20 years and I consider myself a HINDU. I live in a place where there is none to few Hindus at best, in a smallish town in Texas. I want to wear a bindi -- they are so beautiful and I feel especailly drawn to them. My husband (who is Catholic) says it should be okay to wear a bindi -- it would be more accepting to wear a bindi than a tilak made of paste. I am conflicted about that to do. Any ideas?

    Namaste

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    1. I lean towards follow your heart and do what feels right to you. When others object to something, it is often their own issues that they need to confront and work through. You are hurting no one by wearing bindi or tilak. It is part of your journey to understand yourself and the world to try it, so I would give it a chance!

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  36. Hi, I was drawn to Hinduisum, I'm 23 I feel very strongly about it. It has made me feel very secure in myself (I was secure anyway, but it changed something about me inside)
    I want to wear a bindi all the time because I feel calm and it helps me focus, but I was just wondering (I'm training to be a nurse) if wearing it to work would be allowed? I don't see why not it's not going to fall off or hurt anyone (as I will just draw it on).
    What do you use to draw it on?
    I just use eyeliner and when I get married I guess I'll use lip liner because I can't seem to find any plain red small bindis.

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  37. What about wearing the bindi to work as a westerner?
    I'm trainning to be a nurse and I want to wear a bindi all the time because it helps me focus and I feel different wearing it calmer more in control even kinder.
    What do you use to draw you bindi on with?
    I guess after July I'll be married and I'll use red lip liner lol I can't seem to find anything else to use that would stay and not flake. Right now I use black eye liner.

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    1. I have worn bindi to work, but I have a very relaxed office where no one ever is bothered by what I wear!

      I don't think your work would be able to prevent you from doing it, since it is a religious symbol and I believe that is protected.

      It's also subtle and small.

      I just wear sticker ones at the moment, though I'm getting married this summer too so I'll be figuring out a good sindoor.

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    2. Hi Danni, you may need to check your state's laws about wearing jewelry and ornaments in the medical profession. I think a sticker bindi would probably not be allowed since it could fall off but something drawn on with kumkum or even Lakme Jewel Sindoor would be okay because it would be like any other makeup.

      Generally religious symbols are okay but you have to make sure they do not interfere with patient care or could contaminate.

      Delete
  38. Hinduism is a symbolic religion with many meanings attached to a single symbol ....red bindi - third eye....hidden wisdom, marital status...and most important...I am as human as you are..my blood is as red as yours - do not discriminate me kill me..I am same as you. From a Hindu learning my own religion
    The symbol of OM written in Hindi , sanskrit or any Indian language ...if written upside down from right to left it resembles the word in Arabic....Allah.....to my eyes anyway...

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  39. It is a symbol with many meanings....my interpretation is - I am a human as the next person...my blood is red as the next person...do not kill me...do not discriminate me..i am a human being as you.
    Even the symbol of OM if written in any indian language ...upside down from right to left it resembles the word ALLAH in Arabic....to me anyway. OM TAT SAT

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