Indians place a huge value on married women and honoring guests, gods, and goddesses. They believe in things like the Evil Eye curses, and veneration for things supernatural and how they affect the physical world. Here are a few things visitors to India may want to know so they may be aware what to expect.
This is also an introduction to some things which, ordinarily may seem rather common place for Westerners, but actually has great significance in Indian symbolism.
Tilak is a ritual mark on the forehead. It can be put in many forms as a sign of blessing or greeting. The tilak is usually made out of a red vermilion paste (kumkum) which is a mixture of turmeric, alum, iodine, camphor, etc. It can also be of a sandalwood paste (chandan) blended with musk.
The tilak is applied on the spot between the brows which is considered the seat of latent wisdom and mental concentration, and is very important for worship. This is the spot on which yogis meditate to become one with Lord Brahma.
It also indicates the point at which the spiritual eye opens. Putting of the colored mark symbolizes the quest for the ‘opening ‘ of the third eye. All rites and ceremonies of the Hindus begin with a tilak topped with a few grains of rice placed on this spot with the index finger or the thumb.
Arati is performed as an act of veneration and love. It is often performed as a mark of worship and to seek blessings from God, to welcome the guests, for children on their birthdays, family members on auspicious occasions or to welcome a newly wedded couple.
For performing Arati, five small lamps called niranjanas are filled with ghee or oil and arranged in a small tray made of metal. A wick is made out of cotton wool and placed in the lamps. A conch shell filled with water, leaves or flowers, incense or lighted camphor are also placed in the tray.
The lamps are lit and the tray is rotated in a circular motion in front of the deity or the person to be welcomed. The purpose of performing arati is to ward off evil effects and the malicious influence of the ‘evil eye’.
A bindi is an auspicious mark worn by young girls and women . Bindi is derived from bindu, the Sanskrit word for dot. It is usually a red dot made with vermilion powder which is worn by women between their eyebrows on their forehead.
Considered a symbol of Goddess Parvati, a bindi signifies female energy and is believed to protect women and their husbands. Traditionally a symbol of marriage, it has also become decorative and is worn today by unmarried girls and women as well.
No longer restricted in color or shape, bindis are seen in many bright colors and in different shapes and designs. They are also made of colored felt and embellished with colored glass or glitter.
Many Indian women wear a pin on their nose studded with stones, called a nose pin. A symbol of purity and marriage, the nose pin is today adorns many unmarried girls as well.
Mangalsutras are necklaces made of black beads, worn only by the married women as a mark of being married. It is the Indian equivalent of the western wedding ring.
The mangalsutra is tied by the groom around his bride’s neck. Generally made out of two strings of small black beads with a gold pendant, the black beads are believed to act as protection against evil. The married women wear this to protect their marriage and the life of their husband.
In southern India, the mangalsutra is called ‘tali. It is a small gold ornament, strung on a cotton cord or a gold chain.
The Shakha-Paula is a pair of shell (shakha) and red coral (paula) bangles worn as marriage symbols by the Bengali women.