Why do you often see an Indian women with a red or black dot on her forehead?
In modern-day India, the red dot is a symbol of her marriage. A North Indian woman wears a red streak on the parting of her hair. An unmarried woman sometimes wears a black dot on her forehead. This black colour is used to counteract the effect of the evil eye. If a lovely young girl gets too many compliments, Indians feel that some kind of harm may come to her, so this dot repels evil influences. Modern young misses match the dots on their foreheads with the colour of their saris today. This is not traditional but only a fashionable act.
Years ago, only married Gujarati (Hindu) women wore a red bindi (red powder worn in a round shape on the forehead also found in the form of stickers). These days, most women, married or not, wear ‘bindi’ as a fashion accessory when they wear traditional Indian outfits. Modern Bindis are like stickers, and are available in various shapes, sizes, colors and designs. Only married women however, wear red powder, called ‘sindoor‘, in a short straight line on the scalp, starting near the hairline and covers the area where the hair is generally parted(middle). During a traditional Hindu wedding, the groom applies ‘sindoor’ on the bride for the very first time. This act can be compared to a ring ceremony in western weddings.
Origin of the Bindi
Other than a cosmetic mark for enhancing beauty, the bindi in Vedic times, was created as a means to worship one’s intellect. Therefore, it was used by both men and women. The worship of intellect was in order to use it to ensure our thoughts, speech, actions, habits and ultimately our character becomes pure. A strong intellect can help one to make noble decisions in life, be able to stand up to challenges in life with courage, and recognize and welcome good thoughts in life. The belief was that on this a strong individual, a strong family and strong society can be formed.
In meditation, this very spot between the eyebrows (Bhrumadhya) is where one focuses his/her sight, so that it helps concentration. Most images of Buddha or Hindu divinities in meditative pose with their eyes nearly closed show the gaze focused between eyebrows (other spot being the tip of the nose – naasikagra).
Source references and readings:
Wikipedia article Bindi(decoration)