There are many words for the colored dot most often seen worn by Hindus on their foreheads but the most common name is bindi (bin-dee). That word originally comes from Sanskrit meaning "drop" or "point." They are also called tilak (esp. when worn by men) or teep. Once a sign of religious devotion or martial vows, they have become a fashion accessory in world culture.
Originating in India from Hindu traditions, there have been various uses and attributions to what bindi signify. In Northern India, they have a history as a mark worn my married women, but in Southern India, any woman may wear a bindi. Similar marks are also worn by devout Hindu men on their foreheads as well.
The point over which a bindi is applied is thought of as the "third eye," also called the sixth chakra. This spot is believed to relate to intuition and the inner mind. The application of paint to this spot has been remarked as having a protective effect, of being a sign of blessing and of being able to help strengthen and quiet the mind. In some traditions, marks on this spot are a sign of marriage. Some historical notes suggest that the origin of this practice came from ancient wedding rituals whereby the husband would mark a dot on the forehead of his new bride with his own blood as a mark of ownership. Widows who follow this custom will stop wearing bindi after the death of their husband, or change the color to indicate their change in marital status, depending on which tradition they follow.
Many different materials have been used to create bindi. A red lead powder called sindhoor was often blended with sandalwood paste. Sometimes spices mixed with a sticky material are used. Ashes are sometimes used, or clay from holy locations. With different Hindu traditions, you sometimes see the bindi drawn as a perfect dot, a large circle, a U-shaped mark, a vertical line or a trio of horizontal lines. Most often the color worn is red, but you will also see black, yellow and white.
In contemporary world culture, these decorations have been modernized and are often seen worn as a fashion accent or accessory. The stick-on bindi is the most common. This is where a small shape is made of felt or other fabric, backed with a sticky layer, so that the design may be applied or removed just by pressing it on and peeling it back off. This method allows elaborate designs to be applied quickly, although getting your bindi on without it being crooked may still take a few tries. Most often you find small packets of these bindi, allowing for variety of designs and colors. Some modern bindi incorporate rhinestones or other spangles to add a bit more flash and sparkle.
If you'd like to try wearing Bindi yourself, you might like
Bindi Body Art Kit
by Beth Margetts