The Sindoor Tree

sindoor tree

On Sunday we left the city, drove into tiger inhabited jungle, got lost for a while, then found the botanical garden we were searching for. A beautiful farm forty kilometers from Nagpur, full of flowers, plants, vegetables and herbs with medicinal properties. A group … Continue reading

Sindoor: Empowering or Oppressive?

Recently I met a girl who stared at me for a while before asking, “why do you wear sindoor? For me it is mandatory, but why do you apply it when you don’t have to?” The word mandatory made me stop and think as I noticed a recurring theme. I had met another girl, several months back, and she said to me something similar, “we hate having to wear these marriage symbols, but we have to, why do you wear them?”

When my husband applied sindoor to my hairline for the first time, I knew nothing of it’s significance. I had no history with sindoor, no background, no experience. As a child I didn’t see my mother apply it to her hairline every morning, I wasn’t told that once I became a wife it’s mandatory for me to wear it. I only saw the love behind my husband’s eyes and the fact we were now married. Sindoor became part of my personal journey and when I had to move back to England for a while after our marriage, wearing sindoor became a source of great comfort.

applying sindoor english wife indian life

Applying sindoor at our wedding.

The ancient tradition of sindoor is said to symbolise the love and devotion a wife has for her husband, the red symbolising his life force. I didn’t consider that for some women (however much they may love their husbands), sindoor could be seen as an oppressive symbol which they “hate having to wear” . When you don’t have a choice, when something is mandatory, forced upon you against your will, you probably won’t be happy about it. I strongly feel no adornment should be mandatory. Sucks the romance right out of it doesn’t it…

I must admit that when I first moved to India I felt a lot safer when I wore sindoor, it’s perfectly visible that I am married and I don’t want anyone flirting with me. Yes, I felt a lot safer, but am I actually safer when I wear sindoor? What about the widows and unmarried women who are not “allowed” to wear sindoor? Sadly we cannot deny it, for various reasons, in India a woman’s status largely depends on having a husband.

I started to think about what sindoor means to me. I have never been pressurised to wear sindoor, so why do I continue to apply it? I actually feel powerful when I apply sindoor, I feel like a warrior applying war paint, but where is that coming from? 

I thought about it for a long time and same image kept appearing in my mind, the image of Goddess Kali, the Goddess of revolution, change, creation and power. I thought about the colour of blood-red sindoor, always seen on this powerful Goddess, which to me symbolises the life force in all of us as well as woman’s ability to menstruate, give birth and create new life. I started to see sindoor as a symbol of the sacred feminine that dwells within all of us, shakti. In this patriarchal world, it’s important for women to remember their power and divinity (with or without applying sindoor).

The sindoor is a 5000 year old and sacred symbol, but like all symbols there is a certain degree of subjectivity depending on our experiences and opinions.

kali empowering menstration goddess sindoor red life creation

I wrote this post several months ago but felt compelled to publish it tonight, the night of the new moon and the annual festival dedicated to Goddess Kali. Goddess Kali is a symbol of power, freedom and equality, she is Mother Earth and the destroyer of egos. 

Happy Kali Puja!


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Hot Chocolate for Bhabhi

As I stood waiting for a train, something I’ve done often during my trip to England, I fancied something warm! After my year of hot Indian weather, this Great British weather is, not so great. So, what’s more heart and soul warming than hot chocolate? I followed my chocolate addiction and cold hands to the nearest coffee shop and asked for a small hot chocolate.

The barista picked up a large cup and started making my hot chocolate. “Oh, no, sorry, I wanted a small hot chocolate”. The barista, an Indian guy, carried on making it. “Um…”, I didn’t really know what to say after that, I only had enough money for a small hot chocolate in my purse. A bit awkward, I was worried he didn’t understand me.  I could see the stack of small cups so it wasn’t that they had run out of those. Oh dear, what’s going on!

“Don’t worry Bhabhi, it’s a free upgrade because you’re my Bhabhi“, the barista said with a huge smile. He had noticed my mangalsutra and the small touch of sindoor in my hair. After saying “thank you” and “are you sure?” several times and giving him a high five (I don’t know where the high five came from, I am not a regular high fiver), I enjoyed my hot chocolate and caught my train. Small acts of kindness are so beautiful!

Only hours before, my friend and I were eating dessert in a restaurant and the waiter, who wasn’t Indian, told me he liked my sindoor and asked how long I’ve been married. This all happened in multicultural London, my sindoor is often met with confusion in the part of England I am from. People usually think I have a head injury!

(Bhabhi means ‘elder brother’s wife’)

Make Your Own Sindoor

How To Make Your Own Sindoor (Recipe)

I wear sindoor everyday, I love it, but lately I have started to have concerns. What is in that scarlet power I wear on my head everyday made of? Synthetic dyes can cause hair loss, I have seen a couple of aunties with sindoor bald patches, and someone like me, who already has a high forehead, really doesn’t need that! More worryingly, some commercial brands of sindoor contain lead oxide (a dangerous neurotoxin) and mercury sulphate (which can cause skin cancer). These things can not only be harmful for the women wearing the sindoor, if she falls pregnant, these chemicals can also harm her unborn child.

No, I am not pregnant, but it is something to be aware of. Whilst I know that there are trusted brands of sindoor available, I thought it would be a lovely idea to start making my own. I have found several recipes and with some trial and error, I have produced my own (with a little fragrant twist).

Rose sindoor…

You will need:

  • 1 part turmeric
  • 1 part calcium hydroxide (a white powder), also known as pickling lime or chuna, available in India and overseas.
  • Rose water (alternatively, you can just use water)
  • Rose petals (optional)

Mix the turmeric and calcium hydroxide together, then add the rose water until the colour changes from orange to brick red. As simple as that, your homemade sindoor is ready to apply! 

The more calcium hydroxide you use, the deeper the red colour. I didn’t use too much of it because whilst it is non toxic when applied externally, it can cause skin irritation if it is too concentrated, so please be careful and wash off immediately if it becomes too itchy!

Once the paste dries it does return to it’s turmeric orange colour. You can simply mix it with a little more rose water (or water) and it will return to the natural red colour and will be ready to apply again.