Sindoor or Sindooram is a traditional vermilion red or orange-red colored cosmetic powder from Indian Subcontinent, usually worn by married women along the part of their hair. In Hindu communities the use of sindoor indicates a woman is married and ceasing to wear it usually implies widowhood. The main component of traditional sindooram is usually cinnabar, turmeric and lime. Some commercial sindoor products contain synthetic ingredients, some of which are not manufactured to proper standards and may contain mercury and lead.
Sindoor is traditionally applied at the beginning or completely along the parting-line of a woman’s hair (also called maang in Hindi or “Seemandarekha” in Sanskrit) or as a dot on the forehead. Sindoor is the mark of a married woman in Hinduism. Single women wear the bindi in different colors but do not apply sindoor in their parting of the hairline. Widows do not wear sindoor, signifying that their husband is no longer alive.
The sindoor is first applied to the woman by her husband on the day of her wedding; this is called the Sindoor Daanam ceremony. After this, she applies it herself every day.
A similar coloring ritual is known as pasupu kumkuma, named after another name for sindoor, kumkuma.
The wiping off of the sindoor is very significant for a widow. There are many rituals associated with this practice. The most common is when a mother-in-law or older sister-in-law wipes off the sindoor when a woman becomes a widow. The widow will break her bangles and remove her bottu as well, and many will also remove their nose ring and toe rings. The parting of hair is symbolic of a river of red blood full of life. When the sindoor is removed then the river becomes barren, dry and empty. This custom is prevalent in rural areas and is followed by all castes and social ranks.
The red sindoor is significant for the married woman as she is full of colour. When she becomes a widow she adopts plain white dress and removes all colour from her face including the bright red sindoor.
Methods and styles of applying the sindoor vary from personal choice to regional customs. Many new brides will fill the whole hair line with sindoor, while other married women may just apply a red spot at the end of the hair line and forehead. Recently, a triangle shape on the forehead pointing towards the nose, with a diamond bindi for fashion, is being worn by younger women.