A bindi (Hindi: बिंदी, from Sanskrit bindu, meaning “a drop, small particle, dot”; see below for alternative designations) is a forehead decoration worn in South Asia(particularly India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Mauritius) and Southeast Asia. Traditionally it is a bright dot of red colour applied in the centre of the forehead close to the eyebrows, but it can also consist of other colours with a sign or piece of jewellery worn at this location.
Traditionally, the area between the eyebrows (where the bindi is placed) is said to be the sixth chakra, ajna, the seat of “concealed wisdom”. The bindi is said to retain energy and strengthen concentration. The bindi also represents the third eye. It is also used in festivals such as Holi. According to the Jabala upanishad, Avimukta(the middle of the eyebrows) “is the abode of Brahman in all beings”. The Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda, the earliest known Sanskrit text, mentions the word vindu/bindu 
In modern times, the bindi is worn by women of many religious dispositions in South Asia and Southeast Asia, and is not restricted to one religion or region. However, the Islamic Research Foundation, located in India, says “wearing a bindi or mangalsutra is a sign of Hindu women. The traditional bindi still represents and preserves the symbolic significance that is integrated into Indian mythology in many parts of India.
Red represents honour, love and prosperity, hence it was worn traditionally by women to symbolise this.
The red bindi has multiple meanings which are all valid at the same time. It is also a spiritual symbol.
- By one simple interpretation it is a cosmetic mark used to enhance beauty.
- From Vedic times, the bindi 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 recognise 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).
- Swami Muktanand writes ‘auspicious Kumkum or sandal wood paste is applied (between the eyebrows) out of respect for inner Guru. It is the Guru’s seat. There is a chakra (centre of spiritual energy within human body) here called Ajna (Aadnyaa) chakra meaning ‘Command centre’. Here you receive the Guru’s command to go higher in Sadhana (spiritual practice) to the ‘Sahasraar’ (seventh and final chakra) which leads to Self-realisation. The flame seen at the eyebrow is called ‘Guru Jyoti’. (From Finite to Infinite, by Swami Muktananda, SYDA Foundation, S. Fallsburg, NY, 1989, pp. 88–89)
- The encyclopedic dictionary of Yoga informs that this ‘Ajna Chakra’ is also called the ‘Third eye’. This centre is connected with the sacred syllable ‘Om’ and presiding it is ‘ParaaShiva’. After activation of this centre, the aspirant overcomes ‘Ahamkar’ (ego or sense of individuality), the last hurdle on the path of spirituality. (Encyclopedic dictionary of Yoga, by Georg Fuerstein, Paragon House Publ, NY, 1990, p. 15).
A traditional bindi is red or maroon in colour. A pinch of vermilion powder applied skilfully with a practised fingertip makes a perfect red dot. It takes considerable practice to achieve the perfect round shape by hand. A small annular disc (perhaps a coin) aids application for beginners. First they apply a sticky wax paste through the empty centre of the disc. This is then covered with kumkum or vermilion and then the disc is removed to get a perfect round bindi. Various materials such as sandal, ‘aguru’, ‘kasturi’, ‘kumkum’ (made of red turmeric) and ‘sindoor’ (made of zinc oxide and dye) colour the dot. Saffron ground together with ‘kusumba’ flower can also work.
In addition to the bindi, in India, a vermilion mark in the parting of the hair just above the forehead is worn by married women as commitment to long-life and well-being of their husbands. During all Hindu marriage ceremonies, the groom applies sindoor on the parting in the bride’s hair. The bride must wipe off her red bindi once she becomes a widow. This can be seen as symbolic and shows her status in society. Widows can continue to wear the black bindi but with a white sari.
Pottu is the application of a black dot kept on the forehead. Pottu can be a form of holistic medicine, in Indian traditions such as Siddha or Ayurveda, wherein herbs are heated until they turn black then made into a paste and applied to the forehead.
Many Kurdish women wear tattoo motifs on their forehead to ward off evil spirits and show their ethnic group. In Morocco women used to tattoo their foreheads for good luck. This tradition is now almost extinct. Within North Africa many tribes have used tattoo motifs to symbolise fertility especially on their forehead. Some tribes in Afghanistan still tattoo and decorate women’s foreheads for cultural and traditional purposes.
Ancient Chinese women wore similar marks (for purely decorative purposes) since the second century, which became popular during the Tang Dynasty. As depicted in the films House of Flying Daggers and Mulan.
In traditional Korean weddings, the bride also wears a decorative mark on the forehead and cheeks, with origins from Mongolia, but whether this practice has roots from India is not known.
Catholic churches use ash to mark the forehead on Ash Wednesday.