Sindoor Khela is a ritual in Bengali married women on the last day of the festival of Durga Puja. It is the ancient tradition according to which married women, dressed in beautiful saris of every shade of red, apply sindoor, a red powder that is a symbol of marriage, to each others faces to show their marriage and their female identity within family.
Sindoor Khela is a play of colors, music and dance that complete the festive atmosphere of the celebrations. On the day we also witness the impressive procession that take all the idols of Durga to the river for ritual immersion and blessing, in a fascinating event that completes one of the most interesting festivals of India.
On the 10th day of the Navratri on Dussehra or Durga Puja, women gather to adorn the deity of Maa Durga with sindoor. For some it symbolizes the ancient practice of offering blood sacrifices to appease the gods. Over time, communities have put an end to these sacrifices, but the red color remained.
This is the day when the Goddess returns to the marital home in the Himalayas. But not before the married women make their fond farewells and her family with gifts, sweets and amounts of vermilion for a long and happy married life.
The color red is a symbol of love and fertility. The husband applies it on the forehead of his wife on their wedding day, and every morning she retraces it as a habitual gesture which is a sign of respect to her husband and is believed to keep him healthy.
A sign on the forehead is present in some female figurines from Harappa, which perhaps is a trace of its presence as long as 5000 years ago. But the first historical evidence is in Harshacharita of VII AD, when the author, Banabhatta was court poet. Its popularity has remained intact to this day, perhaps because it has also been adopted by women of other religions. In film and television it is inevitable and sometimes central.
The red represents the passionate aspect of nature and also means love, fertility and strength. Scholars disagree about the origin of the custom of sindoor or bindi. According to some scholars, at the time of the ancient society of the Aryans, the groom used to apply his blood on the bride's forehead as a recognition of marriage and from this this custom started. Today, in the ceremony of the Hindu marriage the groom puts sindoor on the parting of the hair of the bride to symbolize eternal marital life. The application of sindoor is therefore also the change of status from bride to wife.
So the sindoor, besides being an ornament of good luck, also plays the role of a silent symbol of communication. Women wear sindoor with a strip of turmeric, just to indicate marriage hood. During menstruation, some women refrain from wearing sindoor. The bindi is instead used by unmarried women, as well as the red Kumkum made from turmeric, the pulverized root of a plant which is also used in Indian cooking.
The bindi is placed between the eyes because, according to the sages of India, the area between the eyebrows is the seat of latent wisdom. This point between the eyes, known by various names such as Ajna Chakra, spiritual eye, and Third Eye, is said to be the nerve center of the most important of the human body. Tilak is applied on the forehead in all religious occasions and ceremonies.