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No Offence, But What The Sindoor?

Posted: March 29, 2016

Why do women have to wear signs of matrimony like the sindoor and the mangalsutra? A post that will make you think.

Sindoor, mangalsutra, red bindi, green/red bangles and ring on the toe – these are some of the markers that according to societal customs signify that a woman is married. This is not a feminist rant. But two valid questions to think about:

  1. Why exactly do we need anything that signifies a married person, especially a woman?
  2. And if we really do, why exactly don’t we have such things for men?

And if you don’t find a valid answer, please – think. These customs were perhaps made according to some thoughts by the people in the previous generation. I could call them misogynists, and we could debate meaninglessly over it. But there’s no point (apart from historical analysis) in trying to find logic in that. But in today’s day and age, there’s no logic why these systems should exist now.

We generally put marks and symbols on what we own, like our house or our cows, dogs, other cattle and pets. For a fact, a man does not own his wife so evidently there need not be any symbol representing a married woman. 

Answers apart from ‘because our ancestors did it’ and ‘because Indian culture promotes it’ would be appreciated. Because there are many such things that we conveniently stopped doing over time. As a part of a civilized society, we have evolved parts of our tradition. Like we don’t walk from city to city to trade, we don’t have to hunt everyday to eat, we don’t practice sati and dudhpiti anymore (I hope), a lot more people go for love marriages, widows-widowers can remarry, we condemn eve teasing (street harassment), domestic violence, rapes and so on. But this we did not change.

Also, I do not wish to be enlightened with the supposedly scientific (and unproven) analogies around these customs, unless we propose to do them about men too- for any ‘mental, psychological, sexual health benefits’.

For all the ‘pro science’ people, modern sindoor mainly uses vermilion (made up of mercury sulfide which is chiefly toxic), an orange-red pigment. In early 2008, allegations of high lead content led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to recall batches of sindoor from several manufacturers.

Even apart from this, no civilized person or human being, be it male or female; should have to wear anything that signify they are someone’s someone.

So, some women do it because their husband/family believe in these customs. Some women say ‘I do it because it is my personal choice’. It is technically not, this personal choice is derived from our patriarchal societal norms. And of course go ahead and do it if you wish to, but at the back of your mind, remember it is not such a flashy and sentimental thing as our daily soaps and ‘K3G’ like movies have shown to us all these years. We must see that a lot of these traditions are market driven and directed.

The Indian Market of Sindoors

The Indian Market of Sindoors


Some women, on the other hand, have lovable and supportive husbands who don’t wish to ‘own the wife’. I have had the privilege of know some such amazing Indian men. The kind who won’t have ego issues if his wife has a male best friend, or have many male friends. The one who treats his wife as his equal, and doesn’t make her quit job after marriage or pregnancy. However it is true that not all men are like that and it is true that not all women want equality.

If you still do it, it’s okay. But remember what it truly means. It means that you are owned by a man; and so you, all other men who see you, and the society must remember the same. It also means that your husband is your God, and he may do whatever he wants to you. Remember this and then think, how is it different from a dog’s belt?

Sorry to be offensive but it is all for the good if you are offended. It will make you think!

Published earlier here.

Image source: groom putting sindoor on bride’s forehead by Shutterstock.

Co-founder of Collegebol.com, India's first platform for college reviews and ratings, she

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  1. In our largely patriarchal society, some women wear sindoor and other visible signs of being married just to keep men at bay. I personally know of a friend working as a nurse in a hospital who used to put a dot of sindoor just to ward off unwanted advances of men.

    • Dear me!! I wish warding off men would be easy that way…then we would not have married women raped every now and then…huh…

    • I am not sure, but I heard that sindoor was a way of shaving the forhead of women (whereby they bleed) to signify that they are married, in the same way as cattle marking. The payal and all were alarms to indicate where the woman was moving, the toe rings could very well signify chains that were, at some point in the history of women’s liberation, used to restrain them. If we have moved from there, why should we make them mandatory? If you want to use them as a way of dressing it is fine, that leaves you with a choice that you make. Rest is all useless justifications….

    • Me too, I wish it was that easy! I remember after the famous Jyoti Singh/Nirbhaya case, a popular Indian baba had said, “The girl should have addressed the rapists as ‘bhaiya’ and requested them to leave. That would have surely helped..” It is all in our minds. These things are largely ways to ingrain patriarchy.

  2. In times of Mughal rule, bangles, necklaces were used to signifiy ownership of slaves… More precious the metal, higher is the rank of the perso who owns the slave – whether a male or female slave.

  3. In the writer’s own words sorry to be offensive but it is all for the good if you are offended writer. It will make you think how to write an article!The article carries lot of opinion rather than logic and fact and really shows the bias of the author. An author should be able to set the premise, state facts and help the reader draw logical conclusion of it.Sadly the style of writing is defeating the entire purpose of this article.The writer has already assumed lot many things and trying to prove herself right.I am myself married for 3 yrs and don’t follow any of these as I find it really difficult to do all these things but that doesn’t mean I have the right to demean some things which are based on science.Few pointers for the author:-
    1. Vermilion is used to increase the sex drive of women, hence removed after husband’s death.
    2.Toe rings press a nerve in foot which  increases fertility.
    3.Piercing again has accupunture benefits.

    If we use US FDA standard in India half of the medicines will be banned so no point saying that vermillion is banned in USA.Also if you hate these symbolic gestures you should also speak about the Kanya Pooja done during Navratra and the puberty ceremony celebrated for women. What the author is talking about is being feminazi which is following convenient things and rejecting difficult ones on the name of being persecuted.
    Real feminism is about standing for ourselves in social and conomic forums far above these trivial issues

    • Dear (rather displeased) Neha,

      Starting with your pointers:

      1. “Vermilion is used to increase the sex drive of women, hence removed after husband’s death.” Really? So you mean to say that a woman should not have a sex drive (or increased sex drive) after her husband’s death? Basically, once your husband dies, you are not suitable to have sex anymore. And also, unmarried women should not have an increased sex drive, by using Sindoor. And how exactly does Vermillion identify a ‘woman’ and help her increase sex drive? We must try it on men too, see if that helps 😛 And then, Sindoor should be available in the chemist shop then, next to condoms and viagra.
      2. “Toe rings press a nerve in foot which increases fertility.” Don’t guys need fertility too. Why just a one sided family planning attempt?
      3. “Piercing again has accupunture benefits.” This one was hilarious. Acupuncture is a method of relieving pain or curing illness by placing needles into a person’s skin at particular points on the body. Then the needle is to be removed! In this case, pierced item stays!

      Anyway for all those scientific pointers. I don’t deny the possibility of those (however absurd and ‘only for women’ they are) scientific benefits. Scientific benefits are different from Societal norms. The above mentioned ‘scientific benefits’ are just societal norms, which serve as further treating women as a property. “This woman is married, and someone else’s, so stay away.” And I’m sorry for you if you see these as trivial issues because these are the symbolic foregrounds of patriarchy which lead to a lot of extreme problems for women in our society.

      I disagree with the puberty ceremony too, it’s a very personal moment in a girl’s life. Why make an issue out of it! And of course, this is an opinionated piece. I never said it is a scientific one. But if you say it lacks logic, well that’s your own opinion. I respectfully disagree.

      And lastly for the FDA standards comment, sure.In that sense, India is very high Below Poverty Line people. No problem, let’s lower the bar of poverty. And be happy about it.

    • Please do not use science if there’s no scientific evidence… Pseudo-science isn’t the same as science.

  4. shobhit verma -

    Miss Aarti Nair is trying all out to justify that this is not a rant but she herself knows that allthose logic she mentioned stands no where all you have problem is why are women doing it and why should men not be doing it.

    In somedays you will come up with why should women only have babies and not men….comeon have some courage to accept that women in modern India are still willing to do it because certain things are beautiful and yes a girl in her wedding dress with all the ornaments is far beautiful and superior in a girl in shorts or bikini or jeans for that matter. (There are choices too jst as would have been for your own mother)


    • Oops looks like the writer’s article rubbed some people the wrong way. Yes, a girl in her wedding dress is no doubt beautiful, but men never miss an opportunity to ogle at the ones in shorts/bikini…(even if they are “happily married”).

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  6. In the name of feminism, people rant anything but I am afraid to say that you are pointing why married woman should wear these. It adds to her beauty n she looks elegant.

    Why unmarried dress up so much these days from top to bottom, using big earrings, chains etc.?

    If people wish to dress up, let them do. It’s a personal choice

  7. No offence, why only women should give birth?

  8. This is indeed not a feminist rant. A feminist rant would be the likes of “why do men sit with their knees apart, it is so vulgar…!”

    I, a man, hate this custom as well. I do not want to mark my wife like cattle. And if she insists (for whaever crazy holy reason), I would request her to mark me as well.

    This “custom” originates from barbarian times when women were used like cattle, and thus were needed to be marked as property. The society was divided into clans (gotra) and they raided each others’ strongholds all the time. A successful raid meant pillaging everything and carrying off the women. Those that don’t come willingly (nobody would) were knocked on head to make them faint, or handcuffed, or bound and dragged off, slices on the feet so that they can’t run off……

    The “customs” are exactly the reflections of those barbaric ways: sindoor symbolizes the blood dripping from a cracked skull, kumkum (alta) symbolizes the blood trickling out of feet, iron bangles symbolize the handcuffs (similar in toes and nose), and mangalsutra symbolizes either slave collar or marker nack tie. Oh and lets not forget the payel.

    I wish this horrible tradition would be abolished some day. I do not like the western lifestyle in many ways, but their system of marital status signals are so much more civilized: two rings for both of them. Why can’t our highest be as civil-minded as their lowest?

    • Exactly. My point of view is if all these is good for health, sex and etc.. So why men is not trying all these stuff. many people says that it is or husband’s good health. So, I have just one question, only men’s health is everything? What about us. In India there are lots of issues like rape, Sexual abusement, education, child marriage, jobs. So, Please take some steps regarding those things. Stop wasting your time to think how you rule over the women.


  10. Hi ,

    I think you need to revist your article .

    Why you wear sindoor during marriage ?can’t you oppose to the process ?
    How many women who have done court marriage wear sindoor and why donot u follow that approach ?
    Cant you think it as a discipline that women has to follow daily , but because u wnat to be comfortable you don’t won’t to .
    Even men are required to wear Janeyu but they donot do so because they can’t follow the discipline .

    The problem is not wearing sindoor , the problem is with the discipline that follows it , as usual since the culture now is to compete with men who have failed misrebly wearing Janeyu and following it . Women are competing with regard to this .
    Secondly , how hard is for you to think it can be ones choice ? Some women think it’s for long life for their husband , what’s wrong if they follow it .
    You should be opposing karvachauth as well ? Men’s dont do that right ???
    If women have been carrying a certain discipline from years ,
    No offence , but have you raised these or are you in a position to question the entire marriage culture ?

    Even I am a strong believer that this should not be forced , it’s a matter of choice , but since you are rasing this do you have any facts with you , like how many women’s from which state have problem with this , or you are trying to make them aware that they are simply burdening themselves with these traditions by writing your views

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  12. It’s true. Even I don’t understand why is it all only for a woman. It’s like reminding me everytime that I am enslaved. I wish I can get rid off those. But the consequences of saying “NO” to all these, brings in a lot of troble in the family. The one question which haunted me was, “Are you behind any other man that you wanted not to wear all these?” posed by my own parents and husband. It’s not an easy task to make them understand. I regret to have married someone who doesn’t understand all these but knows well to keep complaining to my parents like a child.

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