This red powder is known as sindoor, or vermilion (for its color). It’s worn by married Hindu women in the hair parting at the base of the forehead. The woman typically applies sindoor herself, except for at the end of the Hindu wedding ceremony, where the husband applies the sindoor to his new wife’s forehead for the first time under the watchful eye of an older married woman. The day the husband dies an older woman, usually the mother-in-law or the sister-in-law, smears the sindoor from the woman’s forehead, symbolizing her transition into widowhood. Traditionally sindoor is worn daily by married Hindu women. However, growing up I noticed that my Guyanese mother only applied sindoor when attending religious functions. She’d dress up in her saree and jewelry before applying the sindoor and going off to whatever puja or jhandi we had been invited to. To me, it’s a reminder that she and the rest of my family, as well as many other Guyanese people, are descended from Indian indentured laborers, whose culture they adapted to create a unique culture and lifestyle that is both similar to and different from traditional Indian culture. Sindoor also represents something of my culture and religion to look forward to. As an integral part of Hinduism, the act of applying sindoor is thousands of years old, and I look forward to carrying on this tradition when I’m married in the future, be it daily like my Indian ancestors or on those certain occasions like my mother.
– Natascia Sawh