Pottu is a traditional decoration worn on the forehead by Indian women. It is an auspicious adornment for Hindu women and girls marked between the eyebrows. It is called by different names such as thilak or thilakam in Tamil, bottu in Telugu, bindi in Hindi, and bindu in Sanskrit. In Tamil Nadu, the Hindu women apply a red powder called kungumam, which is made of saffron or turmeric. Kungumam is a very important symbol for married women. The red color of kungumam signifies love, honor, purity, and prosperity. Kunguma pottu between the eyebrows is believed to retain energy and control the various levels of concentration. Pottu is indeed a fascinating decoration, and today it has become a beautiful fashion accessory.
Kunguma pottu has religious significance and it fosters a feeling of sanctity. According to Hindu tradition, it is the symbol of marriage, indicating the social status. In North India, it denotes the marital status of a woman, whereas in Tamil Nadu and other South Indian states, it is a privilege for the women of all ages to adorn themselves with the pottu.
Wearing pottu during a wedding is mandatory. The bride might wear make-up and costlier jewels, but they all remain incomplete without pottu. The color of the pottu should be red, as it is believed that this will bring good fortune to the family. The kunguma pottu of the bride makes her the protector of family welfare and honor.
Pottu is worn between the eyes. This point is said to be the most important pressure point, which is known as the Ajna chakra – the spiritual eye or third eye that is the place of wisdom and the center point of concentration. According to the Rishis (ancient sages), energy emerges from the base of the spine while meditating and moves to the head. Ajna chakra is the point where the energy is released. This is the reason that worry generates heat in the head and causes severe headache. The pottu is believed to cool the forehead and prevent energy loss. For this reason, many people in earlier days used to cover their foreheads with sandal paste.
It is also believed that pressure applied between the bruhmadya (eyebrows) will prevent colds, coughs, fatigue, and headaches. Traditional kunguma pottu is actually applied by pressing the bruhmadya. However, many women use self-adhesive “sticker pottu” now, and do not gain the benefit of the pressure.
Place of Origin:
The exact origination of the wearing of pottu is still unknown, but the pottu has been seen on the foreheads of men and women for many centuries. The saffron used for making kungumam is traditionally prepared from the flower Crocus sativus. However, artificial kumgumam is also available now.
There were four castes in earlier times, divided based on the occupation of the people. They were the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Sudras.
The Brahmins used to act as priests and they were involved in academic roles. To signify purity, they applied a white mark on their foreheads.
The Kshatriyas were the warriors. To signify bravery, they applied a red kumkum mark.
The Vaishyas were the traders and the businessmen, who were devoted to wealth. To signify prosperity, they wore a yellow turmeric mark on their forehead.
The Sudras supported themselves by working for the people of the other three castes. To signify their service, they applied a black charcoal mark.
Pottu can be made from chandanam (sandal paste), kungumam (red turmeric), or vibhuthi (sacred ashes). The devotees of Lord Vishnu apply chandanam on their forehead, devotees of Goddess Sakthi wear kungumam, and the devotees of Lord Shiva adorn themselves with vibhuthi.
In former days, kungumam was also used to convey meaning. Widows were not allowed to wear kungumam, as it is an auspicious material which was deemed unsuitable for a woman who lost her husband. If there was a death in a family, or the woman was menstruating, she was also restricted from wearing pottu.
The color and form of kunguma pottu varies according to religion, caste, and the god that was worshiped.
In olden days, men also applied thilakam. Though both thilakam and pottu are worn on the forehead, there is difference between the two. Thilakam is always applied as a paste and it is worn only for spiritual reasons, or to honor a person for his victory. Pottu may be a sticker, or paste and kungumam, signifying marriage and used for decorative purposes. Pottu is worn only in between the eyebrows, whereas thilakam can cover the entire face and other parts of the body.
A number of varieties of colorful pottu are available today. Pottu are made in different shapes and sizes and are manufactured with adhesive backings. Some of the more exotic creations use glittering stones and thin layers of gold or silver.
Pottu has gained in popularity in recent days due to the availability of sticker pottu with varied colors and designs. They are worn by young girls for celebrations in colors matching their dresses.
The pottu is an adornment that brings a glow to a woman’s face and provides a focal point. One should appreciate its beauty and power.The pottu carries a wealth of significance with it and it acts as an link between age-old traditions and the future.