Kumkum, an introduction
No single aspect can be held as a better symbol of Indian culture than the Kumkum.
Kumkum is a red pigment, which tradition holds as the red turmeric powder. Called as the vermillion in English, it is very closely associated with Gods, Goddesses, religious practices, and auspicious activities. Known by different names in the different regions of the country, such as the Sindhoor, Kunku, Kumgumam, etc. it holds tremendous significance as much in the religious domain, as in the cultural one.
Kumkum, its Significance
Kumkum remains very much an integral part of India and its hoary tradition. It plays a significant role in many of the temple rituals, like the poojas or worships. It is also used for decorating the idols of Gods and Goddesses, therein. People also use it at homes for adorning the pictures of deities, and in worships.
Kumkum is regarded as a vibrant symbol of auspiciousness, and hence is very widely worn by the married women, along the length and breadth of this vast landscape. They apply this usually in their forehead and Mangalsutras, the sacred thread tied around their neck at the time of marriage. Married women, especially of the northern parts of the country, wear Kumkum at the parting of the hair in the head, too.
Apart from being held as sacred, Kumkum has also since metamorphosized as the very sign of femininity, style, and beauty. Hence, this traditional symbol seems to have accepted modernity into its fold with ease and has started appearing in various eye-catching shapes, designs, and colors on the foreheads of modern Indian women.
Some interesting nuggets about Kumkum
• Traditionally, Kumkum is prepared from turmeric powder and slaked lime. But in the present times, vermillion as such is generally made from mercury sulfide, usually in a brilliant red color
• The idols of Goddesses in almost all the temples of the country are adorned with Kumkum, which also remains an integral part of the different forms of their worship. This assumes some special significance in the temples, principally dedicated to Goddesses. One such place of worship is the grand Meenakshi Amman Temple of Madurai in Tamil Nadu. Here, Goddess Meenakshi, the presiding deity, is decorated with Thaazhampoo (the Screw Pine) and is adorned with Kungumam, the Kumkum. After worship, Kumkum is distributed to devotees as the sacred prasad of the Goddess, and they apply it to their forehead and preserve in their homes. This Kumkum is believed to signify the blessings of the Goddess herself
• Archana is a form of worship, in which hymns are chanted in front of the deities and worship is offered to them, using items like flowers. This Archana is also done using Kumkum, at some select and famous temples. Known as Kumkumarchana, this is considered unique and is performed in places like Sri Padmavathi Temple at Thiruchanur, Thirupathi, Sri Kamakshi Amman Temple, Kanchipuram, and to Kolkata Sri Mahakali
• The sacred Kumkum finds its place in the legends too. It is said that once Hanuman saw mother Sita applying Sindhoor, the Kumkum, on her forehead. When he asked her about the reason, Sita is said to have replied that this is done for the long life of Lord Rama, and this will ensure her husband’s longevity. Hanuman was impressed and applied Sindhoor all over his body so that Rama can live for much longer. When Rama saw Hanuman with Sindhoor smeared all over his body and understood the reason, he was so moved by Hanuman’s devotion that he granted him immortality, that is, eternal life on earth. This is the reason that Hanuman idols are decorated with Sindhoor all over them, especially in the northern regions of India
• Turmeric is known as Haldi in Hindi. Haldi Kumkum is a sort of a social gathering or get-together exclusively for women when they exchange turmeric and Kumkum, that signify auspiciousness. This is done to affirm their status as married women, and also, to wish and pray for the long lives and welfare of their spouses and family members
• A slightly different process is adopted in the South, of course, with the same purpose. It is a customary practice there, to offer Kungumam (Kumkum) to married women, known as Sumangalis when they come visiting. It is a traditional farewell given by the host woman to the guest. This can ensure the longevity and welfare of the family of both the visitor and the visited, it is believed
• People in some regions of the country that include states like Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, apply turmeric and Kumkum paste at the entrances of their residences and on the door frames. They also draw patterns with these pastes there. This, it is believed, will welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, into their houses and bestow them with affluence and prosperity. This practice is done primarily during major festivals like Deepavali, and even on Fridays, regarded as the favorite to the Goddess
• It is said that the Kumkum prepared out of saffron, is the one in its purest form. No wonder, this Kumkum also remains the costliest. It is with these saffron petals that Archana worship is performed to Mata Vaishno Devi at the renowned Vaishno Devi Temple, Jammu