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Lots of Dots

Kids are both observant and unceremonious, often blurting out innocent questions as they see them. In a phone call with my wife, one child asked Mommy to get the answer to every American kid's biggest question about India: "what's with the dot?"

My young one was referring, of course, to the small symbol many Indian men and women wear on the brow between their eyes. I was embarrassed to say that I didn't really know, so instead I gave the wisdom so many parents in my position offer: "it's complicated." From that point, however, I was determined to find out about the dot while in India.

It turns out my original answer was not too far off. First, there's not a "dot" but rather "dots". Women wear a "bindi" to symbolize marriage status, while men's dots are ash or other coloring and symbolize piety; they touch the temple alter, picking up the coloring and touch it to their forehead.

Second, interpreting the markings can be somewhat complicated as it may mean different things for different ages and observances of Hinduism. As I'm still not clear enough on the traditions to give a complete explanation, I'll simply satisfy my child's immediate curiosity. Traditionally, bindis were worn to signified being married. Today, however, I understand bindis are also worn as a fashion item by women who are not married, children, and by women who are not even Hindu.

As for the other dots, I came face to face with lots of them on our visit to Shree Siddhivinayak Ganapati Temple, the temple to Lord Ganesha. Ganesha is one son of Vishnu, a high Hindu god, and is the most popular Hindu deity in Mumbai, making this temple the city's largest and most famous. Most people exiting the temple wore an orange dot to signify their attendance and participation in prayer. (Photography was not allowed, so you'll have to take my word for it!)

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