Is wearing a bindi religious?

Depending on the context of the discussion (say a dispute about some aspect of the Indian culture), the disputants can treat wearing the bindi or a saree as facts. However, in another context of the discussion, these facts might become theoretical claims. For instance, is the Indian woman wearing a bindi or an Indian male wearing kumkum on his forehead being religious or not? Consider, for instance, the recent French legislation about wearing religious ‘symbols’ in the public. If someone decides to take an Indian to the court, then wearing bindi or kumkum becomes an issue of dispute. Then we will have disputes: one side will claim that it is religious, and the other will probably want to say that it is not religious. (If it happens, I suggest they use ‘The Heathen in His Blindness: Asia, the West and the dynamic of religion’!) In such a case, wearing a bindi will be described using two kinds of theories about wearing a bindi.

Editor’s note: the foregoing is about heathens’ wearing bindis. How about Indian Christians’ wearing bindis? Once upon a time, such a practice was called idolatrous. Today, the practice is called secular.  Here, Christian theology answers the question about which practice is secular, which idolatrous, and which religious.  In the case of heathens in France, the state is taking the stance of Christian theology by branding as religious, the wearing of bindis. For heathens, wearing a bindi is part of tradition; for urban Indian Christians, it is part of the secular domain: here, two theories (one about tradition; the other about religion-secular-idolatrus) accomodate the same phenomenon/practice, even though those theories (a generic Christian theology and comparative science of cultures) are competitors to understand the Indian culture.

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