Derived from Sanskrit bindu, meaning "dot".
The bindi is a small mark applied to the the 6th chakra, aka the agna chakra. In Hindu tradition, the agna -"control"- chakra is the center of one's latent wisdom.
- The bindu was also considered the outlet point for "kundalini" energy. It is thought that the bindi blocks this energy from leaving the body, and causes it to be retained and stored locally.
The bindi's new MTV-fueled fashion accessory ubiquity and concommitant religious and symbolic devaluation is pandemic. Even in India, bindi have come to be seen as little more than stick-on jewelry.
Modern bindi design has expanded its zone of cosmetic influence, and now includes the eyelids, eyebrows, center part of the hair, navel, etc., and is very likely doing some extremely odd things to the chakras of Very Trendy People if Hindu tradition re:blocking up your chakras with bits of paste and paper had any grounding in terms of reality.
Bindi Before Gwen Stefani
Bindi were traditionally made out of herb paste:
The wearing and configuration of the bindi communicated some salient facts about the wearer's life. For example, widows did not wear bindi at all, but other deaths in the family called for a bindi made exclusively from turmeric.
Alternate interpretation of the significance of the red paste from www.shaadi.com: "some scholars have seen the red colour as a symbolism for blood. We are told that in ancient times, in Aryan society, a groom used to apply his blood, on his bride's forehead as recognition of wedlock. The existing practice among Indian women of applying a round shaped red Tilaka called Bindiya or Kumkum could be a survival of this."
Bindi After Gwen Stefani
The traditional DIY paste bindi has been largely supplanted by the "sticker-bindi". Made of felt or thin metal, the sticker bindi is decorated on one side with sequins, gold powder, beads, and glittering stones, with a paper-backed adhesive on the other side.
Of course, Gwen Stefani didn't actually inaugurate the trend in bindi mass manufacture, but she didn't hurt sales any. The bindi-wearing-Westerner look has abated in the past few years, but may be poised for a return with new, higher-quality movies coming out of Bollywood and making their way into the Western cultural collective unconscious as aesthetic influence.