A white girl wore a bindi at Coachella. And, then my social media feeds went berserk. Hashtagging the term “cultural appropriation” follows the outrage and seems to justify it at the same time. Except that it doesn’t.
Cultural appropriation is the adoption of a specific part of one culture by another cultural group. As I (an Indian) sit here, eating my sushi dinner (Japanese) and drinking tea (Chinese), wearing denim jeans (American), and overhearing Brahm’s Lullaby (German) from the baby’s room, I can’t help but think what’s the big deal?
The big deal with cultural appropriation is when the new adoption is void of the significance that it was supposed to have — it strips the religious, historical and cultural context of something and makes it mass-marketable. That’s pretty offensive. The truth is, I wouldn’t be on this side of the debate if we were talking about Native American headdresses, or tattoos of Polynesian tribal iconography, Chinese characters or Celtic bands.
Why shouldn’t the bindi warrant the same kind of response as the other cultural symbols I’ve listed, you ask? Because most South Asians won’t be able to tell you the religious significance of a bindi. Of my informal survey of 50 Hindu women, not one could accurately explain it’s history, religious or spiritual significance. I had to Google it myself, and I’ve been wearing one since before I could walk.
We can’t accuse non-Hindus of turning the bindi into a fashion accessory with little religious meaning because, well, we’ve already done that. We did it long before Vanessa Hudgens in Coachella 2014, long before Selena Gomez at the MTV Awards in 2013, and even before Gwen Stefani in the mid-90s.
Indian statesman Rajan Zed justifies the opposing view as he explains, “[The bindi] is an auspicious religious and spiritual symbol… It is not meant to be thrown around loosely for seductive effects or as a fashion accessory…” If us Indians had preserved the sanctity and holiness of the bindi, Zed’s argument for cultural appropriation would have been airtight. But, the reality is, we haven’t.
The 5,000 year old tradition of adorning my forehead with kumkum just doesn’t seem to align with the current bindi collection in my dresser — the 10-pack, crystal-encrusted, multi-colored stick-on bindis that have been designed to perfectly compliment my outfit. I didn’t happen to pick up these modern-day bindis at a hyper-hipster spot near my new home in California. No. This lot was brought from the motherland itself.
And, that’s just it. Culture evolves. Indians appreciated the beauty of a bindi and brought it into the world of fashion several decades ago. The single red dot that once was, transformed into a multitude of colors and shapes embellished with all the glitz and glamor that is inherent in Bollywood. I don’t recall an uproar when Indian actress Madhuri Dixit’s bindi was no longer a traditional one. Hindus accepted the evolution of this cultural symbol then. And, as the bindi makes it’s way to the foreheads of non-South Asians, we should accept — even celebrate — the continued evolution of this cultural symbol. Not only has it managed to transcend religion and class in a sea of one-billion brown faces, it will now adorn the faces of many more races. And that’s nothing short of amazing.
So, you won’t find this Hindu posting a flaming tweet accusing a white girl of #culturalappropriation. I will say that I’m glad you find this aspect of my culture beautiful. I do too.
With Earth Day today (April 22nd) and Beltane well on its way, I’m thinking I want to take on a project to get me back into my uhh… witchiness (I couldn’t think of a better word haha maybe “beliefs” is a better word). I don’t know/remember if I posted something on here (oh wait, I just remembered, I did post a small rant a while ago) that I’ve been wanting to reacquaint myself with paganism since I have graduated from college and have both the time and energy (well at least a bit more than I did) to do so. Despite any reservations I might have about paganism and how sometimes I feel entirely unqualified to be a witch or pagan, I think I’ve unconsciously (and partially consciously) decided that I’m going to practice - in my absolute own way - anyways.
ANYWAYS (gosh, I ramble) as I was snooping around my own blog and looking at what I have on there, I came across my Divination tab. Obviously y’all know my slight obsession (that’s putting it nicely) with divination tools. And on my divination tab, I mentioned at the end of it that I would like to create my own set of Ogham Staves. Aaaaand thus is the purpose of this silly text post - I think this is going to be my project.
I was able to find some great 6 inch, 3/8” diameter wooden craft dowels from Joann’s online and a woodburning tool to create the symbols. I have considered purchasing a set from Etsy (I like the made-to-order ones by witchyscrafts) but I’m also pretty fond of creating my own items if it is within my means, like I did with my runes. And at this point, when I’m first discovering these items and learning to use them, I’m perfectly okay having this… hmm… “non-fancy” set that is relatively inexpensive. The ones I’ve seen on Etsy are made of special woods, some that are even made of various different woods that correspond with the type of wood the symbols represent (which I admit would be pretty fantastic because I’m a sucker for corresponding things), but the cheapest looked to be $25+ a set, I honestly am not sure if I’d want to spend that type of money for one just yet.
Other than making some ogham staves, I also want to start taking copious amounts of notes on things (like the meaning of symbols for Ogham staves, for example) and start seriously thinking about creating a Book of Shadows or Grimoire. And that also includes reading the books that I’ve more or less collected over the years.
After contemplating so many things lately, I’ve realized just how much I had to devote myself to school for the past 5.5 years and, now that I have graduated, how much I would like to get back to a life that I want, doing the things I want. Yes, there are a series of things that are also vying for my time these days (writing projects, job searching), but even if it’s something little everyday, I want to reintroduce witchcraft/paganism into my life. That sort of giddy feeling I get whenever I read something new/useful information or find something to add to my witchy goodies (you guys know what I’m talking about haha) is worth it.