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Decoding the multi-coloured sindoor

As Masaba showcases hot pink and white sindoor, we ask. Can multi-coloured vermillion reclaim the sindoor tradition today?

A look from Masaba Gupta- Mantena’s ‘Sindoor’.
A look from Masaba Gupta- Mantena’s ‘Sindoor’.

Designer Masaba Gupta-Mantena, known for her kitschy prints and colourful sensibilities, has a new collection making headlines. The talking point of her Summer/Festive 2018 collection, Sindoor, is a new version of vermilion visible on the images of the lookbook models. The designer replaces the traditional red colour with hot pink or white spread across the middle parting.

“Sindoor is one of the strongest symbols of Indian married women in Hindu communities," the designer states in a social media post. “Our version of sindoor, seen in a knockout pink and chalk white, is a take on this feminine symbol. This is a celebration of the new-age woman, a celebration of personal choice, or even a religious one; whether to wear sindoor as a minimal dot, or heavily in the parting of her hair…or to choose not to wear it at all."

This isn’t the first time that vermilion has been reinterpreted. In 2017, Mumbai-based fashion label Papa Don’t Preach featured models wearing hot-pink sindoor. Shubhika Davda, the label’s founder, says, “I used pink for the sindoor to highlight quirk and rebellion." In 2008, Lakmé’s Jewel Sindoor—liquid vermilion in variations of red—too had found many takers.

Vermilion is a ubiquitous sight in India. However, the practice of sindoor is also waning, drawing from gender discourse that posits such markers as symbols of patriarchy (there’s no male equivalent for sindoor), the adverse effects of chemical ingredients, and a perception of the sindoor being outdated. According to Gupta-Mantena, “I’ve come across women who have been perceived as too traditional or not modern enough, for wearing sindoor heavily." For the designer, it is a matter of choice and coloured sindoor is a means of personal expression.

Davda too sees such trends as a style decision. “While pink can be used to display your own fierce rebellion and fun, I doubt that vermilion can actually be replaced when partaking in the rituals," she says. The idea behind conceiving variations like sindoor in different colours is to question the notion that sporting vermilion is regressive. However, it works within an established framework of tradition, and it would take much more to bring about a cultural shift that addresses the very need for such symbols.

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