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Cultural Awareness in Healthcare

Hindu Dress Code

female clothing

The traditional costume of Hindu women in India is the sari. This is a piece of brightly coloured material that is wound and pleated around the waist to cover the legs. An underskirt is worn beneath it. A short blouse is worn on top, and the end of the sari is draped over the shoulder on top of this. This leaves the midriff bare.

In the UK, the older generation may still wear this costume, but younger Hindus are beginning to wear long trousers and tunic tops as a compromise between the sari and western clothing.

male clothing

In the UK, Hindu men generally wear western clothes. The older generation may compromise by wearing normal trousers and a long tunic top over them. The traditional outfit is very similar to this; the tunic is a jacket with buttons down the front and a 'Nehru' collar, and the trousers are generally quite loose.


Hindu women wear a coloured spot on their forehead as a sign of their marital status and are very proud of this. The mark is called a bhindi (also called bindi, or kumkum after the name of the red powder that is used to make it). To avoid upsetting a patient, do not ask for it to be removed unless it is absolutely necessary.

Traditionally, the red spot that is worn by married women was marked on a bride's forehead by the groom with his own blood, as a symbol of the bond between them. Widows and some unmarried women may wear a black bhindi. Young and unmarried women usually wear a bhindi that matches the colour of their outfit. For special occasions, the usual simple make-up dot is supplemented by a jewelled stick-on mark.

Men sometimes use sectarian marks (known as tilaka) in a similar way to bhindi, as a symbol of their caste (jati), class (varna) or religious sect.

Hindus also practise henna body art for special occasions. Intricate designs are traced onto their hands, arms and feet using a henna paste and fine brushes or feathers. Once the henna is washed off, the design remains as a tracery of fine ochre lines on the skin and is there to ward off evil spirits and bad luck, and attract good fortune. Henna can cause skin irritation.

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