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Kumkum (Sanskrit कुङ्कुमम् kuṅkumam, Tamil குங்குமம் kungumam,Telugu కుంకుమ kumkuma,Kannada ಕುಂಕುಮ Kumkuma)- is a powder used for social and religious markings in Hinduism. It is either made from turmeric or saffron. The turmeric is dried and powdered with a bit of slaked lime, which turns the rich yellow powder into a red color.
The kumkum is an auspicious symbol. When a girl or a married woman visits a house, it is a sign of respect (in case of an elderly lady) or blessings (in case of a young girl) to offer kumkum to them when they leave. However, it is not offered to widows. When visiting a Hindu temple, married women from southern India usually dip their ring finger in yellow turmeric powder, and apply a dot on their neck. Men, women, girls, and boys apply a dot on their forehead of red turmeric powder, also when visiting a temple or during a pooja. In most of India, everyday, married women apply red kumkum in front of their parting on their forehead as a symbol of marriage. This is called vermilion, or in Hindi, sindoor.
Saffron for kumkum is made from the flower Crocus sativus, in the family Iridaceae. The plant has many names in Sanskrit: Ghusrun, Rakta, Kashmir, Balhik, Kesar, Kashmiraj, Kumkum, Agneeshekhar, Asrugvar, Shatha, Shonit, Pitaka, or Rudhir. The saffron contains a dye consisting of 8 to 13.4% of the volatile oils crocin and picrococin.
Kumkum is also widely used for worshiping the Hindu goddesses, especially Shakti and Lakshmi, and a kumkum powder is thrown (along with other mixtures) into the air during Holi (the Festival of Colours), a popular Hindu spring festival.
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