These ingredients signify auspiciousness and traits of sacrifice (tyaga). In a puja they symbolize a prayer to the Almighty that the person’s life should be blessed with auspiciousness.
In our Hindu dharma they are considered as symbols of Goddess Gauri. Among Hindu ladies, they also symbolize her status as suvasini (married woman). Turmeric is applied liberally on the feet, hands and face. As per our Hindu tradition, a married woman (suvasini) is considered as a form of the Goddess and is offered haldi-kumkum (turmeric and kumkum). Both these items are naturally blessed with extensive medicinal properties that grant good physical health and this is yet another important reason to propagate its usage.
Turmeric is a natural antiseptic, a quick wound healer and also has anti-poison properties. It has in it an inherent capacity to destroy germs. Our hands and feet are primarily exposed to germs as we walk about completing our daily chores. Applying turmeric on feet protects them from the various germs or diseases that could attack. It heals throat cancer. Many skin disorders are cured. Applying turmeric on the feet of the person suffering from intense cold and rubbing them vigourously helps in generating heat within the body. At times of common cold, turmeric is sprinkled in burning charcoal and the smoke is inhaled. In addition to all these, it also signifies dhyana. As it symbolizes auspiciousness and prosperity, it is used in every auspicious occasion.
In many families, at the beginning of any important puja or vrata, turmeric Ganapati or turmeric Gauri are prepared and are decorated with kumkum. Who then is Mother Gowri? She is none other than the energy present in the Nature. In other words, it symbolizes that energy of Nature (Prakriti) that is being worshipped.
Kumkum refers to the red colour powder used mainly during pujas. Similar to turmeric it has many good properties and is considered auspicious. It is prepared out of turmeric. The red colour kumkum water is used for removing the evil effects caused by evil eye (drishti). According to the maanasika shastras (Scriptures), when we look at that red coloured water the ill effects of evil eye are destroyed. Mental agitations are thus destroyed and the mind acquires peace/ calmness.
As both these ingredients contain so many positive properties, they have been necessarily incorporated in our daily rituals. Perhaps you may consider them as mere blind beliefs. Nevertheless it is a procedure that is strongly advocated by the experts in natural medicine.
Why is akshata (raw rice grains mixed with turmeric or kumkum) used? It is impractical to state that during every puja, flowers and fruits will be available in plenty. In their absence, akshata is used as a substitute. Akshata symbolizes purity. It symbolizes that which is hidden deep inside every living being in this vast universe. It also reminds us that all living beings are similar to us and are equal. Devoid of all our impurities, we are that pure akshata.
-Glimpses of Bhaktimala 4