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Post by: 17/09/2017 0 comments 463 views


In Hinduism, the tilaka is a mark worn usually on the forehead, sometimes other parts of the body such as neck, hand or chest. Tilaka may be worn on a daily basis or for rites of passage or special religious occasions only, depending on regional customs.

The term also refers to the Hindu ritual of marking someone’s forehead with a fragrant paste, such as of sandalwood or vermilion, as a welcome and expression of honor when they arrive.

Anyone who wishes to acknowledge the simple truth that “I am Lord Krishna’s servant” can wear tilaka, the clay mark devotees wear on the forehead and other places on their body. You may not feel you have much devotion to Krishna, but you’re not prohibited from wearing tilaka because it’s a sign that you’re trying to be His devotee. What’s more, the qualifications for being Krishna’s devotee soon develop in a person who learns the art of wearing tilaka?

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The tilaka is a mark created by the application of powder or paste on the forehead. Tilakas are vertical markings worn by Vaishnavites. The Vaishnava tilaka consists of a long vertical marking starting from just below the hairline to almost the end of one’s nose tip, and they are also known as Urdhva Pundra. It is intercepted in the middle by an elongated U. There may be two marks on the temples as well. This tilaka is traditionally made with sandalwood paste.

The other major tilaka variant is often worn by the followers of Shiva, known by the names of Rudra-tilaka and Tripundra. It consists of three horizontal bands across the forehead with a single vertical band or circle in the middle. This is traditionally done with sacred ash from fire sacrifices. This variant is the more ancient of the two and shares many common aspects with similar markings worn across the world.

Shaktas, worshippers of the various forms of the Goddess (Devi) wear a large red dot of kumkum (vermilion or red turmeric) on the forehead.

Why Decorate the Body?

A devotee of Krishna decorates the body because it’s a temple of God. Instead of decorating our body as if it were the self, or destroying it, or despising it for its filthy emissions, we can respect and care for it as a residence of the Supreme Lord. The soul lives within the body, and so too does the Supersoul, the Lord. As a house is built and maintained for the pleasure of its owner, so “our” body is meant for the pleasure of its real owner, Lord Krishna. Decorating the body with tilaka pleases Him.

Putting on tilaka helps remind us we belong to Krishna. And when others see a person wearing tilaka they are not only reminded of Krishna but relieved of sinful reactions.

When we wear tilaka on our bodies, the Lord protects us from all sides. When Srila Prabhupada gave a disciple the name Tilaka Dasi, he told her that Tilaka meant “victory personified.”


the Kalagni Rudra Upanishad, a Shaiva tradition text, explains the three lines of a Tilaka as a reminder of various triads: three sacred fires, three syllables in Om, three gunas, three worlds, three types of atman (self), three powers in oneself, first three Vedas, three times of extraction of the Vedic drink Soma.

The first line is equated to Garhapatya (the sacred fire in a household kitchen), the A syllable of Om, the Rajas guna, the earth, the external self, Kriyā – the power of action, the Rigveda, the morning extraction of Soma, and Maheshvara.

The second streak of ash is a reminder of Dakshinagni (the holy fire lighted in the South for ancestors), the sound U of Om, Sattva guna, the atmosphere, the inner self, Iccha – the power of will, the Yajurveda, midday Soma extraction, and Sadashiva.

The third streak is the Ahavaniya (the fire used for Homa), the M syllable in Om, the Tamas guna, Svarga – heaven, the Paramatman – the highest self (the ultimate reality of Brahman), Jnana – the power of knowledge, the Samaveda, Soma extraction at dusk, and Shiva.

These lines state Antonio Rigopoulos, represent Shiva’s threefold power of will (icchāśakti), knowledge (jñānaśakti), and action (kriyāśakti). The Tripuṇḍra described in this and other Shaiva texts also symbolize Shiva’s trident (triśūla) and the divine triad of Brahmā, Vishnu, and Shiva.

The Vasudeva Upanishad, a Vaishnava tradition text, similarly explains the significance of three vertical lines in Urdhva Pundra Tilaka to be a reminder of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva; the Vedic scriptures – Rigveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda; three worlds Bhu, Bhuva, Svar; the three syllables of Om – A, U, M; three states of consciousness – awake, dream sleep, deep sleep; three realities – Maya, Brahman and Atman; the three bodies – Sthula, Sukshma, and Karana.

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Different Hindu traditions use different materials and shapes to make the tilaka.

Saivites typically mark their Tilak using vibhuti (ash) in three horizontal lines across the forehead. Along with the three horizontal lines, a bindu of sandalwood paste or a dot of red kumkum in the center completes the Tilaka (tripundra).

Vaishnavas apply a Tilak with vermillion, clay, sandalwood paste (Chandan), or latter two mixed. They apply the material in two vertical lines, which may be connected at the bottom, forming a simple U shape, often with an additional vertical red marking in the shape of a tulsi leaf inside the U shape. Their tilaka is called the Urdhva Pundra. See also Srivaishnava Urdhva Pundra, the Srivaishnava tilaka.

Ganapatya use red sandal paste (rakta candana).

Shaktas use kumkuma or powdered red turmeric. They draw one vertical line or dot.

Honorary tilaka (Raja tilaka and Vira tilaka are usually applied as a single vertical red line. Raja tilaka will be used while enthroning kings or inviting prominent personalities. Vira tilaka is used to anoint victors or leaders after a war or a game.

Swaminarayana tilaka is U-shaped in the middle of forehead along with the red dot in the middle of “U”.

Cultural tradition

Sikhs apply the tilaka as well. The Darshan Darbar devotees apply red tilaka to the forehead. This tilaka is a long red mark vertically applied. Saint Baba Budha Ji applied tilaka to the first five Sikh Gurus.

Jains use Tilaka to mark the forehead of Jaina images with sandalwood paste, during Puja ceremonies.

Christians in India use Tilaka, both to mark special occasions and during their worship rites.

Hindus use the Tilaka ceremony, as a mark of honor and welcome to guests, something special or someone special. It may also be used, for the same reason, to mark idols at the start of a Puja (worship), to mark a rock or tree before it is cut or removed from its original place for artisan work, or a new piece of property.

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When to Wear Tilaka

Although you can put on tilaka anytime, the best time to apply it is after bathing or showering. Wearing tilaka is especially appropriate during your puja, or worship, at home. When you’re worshiping as a family, everyone can wear it, or at least the person offering arati (the pujari). You can also wear tilaka when you visit the temple or attend festivals like Rathayatra.

An important time to wear it is at death. Either before someone dies or just afterward, if you apply tilaka at least to the person’s forehead, he or she will obtain an eternal benefit. Of course, death can come anytime, and so it’s wise to wear tilaka always.

You may feel shy about wearing tilaka publicly, but don’t jump to conclusions about what others may think. They may be intrigued. Srila Prabhupada told a story about a factory in India where most of the Hindu workers were accustomed to wearing tilaka. When their new boss, a Muslim, told them that whoever kept wearing tilaka would lose his job, the next day everyone except one man came to work with forehead blank. So then the owner called a meeting and announced that from then on this one brave man would be the only person allowed to keep wearing tilaka.

Different Types of Tilaka

If you travel in India you’ll see a variety of marks adorning people’s foreheads and bodies. Such marks indicate their affiliation with a particular group and their devotion to a certain form of God or demigod. Broadly speaking, you will see two types of tilaka: the vertical mark of the Vaishnavas, or devotees of Krishna and His incarnations, and the three horizontal lines of the Saivites, followers of Shiva and adherents to the impersonal conception of God.

Among the Vaishnavas are many sub-groups, identifiable by their styles of tilaka—it’s shape and color and the type of material used to make it. The tilaka worn by devotees in the Hare Krishna movement indicates that we are in the disciplic line from Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. The upper part of this tilaka, shaped like the prongs of a tuning fork, represents Lord Krishna’s footprint, and the leaf-shaped part on the nose represents a leaf of the Tulasi, Krishna’s favorite plant. The two lines also represent the walls of a Radha-Krishna temple, and so the space between the lines is Radha and Krishna’s abode. For other Vaishnavas, the two lines may indicate Brahma and Siva, and the space between the abode of Vishnu. A red line in the center may represent Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu’s eternal consort. The two lines may also indicate the banks of the Yamuna. Or they may represent Lord Rama and Lakshmana standing on either side of Sita. The stroke at the base of the tilaka represents the devotee Hanuman kneeling at Their feet. Tilaka styles are as varied as the understandings behind them.

How to Make Tilaka

ISKCON devotees generally make their tilaka from a cream-colored clay called gopi-candana, obtained from a sacred lake near Dvaraka, Lord Krishna’s ancient city on the west coast of Gujarat. Krishna’s greatest devotees, the gopis, once visited this lake. You can most likely obtain some from your local temple or supplier of devotional items. If not, clay from Vrindavana or any other holy place is fine. You can even use potters’ clay. According to the Hari-bhakti-vilasa, a book by Srila Sanatana Gosvami on Vaishnava practices, any kind of earth may be used for tilaka, especially earth from a riverbank or from beneath a Tulasi bush.

Put a little water in the palm of your left hand and move your block or ball of tilaka clay briskly until you get a smooth paste. As you do this, chant Hare Krishna, or if you like you can recite a mantra from the Padma Purana. You can find this mantra in a purport in the Caitanya-caritamrita.

How to Apply Tilaka

Apply tilaka with the ring finger of your right hand. Make a mark—about as wide as the space between your eyebrows—from the root of your nose to your hairline. Now use another finger, perhaps the little one, to make a clear space in the middle to form two vertical lines. If these lines come out crooked, you can straighten them with a third finger. If your forehead is bumpy, like mine, you can develop your own way of applying the clay. Now make the leaf- shaped mark, which should extend from the base of the lines to about three-quarters of the way down the nose.

After marking your forehead, apply tilaka to eleven other places on your body, as shown on the facing page.

As you apply the tilaka, recite the appropriate names of Vishnu listed here. Om Keshavaya Namah means “O my Lord Keshava, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You.” So as we mark our bodies, we chant twelve of His holy names.

If you can’t find the clay to make tilaka (or if you’re wearing tilaka wouldn’t sit well with your boss), you can go through the same procedure using only water. Use water that has bathed the Deity or pure water you’ve sanctified by chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By chanting the names of the Lord and applying the invisible representation of His temple, you’ll be protected and spiritually inspired for a Krishna conscious day.

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Relationship to bindi

The terms tilaka and bindi overlap somewhat but are not synonymous. Among the differences:

A tilaka is always applied with paste or powder, whereas a bindi may be paste or jewel.

A tilaka is usually applied for religious or spiritual reasons, or to honor a personage, event, or victory. A bindi can signify marriage, or be simply for decorative purposes.

A bindi is worn only between the eyes, whereas a tilaka can also cover the face or other parts of the body. Tilaka can be applied to twelve parts of the body: head, forehead, neck, both upper arms, both forearms, chest, both sides of the torso, stomach, and shoulder.

Typically the Bindi is worn only by women, whereas tilaka is worn by both men and women.

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