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Tilak - Sect Mark

TilakThe tilak is a sect-mark painted on the forehead. The Tilak is a mark of religious affiliation, and not of caste identity, though as with much else in India, it may be modified to reflect caste membership. Among the upper castes the sect-mark is a forehead-mark on a man that indicates the god or goddess to which he and his family are specially attached. These marks are made with ashes or sandal-wood paste. Sometimes a single line is drawn across the forehead, or perhaps a single red line from the top of the forehead to the tip of the nose, a few strokes in front of each ear, horizontal lines across the upper arm, and many other marks varying according to caste, or the particular divinity worshipped.

The tilak or pottu invokes a feeling of sanctity in the wearer and others. It is recognized as a religious mark ; just as in certain parts of Africa tribes, sub-tribes, and even families are distinguished by the figures of animals or other pictures blazoned on the leg or face. The tilak cover the spot between the eyebrows, which is the seat of memory and thinking. It is known as the Aajna Chakra in the language of Yoga, the Spiritual eye, Third eye meaning 'command', the seat of concealed wisdom. The Tilak is generally worn by men. All religious rites and ceremonies of Hindus begin with the application of a tilak to invoke gods. A tilak is also applied by the priest during a person’s visit to a temple as a sign of the deity’s blessings.

Tilak is worn on the Ajna Chakra, the center of forehead, on the space between the eyebrows. Tilak is applied on the point at which the third eye or the spiritual eye is believed to open. All the actions of humans are governed by this specific point. Application of tilak is customary and infact, most of the Hindu ceremonies begin with the application of tilak. Well, Tilak can be made by using sandal paste, turmeric, kumkum or ashes. Depending on the purpose for which Tilak is applied, the material is chosen for preparing the sacred forehead mark.

  • Sandal: White sandal symbolizes purity, calmness and tranquility
  • Kumkum: Red kumkum signifies power, vigor, dynamism and stability
  • Turmeric: Saffron colored turmeric stands for wealth, fortune, prosperity and opulence
  • Holy Ashes or Vibhuti: Vibhuti represents dedication, devotion and commitment
Usually a tilak is made of freshly grinded sandal paste mixed with vermilion and turmeric as per Shastric injunctions. Numerous mentions have been made about Tilak in the ancient scriptures such as Vedas and Upanishads. Rig Veda has given an elaborate description about the life of Goddess Usha, the consort of Lord Surya. She is portrayed as wearing a red dot [Bindi] on her forehead that signifies the rising sun. Tilak is an elongated form of Bindi and takes on various forms but all the forms honor the central dot.

In earlier times, the four castes (based on varna or colour) – Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra – applied marks differently. The brahmin applied a white chandan mark signifying purity, as his profession was of a priestly or academic nature. The kshatriya applied a red kumkum mark signifying valor as he belonged to warrior races. The vaishya wore a yellow kesar or turmeric mark signifying prosperity as he was a businessman or trader devoted to creation of wealth. The sudra applied a black bhasma, kasturi or charcoal mark signifying service as he supported the work of the other three divisions. Also Vishnu worshippers apply a chandan tilak of the shape of "U", Shiva worshippers a tripundra, Devi worshippers a red dot of kumkum and so on).

Its form and color vary according to one's caste, religious sect or the form of the Lord worshipped. There are different types of Tilak, each differing in its significance. Tilak can be applied in varied forms as a mark of auspiciousness as well as blessing. Tilak does not have single standard form and is applied differently by members affiliated with different sects and subsects. The most common form is a dot or a dot with a long vertical extension and is worn by those not affiliated with any particular sect.

In India the perpendicular Tilak distinguishes the adorer of the Preserver, from the worshipper of the Destroyer. Worshippers of Lord Vishnu, known as Vaishnavas, wear a vertical V or U shaped tilak known as Urdhavapundra, using ash (vibhuti), clay or sandalwood paste. This is a sign of preservation or protection. Worshippers of Lord Shiva, known as Saivites draw three horizontal stripes joining at corners (Tripundra) with vibhuti or sandalwood paste anda red dot between the eyebrows. This is as a reminder of God’s three-fold nature of creator, preserver, and destroyer.

Bairagi is the general term for members of the Vishnuite religious orders, who formerly as a rule lived by mendicancy. It is generally held that there are four Sampradayas or sects of Bairagis. The tilak or sect-mark of the Ramanujis consists of two perpendicular white lines from the roots of the hair to the top of the eyebrows, with a connecting white line at the base, and a third central line either of red or yellow. The Ramanujites are called Sri Vaishnavas, and they derive their designation from the fact that they worship Sri or Laksmi as the consort of their god. They are divided into two sects, called the Vadagala and the Tengala. The doctrinal differences between the two sects may, to an outsider, seem to be too trivial to account for the bitterness between them. The word Vadagala means the language of the North, and the word Tengala is a corrupted form of the expression "Tri-Yumulaya, " which means the language of the blessed saints. The Vadagalas, as their name indicates, give preference to the Sanskrit, while the Tengalas regard their Tamil translations as equal to the original scriptures of the Hindus. The Vadagalas are the more aristocratic of the two sects. The two sects have different forehead marks by which they can be distinguished without any difficulty. The Tilak of the Vadagalas is like the letter U, and that of the Tengalas like the letter Y. In both a perpendicular red or yellow streak, representing Sri or Laksmi the consort of Vishnu, bisects the space between the arms, which are painted with the white magnesian or calcareous clay called Tiruman. In addition to the mark painted on the forehead, the Ramanujites, both male and female, brand themselves like the Madhavas, with the marks of Krishna's emblems, namely, conch shell, and discus.

The Ramanandis consider the Ramayana as their most sacred book, and make pilgrimages to Ajodhia and Ramnath. Their sect-mark consists of two white lines down the forehead with a red one between, but they are continued on to the nose, ending in a loop, instead of terminating at the line of the eyebrows, like that of the Ramanujis. The Ramanandis say that the mark on the nose represents the Singasun or lion's throne, while the two white lines up the forehead are Rama and Lakhshman, and the center red one is Slta. Some of their devotees wear ochre-coloured clothes like the Sivite mendicants.

The second of the four orders is that of the Nimanandis, called after a saint Nimanand. Their sect mark consists of two white lines down the forehead with a black patch in the center, which is called Shiambindini. Shiam means black, and is a name of Krishna. They also sometimes have a circular line across the nose, which represents the moon. The third great order is that of the Madhavas,. The tilak of the Madhavacharyas is said to consist of two white lines down the forehead and continued on to the nose where they meet, with a black vertical line between them. The tilak of the Vallabhacharyas is said to consist of two white lines down the forehead, forming a half-circle at its base and a white dot between them. They will not admit the lower castes into the order, but only those from whom a Brahman can take water.


Vaishnavism has produced many minor sects, consisting of the followers of some saint of special fame, and mendicants belonging to these are included in the body of Bairagis. A common order is that of the Bendiwale, or those who wear a dot. Their founder began putting a red dot on his forehead between the two white lines in place of the long red line of the Ramanandis. His associates asked him why he had dared to alter his tilak or sect-mark. He said that the goddess Janki had given him the dot, and as a test he went and bathed in the Sarju river, and rubbed his forehead with water, and all the sect-mark was rubbed out except the dot. So the others recognised the special intervention of the goddess, and he founded a sect.

The Hale Karnatikas of Mysore are considered as a degraded class. Their very Brahmanhood is not generally admitted. Their chief occupations are agriculture and Government service, as Snanbhogs or village accountants. By way of reproach they are called Maraka, which literally means slaughterer or destroyer. They are said to be descendants of some disciples of Sankaracharya. They worship the Hindu triad, but are chiefly Vishnuvites and wear the trident mark on their foreheads.

The Warma Brahmans paint their foreheads in two different ways. Some have transverse lines of sandal or sacred ashes; while others have a perpendicular line of sandal or Gopichandana [a kind of calcareous clay, said to be obtainable only from a tank near Somnath, where the wives of Krishna drowned themselves after his death]. Among the Dravira Brahmans the Brihat Charanas are next in importance only to the Warmas. The Brihat Charanas paint their forehead with a round mark of Gopichandana in the center, in addition to transverse lines of white sandal. The Ashta Sahasras are, generally speaking, more handsome than the other classes of Draviri Brahmans. Like the moderate Sakti worshippers of Bengal, the Ashta Sahasras paint between their eyebrows a round mark which is either of white sandal or of a black coloring material formed by powdered charcoal.

The Bamacharis slaughter kids and buffaloes openly; but even their most zealous bigots do not offer wine publicly. The Kowls or Extreme Saktas themselves conceal as much as possible their habit of indulging in intoxicating drinks. Their very Shastras enjoin hypocrisy, it being laid down therein that they must conduct themselves as Sivites and Vishnuvites in public. In actual practice some of the Kowls and Bamacharis are sometimes found in a tipsy condition. The Kowls usually betray their cult by painting their foreheads with vermilion dissolved in oil. The tint of blood being their favorite color, they wear either scarlet silk, or cotton cloth dyed with ochre. The mark on the forehead of a Bamachari consists of three transverse lines painted with the charcoal of the sacred fire, dissolved in ghi. The Dakhinacharis have generally an Urdhapundra, or perpendicular streak, in the central part of the forehead, the coloring material being either a paste of sandal-wood, or a solution in ghi of charcoal obtained from a Horn fire.

Those who are "Sachchhudra" and do jobs such as carrying the excreta, cleaning toilets or skinning dead animals should have only the red mark on the forehead.

Tilak Tilak Tilak Tilak Tilak

Bindi is an auspicious ornamental mark worn by Hindu girls and women on their forehead between the two eyes. The Bindi is in the form of a dot. It is derived from the word “Bindu” in Sanskrit, which means “drop” or “small particle”. Bindi is called “Pottu” in Tamil and Malyalam; “Bottu” or “Tilakam” in Telegu; “Bottu” or “Tilaka” in Kannad; “Teep” in Bengali. It is worn by both ladies and men. Some people consider Bindi as a symbol of goddess Parvati signifying female energy. The dot or Bindi has an important place in Hindu scriptures. It is said that, in the beginning, all 36 tattavas – the primeval categories of existence that comprise the whole universe were condensed in a single dot, called the“Parabindu”.

Bindi is arguably the most visually fascinating in all form of body decoration. More than a beauty spot, the manga tika (bindi) indicates good omen and purity. Women have applied the bindi on their forehead. Women wear it for the sake of adorning themselves. Thus, it is more of a beauty mark for women in India. The traditional bindi was drawn as a single dot. However, today, there is an amazing variety of bindis available in the market, coming up in distinctive shapes and sizes. Married women wear another bindi between the parting of the hair just above the forehead, which is referred to as sindoor.

These days bindi has developed into an ornamental sign to match the dress and ornaments. Matching bindis are mentioned in Manasollasa, a Sanskrit encyclopaedia of 12th century CE. Matching bindi is an old fashion. Earlier, the mark of tilak on the forehead identified the sect to, which the individual belonged.

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Page last modified: 06-09-2011 19:19:31 ZULU