It was a beautiful morning on Feb 27th, 2014. As I entered my office building, I noticed that everyone from security guards to Janitor to my coworkers was looking (not staring) at me in a different way and I was completely unaware of the reason.
After a couple of minutes, one of my American coworkers Jessie walked into my cube and said:” Can I ask you to question? I don’t want to offend you, so if you feel uncomfortable, please don’t answer”. I was astonished that why he is so formal as we have been very good friends to my knowledge. I answered, Of course, Please go ahead. Then, he asked me what have you put on your forehead, just between your eyebrows, this light-yellow color dot pointing his finger at it? I said oh!! this dot, this is “Tilak”.
In fact, I have visited the temple on my way to the office that morning as it was Maha Shivratri and Pujari Ji has applied “Chandan Tilak” on my forehead. After few hours, Jessie emailed me all the links he googled about Tilak and asked me where he can get Chandan Tilak after reading its significance and advantages.
Isn’t it amazing guys that western men also want to apply Tilak on their forehead once they understand its significance and advantages?
What is Tilak?
In Hinduism, the “Tilak” in Sanskrit called “Tilaka” is a mark made on a Hindu’s forehead. On a man, the tilak takes the form of a line or lines and usually indicates his sectarian affiliation. On women, a tilak usually takes the form of a Bindi or red dot, which has its own symbolism.
Who Adorn Tilak?
The “Tilak” is worn every day by sadhus and all pious men, and on special occasions like weddings and religious rituals by all Hindu men. A tilak is also applied by a priest during a visit to the temple as a sign of the deity’s blessing, for both men and women.
In the United States, it’s not uncommon to see that non-Hindus (American men) also feel proud to get Tilaks applied on their forehead when offered during their visit either to Hindu Temple or Hindu friends on religious occasions.
How is Tilak Applied?
Generally, after a bath, Hindu men apply “Tilak” or a mudra (Symbol or a sign) before starting worship as per Vedic sectarian norms. Tilak marks are applied by hand or with a metal stamp. They might be made of ash from a sacrificial fire, sandalwood paste, turmeric, cow dung, clay, charcoal, or red lead. In addition to its religious symbolism, the tilak has a cooling effect on the forehead and this can assist in concentration and meditation.
Among some sects, the mark is made on 2, 5, 12, or 32 parts of the body as well as on the forehead. Tilak is a smear of paste, but other times it is more precise and elaborate.
- Shaivas: – The followers of Lord Shiva, the tilak usually takes the form of three horizontal parallel lines across the forehead called ‘Tripundra’, with or without a red dot. Sometimes a crescent moon or trident denotes a Shaiva. They usually use sacred ashes called Bhasma for the tilak.
- Vaishnavas: – The followers of Lord Vishnu, follow a general pattern of two or more vertical lines resembling the letter “U“ and representing the foot of Vishnu, with or without a central line or dot. One or more vertical lines drawn on the forehead are called “Urdhwapundra”. Soil from the places sanctified by Shree Vishnu or from the banks of Holy rivers like Ganga, Sindhu, or Gopi-Chandan (white clay) can be used for drawing Urdhwapundra.
Some Vaishnavas apply only one vertical line. Only the method of application differs, but the significance is the same in both the Vaishnavas and the Shaivas.
- Maa Durga: – The worshippers of the Goddess Devi or Maa Durga or Maa Shakti apply Kumkum, a red color powder.
To apply tilak, mix the paste with either Ganga or Yamuna water, sacred river but if the water of this holy river is not available then normal water is taken and the below shloka is chanted while stirring tilak powder with water
गङ्गे च यमुने चैव गोदावरि सरस्वति ।
नर्मदे सिन्धु कावेरि जलेऽस्मिन् संनिधिं कुरु ॥
Gangge Ca Yamune Cai[a-E]va Godaavari Sarasvati |
Narmade Sindhu Kaaveri Jale-[A]smin Sannidhim Kuru ||
O Holy Rivers Ganga and Yamuna, and also Godavari and Saraswati, O Holy Rivers Narmada, Sindhu, and Kaveri; Please be Present in this Water and make it Holy.
While applying Tilak always the middle finger is used. As the middle finger is associated with the heart, the vibrations flowing through it are carried to the heart. When applying tilak to Parmeshwar in the mid-brow region vibrations emanating from the ‘Third Eye’ present there are carried by it to the heart, thereby generating devotion and Bhav (spiritual emotion) in the mind throughout the day and imparting Shanti (serenity).
Significance of Tilak according to Hindu Scriptures
The “Tilak” is of great spiritual meaning to all Hindus across the globe.
The spot where the “Tilak” is applied is where the body’s most important chakra rests the “Ajna Chakra”. Our body has seven key chakras, called energy centers. These chakras are a source of tremendous power.
The Ajna chakra is particularly sacred, as it is the point of confluence of the three main Nadis — “Ida”, “Pingala” and “Shusumna”. Therefore, it is also reverentially called “Triveni or Sangam”.
As the center of all cosmic energy, this pivotal spot is known as “Guru-Sthan”. Human consciousness resides here and is thus the dwelling place for the human mind. Vedas also mentions that the human entire body is controlled by this “Guru-Sthan”.
During yoga meditation, the mind is centered at this “Dhyana chakra“. The “Dhyana Chakra” represents the human subconscious mind and all teeming thoughts. Focusing one’s attention on the Ajna Chakra has a restful effect on the mind.
These are the reasons, great sanctity is attached to this spot on the forehead, and the “Tilak”, or “Tika” is rightfully applied here.
Chandan, sandalwood paste, has a calming effect so applying Chandan Tilak will be soothing too.
- Atharvana Upanishad: Anyone who marks his body with the tilak which resembles the lotus feet of Lord Hari becomes dear to the Paramatma. He becomes fortunate and attains liberation.
- Maha Upanishad: One gets released of all the bondage of samsara when one marks his body with the tilak markings and knows Narayana who is known by karma, jnana, and bhakti-yoga. Ultimately, he attains Lord Vishnu.
- Agni Purana: A brahmana should not wear the three-lined tilak across (teriyaki pundra) even as a joke or play. One should mark his body with the vertical tilak only according to the prescribed rules.
- Brahmanda Purana: A brahmana should wear Urdhva Pundra; a Ksatriya Ardha Chandrakala (half-moon) pundra; Vaishya Round Shaped Pundra; and a Shudra Tri Pundra which is Horizontal Tiryak Pundra.
- Brahmaratra: One should meditate on Me by chanting Om and should mark his body with vertical tilak daily. Anyone who marks thus attains sayujya liberation.
- Vasishta Smriti: One should mark the tilak on his forehead as follows: he should start from the nose tip and go till his kesa (hair). The width should be one Angula (circa 1 inch). This is Urdhva Pundra Laksana.
- Sanat Kumara Samhita: Urdhva pundra should be worn with clay and should be worn with a gap in between and nicely. In between the two lines, one should mark Sri or Lakshmi in the form of Haridhra Curna. One should not mark anything else in-between. Anyone who marks like this is freed from all sinful reactions. Anyone who marks the tilak without any gap is condemned.
- Padma Purana: those devotees on whose neck Tulsi Kanti mala and lotus seed Kanti malas are hanging and, on whose shoulders, there are the markings of conch and chakra and on whose body there are 12 tilak markings, they purify the entire universe immediately. While applying tilak on the body, different mantras will be recited as per the body part.
- The forehead–Om Keshavaya Namaha
- The belly–Om Narayanaya Namaha
- The chest–Om Madhavaya Namaha
- The throat–Om Govindaya Namaha
- The right side of the waist–Om Vishnave Namaha
- The right upper arm–Om Madhusudanaya Namaha
- The right shoulder–Om Trivikramaya Namaha
- The left side of the waist–Om Vamanaya Namaha
- The left upper arm–Om Shridharaya Namaha
- The left shoulder–Om Hrishikeshaya Namaha
- The upper back–Om Padmanabhaya Namaha
- The lower back–Om Damodaraya Namaha
Also, in the Uttara-Khanda of the Padma Purana, Lord Shiva says to Parvati that in the middle of the “V” of the Vaishnava Tilaka mark there is a space and, in that space, reside Lakshmi and Narayana. Therefore, the body that is decorated with Tilaka should be considered a temple of Lord Vishnu. The Padma Purana also states:
vama-parshve sthito brahma dakshine cha sadashivaha |
madhye vishnum vijaniyat Tasman madhyam na lepayet ||
On the left side of the Tilaka Lord Brahma is situated, and on the right side is Sadashiva, but one should know that in the middle dwells Lord Vishnu. Therefore, one should not smear the middle section.
One should pour a little water into the palm of his left hand and rub gopi-Chandana (mud from Dwaraka) into it. When making Tilaka the following mantra from the Uttara Khanda of the Padma Purana should be recited:
ललाटे केशवं विद्याद् नारायणं यथोदरे |
हृदये माधवं विद्याद् गोविन्दमुत्तुपके ||
lalate keshavam dhyayen narayanam athodare |
Hrdaye madhavam vidyad govindamuttupake ||
विष्णुश्च दक्षिणे कुक्षौ तद्भुजे मधुसूदनम् |
त्रिविक्रमं कर्णदेशे वामे कुक्षौ च वामनम् ||
vishnushch dakshine kukshau tadhuje madhusoodanam|
trivikramam karnadese vame kuksau ca vamanam ||
श्रीधरं च करे। वामे हृषिकेशं तु कर्णिका |
पद्मनाभस्ततः पृष्टे ककुद् दामोदरं स्मरेत् ||
sridharam ca kare vame hrsikesam tu karnika|
padmanaabhastatah prshte kakud daamodaran smaret||
- Isvara Samhita: Anyone who marks his body with the clay which has touched Lord Vishnu’s body attains the benefit of an Ashvamedha sacrifice and is glorified in Vishnu’s abode. One should mark in-between the vertical lines mother Lakshmi with the help of yellow curna or powder.
Why Applying Tilak is important
As long as we humans are attached to Maya (The Great Illusion), it is advisable to worship the “Sagun” (Materialized) form of “Parmeshwar” (The Supreme God).
The human body is considered to be a temple of God. The “Sahasrar Chakra” is situated on the crown of the head in the region where a Choti, a tuft of hair retained while the rest of the scalp is shaved, is kept. That is the seat of the Nirgun (Non-Materialized) Parmeshwar. Sagun Parmeshwar dwells in the mid-brow region. Thus, so long as we are attached to Maya, it is advisable to worship the Sagun form of Parameswara.
“Tilak” when applied on the forehead between the eye-brows, generates devotion (bhakti), emotion(bhav), and imparts peace (Shanti). This is the reason that all Hindu spiritual masters initiate new seekers into the fold by applying tilak, invoking and awakening the divine light within. Without a guru, one may not have this subtle experience. Yet, such is the power of this auspicious spot that even a restless mind can be trained to relax, simply by focusing on the “Ajna chakra”.
The application of Chandan (sandalwood paste) will nullify the heating effect when you concentrate and meditate at the Bhrumadhya. Tilak indicates the point at which the spiritual eye opens. Lord “Shiva” has a third eye at the Bhrumadhya. When he opens the third eye, the three worlds are destroyed.
So also, when the third eye of the Jiva is opened, the three kinds of afflictions are burnt to ashes –
- Adhidaivika, and
All the sins committed along with all below three Karmas in the countless previous births are burnt down.
- Prarabdha and
Every Hindu should remember this every time you apply a Tilak.
“I am the one non-dual Brahman free from all duality. May my eye of intuition open soon and I will finally attain Paramatma.”
DISCLAIMER: The author is solely responsible for the views expressed in this article. The author carries the responsibility for citing and/or licensing of images utilized within the text.