One of the most visible external symbols of Hindu identity is the mark that many of us wear on our forehead. This is called tilak, pottu or bindi. The dot is called 'Kumkum' or 'Bindi', and when worn by men it is called 'Tilak' (mark). Its form and colour vary according to one’s caste, religious sect or the form of the Lord worshipped.
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 valour 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 Worshippers of Lord Vishnu wear a Chandan (sandalwood paste) Tilak of the shape of “U.” Vertical lines usually represent Vaishnava devotees. Lord Shiva worshippers apply a three horizontal line bhasma or sacred ash. Horizontal lines represent Shaiva devotees. Worshippers of Devi or the female goddess apply a red dot of kumkum. A red tika is widely applied during pujas on devotees by priests.
The wearing of a mark on the forehead is a unique feature associated with Hinduism. Basically, the wearing of Tika invokes a feeling of sacredness on the wearer and on the people with whom the wearer comes into contact. Tilak, or Tika, is also a religious symbol and they reveal the particular God worshipped by the wearer.
The tilak worn by Hindu priests have more significance. It represents the particular school of thought or Sampradaya he represents. The lines and the color used by priests vary from region to region and from sect to sect.
The area in which the mark is applied is between the eyebrows, called the “Ajna Chakra”. This is the point that most schools of Hinduism consider the entry and exit point of our jivaatma (soul). The tilak also represents our third eye (the spiritual eye) a concept closely related to Lord Shiva.
This Ajna Chakra area is often citied as the seat of thinking, concentration and memory. It is also the area which gets heated during stress and tension. Applying the tilak has a cooling effect, aids concentration and signifies our eternal link with the Supreme Being, known as the Brahman (absolute).
The tilak is applied with the prayer - "May I remember the Lord. May this pious feeling pervade all my activities. May I be righteous in my deeds." Even when we temporarily forget this prayerful attitude the mark on another reminds us of our resolve. The tilak is thus a blessing of the Lord and a protection against wrong tendencies and forces. The entire body emanates energy in the form of electromagnetic waves – the forehead and the subtle spot between the eyebrows especially so. That is why worry generates heat and causes a headache.
It is also said that the chandan or bhasma cools the forehead and the spot between the eyebrows, which is known to generate heat during stress and tension. It is also known to prevent energy loss.
The most famous Indian mark on the forehead is the Bindu or Bindi worn by females and it has is part of makeup. The red dot applied on the top of the forehead (near the hair) is the mark of a married female.
The dot or bindi Pronounced as 'Bin Dee', the word bindi is derived from the Sanskrit word bindu, which means "drop". Bindi is an auspicious ornamental mark worn by Hindu girls and women on their forehead between the two eyes . 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.
Considered a symbol of Goddess Parvati, a bindi signifies female energy and is believed to protect women and their husbands. Traditionally a symbol of marriage, it has also become decorative and is worn today by unmarried girls and women as well.
No longer restricted in colour or shape, bindis are seen in many bright colours and in different shapes and designs. They are also made of coloured felt and embellished with coloured glass or glitter.
The vermilion, used to make bindis, is called ‘sindoor or ‘sindoora’ meaning red and representing Shakti or strength. Bindi also stands up for love; the red dot on the forehead gives a special charm to the lady’s face that attracts her lover. Sindoor and yellow turmeric are kept in temples and during celebrations, as a good omen. This represents intellect and is very special in temples dedicated to Hindu Gods Shakti, Lakshmi and Vishnu.
One day as Sri Jankidevi, wife of Lord Rama, was adorning the part of her hair with sindur, Hanumanji asked her, "Mata, why do you put this red thing on your head?" Smiling at Hanumanji’s curiosity, Sri Sitaji replied, "By applying this my swami [husband] lives long." Because Hanumanji is a Parma-bhakta of Sri Ram, he thought that if a pinch of sindur could make his master’s life long, a whole lot of it would make him live longer. So he rubbed it all over his gigantic body!
Bindi can be called:
Tikli in Marathi
Pottu in Tamil and Malayalam
Tilak in Hindi
Chandlo in Gujarati
Bottu or Tilakam (in Telugu)
Bottu or Tilaka (in Kannada)
Teep (meaning "a pressing") (in Bengali)
Nande is a term erroneously used to describe the bindi in Malaysia. It may contain pejorative connotations although not in most cases.
Vibhuti (meaning glory) or Bhasma (that by which our sins are destroyed and the Lord is remembered) is the holy ash that Hindus apply over their forehead and body. The ash of any burnt object is not regarded as holy ash. This holy ash is created by burning cow dung along with milk, ghee, honey, etc. It is a principle sacrament in the worship of Lord Siva, representing His burning away of our ignorance to ashes.
Bhasma is generally applied on the forehead. Some apply it on certain parts of the body like the upper arms, chest etc. Some ascetics rub it all over the body. Many consume a pinch of it each time they receive it.
Literal meaning of bhasma
The Sanskrit word bhasma literally means “disintegration”. Bha means bharatsanam (to destroy), while sma implies smaran (to remember). Bhasama is thus a reminder to us of the ephemeral nature of life. Also,if we wish to unite with God ( or the ‘ supreme self’ ) and remember him constantly, our ego or ‘little self’ has first to be disintegrated or burnt to ashes. Bhasma is a symbol of this process. It is also called raksha because it protects one from all fears. When appled to the forehead before sleep, it is said to keep away evil spirits or ghosts, whether external or those which manifest fro the depths of the mind in the from of nightmares.
Bhasma symbolishes the burning of our false identification with the mortal body, and freedom from the limitations of the painfully illusive cycle of birth and death. It also reminds us of the perishable quality of the body, which will one day be reduced to mere ashes.
Homa (offering of oblations into the fire with sacred chants) signifies the offering or surrender of the ego and egocentric desires into the flame of knowledge or a noble and selfless cause. The consequent ash signifies the purity of the mind, which results from such actions.
Also the fire of knowledge burns the oblation and wood signifying ignorance and inertia respectively. The ash we apply indicates that we should burn false identification with the body and become free of the limitations of birth and death. This is not to be misconstrued as a morose reminder of death but as a powerful pointer towards the fact that time and tide wait for none.
Bhasma or Udi is also called “vibhooti”, because it gives spiritual power. The Sanskrit word, vibhooti means ‘glory’ , as it gives glory to one who applies it, protection from ill health and negative forces, and attracts the higher forces of nature. Another meaning of vibhooti is ‘healing power’, and it is widely used as a medicinal treatment in both ayurveda and Chinese and Tibetan medicine.
Vibhooti also means ‘dominion’, and is the subtle power lying behind creation, from which all things manifest. From vibhooti or bhasma , anything can be created by a tantric or aghora , because the potential of creation lies within it , and he ha penetrated the law and controlled the elements.
Maha yogi Shiva , father of tantra , is usually depicted naked in sadhana , his whole body coverd in bhasma. The first verse of the Shiva Panchakshara Stotram gives the following description; Nagendrahaarya trilochanaaya, bhasmaangaraaya maheshwaraaya . Nityaaya shuddhaaya digambarayya – ‘ Salutations to the mighty three eyed shiva, eternal and pure, wearing the king of snakes as his garland, naked and besmeared with sacred ash.’ Some other name given to Lord Shiva are Bhasmashrayaaya (abode of bhasma ) and Bhasmabhootaaya (covered with bhasma). Covering the body with ash is considered to be auspicious act for discovering one’s Shiva nature.
Vibhuthi should be taken with the right hand and applied on the forehead as three horizontal lines. The first line stands for removal of Ahankar (pride) the next stands for removal of Ignorance and the third stands for removal of bad karma (actions). The ash we apply indicates that we should burn false identification with the body and become free of the limitations of birth and death.
Sannyassins wear three lines of bhasma on the forehead. These three lines (tripundra) with a red dot of kumkum underneath , between the eyebrows,symbolize Shiva-Shakti, the unity of energy and matter that creates the entire seen and unseen universe. The lower line indicates tamoguna, the basic inertia and darkness, the middle line represents the rajas, activity and dynamism and the top line represents sattwa , balance and illumination. The red hot or tika indicates th power of Shakti through sadhana , which can take the sadhaka beyond the three gunas or qualitie to the state of turiya, the forth dimension of existence. This is the state of trigunnatita – beyond the gunas.
Bhasma has medicinal value and is used in many ayurvedic medicines. It absorbs excess moisture from the body and prevents colds and headaches. The Upanishads say that the famous Mrityunjaya mantra should be chanted whilst applying ash on the forehead.
Urvaa rukamiva bhandhanaan
Mrytyor muksheeyamaa amrutaat
"We worship the three-eyed Lord Shiva who nourishes and spread fragrance in our lives. May He free us from the shackles of sorrow, change and death – effortlessly, like the fall of a rip brinjal from its stem."
Vaishnavites apply clay (preferably from holy rivers) or sandalwood paste. They apply the material in two vertical lines, which may be connected at the bottom, forming either a simple U shape or a form said to be like a tulasi leaf. Their Tilak is called the urdhva-pundra. Vaishnavites use clay for their Srichurnam. This is also called “thirumann” ( mann is the tamil word for clay). This is known as Srichurnam and wearing this is as an important part of the daily rites of a Sri Vaishnavite. The Tilak is applied to twelve parts of the body, reciting the twelve names of the Lord. Vedas say, by wearing this mark, he becomes fortunate, gets released of all the worldly bondages and attains liberation.
In Sri Vaishnava sampradaya the tilak is made out of the white mud found in anthills. The scriptures tell us that the mud from the base of a Tulasi plant and the white mud from within the anthill are both pure and best for making tilak. The Sri Vaishnavas will draw two lines representing the feet of Sri Narayana, and in the middle they will put a red line to represent Lakshmi Devi. Because the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya begins with Sri Lakshmi Devi, and they approach Narayana only through Lakshmi, their tilak reflects this process of surrender. Using mud also makes us reflect that we come from clay and go back to clay.
"In the Padma Purana there is a statement describing how a Vaisnava should decorate his body with tilaka and beads: "Persons who put tulasi beads on the neck, who mark twelve places of their bodies as Visnu temples with Visnu's symbolic representations [the four items held in the four hands of Lord Visnu--conch, mace, disc and lotus], and who have visnu-tilaka on their foreheads, are to be understood as the devotees of Lord Visnu in this world. Their presence makes the world purified, and anywhere they remain, they make that place as good as Vaikuntha."
A similar statement is in the Skanda Purana, which says, "Persons who are decorated with tilaka or gopi-candana [a kind of clay resembling fuller's earth which is produced in certain quarters of Vrndavana], and who mark their bodies all over with the holy names of the Lord, and on whose necks and breasts there are tulasi beads, are never approached by the Yamadutas."
Different types of tilaka markings denote the different sects of Vaisnavism, namely the impersonalists and the personalists. Gaudiya Vaisnava tilaka appears as two straight and perpendicular vertical lines on the forehead that meet between the eyes. Tilaka marks are ornamented in various ways. Sometimes white or yellow clay is used for marking the outer lines, and turmeric or red sricurna powder mark the central line. Curved tilaka is not to be worn Gaudiya Vaisnavas. Gaudiya Vaisnava tilaka is also known as udra pundra, or Visnu temple, which distinguishes the personalist Vaisnavas from the mayavadis, who use the three parallel lines, tripundra.
Members of the Kumara Sampradaya place on the forehead two vertical lines of white clay (gopichandana) with a central black spot. For members of the Laksmi Sampradaya, the representation of Namam on the Vaisnava's forehead is known as Thirumann, which means the sacred earth (dust). Namam consists of three vertical lines joined at the base, the two outer white lines signifying the worship of Brahama and Vishnu and the red centerline signifying the worship Mahalakshi. The Saivite tilaka has three pundra, or lines, on the forehead.
The fingers used for applying tilak are as follows:
At the base of the little finger is Mercury, at the base of the ring-finger is Sun, at the base of the middle finger is Saturn, at the base of the index finger is Jupiter and at the base of the thumb is Venus. Tilak applied with the ring finger and the thumb is beneficial. The Sun represents firmness, brilliance, honour, respect and faith. These are the blessings achieved by applying tilak with the ring finger. Venus is a life and health giving force, the creator of life, the bestower of gentility and politeness. This is achieved by applying tilak with the thumb.
Women should use the ring finger for applying bindi, which should be made of unbroken rice grains. Men should also use unbroken rice grains (akshat) mixed in red chandan and apply the tilak with the thumb. The unbroken rice grains symbolise steadfastness and firmness of the brain and are also a symbol of peace.
The holy scriptures of Hindu advocate the importance to Tilak on a forehead in the below line:
The scriptures say: "A forehead without a Tilak, a woman without a husband, a Mantra the meaning of which is not known while doing Japa (recitation), the head that does not bend before holy personages, a heart without mercy, a house without a well, a village without a temple, a country without a river, a society without a leader, wealth that is not given away in charity, a preceptor without a disciple, a country without justice, a king without an able minister, a woman not obedient to her husband, a well without water, a flower without smell, a soul devoid of holiness, a field without rains, an intellect without clearness, a disciple who does not consider his preceptor as a form of God, a body devoid of health, a custom (Achar) without purity, austerity devoid of fellow-feeling, speech in which truth is not the basis, a country without good people, work without wages, Sannyasa without renunciation, legs that have not performed pilgrimages, determination unaided by Viveka or discrimination, a knife which is blunt, a cow that does not give milk, a spear without a point- all these are worthy of condemnation. They exist for name´s sake only."
According to the Brahmanda Purana, the colours and manner of application of the tilak are significant: "A black Tilak will derive peace; a red Tilak will bring obedience and control; a yellow one will bring wealth; one which is white will deliver devotion to Vishnu; a Tilak of correct size, marked using one’s fingers will offer the god’s support and blessing; a Tilak in the centre of the forehead will bring youth and long life; the Chandlo made using the third finger (Anamika) will deliver joy; and a bounded Tilak will ultimately bring salvation".