The various sects and the sub-sects of the Hindus are distinguished by the symbols of the deities they worship. These are marked on their foreheads, arms and chests. The forehead marks are of course the most prominent but nowadays only the orthodox Hindus wear them. Some put them on only during festivals or prayers.

Some of the common sects are:

a) The Saivas (Shaivites) who worship Shiva and Parvati jointly.
b) The Vaishnavites who worship Vishnu.
c) The Suras, who worship Surya (Sun).

The Saivas may be further subdivided into Saiva proper who worship the linga-yoni symbol the Lingaits who worship Shiva in his linga or phallic form; the Sakias who worship the yoni or the female form of Shiva — ‘shakti’, i.e. female energy (they may worship the female energy of Krishna or Rama also) and the Ganapatis who worship Ganesha, son of Shiva.

The other major sect, the Vaishnavas, may be subdivided into two. The first, the Gokulas, worship Vishnu as Krishna, with or without his consort Radha. There are some who worship Radha only. The second, Ramanuj, worship Rama alone or with Sita, his consort while there are some who worship Sita alone.

The Vaishnavas are distinguished by perpendicular lines on the forehead, with or without a dot or circlet between them, or by a chakra or discus, or a triangle, shield, cone, heart shape or any similar form having its apex pointed downward, since Vishnu is water, the property of which is to descend (B in the diagram on the opposite page).

The Saivas are distinguished by two or more horizontal lines, with or without a dot below or above them, or on the middle line with or without the oval, or half oval, typical of his third eye bisecting the lines; also by a triangle, or any pointed or arched object having its apex or convex end upward, since Shiva is fire the property of which is to ascend. The crescent moon and the trident (trisul) also indicate a votary of Shiva (C in the diagram on the opposite page).


Images of Ganesha and Kartikeya bear the marks of Shiva while those of Indra, Agni, Chandra, Krishna, Rama, Buddha and Hanuman bear the marks of Vishnu. Brahma, who is both water and fire bears the sectarian marks of both Vishnu and Shiva (A in the diagram on the opposite page).

The dot is the mark of the Supreme Being and, with the lines of Vishnu or Shiva, indicates that the devotee claims that Vishnu or Shiva, as the case may be, is the supreme Godhead. The horizontal lines of the Saivas are white and the dot or circlet is red.

The sectarian marks are drawn in red, yellow, black, and ashen white and are made of ashes taken from the sacrificial fire, cowdung, turmeric, sandalwood, lime and an adhesive made from rice water.

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