The Tilak - Tilaka sacred symbol on forehead or between eyebrows

Tilak - Tilaka 
(symbol on forehead or between eyebrows) 

The tilak (Sanskrit tilaka, "mark") is a mark worn on the forehead and other parts of the body for spiritual reasons.

On a man, the tilak takes the form of different lines, indicating his religious affiliation. On women, a tilak usually takes the form of a decorative dot (or Bindi), which usually denotes marriage and auspiciousness, but which has its own symbolism. In a woman's case a Tilaka is a sign of her being in wedlock Among men, the Tilaka has been traditionally interpreted as a good luck charm.

The tilak is worn every day by sadhus and pious householders, and on special occasions like weddings and religious rituals. 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 (and western tourists, too). 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. A dot between the eyebrows symbolizes the third eye of Lord Shiva.
Shaiva tilaka
Saivites (followers of Shiva) wear a tilak of three horizontal lines across the forehead, with or without a red dot. Sometimes a crescent moon or trident is included. The devotees of Shiva usually use sacred ashes (Bhasma) for the tilak.
Vishnu Tilaka
Among Vaishnavites (followers of Vishnu), the many tilak variations usually include two or more U, which symbolizes the foot of Vishnu. There is sometimes a central line or dot. Most Vaishanative tilaks are made of sandalwood paste (Chandan). The worshippers of the goddess Devi or Shakti apply Kumkum, a red tumeric powder.

vertical lines resembling the letter Usually Tilak is worn on religious occasions, its shape often representing particular devotion to a certain main deity: a 'U' or 'V' shape stands for Vishnu, a group of three horizontal lines for Shiva. It is not uncommon for some to meld both in an amalgam marker signifying Hari-Hara (Vishnu-Shiva indissoluble).

The Tilaka is normally a vermilion mark applied on the forehead. This mark has a religious significance and is a visible sign of a person as belonging to a particular religious faith. The Tilaka is of more than one colour although normally it is vermilion. It is applied differently by members of different religious sects and sub-sects.

It is applied as a 'U' by worshippers of lord Vishnu and is red, yellow or saffron in color. It is made up of red ochre powder (Sindhura) and sandalwood paste (Gandha). Worshippers of lord Shiva apply it as three horizontal lines and it consists of ash (Bhasma).

Thus there is a variety of pigments; red, yellow, saffron, white, grey and black, etc. These pigments are not only applied on the forehead but in some cases they are applied also on the forearms and the abdomen.
Hindu Women in Tilaka
Hindu women have been using Tilaka in form of a red dot "Bindi" for many millennia. The tilaka are worn as a beauty mark by women of all faiths, with no adherence of Hindu belief. They generally use dots (bindi) rather than the lines and larger marks worn by men. The term "Bindi" seems to be more often used for beauty marks. Sometimes the terms sindoor, kumkum, or kasturi are used, by reference to the material used to make the mark. Married Hindu women may also wear additional Tilaka between the parting of the hair above forehead. This mark serves to indicate marital status.

Bindi can usually be described as a traditional red circular mark or dot which can vary from small to large. When this is accompanied by a vermillion mark on the parting of hair just above the forehead, it indicates that the particular lady is married. The term 'bindi' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'bindu' meaning "a drop or a small dot or particle". Even though traditionally, bindi is a red colored dot, it can be worn in other colors also, like yellow, orange and so on. The shape and size of the bindi can also vary.

Conventionally, it's the Hindu married women who wear bindi. But, this mark can have several meanings and so, you may also see unmarried girls and even children wearing it. It's the occasion, the color of the bindi and its shape that determines what it denotes. The customary bindi is made with red sindoor powder. The bindi is called the tilak when it's applied on the forehead of a person, at the conclusion of a religious function or havan.

The purpose of wearing a bindi can also vary. If it covers the entire forehead in three horizontal lines, then it denotes the wearer is an ascetic or belongs to a particular sect (like Brahmin). Sometimes, the bindi is used for mere beautification purpose by females. In this case, you may also find her wearing a small jewelry instead of the typical red dot. Though in India, a widow cannot wear a vermillion, she is free to sport a bindi.

Bindi is called by different names in different languages of India and is also know as Tika. Thus, alternative names for bindi is Pottu in Tamil and Malayalam, Tilak in Hindi, Bottu or Tilakam in Telugu, Bottu or Tilaka in Kannada and Teep meaning "a pressing" in Bengali. Sometimes, the terms sindoor, kumkum, or kasturi are used depending upon the ingredients used in making the Bindi mark.

How to apply Vishnu Tilaka (urdhva-pundra) on one's body

Vishnu-Tilaka refers to clay markings (Gopi-chandan) that are worn on the forehead and other parts of the body by Vaishnavas, signifying their devotion to Lord Krishna or Vishnu. These symbolic markings consecrate the body as the Lord’s temple. The U-shaped mark represents the heel of Lord Visnu, and the oval part represents the Tulasi leaf.

Ragupati prabhu decorated with TilakaTilaka, the mark on the forehead, is said to be urdhva-pundra. Pundra means "lotus". In this context, it refers to the lotus-feet of Shri Hari. Urdhva means "upward". The lotus- feet of Shri Hari viewed from the heel resemble lotus flowers with five petals. The tilaka mark is therefore a symbol for the imprint of the lotus-feet of Shri Hari. It is the mood of a Vaisnava, in an attitude of reverential submission, that he desires to place his head beneath the lotus feet of his Beloved.

Tilaka is applied to twelve parts of the body, and the twelve names of the Lord are recited with each application. "When putting the twelve tilaka marks on the twelve places of the body, one has to chant the mantra consisting of the twelve Vishnu names. After daily worship, when one anoints the different parts of the body with water, these names should be chanted as one touches each part of the body." [Caitanya-caritamrita Madhya 20.202]

To apply tilaka, start with a little Ganges or Yamuna water (if you don't have any, get some water, and stirring it with your right middle finger, chant:
ganga cha yamune chaiva
godavari saravati
narmade sindho kaveri
jale 'smin sannidhim kuru

"O Ganges, O Yamuna, O Godavari, O Saravati, O Narmada, O Sindhu, O Kaveri, please become present in this water." 

Put the water in your left hand, and rub the hard clay of tilak into the water, creating a wet paste out of the clay. Begin by putting your ring finger of the right hand into the clay, and starting between the eyebrows, bring the finger straight up to the hairline, making two straight lines. It should look like a long, narrow U-shape. Then use some more tilak to make the Tulasi leaf on your nose, it should extend about 3/4 of the way down your nose.

Chant the following verses while rubbing gopi-candana (sacred yellow clay) in your right palm;
lalate keshavam dhyayen / narayanam athodare
vakshah-sthale madhavam tu / govindam kantha-kupake

vishnum ca dakshine kukshau / bahau ca madhusudanam
trivikramam kandhare tu / vamanam vama-parshvake

shridharam vama-bahau tu / hrishikesham tu kandhare
prishthe ca padmanabham ca / katyam damodaram nyaset

While marking the body with tilaka, one should chant the following mantra, which consists of the twelve names of Lord Vishnu.When one marks the forehead with tilaka, he must remember Keshava. When one marks the lower abdomen, he must remember Narayana. For the chest, one should remember Madhava, and when marking the hollow of the neck one should remember Govinda. Lord Vishnu should be remembered while marking the right side of the belly, and Madhusudana should be remembered when marking the right arm. Trivikrama should be remembered when marking the right shoulder, and Vamana should be remembered when marking the left side of the belly. Shridhara should be remembered while marking the left arm, and Hrishikesha should be remembered when marking the left shoulder. Padmanabha and Damodara should be remembered when marking the back." [Caitanya-caritamrita Madhya 20.202]

As you apply the tilak to your body, chant the following mantras:

forehead om keshavaya namah
middle belly - om narayanaya namah
chest-  om madhavaya namah
hollow of throat - om govindaya namah
right side belly - om vishnave namah
right upper arm - om madhusudanaya namah
right shoulder  - om trivikramaya namah
left side belly - om vamanaya namah
left upper arm  - om shridharaya namah
left shoulder - om hrishikeshaya namah
upper back - om padmanabhaya namah
lower back - om damodaraya namah

The shikha (hair-tuft or ponytail) area is not marked with tilaka; rather, after washing the right hand, wipe the remaining water on your shikha while chanting om vasudevaya namah.

The Nectar of Devotion (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu of Shrila Rupa Gosvami) stresses the importance of tilaka (urdhva-pundra)

In the Padma Purana there is a statement describing how a Vaishnava should decorate his body with tilaka and beads: "Persons who put tulasi beads on the neck, who mark twelve places of their body as Vishnu temples with Vishnu's symbolic representations [the four items held in the four hands of Lord Vishnu-conch, mace, disc and lotus], and who have Vishnu tilaka on their forehead, are to be understood as the devotees of Lord Vishnu 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 Vrindavana], and who mark their bodies all over with the holy names of the Lord, and on whose neck and breast there are tulasi beads, are never approached by the Yama-dutas." The Yama-dutas are the constables of King Yama (the Lord of death), who punishes all sinful men. Vaishnavas are never called for by such constables of Yamaraja. In the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, in the narration of Ajamila's deliverance, it is said that Yamaraja gave clear instructions to his assistants not to approach the Vaishnavas. Vaishnavas are beyond the jurisdiction of Yamaraja's activities.

Always remember Vishnu. While decorating the body with tilaka, we give protection to the body by chanting twelve names of Vishnu. Although Govinda, or Lord Vishnu, is one, He has different names and forms with which to act differently. But if one cannot remember all the names at one time, one may simply chant, “Lord Vishnu, Lord Vishnu, Lord Vishnu,” and always think of Lord Vishnu. Vishnor aradhanam param: this is the highest form of worship. If one remembers Vishnu always, even though one is disturbed by many bad elements, one can be protected without a doubt. The AAyurveda-shastra recommends, aushadhi cintayet vishnum: “even while taking medicine, one should remember Vishnu”, because the medicine is not all and all and Lord Vishnu is the real protector. The material world is full of danger (padam padam yad vipadam). Therefore one must become a Vaishnava and think of Vishnu constantly. This is made easier by the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. Therefore Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has recommended, kirtaniyah sada harih [Cc. adi 17.31] param vijayate shri-krishna-sankirtanam, and kirtanad eva krishnasya mukta-sangah param vrajet.

See Also :
The Glories of Gopi-candana

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