Hindu culture has given importance to various signs and symbols, which is why it is a rich experience, beyond a single religion or belief. One such symbol is the various sized, shaped, and colored lines or dots the Hindus wear on their foreheads. This forehead mark is known as Tilak or tika.
The shape and style of the Hindu forehead mark depend on the sects and religion to which the person belongs. Depending on customs, Tilak or tika is used both in daily life and for specific purposes: religious ceremonies or visits to the temple.
Tilak or Tika often symbolizes the Third Eye, the eye of the inner mind, or the Ajna Chakra, one of seven chakras in the Human body. Whether cosmetic brand or one with a spiritual character, Tilak is a mark of identification. Both the priest, the ascetic, and the general people wear it with pride, symbolizing their Hindu origin.
Composition of Tilak
Tilak can be made from sandalwood paste, charcoal, red lead, vibhuti, and sacred ash reserved for Hindu rites and sects. Tilak is also composed of kumkum, made from turmeric or saffron. Vermilion or Sindur is another reddish-colored item that is used and is made from turmeric, alum, or lime. Clay is also often used.
Why Do Hindus Wear Tilak?
Hindus put Tilak on the forehead for various reasons and on various occasions. With each cause, the type, color, and shape of tika vary. Both Hindu men and women wear tika on their forehead but for different reasons and significance. Likewise, in ancient times, members of royal dignitaries used to wear tilaks signifying their victory over their enemies. We will explain some fundamental reasons behind wearing the tika in the Hindu religion.
1. To signify the spiritual meaning
The region on the forehead between the two eyebrows where the Tilak is applied is known as the location of the sixth chakra, “ajna,” “third eye,” and the seat of “hidden wisdom.” According to the followers of Tantrism, the third eye is the exit point of the kundalini energy. The Tilak is placed there to preserve and increase the concentration of this energy and protect against demons or bad luck.
The third eye is a sign of enlightenment; it symbolizes the awakening of mental images and the knowledge of subtle, invisible matters. Therefore, the Tilak is applied precisely to the “third eye” so that a person in the process of ritual practices uses his third eye for its “purpose.”
2. Women wear Bindi to symbolize their status
Unlike men, women wear Tilak on their forehead in the form of a circle called bindi in the Indian language and Tika in Nepali. Bindi is traditionally painted with sindoor or kumkum powder, but now they come in different sizes and colors, with sparkles and stones.
The word “bindi” comes from the Sanskrit “Bindu,” which translates as a dot. Usually, the dot has a red color, which symbolizes love, honor, and prosperity in Hinduism. In one of the oldest texts, the Rigveda, Bindu is described as the place of creation and manifestation of cosmic unity.
Married women usually wear red bindi indicating love, prosperity, honor, the longevity of their husband’s life, and protection from the evil eye. Some wear a turmeric bindi (yellow), which has a dual meaning; it can indicate that the woman is a widow or show that the family is mourning.
Today, the bindi has become part of makeup, it does not have to be red, and the color can be matched to the tone of the attire.
3. For the safety of children
A black Tilak made of kajal is applied on the forehead of children and babies to protect them from the evil eye or negative energies.
4. To mark various ceremonies
From ancient times, Tilak symbolized different meanings and occasions. Tilak is mentioned in many ancient legends: for example, this sign could become fiery among heroes or, on the contrary, be erased from the forehead as an indicator of ultimate despair and disappointment.
Also, some tilaks can be applied on special occasions, such as winning a war, receiving important guests, or coronation. So, the so-called raja-tilak is used in the last two cases, which is a red vertical line on the forehead.
Today, the sign is not necessarily associated with a religious tradition; it can have an aesthetic or social function. During wedding ceremonies, Tilak is traditionally applied to the foreheads of the spouses and relatives. It can be used as a sign of greeting guests; with its help, they show the hosts’ favor.
5. Identification of religion
Hindu dharma is a collection of multiple philosophies, religious sects, gods, and goddesses. The use of Tilak can be diverse; the followers of a particular sect have their identification marks, which differ both in places of application and in color.
Worshipers of Lord Shiva and Shakti
Followers of Shaivism (Lord Shiva) apply Tilak in the form of three horizontal lines. This tilak is called tripundra. Tripundra is a symbol of the structure of the world and the essence of the God Shiva.
Followers of Shaktism (Goddess Parvati) apply Tilak in the form of a dot or a red vertical line. They apply a red dot or vertical line made from kumkum or red turmeric powder in the middle of the forehead or in place of the third eye. It symbolizes the energy of Shakti.
Worshipers of Lord Vishnu
Vaishnavism followers draw Tilak in the form of the letter U or V. The name of such a tilak is “Urdhva-pundra,” two parallel lines connecting at the bottom symbolize the foot of God Vishnu.
Vaishnavas use clay from the holy rivers like Yamuna, Ganga, and Kali Gandaki or holy places of pilgrimage like the city of Vrindavan, Muktinath, and Pashupatinath of Nepal, for applying Tilak. If two lines join in the middle and a tulsi or holy basil leaf is depicted on the nose, this is the tradition of Gaudiya Vaishnavas.
Worshipers of Lord Krishna
Followers of Lord Krishna or Madhva sampradaya make Tilak with two vertical lines representing Krishna’s feet and a black line from coal of yajna Kunda (Fire sacrifice) between them. A yellow or red-colored dot is often placed under the black line symbolizing the Goddess Lakshmi or Radha.
Vertical Lines of Tilak
The vertical lines of Tilak in Vaishnavism and Shaivism are associated with different trinity symbols. The three vertical lines symbolize,
- The three supreme gods – Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
- The three sacred Vedic texts – Rigveda, Yajurveda, and Samaveda;
- Three sounds of the sacred word and the symbol OM – a, u, m;
- Three states of consciousness – wakefulness, sleep, and deep sleep;
- Three types of reality – Maya (illusion or attachment), Brahman (Supreme existence), and Atman (Self-existence).
Nimbarka Sampradaya – Followers of the Nimbarka Sampradaya apply Tilak made of a special yellow gopi-Chandana clay in the form of two parallel lines and a black dot in the middle. The lines indicate the temple of God.
Pushtimarga Sampradaya – Followers of the Pushtimarga tradition wear the tika as a single vertical red line, symbolizing Yamuna Devi.
Applying tika on the forehead is usually the practice followed by Hindu followers in India, Nepal, and several other countries. But the tradition is slowly disappearing and being replaced by modernity. Today wearing tika in different forms may have become part of makeup accessories, but it has its spiritual importance, which we should be aware of.
People, especially new generation youth, have forgotten the true meaning of wearing a Tilak, and many don’t even know why they put a tika or Tilak on their forehead. Tika today has just become part of the activity after puja (worship in the temple), whereas it should be a part of our daily lives.