The Tilaka is an auspicious, religious mark worn usually on the forehead, between the eyebrows
and it indicates that the wearer belongs to the Hindu faith. It is applied by hand and is made
with a paste or powder that may be prepared from diverse materials, including sandal paste,
red turmeric, sacred ashes, charcoal or clay. The application of Tilaka by a priest on the people
visiting the temple is taken as a symbol of having received God’s blessing. Some people like the
priests, sadhus and devout householders wear the mark everyday. Otherwise, it is generally
applied on special occasions like religious ceremonies & rituals, festive occasions and weddings.
According to the Vedic texts and the caste system followed by Hinduism, Tilaka is of 4 kinds
- Brahmin Tilaka that shows 2 vertical lines on the forehead; Kshatriya Tilaka that is shaped
like a half moon with a dot in the middle; Vaishya Tilaka with 3 arc-shaped horizontal lines on
forehead and a dot in the middle; and lastly, Shudra Tilaka denoted by a big circular dot on the
The Tilaka marks are also different for different Hindu sects. The Vaishnavites (followers of Lord
Vishnu) wear it as an elongated ‘U’ and there may or may not be a central line or dot within
it. The Shaivas (followers of Lord Shiva) apply the Tilaka across the forehead as three parallel
horizontal lines, with/without a red dot in the center.
Apart from proclaiming one’s religious affiliations, the Tilaka is also applied for the purpose
of personal sanctification. To this end, it can be put on 12 parts of the body - forehead, head,
neck, chest/heart, both forearms, both upper arms, shoulder, stomach and both sides of torso.
A particular deity’s name has to be recited as every mark is made.