Adventures in Advaita Vedanta, the philosophy and science of spirit. We are one you and I; are you curious why?..


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Hari Om

'Freedays' are the 'gather our thoughts' days; Q&As; a general page reviewing the week so far…

The other day the query as to why marks are worn upon the forehead was made.  The तिलक/tilaka (mark) is made with चन्दन् /chandan (sandalwood paste) which can be anything from white through yellow to orange, and/or कुङ्-कुमम् /kum-kumam (limed chandan = red). A third application may be made at certain times or according to type of worship, with विभूति/vibhooti, the ash of sandalwood. The word 'vibhooti' means 'glory'.

All who practice prayer and puja (worship) will apply tilaka as a sign of devotion.

For majority Hindus this means every morning the tilaka are applied. You will have seen, no doubt, that there are occasions when the powders (and sometimes rice) are applied other than after prayer; a primary example is at weddings and other such functions and also to visitors who are gracing a door for first time, or for family who have been long absent - though actually mantras are said at these times too.

The marks are placed on the forehead, between the eyebrows and just slightly above the line. This point on the face represents the 'third eye', or अज्ञ/ajna in chakra terms. This is the seat of 'knowing/memory/thinking' as far as the energy channels in the body are concerned. It is the point through which influence of the external can enter and if we are not guarded, can cause havoc!  Therefore, by applying tilaka we are placing a soft barrier which gives a focus throughout each day, keeping us centred and keeping the Lord at forefront of all thoughts and deeds.

For daily purpose, the marks are generally of a simple dot, perhaps varied in size (as much to do with size of the ring finger with which they are applied as anything!).  However, there are variances also according to region as well as stylised markings for those who follow a particular line of practice or guru.

Traditionally, such marks were used only by priests, gurus and those who have committed fully to spiritual practice; gradually though, the practice extended to all who attend services and who undertake morning prayers.

It has to be said that the wearing of tilaka does not prove that the wearer is pure of mind and spirit or have discipline of daily practice! Just as those who adorn themselves with crosses or wear the six-pointed star, for instance, are not necessarily dedicated to church or synagogue. There can be much 'show' or religiosity, equally there can be 'fashion'.

It is worth clarifying that the red powder is not, as many believe, specifically used by married women on the brow. Again there are regional differences, but as a general rule, married women apply the sindhoor to the top of the head, in the hair parting (or at least at the 'peak' where the hairline begins).  If in doubt, always check the arms and neck, as there will be a gold necklace and/or bangles which equate to the gold ring of other traditions. Many will also wear toe-rings on the first toes of each foot. The tilaka (or 'pottu') is specifically a religious marking. During wedding, the tilaka and the hair sindhoor are often joined and gradually, the connection has become that the dot is marriage symbol. Most married women of Hindu background now wear a single red 'bindi' (sticky-backed felt) of red colour and this differentiates from the spiritual tilaka - this does not mean that every red bindi indicates marriage!

The decorative bindi-s seen on many a brow are exactly that.  The idea is still to protect the ajna but other than this, there is no spiritual significance at all to the multicoloured and often sparkly brow ornaments. Any and all may wear these without fear or favour.

Children and young women as yet unmarried usually wear black tilaka (kohl)... and kohl in the eyes is worn by children, women and men as a protection of the 'gateways to the soul'... which has now been extended to a beautification and is used all round the world.

Remember, if you have doubts or queries, you may reach Yamini via the contacts box!


  1. I love the decorative bindi and would wear one if it would not be seen as an affectation here in Minneapolis. :-) I think it is beautiful, and to me, it has always implied -- and now the implication has been disproved! -- a mindfulness...


  2. Hari OM

    Hello Pearl, lovely to see you! I do hope that things are settling somewhat for you and that 2015 will be bigger and stronger your side.

    Yes the decoratives have dropped to the level of almost purely that purpose. It has to be acknowledged that they came out of the same basis as the full tilaka, though, and they do serve the purpose of protecting '3rd eye' at least.... to that extent it does, as you say, imply 'mindfulness'. The key here is the intention during application. When putting tilak, there has been prayer and other sadhana, whilst sticking a bindi rarely involves any such focus.

    Blessings, Yamini.

  3. I got wiser about the significance of bindi, tilak etc after reading your article. The charming picture of the bride with slanting eyebrows and dreamy eyes is captivating!!!


Hari OM
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