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03 April, 2011

In Indian Culture Why we do wear marks on the forehead?


TILAKA is the mark of red powder or sandalwood paste that is applied on the forehead. It is used by the Hindus. It has become practically a symbol of Hinduism.

To a Hindu the daily bath carries a lot of sanctity. It is a part of his prayer and worship. Immediately after bath the Hindu performs his daily prayer usually in his temple or in his own house. After his prayer is over, he takes a little red or sandal powder or sacred ash placed at the feet of the Lord and applies it to his forehead. The ladies usually make a round mark and that is called tilaka. Men are more accustomed to use it in the form of a straight line. Whatever way these marks are made the Hindu retains it through the day.

Significance of wearing Tilaka on the forehead.

This practice has a significance. The Hindu believes that the purpose of the life is to realize the infinite Reality. This is achieved by reflection and contemplation which he practices in his prayer-room. But he cannot continue his prayer all day long since his duties and obligations compel him to go into the world and work. He therefore leaves his prayer room with the idea of coming back to it after fulfilling his obligations. While leaving he takes a little powder from the Lord and applies it to his forehead, with an idea to remember that all his actions in the external world are dedicated to the achievement of this supreme Goal of Realisation. The forehead is the seat of memory. Applying the tilaka on the forehead symbolizes the retention of the memory of the Lord in all his activities. That is to remember, to reflect and contemplate upon the Reality in and through his activities throughout the day.

In earlier times, the four castes (based on varna or colour) – 1. Brahmana, 2. Kshatriya, 3. Vaishya and 4. Sudra – applied marks differently. The Brahmin applied a white chandan mark signifying purity as his profession was of a priestly or academic nature. The kshatriya applied a red kumkum mark signifying the valour as he belonged to the warrior races. The vaishya wore a yellow kesar or turmeric mark signifying prosperity as he was a businessman or a trader devoted to creation of wealth. The sudra applied a black bhasma, kasturi or charcoal mark signifying service as he supported the work of the other three divisions. Also Vishnu worshippers apply a chandan tilak of the shape of “U”, Shiva worshippers a tripundra (of the shape of ‘=’) of bhasma, Devi worshippers a red dot of kumkum and so on.

The chandan, kumkum or bhasma which is offered to the Lord is taken back as Prasad and applied on our foreheads. The tilak covers the sport between the eyebrows, which is the seat of memory and thinking. It is known as Aajna Chakra in the language of Yoga. The tilak is applied with the prayer – “May I remember the Lord. May this pious feeling pervade in all my activities. May I be righteous in my deeds.” Even when we temporarily forget this prayerful attitude the mark is thus a blessing of the Lord and a protection against wrong tendencies and forces.

The entire body emanates energy in the form of electromagnetic waves – the forehead and the subtle spot between the eyebrows especially so. That is why worry generates heat and causes a headache. The tilaka or pottu cools the forehead, protect us and prevents energy loss. Sometimes, the entire forehead is covered with chandan or bhasma. Using plastic reusable “stick bindis” is not very beneficial, even though it serves the purpose of decoration.

This custom is unique to Indians and helps to easily identify us anywhere.

When a Hindu meets another Hindu the first thing that strikes them both is the mark on the forehead. It constantly reminds each other of the purpose of their existence, their dedication to the realization of the supreme Reality. They confirm this understanding by greeting each other with folded arms. This gesture is called namakara. The gesture of namaskara is to join the palms together in front of him and bow his head to the joint palms.

Significance of Namaskara

Each palm represents the separate individuality. Each palm supports the five fingers. Similarly, each personality has five sheaths called the five kosas. The five different parts of the personality are called pancakosas, five sheaths. They are: 1. annamayakosa – food sheath, 2. pranamayakosa – vital-air sheath, 3. manomayakosa – mental sheath, 4. vijnanamayakosa –intellectual sheath and 5. anandamayakosa - bliss sheath. These five sheaths are supported by the Atman, the supreme Self which is the eternal Reality. The five sheaths are different from individual to individual but the Reality that supports them all is one and the same in all individualities. This truth is declared when the Hindus greet each other with namaskara. The two palms joined together as one indicates that the Reality or Atman is both is one and the same. To this unifying Infinite Atman, the Hindu bows in reverence when he does namaskara.

1. Excerpts from the book on “The Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals” by A Parthasarathy.
2. Excerpts from the book on “In Indian Culture.. Why we do we…” Swamini Vimalananda & Radhika Krishnakumar.

1 comment:

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