"Tilak" redirects here. For the Indian anti-colonial leader, see Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
Left: A Vaishnava Hindu with Tilaka (Urdhva Pundra).[1]
Right: A Shaiva Hindu with Tilaka (Tripundra)[2][3]
A Tilaka ceremony is progress to welcome the groom at a Hindu wedding.

In Hinduism, the Tilaka (Hindi: तिलक) is a mark worn usually on the forehead, sometimes other parts of the body such as neck, hand or chest. Tilaka may be worn on a daily basis or for rites of passage or special religious occasions only, depending on regional customs.

The term also refers to the South Asian ritual of marking someone's forehead with a fragrant paste, such as of sandalwood or vermilion, as a welcome and expression of honor when they arrive.[4]

Description of the tilaka

The tilaka is a mark created by the application of powder or paste on the forehead. Tilakas are vertical markings worn by Vaishnavites. The Vaishnava tilaka consists of a long vertical marking starting from just below the hairline to almost the end of one's nose tip, and they are also known as Urdhva Pundra.[1] It is intercepted in the middle by an elongated U. There may be two marks on the temples as well. This tilaka is traditionally made with sandalwood paste.

The other major tilaka variant is often worn by the followers of Shiva, known by the names of Rudra-tilaka and Tripundra. [5][6] It consists of three horizontal bands across the forehead with a single vertical band or circle in the middle. This is traditionally done with sacred ash from fire sacrifices. This variant is the more ancient of the two and shares many common aspects with similar markings worn across the world.

Shaktas, worshippers of the various forms of the Goddess (Devi) wear a large red dot of kumkum (vermillion or red turmeric) on the forehead.


Chapter 2 of the Kalagni Rudra Upanishad, a Shaiva tradition text, explains the three lines of a Tilaka as a reminder of various triads: three sacred fires, three syllables in Om, three gunas, three worlds, three types of atman (self), three powers in oneself, first three Vedas, three times of extraction of the Vedic drink Soma.[7][8]

These lines, states Antonio Rigopoulos, represent Shiva’s threefold power of will (icchāśakti), knowledge (jñānaśakti), and action (kriyāśakti).[9] The Tripuṇḍra described in this and other Shaiva texts also symbolizes Shiva’s trident (triśūla) and the divine triad of Brahmā, Vishnu, and Shiva.[9]

The Vasudeva Upanishad, a Vaishnava tradition text, similarly explains the significance of three vertical lines in Urdhva Pundra Tilaka to be a reminder of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva; the Vedic scriptures - Rigveda, Yajurveda and Samaveda; three worlds Bhu, Bhuva, Svar; the three syllables of Om - A, U, M; three states of consciousness - awake, dream sleep, deep sleep; three realities - Maya, Brahman and Atman; the three bodies - Sthula, Sukshma, and Karana.[10][11]

Tilaka traditions

Examples of Tilaks or sect-marking in British India, summarized by 19th century scholar Russell.

Different Hindu traditions use different materials and shapes to make the tilaka.[12]

Cultural tradition

Applying Tilaka on forehead of guests to welcome, honor is also a cultural tradition in India and Nepal.[4]

Types of tilaka

The choice of style is not mandated in Hindu texts, and it is left to the individual and the regional culture, leading to many versions. The known styles include[18] Vijayshree - white tilaka urdhwapundra with a white line in the middle,[18] founded by Swami Balanand of Jaipur; Bendi tilaka - white tilak urdhwapundra with a white round mark in the middle,[19] founded by Swami Ramprasad Acharya of Badasthan Ayodhya; and Chaturbhuji tilaka - white tilak urdhwapundra with the upper portion turned 90 degrees in the opposite direction, no shri in the middle, founded by Narayandasji of Bihar, ascetics of Swarg Dwar of Ayodhya follow it. Sharma has named additional styles as, Vallabh Sampraday Tilak, Sri Tilaka of Rewasa Gaddi, Ramacharandas Tilaka, Srijiwarama ka Tilaka, Sri Janakraja Kishori Sharan Rasik Aliji ka Tilaka, Sri Rupkalajee ka Tilaka, Rupsarasji ka Tilaka, Ramasakheeji ka Tilaka, Kamanendu Mani ka Tilaka, Karunasindhuji ka Tilaka, Swaminarayana Tilaka, Nimbarka ka Tilaka and Madhwa ka Tilaka.[20]

Relationship to bindi

The terms tilaka and bindi overlap somewhat, but are not synonymous.[21] Among the differences:


similar pictography from Indus Valley Civilization

It is also called Tikli or sheether harr in Bengali, tika, or tilakam or tilak in Hindi; Sanskrit: तिलक tilaka; Hindustani pronunciation: [t̪ɪˈlək])[22]

In Nepal, Bihar and other regions, the tilakam is called a tikā/teeka (टिका [ʈɪkaː]), and is a mixture of abir, a red powder, yoghurt, and grains of rice. The most common tikka is red powder applied with the thumb, in a single upward stroke.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 James Lochtefeld (2002), "Urdhvapundra", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 2: N–Z, Rosen Publishing, ISBN 978-0823931798, page 724
  2. 1 2 Deussen, Paul (1997). Sixty Upanishads of the Veda. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. pp. 789–790. ISBN 978-81-208-1467-7.
  3. 1 2 Gautam Chatterjee (2003), Sacred Hindu Symbols, Abhinav Publications, ISBN 978-8170173977, pages 11, 42, 57-58
  4. 1 2 3 4 Axel Michaels (2015), Homo Ritualis: Hindu Ritual and Its Significance for Ritual Theory, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0190262631, page 100-112, 327
  5. Klostermaier, Klaus K. (1984). Mythologies and Philosophies of Salvation in the Theistic Traditions of India. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press. pp. 131, 371. ISBN 978-0-88920-158-3.
  6. Deussen, Paul (1997). Sixty Upanishads of the Veda. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. pp. 789–790. ISBN 978-81-208-1467-7.
  7. 1 2 3 4 Deussen 1997, p. 790.
  8. 1 2 3 4 Nene 1999.
  9. 1 2 Antonio Rigopoulos (2013), Brill's Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Volume 5, Brill Academic, ISBN 978-9004178960, pages 182-183
  10. Sunder Hattangadi (2000), Vasudeva Upanishad, Sama Veda, SanskritDocuments Archives
  11. D Dennis Hudson (2008), The Body of God, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195369229, pages 90-95
  12. Makhan Jha, Anthropology of ancient Hindu kingdoms: a study in civilizational perspective, Page 126
  13. p. 202, note 40. Grimes, John A. Ganapati: Song of the Self. (State University of New York Press: Albany, 1995) ISBN 0-7914-2440-5
  14. Purnima Dhavan(2011) "When Sparrows Became Hawks: The Making of the Sikh Warrior Tradition, 1699-1799.", p.36
  15. Robert Williams (1998), Jaina Yoga: A Survey of the Mediaeval Śrāvakācāras, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120807754, pages 221-222
  16. Robert Eric Frykenberg (2008), Review: Christian Inculturation in India by Paul M. Collins, Journal: Church History (Cambridge University Press), Vol. 77, No. 4, pages 1118-1120
  17. E. Washburn Hopkins (1910), Mythological Aspects of Trees and Mountains in the Great Epic, Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 30, No. 4, pages 347-374
  18. 1 2 Vijay Prakash Sharma, The sadhus and Indian civilisation, page 72
  19. Vijay Prakash Sharma, The sadhus and Indian civilisation, page 73
  20. Vijay Prakash Sharma, The sadhus and Indian civilisation, page 75
  21. personal faith
  22. V. S. Apte. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. p. 475.


Further reading

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