Specifics on Different Tilaks
Tilak: Why Wear It
This compilation of information will explain what tilak is and why it is worn. As anyone who is familiar with the Vedic tradition knows, many of its followers wear marking on the foreheads. This is called tilak. Some tilak markings are made with ash, some with clay or soil, some are red dots with kum kum, or dyed rice flour, or red dots with additional applications like a few grains of rice stuck to it. Some tilak appears as three lines of ash going horizontally across the forehead that indicates one is a Shaivite. The Tripuṇḍra tilak, three horizontal lines, on the forehead as well as other body parts are symbols during rites of passages, and for some a daily practice. These lines, states Antonio Rigopoulos, represent Shiva’s threefold power of will (icchāśakti), knowledge (jñānaśakti), and action (kriyāśakti). The Tripuṇḍra described in this and other Shaiva texts also symbolizes Shiva’s trident (triśūla) and the divine triad of Brahmā, Vishnu, and Shiva,
Another form of tilak is the small triangle on the nose with a "V" shape rising vertically up on the forehead from between the eyebrows, which indicates one is a Vaishnava. This is a sign of the foot of Lord Vishnu, recited while chanting the name of Lord Vishnu. This is the one we will primary look at.
There are different reasons why this is done and what they mean, but here is a description of why Vaishnavas wear their tilok, especially with Gopi-candana (or Gopi Chand). Gopi Candana is the soil that comes from a place not far from Dwaraka. The history is that this is the place where the gopis entered the river to leave their bodies after Lord Krishna left this planet to return to His spiritual abode. Thus, they also followed in this way. The mud that used to be the banks of that river is called Gopi-candana. Vaishnavas apply this mud while chanting the names of Vishnu in twelve places on the head, arms, chest and back. The process marks the body as a temple, purifies the body, and also acts as protection from evil influences, ghosts, etc. By seeing this tilok on ourselves or other devotees, it serves as a constant reminder of Lord Krishna. Tilak is also used in Deity worship, offered to the Deities and also used with lemon juice to polish brass deities.
gopinam yatra vaso 'bhut
tena gopi-bhuvah smrtah
Simply by hearing about Gopi-bhumi, which is so named because the gopīs resided there, one becomes free from the bondage of karma.
In Gopi-bhumi gopi-candana was manifested from the gopīs' cosmetics. A person who marks his limbs with gopi-candana tilaka attains the result of bathing in the Ganga.
punyam tasya dine dine
mudrito yah sadā bhavet
A person who daily wears gopi-candana tilaka attains the pious result of daily bathing in all sacred rivers.
vratani ca tathaiva ca
krtani tena nityaṁ vai
sa krtartho na samsayah
A person who daily wears gopi-candana tilaka attains the result of performing a thousand asvamedha-yajnas and a hundred rajasuya-yajnas. He attains the result of giving charity and following vows at all holy places. He attains the goal of life. Of this there is no doubt.
tasmād dasa-gunam punyam
Twice as sacred as the mud of the Ganga is the dust of Citrakuta. Ten times more sacred than that is the dust of Pancavati-tirtha.
tasmac chata-gunam punyam
A hundred times more sacred is the dust of gopi-candana. Please know that gopi-candana is equal to the dust of Vṛndāvana.
yadi papa-satair yutam
tam netum na yamah sakto
yama-dutah kutah punah
Even if in the past he has committed hundreds of sins, if a person wears gopi-candana tilaka, then Yamarāja cannot take him away. How, then, can Yamarāja’s messengers touch him?
nityaṁ karoti yah pāpī
sa prayati harer dhāma
golokam prakrteh param
A sinner who daily wears gopi-candana tilaka goes to Lord Kṛṣṇa's supreme abode, Goloka, which is beyond the world of matter.
dirghabahur iti srutah
In Sindhu-desa there was a king named Dirghabahu. He was cruel and sinful and he was addicted to visiting prostitutes.
tena vai bharate varse
krtas tena duratmana
While he was on the earth this cruel sinner murdered a hundred brāhmaṇas and ten pregnant women.
mrgayayam tu banaughaih
saindhavam hayam aruhya
mrgayarthi gato 'bhavat
One day he mounted a sindhu horse and went hunting. With a flood of arrows he accidentally killed a brown cow in that hunt.
mantri kruddho maha-khalam
One day, greedy to get his kingdom, with a sharp sword his angry minister killed him in the forest.
bhu-tale patitam mrtyu-
gatam viksya yamanugah
baddhva yama-purim ninyur
Seeing him fallen to the ground and dead, the Yamadutas came, bound him, and, joking as they went, took him to the city of Yamarāja.
sammukhe 'vasthitam viksya
papinam yama-rad bali
citraguptam praha turnam
ka yogya yanatasya vai
Seeing this sinner brought before him, powerful Yamarāja said to his scribe Citragupta, "What is the proper punishment for him?"
Śrī Citragupta said: O great king, he should be thrown into eight million four hundred thousand hells for as long as the sun and the moon shine in the sky.
anena bharate varse
ksanam na su-krtam krtam
On the earth he did not perform a single pious deed. He killed ten pregnant women. He killed a brown cow.
tathā vana-mrganam ca
kṛtvā hatyah sahasrasah
tasmād ayam maha-papi
He killed thousands of deer in the forest. He offended the demigods and the brāhmaṇas. He is a great sinner.
Texts 32 and 33
tada yamajnaya duta
nitva tam papa-rupinam
sadyah sitalatam gatah
Sri Nārada said: Then, by Yamarāja’s order, the Yamadutas took that sinner and threw him into a terrible, eight-thousand mile wide cauldron of bubbling boiling oil in the hell of Kumbhipaka. The moment that sinner came to it, the boiling oil, which was as hot as the great fires at the time of cosmic devastation, suddenly became cool.
tadaiva citram acakhyur
O king of Videha, as Prahlāda was unhurt in the same situation, that sinner was not hurt by the boiling oil. Then the Yamadutas described that great wonder to noble-hearted Yamarāja.
anena su-krtam bhumau
ksanavan na kṛtam kvacit
Yamarāja and Citragupta carefully reviewed the sinner's case and concluded that while he was on the earth the sinner had not for a moment performed even a single pious deed.
sabhayam agatam vyasam
sampujya vidhivan nrpa
natva papraccha dharmatma
Then Vyasadeva arrived in that assembly. Bowing down before Him, and carefully worshiping Him, saintly and noble-hearted Yamaraja asked Vyasadeva the following question.
anena papina purvam
na krtam su-krtam kvacit
asya ksepanato vahnih
sadyah sitalatam gatah
iti sandehatas cetah
khidyate me na samsayah
Sri Yamaraja said: When a certain sinner, who had never performed even a single pious deed, was thrown into the terrible boiling oil of Kumbhipaka, the oil suddenly became cool. Because of this my mind is now tortured with doubts.
suksma gatir maha-raja
tatha brahma-gatih prajnaih
Sri Vyasadeva said: O great king, the intelligent sages, who have studied all the scriptures, know that the ways of piety, sin, and spiritual progress are very subtle and difficult to understand.
daiva-yogad asya punyam
praptam vai svayam arthavat
yena punyena suddho 'sau
tac chrnu tvam maha-mate
Somehow or other, by destiny, this sinner did perform a pious deed, and by that deed he became purified. O noble-hearted one, please hear the story of this.
kasyapi hastato yatra
tatraivayam mrtah papi
suddho 'bhut tat-prabhavatah
That sinner died in a place where from someone's hand some gopi-candana from Dvaraka had accidentally fallen. Dying in gopi-candana, that sinner became purified.
naro narayano bhavet
etasya darsanat sadyo
A person who wears gopi-candana tilaka attains a spiritual form like that of Lord Narayana. Simply by seeing him one becomes free of the sin of killing a brahmana.
Texts 43 and 44
iti srutva dharma-rajas
tam aniya visesatah
vimane kama-ge sthapya
vaikuntham prakrteh param
presayam asa sahasa
evam te kathitam rajan
Sri Narada said: Hearing this, Yamaraja, who understands the glories of gopi-candana, took the sinner, placed him on an airplane that goes anywhere one wishes, and sent him to Vaikuntha, which is above the worlds of matter. O king, thus I have described to you the glories of gopi-candana.
yah srnoti narottamah
sa yati paramam dhama
One who hears this account of gopi-candana's glories becomes exalted. He goes to the supreme abode of Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
1. Om. The great sage Narada bowed down before the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vasudeva and asked: O Lord, please teach me the rules of Vaisnava tilaka. Please tell me of the substances, mantras, places, and other things in connection with it. 2 Lord Vasudeva said: To please Me, My devotees headed by the demigod Brahma, wear Visnu-candana, which comes from the spiritual world of Vaikuntha. Because every day the gopis anoint My limbs with this candana and then again wash it away, it is also known as gopi-candana. This sacred yellow candana, which holds within it My cakra, and which is present at Cakra-tirtha, brings liberation (to they who wear it). 3 In the following prayer one praises and bows down before gopi- candana: O gopi, O destroyer of sins, O candana manifested from Lord Visnu’s transcendental body and marked with His cakra, I offer my obeisances to you. Please give me liberation, for I am anointed with you. 4 One should go to My Ganges, take some water, bring it to My temple, and use it to make gopi-candana paste. Then, reciting either the mantras that begin ‘deva avantu nah’ (May the Lord protect us), or the Visnu gayatri, or my names beginning with the name Kesava, one should apply gopi-candana tilaka. 5 A brahmacari or vanaprastha should, while chanting the Visnu- gayatri or the holy names beginning with Krishna, apply this tilaka to his forehead, chest, neck, and shoulders. 5 (A) Three times he should chant this mantra: O Lord who holds the conch shell, cakra, and club in Your hands, O infallible Lord who resides in Dvaraka, O lotus-eyed Lord Govinda, please protect me, who have surrendered to You and taken shelter of You. 5 (B) After meditating in this way, a grhastha should, while chanting the Visnu-gayatri or the holy names beginning with Kesava, apply this tilaka with his ring finger to twelve parts of his body, beginning with his forehead. 6 A brahmacari or grhastha should, while chanting the Visnu- gayatri or the holy names beginning with Krishna, apply this tilaka to his forehead, chest, neck and shoulders. 7 A sannyasi, while chanting the sacred syllable Om, should apply this tilaka with his forefinger to his head, forehead and chest. 8 As there are three Deities (Brahma, Visnu and Siva), three vyahrtis (Bhuh, Bhuvah and Svah), three metres in the Vedic hymns, three sacred fires, three times, three states of being, three atmas, and three letters (a, u, and m) in the sacred syllable Om, so Vaisnava tilaka has three parts, which correspond to the letters in the sacred Om. 9 A person who chants the sacred syllable Om goes upward (urdhva). That is why Vaisnava tilaka is called ‘urdhva-pundra.’ 10 A paramahamsa should say the sacred syllable Om and place Vaisnava tilaka on his forehead. 11 When he sees the Supersoul in his heart illumined with the lamp of truth, the yogi attains the liberation of meeting Me. 12 Or the yogi may surrender his heart to the Lord in the tilaka mark on his chest or to the Lord in the lotus of his heart. 13 In the heart is a flame reaching upwards, a flame like a lightning flash from a dark cloud, or like a slender rice-plant. In that flame the Supersoul stays. 14 In the lotus flower of the heart one should search for the Supreme Lord, who is present as the tilaka mark. Gradually one should become rapt in meditation on Me, Lord Hari, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is present as the Supersoul. 15 He becomes liberated who, with single-pointed concentration meditates on Me, Lord Hari, the eternal Supersoul who stays in the lotus flower of the heart. Of this there is no doubt. 16 By engaging in My devotional service one is able to understand My transcendental form, which is spiritual, eternal, self-manifest, filled with knowledge and bliss, and beyond the touch of the material world of dualities. 17 I am Lord Visnu, the one Supersoul who stays in the hearts of the many moving and unmoving creatures. 18 As oil stays in sesame seeds, as fire stays in wood, as butter stays in milk, and as fragrance stays in flowers, so I, the Supersoul, stay in the hearts of all living creatures. 19 By anointing one’s body with gopi-candana tilaka and by meditating on the Supreme Lord, Hari, splendid like a transcendental sun in the brahma-randhra, heart, and between the eyebrows, one attains the Lord in His supreme abode. 20 His sannyasa danda raised, his semen flowing upwards, His Vaisnava tilaka vertical, and his practice of yoga elevated, the sannyasi, in this four ways ascending, goes to the highest spiritual abode. 21 The final conclusion is that by serving Me with devotion one attains the supreme perfection. Wearing gopi-candana tilaka, with single pointed concentration one should always engage in My devotional service. 22 Of all brahmanas and followers of the Vedas he is best who wears Vaisnava tilaka of gopi-candana mixed with water. 23 If gopi-candana is not available one may use the earth from the roots of the Tulasi plant. In order to attain the spiritual goal that cannot be seen by materialistic men, a person who yearns for liberation should wear Vaisnava tilaka every day. 24 One should apply Vaisnava tilaka using the sacred atriratri- agnihotra ashes of the sacred syllable Om, the Visnu-gayatri, or the mantras beginning with the words ‘Visnus trini pada.’ 25 In this way one should apply Vaisnava tilaka with gopi- candana. 26 A person who studies this Upanisad becomes purified of all sins. Sinful thoughts do not arise in his mind. He attains the results of bathing in all sacred rivers and lakes. He attains the results of performing all yajnas. He is to be worshipped by all the demigods. He attains unwavering devotion to Me, Lord Narayana, the goddess of fortune’s husband. When his spiritual knowledge is perfect he attains the liberation of meeting Lord Visnu. He does not return to the world of birth and death. He does not return to the world of birth and death. 27 Thus spoke Lord Vasudeva, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. 28 One who studies this Upanisad certainly attains this. Om. That is the truth. Thus says the Upanisad.
Specifics on Different Tilaks
By Jahnava Nitai das:
The tilak is an external symbol of our surrender to Krishna, or to our object of worship. The shape and material used may differ according to the particular process of surrender the sampradaya follows.
In the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya the tilak is made out of the white mud found in anthills. The scriptures tell us that the mud from the base of a Tulasi plant and the white mud from within the ant hill are both pure and best for making tilak. The Sri Vaishnavas will draw two lines representing the feet of Sri Narayana, and in the middle they will put a red line to represent Lakshmi Devi. The red line was originally made from a red stone found within the ant hill. The ants would usually make their ant hill on top of these red stones. When you rub the stone in water, a red color paint is formed. The category of Shakti is generally represented with the color red in all lines, both Vedic and Tantrik. Because the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya begins with Sri Lakshmi Devi, and because they approach Narayana only through Lakshmi, their tilak reflects this process of surrender. The tilaks of each sampradaya actually depict the siddhanta of the sampradaya.
In the Vallabha sampradaya the tilak worn is generally a single vertical red line. This line represents Sri Yamuna Devi. The form of Krishna worshiped in the Vallabha line is Sri Nathji or Govardhana. The consort of the Govardhana hill is the river Yamuna. Their process of surrender goes through Sri Yamuna Devi.
In the Madhva sampradaya the tilak is made out of Gopichandana mud from Dwaraka. Two vertical lines are made out of Gopichandana to represent the feet of Lord Krishna. This gopichandana tilak is nearly identical to that used in the Gaudiya sampradaya. In between a vertical black line is made from the daily coal of the yajna-kunda. In their sampradaya, the process of worship involved nitya-homa, or daily fire sacrifices to the Lord. The remnant coal of the puja was taken each day to mark the forehead. Underneath the black line, a yellow or red dot was put to indicate Lakshmi or Radha. Those who did not perform daily fire sacrifice would only put the simple gopichandana tilak.
In the Gaudiya sampradaya the tilak is usually made out of the Gopichandana mud. Some lineages prefer to use the mud from Vrindavana. The main tilak is basically identical to the Madhva tilak. The slight difference arises due to the emphasis on nama-sankirtana, or the chanting of the Lord's names. In Sri Chaitanya's line, nama-sankirtana is the yajna to be performed in kali yuga, and not the daily fire sacrifice performed in the Madhva sampradaya. As such, the black line made from the ash of the fire sacrifice is not applied in the Gaudiya sampradaya. The second difference arises due to Sri Chaitanya's process of approaching the Lord. In the Gaudiya line one does not approach Srimati Radharani directly, but always indirectly through the servant. To indicate this, the red dot representing Radha is replaced with a tulasi leaf offered at the base of the Lord's feet. Only with the mercy of Tulasi Devi can we develop pure devotion to Sri Sri Radha and Krishna.
In the scriptures there are very general descriptions of the procedure for applying tilak. For example it is mentioned that the tilak should be urdhva-pundra, or vertical lines; the body should be marked in twelve locations, etc. But these instructions are very general and leave a lot of the details to the acharyas. Even in a simple point, such as the location of the tilak, one person may interpret the 'shoulder' to start from the arm, where as another may interpret it to start higher up near the neck. This is actually the case in the two branches of the Sri Vaishna sampradaya.
The actual design of the tilak will manifest either through divine revelation or through scientific study. An example of divine revelation is the Gaudiya lineage of Sri Shyamananda. Radharani revealed a portion of her broken bangle to Sri Shyamananda, which he used in applying tilak to his forehead. As a result, his followers apply a unique design of tilak from other branches of the Gaudiya sampradaya.
In other cases, an acharya may scientifically analyze the sampradaya siddhanta and compare its compatibility with the tilak they wear. The external purpose of the tilak is to differentiate the followers of a sampradaya from other classes of philosophers, just as one branch of the armed forces wears a uniform to differentiate itself from the other branches. In such a case, the tilak may change when there occurs a shift or branching of the sampradaya due to philosophical views. The newly formed branch may re-analyze the tilak in connection with its siddhanta and make changes that fully reflect their process of surrender. Such is the case among the two branches of the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya. Due to a difference of opinion in regards to the process of surrender, two distinct tilaks emerged.
In any case, the ultimate purpose of tilak is to sanctify oneself and mark the body as the temple of the Lord. The scriptures do not specify in detail the manner that this should be done, and as such it is the acharyas who crystalize the procedures while adhering to the general prescriptions given in the scriptures.
Putting on Tilaka
In the Uttara-khanada of the Padma Purana, Lord Shiva says to Parvati that in the middle of the "V" of the Vaishnava tilaka mark there is a space and in that space reside Lakshmi and Narayana. Therefore, the body that is decorated with tilaka should be considered a temple of Lord Vishnu. The Padma Purana also states:
vama-parshve sthito brahma
dakshine cha sadashivaha
madhye vishnum vijaniyat
Tasman madhyam na lepayet
"On the left side of the tilaka Lord Brahma is situated, and on the right side is Sadashiva, but one should know that in the middle dwells Lord Vishnu. Therefore one should not smear the middle section."
One should pour a little water into the palm of his left hand and rub gopi-chandana (mud from Dwaraka) into it. When making Tilaka the following mantra from the Uttara Khanda of the Padma Purana:
lalate keshavam dhyayen
vaksha-sthale madhavam tu
vishnum cha dakshine kukshau
bahau cha madhusudanam
trivikramam kandare tu
shridharam vama-bahau tu
hrishikesham cha kandhare
pristhe tu padma-nabham cha
katyam damodaram nyaset
tat prakshalana-toyam tu
In accordance with the above mentioned mantra one should apply the gopi-chandana with the ball of the middle finger tip to make the tilaka marks on the twelve parts of the body. According to the Brahmanda Purana, one should not use the fingernail to make the space in the middle of the tilaka. One should place a thin damp cloth over the finger and make the space with that. Thus, when the tilaka is applied, the following mantras should be chanted:
The forehead--om keshavaya namaha
The belly--om narayanaya namaha
The chest--om madhavaya namaha
The throat--om govindaya namaha
The right side of the waist--om vishnave namaha
The right upper arm--om madhusudanaya namaha
The right shoulder--om trivikramaya namaha
The left side of the waist--om vamanaya namaha
The left upper arm--om shridharaya namaha
The left shoulder--om hrishikeshaya namaha
The upper back--om padmanabhaya namaha
The lower back--om damodaraya namaha
Finally, after washing one's had, whatever water is left should be wiped on the top of the head in the region of the shikha (tuft of hair) with the mantra: om vasudevaya namaha.
In the Padma Purana it is stated:
tad vidyad dhari-mandiram
"That marking (of tilaka), which begins from the root of the nose and extends up to the hairline, which has a space in it and is very beautiful, is known as urdhva-pundra (tilaka). One should know it to be a temple of Lord Hari [Vishnu]." The Padma Purana also mentions that the tilaka marking should only extend three quarters of the way down the nose from the root of the nose, which is located between the eyebrows. The space in the middle of the tilaka should begin from between the eyebrows and extend up to the hairline. The marking on the nose and forehead should be connected. That is a perfect tilaka marking.
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If a Vaisnava who wears the sacred tilaka mark which goes upward like a flame eats in anyone's house some grains, I (the Supreme Personality of Godhead) liberate his twenty previous generations from their suffering in hellish planets. [Hari Bhakti Vilasa 4/203 from Brahmanda Purana spoken by the Supreme Lord]
Oh king of the birds (Garuda), if gopicandana is marked on anyone's forehead by the mercy of the Supreme Lord, no planets (Sun, Moon, Mars, etc.), Yaksas (semi demigods), Pisacas (ghosts and devils), snakes and demons can harm him. [Hari Bhakti Vilasa 4/238 from Garuda Purana spoken by Narada Muni]
1. Atharvana Upanisad
Anyone who marks his body with the tilak which resembles the lotus feet of Lord hari becomes dear to the Paramatma. He becomes fortunate and attains liberation.
2. Maha Upanisad
One gets released of all the bondage of samsara when one marks his body with the tilak markings and knows Narayana who is known by karma, jnana and bhakti yogas. Ultimately, he attains Lord Visnu.
3. Agni Purana
A brahmana should not wear the three lined tilak across (tiryak pundra) even for as a joke or play. One should mark his body with the vertical tilak only according to the prescribed rules.
4. Brahmanda Purana
A brahmana should wear urdhva pundra; a ksatriya ardha candrakara (half-moon) pundra; vaisya round shaped pundra; and a sudra tri pundra (horizontal tiryak pundra). A brahmana should never wear the horizontal tilak. He is to be considered a sudra if he wears it.
One should meditate on Me by chanting Om and should mark his body with vertical tilak daily. Anyone who marks thus attains sayujya liberation.
6. Vasista smrti
One should mark the tilak on his forehead as follows: he should start from the nose tip and go till his kesa (hair). The width should be one angula (circa 1 inch). This is urdhva pundra laksana.
7. Sanat Kumara Samhita
Urdhva pundra should be worn with clay and should be worn with a gap inbetween and nicely. In between the two lines, one should mark Sri or Laksmi in the form of Haridhra curna. One should not mark anything else inbetween. Anyone who marks like this is freed from all sinful reactions. Anyone who marks the tilak without any gap is condemned.
8. Padma Purana
Those devotees on whose neck tulasi kanti mala and lotus seed kanti malas are hanging and on whose shoulders there are the markings of conch and cakra and on whose body there are 12 tilak markings, they purify the entire universe immediately.
9. Isvara samhita
Anyone who marks his body with the clay which has touched Lord Visnu's body attains the benefit of an asvamedha sacrifice and is glorified in Visnu's abode. One should mark inbetween the vertical lines mother Laksmi with the help of yellow curna or powder.