What is tilak?

(symbol on forehead or between eyebrows) 

By editor - 24.1 2018

The tilak (Sanskrit tilaka, "mark") is a mark worn on the forehead and other parts of the body for spiritual reasons.

On a man, the tilak takes the form of different lines, indicating his religious affiliation. On women, a tilak usually takes the form of a decorative dot (or Bindi), which usually denotes marriage and auspiciousness, but which has its own symbolism. In a woman's case a Tilaka is a sign of her being in wedlock Among men, the Tilaka has been traditionally interpreted as a good luck charm.

The tilak is worn every day by sadhus and pious householders, and on special occasions like weddings and religious rituals. A tilak is also applied by a priest during a visit to the temple as a sign of the deity's blessing, for both men and women (and western tourists, too). Tilak marks are applied by hand or with a metal stamp. They might be made of ash from a sacrificial fire, sandalwood paste, turmeric, cow dung, clay, charcoal, or red lead. In addition to its religious symbolism, the tilak has a cooling effect on the forehead and this can assist in concentration and meditation. A dot between the eyebrows symbolizes the third eye of Lord Shiva.

Saivites (followers of Shiva) wear a tilak of three horizontal lines across the forehead, with or without a red dot. Sometimes a crescent moon or trident is included. The devotees of Shiva usually use sacred ashes (Bhasma) for the tilak.

Among Vaishnavites (followers of Vishnu), the many tilak variations usually include two or more vertical lines resembling the letter U, which symbolizes the foot of Vishnu. There is sometimes a central line or dot. Most Vaishanative tilaks are made of sandalwood paste (Chandan). The worshippers of the goddess Devi or Shakti apply Kumkum, a red tumeric powder.

Usually Tilak is worn on religious occasions, its shape often representing particular devotion to a certain main deity: a 'U' or 'V' shape stands for Vishnu, a group of three horizontal lines for Shiva. It is not uncommon for some to meld both in an amalgam marker signifying Hari-Hara (Vishnu-Shiva indissoluble).


The Tilaka is normally a vermilion mark applied on the forehead. This mark has a religious significance and is a visible sign of a person as belonging to a particular religious faith. The Tilaka is of more than one colour although normally it is vermilion. It is applied differently by members of different religious sects and sub-sects.

It is applied as a 'U' by worshippers of lord Vishnu and is red, yellow or saffron in color. It is made up of red ochre powder (Sindhura) and sandalwood paste (Gandha). Worshippers of lord Shiva apply it as three horizontal lines and it consists of ash (Bhasma).

Thus there is a variety of pigments; red, yellow, saffron, white, grey and black, etc. These pigments are not only applied on the forehead but in some cases they are applied also on the forearms and the abdomen.

Hindu women have been using Tilaka in form of a red dot "Bindi" for many millennia. The tilaka are worn as a beauty mark by women of all faiths, with no adherence of Hindu belief. They generally use dots (bindi) rather than the lines and larger marks worn by men. The term "Bindi" seems to be more often used for beauty marks. Sometimes the terms sindoor, kumkum, or kasturi are used, by reference to the material used to make the mark. Married Hindu women may also wear additional Tilaka between the parting of the hair above forehead. This mark serves to indicate marital status.

Bindi can usually be described as a traditional red circular mark or dot which can vary from small to large. When this is accompanied by a vermillion mark on the parting of hair just above the forehead, it indicates that the particular lady is married. The term 'bindi' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'bindu' meaning "a drop or a small dot or particle". Even though traditionally, bindi is a red colored dot, it can be worn in other colors also, like yellow, orange and so on. The shape and size of the bindi can also vary.

Conventionally, it's the Hindu married women who wear bindi. But, this mark can have several meanings and so, you may also see unmarried girls and even children wearing it. It's the occasion, the color of the bindi and its shape that determines what it denotes. The customary bindi is made with red sindoor powder. The bindi is called the tilak when it's applied on the forehead of a person, at the conclusion of a religious function or havan.

The purpose of wearing a bindi can also vary. If it covers the entire forehead in three horizontal lines, then it denotes the wearer is an ascetic or belongs to a particular sect (like Brahmin). Sometimes, the bindi is used for mere beautification purpose by females. In this case, you may also find her wearing a small jewelry instead of the typical red dot. Though in India, a widow cannot wear a vermillion, she is free to sport a bindi.

Bindi is called by different names in different languages of India and is also know as Tika. Thus, alternative names for bindi is Pottu in Tamil and Malayalam, Tilak in Hindi, Bottu or Tilakam in Telugu, Bottu or Tilaka in Kannada and Teep meaning "a pressing" in Bengali. Sometimes, the terms sindoor, kumkum, or kasturi are used depending upon the ingredients used in making the Bindi mark.