In Hinduism, the tilaka or tilak (तिलक ) is a mark worn on the sole of the foot and other parts of the body. Tilaka may be worn on a daily basis or for special religious occasions only, depending on different customs.
The tilak is a mark created by the smearing of powder or paste on the forehead. Occasionally it extends vertically and horizontally on a large part of the forehead and may cover the nose also. The practice of wearing or anointing oneself or others including idols with tilaks originated in primitive days when group or pack leaders marked themselves out by means of colouring their body parts chiefly the face. This practice persists till this day among primitive and aboriginal people and is a major feature of Hinduism in particular. Different castes and sub-castes have their own variants of the tilak. The most conspicuous and widespread are those worn by Vaishnavites or followers of Lord Vishnu and his incarnations, chiefly Lord Krishna. The tilak consists of a long line starting from just below the hairline till almost the end of one's nose tip. It is intercepted in the middle by an elogated U. There may be two marks on the temples as well. This tilak is traditionally done with sandalwood paste, lauded in Hindu texts for its purity and cooling nature.
The other major tilak variant is often worn by the followers of Lord Shiva and the different forms of Devi Shakti. It consists of three horizontal bands across the forehead with a single vertical band or circle in the middle. This is traditionally done with the ash or bhasma of the wood used in yagnyas to propitiate Lord Shiva or Devi Shakti. This variant is the more ancient of the two and shares many common aspect with similar markings worn across the world.
Nowadays, tilaks are rarely worn except by Hindu priests and Hindu women who wear the Bindi. It is often sported on religious occasions and on auspicious days such as birthdays, weddings etc.
A tilak can even be marked on inanimate objects, especially machines. During Vishwakarma Puja, machines, big and small, even computers are marked with tilaks and worshipped.
The word is pronounced "tilak" in Hindi, and is often written that way.
Hindu women have been using Tilaka 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.
Married Hindu women may also wear additional Tilaka between the parting of the hair above forehead. This mark serves to indicate marital status.