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Tilak redirects here. For the Indian nationalist leader see Bal Gangadhar Tilak. For the village in Bangladesh, see Tilak, Bangladesh.

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.

Significance of tilaka

The tilaka is decorative and is also an identifying mark. Worn by a priest, ascetic, or worshiper it shows which Hindu tradition he follows. It may be made with sandalwood paste, ashes (vibhuti), kumkum, sindhoor, clay, or another substance. The pastes are applied to the forehead and in some cases to the upper part of the head. Tilakas are also discussed in the Vasudeva Upanishad.

History and Evolution of the Tilak

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.

In Nepal, Bihar and other regions, the tilak is called a tika(टिका), and is a mixture of abir, a red powder, yoghurt, and grains of rice.

Varieties of Tilaka

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

  • Saivites typically use vibhuti in three horizontal lines across the forehead. A bindu of sandalwood paste with a dot ofkumkum in the centre is often worn with the vibhuti. (tripundra).
  • Vaishnavas apply clay from a holy river or place (such as Vrindavan or the Yamuna river) which is sometimes mixed with sandalwood paste. They apply the material in two vertical lines, which may be connected at the bottom, forming either a simple U shape or with an additional marking in the shape of a tulsi leaf. Their tilaka is called the urdhva-pundra.
  • Ganapatya use red sandal paste (rakta candana).
  • Shaktas use kumkuma, or powdered red turmeric. They draw one vertical line or dot.
  • Honorary tilakas (Raj Tilak and Vir Tilak): They are usually applied as a single vertical red line. Raj Tilak will be used while throning kings or inviting prominent personalities. Vir Tilak is used to anoint victors or leaders after a war or a game.

Use by women

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.

The bindi can vary from small to large. 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.

See also



  • Entwistle, A. W. Vaishnava tilakas: Sectarian marks worn by worshippers of Vishnu (IAVRI bulletin). International Association of the Vrindaban Research Institute.

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