Why do we wear tilak on the forehead?


In India all Hindus, both men and women wear Tilaka, a particular sign on forehead. It is known as Tilaka. It has much importance in the Indian culture. It also depict about the religious tradition of the people.

As a part of worship

Applying Tilaka is a part of worship. During worship one should apply it on his or her forehead as an auspicious symbol. The Tilaka is applied on saints and images of the Lord as a part of worship.

When is it applied

It is applied daily after a bath and on special occasions, before or after ritualistic worship or a visit to the temple. In many parts of North India it is applied as a respectful form of welcome, to honour guests or when bidding farewell to a son or
husband about to embark on a journey.

As a symbol of cult

This custom of wearing Tilaka was not prevalent in the Vedic period. It gained popularity in the Pauranic period. Its form and colour vary according to one’s religious sect or the form of the Lord worshipped.

It is also considered as a cult symbol. Shaivas apply horizontal Tilaka like a straight line or just curved line. On the other hand, Vaishnava applies vertical Tilaka. It is either straight line or ‘U’ shape. Shaktas followers of Shaktism apply circular Tilaka.

Material used for Tilaka

The Tilaka varies in colour and form. Tilaka is made with Kumkum or Kumkum-Haldi (turmeric), or sandal wood paste, or saffron. Mainly men use sandal wood paste or Kumkum or saffron for Tilaka. On the other hand women use Kumkum and haldi (turmeric) for making Tilaka.

Significance of Tilaka for Women

For a woman, wearing Tilaka denotes her marital status. In many communities, it is enjoined upon married women to sport a kumkum mark on their foreheads at all times. A woman whose husband is alive should always wear Tilaka as Soubhagyalakshna, a sign of good fortune for the husband.

Widows are not allowed to wear Tilaka. In some places they wear black coloured Tilaka.

Symbol of four fold caste system

The Chaturvarnya custom in which four fold caste system was prevalent, Braahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra applied marks differently. It is mentioned in Smriti literature that, Brahmin should apply a white chandan mark signifying purity as his profession was of a priestly or academic nature. The Kshatriya should apply a red kumkum mark signifying valour as he belonged to the warrior races. The Vaishya should wear a yellow kesar or turmeric mark signifying prosperity as he was a businessman or trader devoted to creation of wealth. The sudra applied a black bhasma, kasturi or charcoal mark signifying service as he supported the work of the other three divisions.

Why we wear Tilaka

The Tilaka invokes a feeling of sanctity in the wearer and others. It is recognized as a religious mark. The chandan, kumkum or bhasma which is offered to the Lord is taken back as prasad and applied on our foreheads. The Tilaka is applied with the prayer ‘May
I remember the Lord. May this pious feeling pervade all my activities. May I be righteous in my deeds.’

The Tilaka covers the spot between the eyebrows, which is the seat of memory and thinking. It is known as the Aajna Chakra in the language of Yoga. The entire body emanates energy in the form of
electromagnetic waves the forehead and the subtle spot between the eyebrows especially so. That is why worry generates heat and causes a headache. The Tilaka cools the forehead, protects us and
prevents energy loss. Sometimes the entire forehead is covered with chandan or bhasma.

Devotees of Lord Shiva:

Followers of Lord Shiva applies Vibhuti/Bhasm, which means ash and it is traditionally gathered from burnt woods from yajna, cow dung cake or incense sticks after prayer. It is believed that applying Bhasm/Vibhuti on one’s forehead brings glory, destroys evil and protects from ill health.

Devotees of Lord Vishnu:

Devotees of Lord Vishnu apply the paste of Sandalwood (Chandan) in U shape which extends out towards nose representing lotus feet of Lord Vishnu.  Followers of Lord Vishnu apply this Tilak on their forehead.  More than a religious mark the paste of Sandalwood (Chandan) is also known for its cooling impacts and curing headaches.

Devotees of Goddess Lakshmi:

It is said that applying Kumkum Tilak is compulsory for a married women as women are said to be “Ghar Ki Lakshmi.” Kumkum is turmeric powder, turned red by adding lime and usually worn in round form during prayers. The unpretentious scent produced by kumkum can pull in and radiate the Pavitrata of Deities. It is believed that a lady who wears kumkum is shielded from negative energies as kumkum transmits positive frequencies.

Scientific perspective: 

Now it is scientifically proven that applying tilak on the forehead is beneficial because tilak is worn in exactly the same place where the Ajna Chakra is i.e. the place of the third eye. Hence the benefits of applying Tilak are numerous.

  1. Cures mental stress, insomnia, etc very similar to Ayurvedic remedies like Shirodhara which focuses on dripping oil on the forehead. Similarly, application of sandalwood, vibhuti or kumkum tilak regularly, cures headaches and also offers instant relief from stress permanently.
  2. It is scientifically proven that application of Tilak clears sinuses. Medically the joint also has a nerve (trigeminal) that when squeezed clears sinuses by increasing the blood pressure to the nose.
  3. Applying a Tilak on the forehead also helps to get a wrinkle free and younger skin. The supratrochlear nerve which interfaces with a few filaments and muscles of eyes and skin is stimulated when mild pressure is applied to the center of the forehead. It diminishes dark circles by providing oxygen and boosting blood pressure, while the eyesight enhances and also skin becomes flawless.
  4. Use of Tilak boost immunity as GV 24.5, a point in accordance with acupressure is stimulated. The regular utility of tilak also keeps away infectious diseases. Sandalwood is used by numerous individuals in summer as cooling face packs. When applied on the forehead, where every facial nerve assembles, it keeps the body cool.

So now we know that applying tilak on the forehead is not just a cultural or spiritual belief but one with scientific background. In Hinduism, there are many rituals and customs which we follow because it is been taught but there is a reason behind every tradition, story, or a culture, that is important to understand.