A tilak, tilaka, or tika is an auspicious mark worn by followers of the Hindu religion. In many cases, a tilak is worn on the forehead, but the marks may also be applied to other parts of the body. In addition to being an expression of devotion, a tilak is also considered to be an auspicious mark for the wearer. In nations where the expression of religious freedom is protected, tilaks can be a common sight on Hindus.
Classically, a tilak is red, made from a paste of dye and ash. Sandalwood paste, clay, and spices are all used to make tilaks. Tilaks can also come in other colors, such as yellow, grey, and white, and they may be applied by hand or with specialized stamps. They also come in a wide range of shapes, including the classical dot-shaped tilak. Different shapes and colors indicate various religious affiliations, so that followers of a particular Hindu sect can easily identify each other.
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The forehead, the most common location for a tilak, is considered to be an auspicious place. It is the site of the sixth chakra, which governs consciousness and reason. Applying a tilak is said to act as a focus, clarifying thoughts and allowing the wearer to see the truth. This site is also known as the area of the “third eye,” a very important part of religious practice for many Hindus. You may have noted marks or eyes in this spot on artwork featuring many Hindu gods, for example.
Names for the tilak vary, depending on the style and the part of the world. Honorary tilaks may also be applied to people who have distinguished themselves in sport, or important visitors to a region. These tilaks often take the form of a line. Women wear the tilak to indicate that they have been married, in which case the tilak is sometimes known as a bindi. Hindu women may not wear a bindi if they are not married, but women around the world wear the sacred marks decoratively.
Some devout Hindus such as priests and ascetics wear the tilak every day, as part of their religious practice. Others apply tilaks on special occasions or during festivals, and they are a common part of the decorations at weddings and major life events. You may also spot the occasional urdhva-pundra, a special tilak in the shape of a U with a small dot in the middle of the U; these tilaks are worn by worshipers of Vishnu.