If you are acquainted with the followers of Hinduism you would well know the significance of the tilak, an auspicious mark worn on the forehead. The tilak is also known as tika or tilaka and can be worn daily or only on religious occasion in some customs. A tilak is generally worn on the forehead but can be applied on the other parts of the body such as neck, upper-arms, shoulder, forearms or stomach. Tilak is a term common to the entire subcontinent of India. A tilak should not be confused with the Hindi term bindi that is worn by women between the eyes.
The tilak is usually worn during religious customs or every day as part of the tradition. The man wears the tilak in different lines depending on the custom of is religious affiliation. For instance the tilak symbol worn by the followers of the Swaminarayan religion is called the Tilak-Chandlo which is applied with sandalwood paste in a u- shape with a red spot called the chandlo in the centre that is made of the sacred red kanku.The women devotees apply ony the red spot on their forehead. Apart from its religious symbolism, the tilak has a practical purpose of cooling the forehead and assisting the person to have a cool and clear mind thus improving his concentration and meditation. In Hindu scriptures a tilak between the eyes on the forehead is symbolic of the third eye of the Hindu God Shiva.
Tilak is usually made from red lead but can be made form a range of material such as ash from a holy fire or charcoal, turmeric, cow dung or sandalwood paste. In some sects the tilak is applied on as many as thirty-two parts of the body in addition to the forehead. While the tilak is often smeared in paste form it can also take elaborate and more precise forms and shapes such as three horizontal lines, a crescent moon, trident, two vertical lines in the shape of the letter U, central lines with a dot among many others depending on the religious sect.
The Tilak and bindi may be related in the sense they are used on the forehead but the two terms cannot be used synonymously as there are major differences between the two terms. The tilak is basically a powder or paste applied on the forehead while a bindi may be in the form of a paste or mor popularly and frequently used a decorative and colorful sticker in various shapes, sizes and colors. A bindi is used only by women whereas a tilak can be applied even by the males during religious occasions. A Hindu woman wears a bindi to signify her married status or for enhancing her looks.
The Tilak is used every day by the holy men such as saints, sadhus and religious individuals to signify their religious affiliation. Some may wear the tilak on special religious occasions as part of a ritual or on weddings. A tilak is generally applied by the temple priest to the devotees visiting the temple, symbolizing the deity’s blessings. Tilak marks are usually applied with the help of a metal stamp or just by hand.