24th August 2006, 08:38 AM #1
Why do Hindus wear religious marks ?
Wearing religious marks ( also called Tilak) is a custom followed by Hindus. It mainly invokes a feeling of sanctity by the wearer and the onlookers as well. Religious marks are worn by men and women with ashes, clay, kumkum (Powdered red turmeric) or sandalwood powder. It is a visible sign of a person as belonging to Hindu culture.The Tilak is also believed to have medicinal and protective functions. The pastes applied are considered "cooling", and are applied to the ajna chakra, a concentration of spiritual energy on the forehead between the eyebrows. The Tilak is also considered to bestow spiritual comfort and protection against demons, bad luck, and other evil forces.
Saivites typically use ashes ( called Vibhuti) and draw their tilaks as three horizontal lines ( tripundra). Vaishnavites apply clay (preferably from holy rivers) or sandalwood paste. They apply the material in two vertical lines, which may be connected at the bottom, forming either a simple U shape or a form said to be like a tulasi leaf. Their Tilak is called the urdhva-pundra.
Vibhuti used by Saivites, means glory and it is also called bhasma (that by which our sins are destroyed and the Lord is remembered ). The holy ash is worn with adoration and respect. This is also known as “ thiru neeru” in Tamil. The holy Ash has lots of spiritual meaning. There are many hymns praising the glory of the holy Ash and one popular one is “Mandiramaavathu neeru”. Vibhuti is so named because it endows one wih prosperity.
Ash is the substance that results when things are completely burnt off. In natural terms it is a final state. It is also known as Bhasma because it burns away all sins. This ash is the ultimate reality and cannot be changed any more. By applying this as a symbol of Divinity, we prepare ourselves to give up all desires, burn our attachments and temptations and make ourselves pure, holy and sacred, for liberation.
Vaishnavites use clay for their Srichurnam. This is also called “ thirumann” ( mann is the tamil word for clay) and the shape resembles the lotus feet of the Lord. This is known as Srichurnam and wearing this is as an important part of the daily rites of a Sri Vaishnavite. The Tilak is applied to twelve parts of the body, reciting the twelve names of the Lord. Sri represents the permanence of a Jiva wedded to the Lord. Vedas say, by wearing this mark, he becomes fortunate, gets released of all the worldly bondages and attains liberation. In Sri Vaishnava sampradaya the tilak is made out of the white mud found in anthills. The scriptures tell us that the mud from the base of a Tulasi plant and the white mud from within the anthill are both pure and best for making tilak. The Sri Vaishnavas will draw two lines representing the feet of Sri Narayana, and in the middle they will put a red line to represent Lakshmi Devi. Because the Sri Vaishnava sampradaya begins with Sri Lakshmi Devi, and they approach Narayana only through Lakshmi, their tilak reflects this process of surrender. Using mud also makes us reflect that we come from clay and go back to clay.
The tilaks of each sampradaya actually depict the siddhanta of the sampradaya.
The scriptures say that a Hindu without tilak is worthy of condemnation and is compared to intellect without clarity
Women wear bindi traditionally on the forehead as a red dot. 'Bindi' is derived from the Sanskrit word 'bindu' or a drop, and suggests the mystic third eye of a person.It is applied as an ornamental mark on the forehead between the two eyebrows — a spot considered a major nerve point in human body since ancient times. The bindi is believed to prevent the loss of "energy", as well as bringing spiritual protection against demons or bad luck.
The red 'kumkum' between the eyebrows is said to retain energy in the human body and control the various levels of concentration. It is also the central point of the base of the creation itself — symbolising auspiciousness and good fortune. Traditional bindi is red in colour. Now women try out all sorts of shapes and designs !
Let us understand the deep significance of Tilak and adhere to traditions !
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24th August 2006, 09:16 AM #2
Dear Ms C,
Just finished reading this beautiful piece. I have always wondered about the significance of the red tilakam in the Vaishanva traditions and now i understand its significance. I only hope this traditions of ours continues for generations to come.
24th August 2006, 09:33 AM #3
Hello Vandhana !
Thankyou for the prompt feedback. For Vibhuti, I got the points easily. But for thirumann, I did not get any lead, till Paramacharya's books came to my rescue. But how many, do you think, believe in this tradition? It is sad that many in the present generation are giving this up & hence I included the line
"The scriptures say that a Hindu without tilak is worthy of condemnation and is compared to intellect without clarity !"
That sums it all up!
Love & regards,
24th August 2006, 09:44 AM #4
My dear Chitra!
What a lovely theme and so well explained, as always. Yes, over the time, I have heard so much about 'why' we mark our forheads. I have always been asked if it was the symbol of our caste and have vehemently replied in negative. Have heard about the powerful energy spot between the eyebrows ( pituatary gland is positioned there) and how it has to be protected with our tilakam.
Our culture and its significances are truly amazing and thanks to you, we are exploring various points through your simple and understandable explanations. You have packed this weeks information neatly into a beautiful Kunguma Chimzh and we just have to adorn our minds with it.
This topic also complements our thoughts about our favorite attire, the sari, in another thread. We indians can be proud that both our bindis and saris have invaded the world's fashion conscience today!
24th August 2006, 09:55 AM #5
Kumkuma chimizh - a lovely expression!
My dear Kamla,
Very nice to see your feedback.
In my Madurai days, there were many Vaishnavas living near our house & I used to like the single red namam those ladies put on their foreheads. Now, it is all sadly forgotten!
You are right about sarees. I still feel, Padmini draped in a saree looked much more "exciting and voluptuous, but still modest" than the present day Trishas and Namitas!
Love & regards,
24th August 2006, 10:22 AM #6
Another beautiful topic nicely explanied. Your description answers all the questions like why we put tilakams, the difference in wearing the tilakams between vaishnavites and saivites and why ladies wear bindi. I really enjoyed ur comparision of a Hindu without a Tilak to an intellect without clarity.
Thanking u for yet another lovely piece.
Love and Regards
24th August 2006, 10:28 AM #7
My dear Priya!
Thankyou very much for the feedback.
Please remember that when I read a lot of books to write these topics, I too learn a lot. I enjoy that very much.
Knowing how religious you & Amar are, I can imagine how much you will relish these postings!
Love & regards,
24th August 2006, 12:07 PM #8
Dear Chitra ma'am
Great to see the topic on tilakams and it's purpose .Lovely... I am enjoying myself thoroughly reading such enlightening topics in your column.
I have a doubt.. please pardon my ignorance..
What is the reason for married women applying kumkumam on their vagidu? Is it to distinguish between married and unmarried women or is there a deeper meaning behind this custom?
24th August 2006, 12:37 PM #9
you always are successful in giving a clearer picture of something already known. I enjoyed this post about the tilak very much.
I used to wear vibuti just above the tilak (made with maroon Shingar ) and it used to be visible the whole day (I used to live in Kerala then). But since I sweat a lot in Chennai, I use sticker bindis (otherwise I would have red streaks on my face) and the vibhuti just vanishes in minutes. I make my son wear the vibhuti everyday to school. Apart from the religious aspect, the blank forehead is not a good sight to behold.
And Malayali Hindus always wear the sandal prasadam, even without bindi. And that also gives a serene look to the person. It is not compulsory to wear a bindi in their custom. But nowadays, even Christians there wear the bindi and the red spot on the hairline.
With warm wishes,
24th August 2006, 12:44 PM #10
I think kumkum is worn on the parting to prolong one's husband's life, that is what I have heard. North Indians are very particular about the sindoor on the maang (on the parting). It is said that a the wife draws the kumkum on the parting, she prays for the long life of her husband. It is an important ritual in their marriages.
And you would like to know this news also, in olden days women used to wear red on the parting to denote that they are married and men used to wear the toe ring (metti) for the same reason. The reason is, women used to walk with their heads down and eyes downcast- they will see the metti and reaslise that the man is married. And the men folk walked upright and they would recognise the woman's status on seeing her forehead. How is it?
With warm wishes,
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