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"Tilak" redirects here. For the Indian anti-colonial leader, see Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
A Hindu man with Shri Vaisnava tilaka marking.

In Hinduism, the tilaka (tikli or sheether harr in Bengali, tika, or tilakam or tilak in Hindi; Sanskrit: तिलक tilaka; Hindustani pronunciation: [t̪ɪˈlək])[1] is a mark worn on the forehead and other parts of the body. Tilaka may be worn on a daily basis or for special religious occasions only, depending on different customs.

Description of the tilaka[edit]

Examples of Tilaks or sect-marking

The tilaka is a mark created by the application of powder or paste on the forehead. Tilakas are vertical markings worn by Vaishnavites. The Vaishnava tilaka consists of a long vertical marking starting from just below the hairline to almost the end of one's nose tip. It is intercepted in the middle by an elongated U. There may be two marks on the temples as well. This tilaka is traditionally made with sandalwood paste.

The other major tilaka variant is often worn by the followers of Shiva and the different forms of Devi Shakti known as Rudratilaka and it's also most commonly known as Tripundra. It consists of three horizontal bands across the forehead with a single vertical band or circle in the middle. This is traditionally done with sacred ash from fire sacrifices. This variant is the more ancient of the two and shares many common aspects with similar markings worn across the world. Many worshippers of Shakti will wear a rectangular mark of kumkuma on the forehead.


similar pictography from Indus Valley Civilization

In Nepal, Bihar and other regions, the tilakam is called a tikā/teeka (टिका [ʈɪkaː][2]), and is a mixture of abir, a red powder, yoghurt, and grains of rice. The most common tikka is red powder applied with the thumb, in a single upward stroke.

Tilaka based on sect[edit]

Shri Vaisnava tilaka marking

Different Hindu traditions use different materials and shapes to make the tilaka.[3]

  • Saivites typically use vibhuti in three horizontal lines across the forehead. A bindu of sandalwood paste with a dot of kumkum in the centre is often worn with the vibhuti (tripundra).
  • Vaishnavas apply clay from a holy river or place (such as Vrindavanam[disambiguation needed] 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. See also Srivaishnava Urdhva Pundra, the Srivaishnava tilaka.
  • Ganapatya use red sandal paste (rakta candana).[4]
  • Shaktas use kumkuma, or powdered red turmeric. They draw one vertical line or dot.
  • Honorary tilakas (Raja tilaka and Vira tilaka are usually applied as a single vertical red line. Raja tilaka will be used while enthroning kings or inviting prominent personalities. Vira tilaka is used to anoint victors or leaders after a war or a game.
  • Swaminarayana tilaka is U-shaped in the middle of forehead along with the red dot in the middle of U (known as chandlo).

Sikh sects apply the tilaka as well. The Darshan Darbar devotees apply red tilaka to the forehead. This tilaka is a long red mark veritically applied. Saint Baba Budha ji applied tilaka to the first five Sikh Guru's.

Types of tilaka[edit]

There are nineteen types of tilak:.[5]

  • Vijayshree - white tilaka urdhwapundra with a white line in the middle,[5] founded by Swami Balanand of Jaipur
  • Bendi tilaka - white tilak urdhwapundra with a white round mark in the middle,[6] founded by Swami Ramprasad Acharya of Badasthan Ayodhya.
  • Chaturbhuji tilaka - white tilak urdhwapundra with the upper portion turned 90 degrees in the opposite direction, no shri in the middle, founded by Narayandasji of Bihar, ascetics of Swarg Dwar of Ayodhya follow it.

Other tilakas[edit]

These include 13 Sri Tilaks[7]

  1. Vallabh Sampraday Tilak
  2. Sri Tilaka of Rewasa Gaddi
  3. Ramacharandas Tilaka
  4. Srijiwarama ka Tilaka
  5. Sri Janakraja Kishori Sharan Rasik Aliji ka Tilaka
  6. Sri Rupkalajee ka Tilaka
  7. Rupsarasji ka Tilaka
  8. Ramasakheeji ka Tilaka
  9. Kamanendu Mani ka Tilaka
  10. Karunasindhuji ka Tilaka
  11. Swaminarayana Tilaka
  12. Nimbarka ka Tilaka
  13. Madhwa ka Tilaka

Relationship to bindi[edit]

The terms tilaka and bindi overlap somewhat, but are not synonymous. Among the differences:

  • A tilaka is always applied with paste or powder, whereas a bindi may be paste or jewel.
  • A tilaka is usually applied for religious or spiritual reasons, or to honour a personage, event, or victory. A bindi can signify marriage, or be simply for decorative purposes.
  • A bindi is worn only between the eyes, whereas a tilaka can also cover the face or other parts of the body. Tilaka can be applied to twelve parts of the body: head, forehead, neck, both upper-arms, both forearms, chest, both sides of the torso, stomach and shoulder.
  • Bindi is worn by women, whereas tilaka is worn by both men and women.

Different styles[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ V. S. Apte. A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary. p. 475.
  2. ^ Wells, John (11 September 2009). "But Soft!". John Wells's Phonetic Blog. Retrieved 11 September 2009. 
  3. ^ Makhan Jha, Anthropology of ancient Hindu kingdoms: a study in civilizational perspective, Page 126
  4. ^ p. 202, note 40. Grimes, John A. Ganapati: Song of the Self. (State University of New York Press: Albany, 1995) ISBN 0-7914-2440-5
  5. ^ a b Vijay Prakash Sharma, The sadhus and Indian civilisation, page 72
  6. ^ Vijay Prakash Sharma, The sadhus and Indian civilisation, page 73
  7. ^ Vijay Prakash Sharma, The sadhus and Indian civilisation, page 75


  • Entwistle, A. W. (1981). Vaishnava tilakas: Sectarian marks worn by worshippers of Vishnu (IAVRI bulletin). International Association of the Vrindaban Research Institute. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]