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Why do we wear Tilakam-Common Questions-Basis of Rituals Part 2


In the previous series we looked at why a Karpoor Arati is given at the end of the pooja ceremony.Today we turn our attention to the basis for wearing a Tilakam/Bottu.Even though nowadays the Bottu consists of Kumkum powder which is basically dried saffron coloured with red lime ,previously the Tilakam was always applied with Chandan ( Sandalwood Powder ) .The same practise morphs into applying Vibhuti ( Ash ) and Sindhoor ( Vermillon Paste ) for Lord shiva and Lord Anjaneya respectively.

Let us examine the significance of these substances and any healing effects and then we will deal with why they are applied to the forehead.


2.Kumkum ( Dried Saffron powder treated with Lime )

3.Sindhoor (Vermilion Powder )

4.Chandan ( Sandalwood Powder )

1.Vibhuti has many meanings as all words in sanskrit potray different meanings at different levels of understanding for different people. The word means great power , it also means pervading and abundant. Vi+Bhuti = free from the constraints of the five elements ( bhuta ) and hence  is all pervading.

In the normal sense of the word it also means the ash that is obtained after a homa has been completed. Vibhuti can come from different sources , it could be the ash from a homakunda , yagnashala or the cremation ground. Now why is Vibhuti used for Shiva. Lord Shiva in the hindu trinity of gods is the controller of destruction of the material universe. What is night to the normal person is day to the yogi .

Gita Chapter 2 Verse 69

yā niśā sarva-bhūtānāḿ

tasyāḿ jāgarti saḿyamī

yasyāḿ jāgrati bhūtāni

sā niśā paśyato muneḥ


yā — what; niśā — is night; sarva — all; bhūtānām — of living entities; tasyām — in that; jāgarti — is wakeful; saḿyamī — the self-controlled; yasyām — in which; jāgrati — are awake; bhūtāni — all beings; sā — that is; niśā — night; paśyataḥ — for the introspective; muneḥ — sage.


What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.

Lord Shiva though by his action of destroying the material universe seems very fierce to approach, In reality he is a very beautiful manifestation of divinity which awakens us to the real world by destroying the desires of the material world.

Similarly the Ash of the Homakunda is obtained after the fuel in the Homakunda has been exhausted.The fuel represents the various tendencies and desires of the human being. By applying the Vibhuti in a Shiva temple you are constantly reminded that so must your desires also be transmuted into something higher.Vibhu when ingested has many healing properties as well due to it being the residue of many herbs which get burnt in the homakunda.

Bhasma Harati -Vibhuti Arati of Ujjain Mahakala -Lord Shiva in the form of All consuming time

2.Coming to Kumkum which is basically dried saffron powder which has been treated with Lime solution . Kumkum is mostly worn by the women of India and is used for worship of the Goddess as a part of Kumkum Archana where the Goddess is worshipped with mounds of Kumkum.  Safron which is the principal component of Kumkum is derived from the extract of the Saffron Crocus plant ( Crocus Sativus ). Saffron when ingested has many uses and science has documented that it has anti carcinogenic properties. Some of the benefits of administering saffron as follows.

External uses : It improves complexion and hence is used for application on hyper pigmented lesions of the skin. It is also used for application  in headache. Its paste is applied on wounds. For weak eye sight, a mixture of rosewater and kesar is put in the eyes. Its paste is also used in hepatitis. It is useful in nervous debility, migraine, rheumatoid arthritis, pain caused by vata, loss of appetite. liver disorders, heart diseases and blood disorders, Kesar is used in dysuria. It is also useful in impotency, dysmenorrhoea, amenorrhoea and painful labour, It is very useful in small pox. It has also been used as a rejuvenator since ancient, times.

Crocus Sativus -Saffron plant indigenous only to India , Central Asia

In the Rig veda the mother goddess is also praised as Ushas the goddess of dawn who is decked in a bright saffron red and is the dispeller of darkness of the night of ignorance. In later systems Goddess Gauri the most pleasing form of Parvati was identified with Saffron. Hence the herb itself is very dear to the mother goddess and has been used since time immemorial by the Indian women to signify all auspiscious functions. The same herb is used for the worship of the divine mother both in the form of yellow saffron and in its modified form as Kumkum . In both forms it symbolizes purity and when one applies Kumkum in a goddess temple it should constantly remind one of  keeping inner purity and keep one’s focus on the divine.

3.Sindhoor (Vermillion) is a modified version of saffron made into a paste which is commonly found applied in Lord Hanuman temples. The colour morphs into a deep red which symbolizes the immense strength of Lord Hanuman and is the colour also of boldness. What better attribute can describe the divine strength and courage of the Vayuputra. Also the colour red signifies the muladhara chakra (the very first chakra in the human body ) and it is the basis of the survival instinct and deep rooted fear complexes. Gazing at this deep red releives some of the fears and hence that is why the Lord of courage Lord Hanuman is painted a deep red colour in temples.

The application of the Hanuman sindhoor reminds us to never give up and fight with life’s problems with renewed vigour.It is the colour of the warriors.

Ganapati Sachidananda performing abhisheka to Lord Hanuman

Saffron and Kumkum the two shades of life

4.Chandan Tilak is made of Sandalwood paste immersed in water. It has a very cooling effect on the body and originally all Tilaks were applied only with Chandan powder.The Sandalwood powder when immersed in water releases a very fragrant essence which is very soothing to the nerves of the body. The main purpose of using this water immersed sandalwood paste was two fold. One was to soothe the frayed nerves of the temple goers and the second was therapeutic in nature.

Therapeutic Effect
Sandalwood oil contains a high percentage of terpene containing alcohols, primarily alpha santalol and beta-santalol. These substances, characterized by their antispasmodic, germicidal and expectorant effects, make the oil valuable for treating respiratory and minor urinary tract infections. Sandalwood oil also counteracts restlessness, anxiety and depression.

External application-Aromatic effect of Chandan via smell.

  • Inhaling steam with sandalwood oil is believed to have an antispasmodic effect on inflamed, infected respiratory passages for thos suffering from bronchitis. Add 3 drops of sandalwood oil to 1 gal. of hot water, and inhale the vapor deeply through your nose and mouth. Place a towel over your head so the vapors do not escape and you get the steam’s full effect.
  • Sitz baths with sandalwood oil may help heal minor bladder inflammations. The oil in the bathwater warms and relaxes the tissues and kills germs. Mix 8 drops of sandalwood oil with 4 tbsp. of sweetcream and add to a bathtub half filled with water. Stay in the sitz bath for 15 min. afterward, rest, covered warmly. For atleast 30 min.
  • Sandalwood is an excellent hair dressing. Its deeply soothing aroma lingers in the hair and gently diffuses its scent all day. Mix 2 drops of sandalwood oil with 2 tsp. of sweet almond or jojoba oil; you can also add both jasmine and rosemary oils.
  • Face creams, oils and masks that are made with sandalwood essential oil can provide aromatic, emollient skin care for both dry and normal skin types.

Sandalwood Powder

Shiva linga covered with Sandalwood powder

We have looked at the significance of the materials , physical healing benefits of the materials and symbolism of the action.

Now we turn to the main reason why a bottu or tilakam is applied.

Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavat Gita

Chapter 5 Verse 27

sparsan krtva bahir bahyams
caksus caivantare bhruvoh
pranapanau samau krtva

munir moksa-parayanah
yah sada mukta eva sah


sparsan–external sense objects, such as sound, etc.; krtva–keeping; bahih–external; bahyan–unnecessary; caksuh–eyes; ca–also; eva–certainly; antare–within; bhruvoh–of the eyebrows; prana-apanau–up-and down-moving air; samau–in suspension; krtva–doing so; nasa-abhyantara–within the nostrils; carinau–blowing; yata–controlled; indriya–senses; manah–mind; buddhih–intelligence; munih–the transcendentalist; moksa–liberation; parayanah–being so destined; vigata–discarded; iccha–wishes; bhaya–fear; krodhah–anger; yah–one who; sada–always; muktah–liberated; eva–certainly; sah–he is.


Shutting out all external sense objects, keeping the eyes and vision concentrated between the two eyebrows, suspending the inward and outward breaths within the nostrils–thus controlling the mind, senses and intelligence, the transcendentalist becomes free from desire, fear and anger. One who is always in this state is certainly liberated.

This spot between the eyebrows is called Brurmadhya and is the meeting point of the Ida and Pingala Nadis which are respectively the left and right nostrils and channels of the human body. This point is a very effective point for meditation and hence praised so much by Lord Krishna.

By applying the Tilaka to this point we are essentially stabilizing the thought and it also gives healing to the body. The whole science of Nadi and Marma kala is built around the science of pressure points .Even a tiny amount of pressure daily on this point can do wonders in cooling the body and in healing it .

Ajna Chakra -In between the eyebrows.The place of applying Tilak

May the light of the divine shine on all of us illuminating the meaning of our traditions.

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