Why do Indians wear marks (tilak, pottu and the like) on the forehead?

The tilak or pottu involves the feeling of sancitity in the wearer and others. It is recognised as a religious mark. Its form and colour vary according to one’s caste, religious sect or the form of the Lord worshipped.

In earlier times, the four castes (based on varna or colour) – Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra – applied marks differently. The brahmin applied a white chandan mark signifying purity, as his profession was of priestly or academic nature. The kshatriya applied a red kumkum mark signifying valour as he belonged to warrior races. The vaishya wore a yellow kesar or turmeric mark signifying prosperity as he was the businessman or trader devoted toย creation of wealth. The sudra applied black bhasma, kasturi or charcoal mark signifying service as he supported the work of the other three divisions.

Also Vishnu worshippers apply a chandhan tilak of the shape of “U,” Shiva worshippers a tripundra of bhasma, Devi worshippers a red dot of kumkum and so on.

The tilak covers the spot between the eyebrows, which is the seat of memory and thinking. It is known as the Aajna Chakra in the language of yoga. The tillak is applied with the prayer, “May I remember the Lord. May this pious feeling pervade allย my activities. May I be rightious in my dedds.” Even when we temporirily forget this prayerful attitude the mark on another reminds us of our resolve. The tilak is thus a blessing of the Lord and a protection against wrong tendencies and forces.

The entire body emanates energy in the form of electromagnestic waves – the forehead and the subtle spot between the eyebrows especially so. That is why worry generates heat and causes a headache. The tilak and pottu cools the forehead, protect us and prevents energy loss. Sometimes the entire forehead is covered with chandan or bhasma. Using plastic reusable ‘stick bindis’ is not very beneficial, even though it serves the purpose of decoration.

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