Why we wear Tilak?
This compilation of information will explain what tilak is and why it is worn. As anyone who is familiar with the Vedic tradition knows, many of its followers wear marking on the foreheads. This is called tilak. Some tilak markings are made with ash, some with clay or soil, some are red dots with kum kum, or dyed rice flour, or red dots with additional applications like a few grains of rice stuck to it. Some tilak appears as three lines of ash going horizontally across the forehead that indicates one is a Shaivite, or a small triangle on the nose with a "V" shape rising vertically up on the forehead from between the eyebrows, which indicates one is a Vaishnava. This is a sign of the foot of Lord Vishnu, recited while chanting the name of Lord Vishnu.
There are different reasons why this is done and what they mean, but here is a description of why Vaishnavas wear their tilok, especially with Gopi-candana (or Gopi Chand). Gopi Candana is the soil that comes from a place not far from Dwaraka. The history is that this is the place where the gopis entered the river to leave their bodies after Lord Krishna left this planet to return to His spiritual abode. Thus, they also followed in this way. The mud that used to be the banks of that river is called Gopi-candana. Vaishnavas apply this mud while chanting the names of Vishnu in twelve places on the head, arms, chest and back. The process marks the body as a temple, purifies the body, and also acts as protection from evil influences, ghosts, etc. By seeing this tilok on ourselves or other devotees, it serves as a constant reminder of Lord Krishna. Tilak is also used in Deity worship, offered to the Deities and also used with lemon juice to polish brass deities.
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The Glories of Gopi-candana Tilaka
Śrī Garga Saṁhitā, Canto Six,
If a Vaisnava who wears the sacred tilaka mark which goes upward like a flame eats in anyone's house some grains, I (the Supreme Personality of Godhead) liberate his twenty previous generations from their suffering in hellish planets. [Hari Bhakti Vilasa 4/203 from Brahmanda Purana spoken by the Supreme Lord]
Oh king of the birds (Garuda), if gopicandana is marked on anyone's forehead by the mercy of the Supreme Lord, no planets (Sun, Moon, Mars, etc.), Yaksas (semi demigods), Pisacas (ghosts and devils), snakes and demons can harm him. [Hari Bhakti Vilasa 4/238 from Garuda Purana spoken by Narada Muni]
1. Atharvana Upanisad
Anyone who marks his body with the tilak which resembles the lotus feet of Lord hari becomes dear to the Paramatma. He becomes fortunate and attains liberation.
2. Maha Upanisad
One gets released of all the bondage of samsara when one marks his body with the tilak markings and knows Narayana who is known by karma, jnana and bhakti yogas. Ultimately, he attains Lord Visnu.
3. Agni Purana
A brahmana should not wear the three lined tilak across (tiryak pundra) even for as a joke or play. One should mark his body with the vertical tilak only according to the prescribed rules.
4. Brahmanda Purana
A brahmana should wear urdhva pundra; a ksatriya ardha candrakara (half-moon) pundra; vaisya round shaped pundra; and a sudra tri pundra (horizontal tiryak pundra). A brahmana should never wear the horizontal tilak. He is to be considered a sudra if he wears it.
One should meditate on Me by chanting Om and should mark his body with vertical tilak daily. Anyone who marks thus attains sayujya liberation.
6. Vasista smrti
One should mark the tilak on his forehead as follows: he should start from the nose tip and go till his kesa (hair). The width should be one angula (circa 1 inch). This is urdhva pundra laksana.
7. Sanat Kumara Samhita
Urdhva pundra should be worn with clay and should be worn with a gap inbetween and nicely. In between the two lines, one should mark Sri or Laksmi in the form of Haridhra curna. One should not mark anything else inbetween. Anyone who marks like this is freed from all sinful reactions. Anyone who marks the tilak without any gap is condemned.
8. Padma Purana
Those devotees on whose neck tulasi kanti mala and lotus seed kanti malas are hanging and on whose shoulders there are the markings of conch and cakra and on whose body there are 12 tilak markings, they purify the entire universe immediately.
9. Isvara samhita
Anyone who marks his body with the clay which has touched Lord Visnu's body attains the benefit of an asvamedha sacrifice and is glorified in Visnu's abode. One should mark inbetween the vertical lines mother Laksmi with the help of yellow curna or powder.
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