Path to Siva: A Catechism for Youth

54 What Are Our Saiva Forehead Marks?§


A mother places the traditional mark on her daughter’s forehead. These sectarian marks, called tilaka, are beautiful, meaningful symbols. The Saiva tripundra and pottu are inset (lower left).§


Our forehead marks are a distinctive Hindu cultural and spiritual practice. We wear red or black dots, white stripes and designs in sandalwood paste. Most marks are sectarian. They tell the world which Hindu tradition we follow. Worshipers of Lord Vishnu often wear a U-shaped tilaka made of clay. Saivites wear three stripes of white sacred ash, called vibhuti or tiruniru, across their forehead. This mark is called a tripundra. These practices have mystical explanations. Holy ash can be seen by the devas in the inner worlds, especially during puja. This allows them to better help us. The holy ash signifies purity and the burning away of the soul’s three bonds: anava, karma and maya. Wearing it brings the blessings and protection of God Siva. It also reminds us of the temporary nature of the physical body and inspires us to strive without delay for God Siva’s grace. A dot is often worn just below the middle of the forehead. It is called bindi in Hindi and pottu in Tamil and is used by Hindus of all sects. Said to represent the “third eye” of spiritual sight, it is a reminder to use our mind’s eye or inner vision and not just see life with our physical eyes. A red bindi can indicate a woman is married. A black one, especially on a child, is intended for protection. The sacraments passed out after a puja in a Saivite temple include vibhuti, kumkum and sandalwood. Both men and women apply all three. Women usually use a smaller amount of ash on the forehead than men. Visitors to a Hindu home are often blessed first at the doorway with a pottu. We proudly wear our forehead marks, knowing they distinguish us as devout Hindus.§


GURUDEVA: We wear the pure white ash to alert the devas that we are members of this religion. This vibhuti is a sign, a way of saying, “We seek your help, and we seek your blessings.” And by seeing the ash, they can distinguish your face. …The dot worn on the forehead is a sign that one is a Hindu. The dot has a mystical meaning. It represents the third eye of spiritual sight, which sees things the physical eyes cannot see.§