The Hindu Tradition of Sacred Body Marks

Various religious marks are observed among Hindu devotees worldwide, whether a Tilak, Vibhuti, or sandal paste adorning the forehead. These marks serve as external symbols reflecting people’s religious beliefs and affiliations.

Similar to customs in other faiths, Indian tradition boasts unique practices in this regard. These markings are applied either as part of daily rituals or during special occasions, signifying the devotee’s lineage or sampradaya. Let us have look at some of these:


Vibhuti, also known as Bhasma or sacred ash, holds deep significance among devotees of Shiva. Typically applied on the forehead in three horizontal lines forming a tripundra, it symbolizes the divine connection with Shiva. When adorned with a red spot in the center, it represents Shiva-Shakti. 

Sometimes, devotees may smear ashes on their forehead without forming specific lines. The ash carries profound symbolism—it signifies life as it remains after the combustion of all wood. Similarly, it reflects the eternal truth of Lord Shiva, which persists even after the dissolution of the entire universe. 

Moreover, the application of ashes reminds us of the transient nature of life. The term “Vibhuti” also connotes the divine’s glorious attributes. Typically, Bhasma is obtained from the ash generated during Homa, a sacrificial fire ritual in which special wood, along with ghee and herbs, is offered as worship to the Lord.


Tilak, or tilaka or tika, is a long vertical line or two applied on the forehead using vermilion or sandal paste, symbolizing devotion to Vishnu. The specific style of Tilak varies among different sects, with some traditions recognizing up to 19 different methods. These variations may involve different materials or additional embellishments to the mark. 

Additionally, Tilak can be applied to twelve different parts of the body, including the head, neck, arms, chest, torso, stomach, and shoulders. Interestingly, Tilak is sometimes applied to indicate a visit to the temple, regardless of the individual’s religious affiliation. It’s also noteworthy that devotees of the Divine Mother may also use Tilak to symbolize their devotion.

Urdhva Pundra

Urdhva Pundra is the distinctive mark worn by followers of Sri Vaishnavism. It consists of a vertical ‘U’ shape drawn on the forehead, with a red vertical line in the center. The two lines symbolize the divine feet of Lord Narayana, while the red line represents Divine Mother Lakshmi. This mark, also known as Namam or SrichurNam, is a common sight among priests and devotees in Vishnu temples across South India. 

Typically made using sandal paste or gopichandana, these marks are applied daily or on special occasions. Sometimes, special mantras are recited while applying these marks, adding a spiritual dimension to the ritual.

Why Hindu

We, a group of youths born into Hindu families, were raised in the rich culture of Vedic Sanatan Dharma, embracing its cultures and traditions. Post-graduation, recognizing the immense value of our Sanatan Dharma for humanity, we initiated the "Why Hindu" project. With guidance from our elders, we aim to create awareness about Hindu Dharma, delve into Vedic scripture, explore Vedic mantras, and elucidate the significance of festivals. Through this endeavor, we strive to share the profound teachings of our heritage, fostering understanding and appreciation for the timeless principles of Sanatan Dharma.

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