Hindu Facial Mark Meanings

In hinduism, marks on the forehead indicate religious sectarianism.
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Facial marks are worn by Hindus to signify religious, cultural or marital status. They vary in color, shape, design and location, depending on the religious orientation and gender of the wearer. The most common marks are the tilak lines used by men to indicate sectarian following and the bindi used by married women. Other marks are also used to ward off evil and bad luck.

1 Significance

Hindu forehead marks hold great spiritual significance, as they are symbolic representations of the third eye. In Hinduism, the mythological third eye is used by the wearer to acquire spiritual insight that is not perceived by normal sight. It represents, with the right training and spiritual orientation, the advanced human ability to see into the spiritual realm. It also serves as a constant reminder to wearers to be mindful of their faith.

2 Tilaka

In a religious context, the forehead marks worn by Hindu men, known as tilaka, are sectarian marks indicative of the religious following of the individual. A follower of Vishnu wears one or multiple vertical marks across the forehead whereas a follower of Shiva wears three horizontal lines. Hindu texts elaborate on the rules for when, how and with what substance the markings should be applied. The mark can be worn daily or only during special ceremonies and religious occasions, depending on the local traditions and religiosity of the wearer.

3 Bindi

Although women also may be seen wearing a tilaka, it is more common for them to wear a bindi on the forehead. A bindi differs from a tilaka in that it is worn to signify marriage or simply for decorative purposes. It does not hold particular religious significance nor does it indicate sectarian affiliation. In addition to the bindi, some Hindu women also wear a line of red powder called sindur in the part of their hair to indicate a married status.

4 Evil Eye

It is customary for a black mark to be painted on the foreheads of children to protect them from the evil eye. In Hinduism, the eye is the most powerful point of the body that gives off energy. The concept of the evil eye is the belief that a person who is on the receiving end of an envious glance will encounter ill luck. Whether the nature of the look is malicious or admirable is irrelevant, as jealousy is the root power of the evil eye. The black mark is intended to ward off the evil eye from bringing bad luck to children.

Rachel Alexander is a cultural and political area specialist of South Asia and the Middle East. She received the State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in 2011, and again in 2012, to live in northern India and study advanced Hindi. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from Loyola University of Chicago.