Tilak is worn on the Ajna Chakra, the center of forehead, on the space between the eyebrows. Tilak is applied on the point at which the third eye or the spiritual eye is believed to open. All the actions of humans are governed by this specific point. Application of tilak is customary and infact, most of the Hindu ceremonies begin with the application of tilak. Well, Tilak can be made by using sandal paste, turmeric, kumkum or ashes. Depending on the purpose for which Tilak is applied, the material is chosen for preparing the sacred forehead mark.
- Sandal: White sandal symbolizes purity, calmness and tranquility
- Kumkum: Red kumkum signifies power, vigor, dynamism and stability
- Turmeric: Saffron colored turmeric stands for wealth, fortune, prosperity and opulence
- Holy Ashes or Vibhuti: Vibhuti represents dedication, devotion and commitment
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 a priestly or academic nature. The kshatriya applied a red kumkum mark signifying valor as he belonged to warrior races. The vaishya wore a yellow kesar or turmeric mark signifying prosperity as he was a businessman or trader devoted to creation of wealth. The sudra applied a black bhasma, kasturi or charcoal mark signifying service as he supported the work of the other three divisions. Also Vishnu worshippers apply a chandan tilak of the shape of "U", Shiva worshippers a tripundra, Devi worshippers a red dot of kumkum and so on).
Its form and color vary according to one's caste, religious sect or the form of the Lord worshipped.
There are different types of Tilak, each differing in its significance. Tilak can be applied in varied forms as a mark of auspiciousness as well as blessing. Tilak does not have single standard form and is applied differently by members affiliated with different sects and subsects. The most common form is a dot or a dot with a long vertical extension and is worn by those not affiliated with any particular sect.
In India the perpendicular Tilak distinguishes the adorer of the Preserver, from the worshipper of the Destroyer. Worshippers of Lord Vishnu, known as Vaishnavas, wear a vertical V or U shaped tilak known as Urdhavapundra, using ash (vibhuti), clay or sandalwood paste. This is a sign of preservation or protection. Worshippers of Lord Shiva, known as Saivites draw three horizontal stripes joining at corners (Tripundra) with vibhuti or sandalwood paste anda red dot between the eyebrows. This is as a reminder of God’s three-fold nature of creator, preserver, and destroyer.