Outward symbols are necessary and beneficial. When viewed from the right angle of vision, you will find that they play a very important part in your material as well as spiritual life. Though they may look very simple and unimportant, they are very scientific and effective.
Tilaka—A Mark Of Auspiciousness
Tilaka is a mark of auspiciousness. It is put on the forehead with sandal paste, sacred ashes or Kumkuma. The devotees of Siva apply sacred ashes (Bhasma) on the forehead, the devotees of Vishnu apply sandal paste (Chandana), and the worshippers of Devi or Sakti apply Kumkuma, a red turmeric powder.
The scriptures say: “A forehead without a Tilaka, a woman without a husband, a Mantra the meaning of which is not known while doing Japa, the head that does not bend before holy personages, a heart without mercy, a house without a well, a village without a temple, a country without a river, a society without a leader, wealth that is not given away in charity, a preceptor without a disciple, a country without justice, a king without an able minister, a woman not obedient to her husband, a well without water, a flower without smell, a soul devoid of holiness, a field without rains, an intellect without clearness, a disciple who does not consider his preceptor as a form of God, a body devoid of health, a custom (Achara) without purity, austerity devoid of fellow-feeling, speech in which truth is not the basis, a country without good people, work without wages, Sannyasa without renunciation, legs which have not performed pilgrimages, a determination unaided by Viveka or discrimination, a knife which is blunt, a cow which does not give milk, a spear without a point—all these are worthy of condemnation. They exist for name’s sake only.” From this you can imagine the importance of Tilaka or the sacred mark.
Tilaka is applied at the Ajna Chakra, the space between the two eyebrows. It has a very cooling effect. Application of sandal paste has great medicinal value, apart from the spiritual influence. Application of sandal paste will nullify the heating effect when you concentrate and meditate at the Bhrumadhya. Tilaka indicates the point at which the spiritual eye opens. Lord Siva has a third eye at the Bhrumadhya. When He opens the third eye, the three worlds are destroyed. So also, when the third eve of the Jiva is opened, the three kinds of afflictions—Adhyatmika, Adhidaivika and Adhibhautika—are burnt to ashes. The three Karmas—Sanchita, Prarabdha and Agami—and also all the sins committed in the countless previous births, are burnt. When you apply the Tilaka, you mentally imagine: “I am the one non-dual Brahman free from all duality. May my eye of intuition open soon.” You should remember this every time you apply a Tilaka.
There are various methods of applying Tilaka:
- Saivas apply three horizontal lines with the sacred ashes.
- The Vaishnavas apply three vertical lines (Tripundra) on the forehead.
When they apply Tilaka, they say: “O Lord, protect me from the evil effects of the Trigunatmika Maya which has Sattva, Rajas and Tamas as its binding cords.” Some Vaishnavas apply only one vertical line. Only the method of application differs, but the significance is the same in both the Vaishnavas and the Saivas.
(pgs. 149-150, All About Hinduism)
The Vaishnavas are usually distinguished into four principal Sampradayas or sects. Of these, the most ancient is the Sri Sampradaya founded by Ramanuja Acharya. The followers of Ramanuja adore Vishnu and Lakshmi, and their incarnations. They are called Ramanujas or Sri Sampradayins or Sri Vaishnavas. They all repeat the Ashtakshara Mantra: ‘Om Namo Narayanaya.’ They put on two white vertical lines and a central red line on the forehead.
The followers of Ramananda are the Ramanandis. They are well-known in upper Hindusthan. They are a branch of the Ramanuja sect. They offer their worship to Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman. Ramananda was a disciple of Ramanuja. He flourished at Varanasi about the beginning of the fourteenth century. His followers are numerous in the Ganga valley of India. Their favourite work is the ‘Bhakti-Mala’. Their sectarian marks are like those of the Ramanujas.
Vallabhacharins Or Krishna Sampradayins
The Vallabhacharins form a very important sect in Bombay, Gujarat and the Central India. Their founder was born in the forest Champaranya in 1479. He is regarded as an incarnation of Krishna. The Vallabhacharins worship Krishna, as Bala-Gopala. Their idol is one representing Krishna in his childhood till his twelfth year. The Gosains or teachers are family men. The eight daily ceremonials for God in the temples are Mangala, Sringara, Gvala, Raja Bhoga, Utthapana, Bhoga, Sandhya and Sayana. All these represent various forms of adoration of God.
The mark on the forehead consists of two red perpendicular lines meeting in a semicircle at the root of the nose and having a round spot of red between them. The necklace and rosary are made of the stalk of the Tulasi (holy Basil).
This sect is prominent in Bengal and Orissa. The founder, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu or Lord Gouranga, was born in 1485. He was regarded as an incarnation of Lord Krishna. He took Sannyasa at the age of twenty-four. He went to Jagannath where he taught Vaishnava doctrines.
The Chaitanyas worship Lord Krishna as the Supreme Being. All castes are admissible into the sect. The devotees constantly repeat the Name of Lord Krishna.
Chaitanya’s Charitamirita by Krishna Das is a voluminous work. It contains anecdotes of Chaitanya and his principal disciples and the expositions of the doctrines of this sect. It is written in Bengali.
The Vaishnavas of this sect wear two white perpendicular streaks of sandal or Gopichandana (a kind of sacred earth) down the forehead uniting at the root of the nose and continuing to near the tip. They wear a close necklace of small Tulasi beads of three strings.
The founder of this sect is Nimbarka or Nimbaditya. He was originally named Bhaskara Acharya. He is regarded as an incarnation of the Sun-God (Surya). The followers worship Krishna and Radha conjointly. Their chief scripture is the Srimad-Bhagavata Purana.
The followers have two perpendicular yellowish lines made by Gopichandana earth drawn from the root of the hair to the commencement of each eyebrow and there meeting in a curve. This represents the footprint of the Lord Vishnu.
The Madhvas are Vaishnavas. They are known as Brahma Sampradayins. The founder of the sect is Madhvacharya, otherwise called Ananda Tirtha and Purna-Prajna. He was born in 1200. He was a great opponent of Sankaracharya’s Advaita system of philosophy. He is regarded as an incarnation of Vayu or the Wind-God. He erected and consecrated at Udipi the image of the Lord Krishna.
The Gurus of the Madhva sect are Brahmins and Sannyasins. The followers bear the impress of the symbols of Vishnu upon their breasts and shoulders. They are stamped with a hot iron. Their frontal mark consists of two perpendicular lines made with Gopichandana and joined at the root of the nose. They make straight black line, with a charcoal from incense offered to Krishna, which terminates in a round mark made with turmeric.
(pgs. 135-139, All About Hinduism)