Applying Tilak

One of the most striking aspects of a Vaishnava’s attire is his tilak – the clay markings on his forehead. Srila Prabhupada said that just as a soldier’s regiment can be known by the uniform he wears, similarly a devotee of the Lord must wear tilak on his forehead in all conditions.

Although it is best to wear tilak all the time, some workplaces may not allow it. If a devotee cannot wear tilak to work then he can chant the appropriate mantra and apply ‘water tilak’.

Tilak is worn for both sanctification and protection. When one wears tilak, he is reminded that his body is a temple and should be respected as such. Both body and mind should be kept clean. It also reminds others who see the person wearing tilak of Krishna. There are many different understandings of what the shape of the tilak represents for Vaishnavas, but generally ISKCON devotees accept that the U-shaped mark represents the heel of Lord Krishna, and the oval part represents a Tulasi leaf.

Tilak is made of clay from any sacred place, usually the banks of a sacred river. Gaudiya Vaishnavas usually use cream-coloured clay from a sacred lake near Dwarka, India, called gopi-chandan.

How to apply tilak

Put a little water in the palm of your left hand and mix it with a piece of tilak clay until you get a smooth paste. Or you can keep a small container with tilak soaked in water until it is a creamy paste. Take some gopi-chandan with the ring finger of your right hand and mark your forehead with a vertical line from the root of your nose to your hairline. Use your dampened small finger to remove the excess tilak between the forked lines. Now make the leaf-shaped mark, which should extend from the base of the lines to about three quarters of the way down the nose.

While applying tilak to a particular part of the body, chant the appropriate mantra as shown below:

om kesavaya namah (forehead)
om narayanaya namah (stomach)
om madhavaya namah (chest)
om govindaya namah (hollow of the throat)
om visnave namah (right side)
om madhusudanaya namah (right upper arm)
om trivikramaya namah (right shoulder)
om vamanaya namah (left side)
om sridharaya namah (left upper arm)
om hrsikesaya namah (left shoulder)
om padmanabhaya namah (upper back)
om damodaraya namah (lower back)