In Hinduism, the tilak (Sanskrit tilaka, “mark”) is a mark made on a Hindu's forehead. On a man, the tilak takes the form of a line or lines and usually indicates his sectarian affiliation. On women, a tilak usually takes the form of a bindi dot, which has its own symbolism
The tilak is worn every day by sadhus and pious householders, and on special occasions like weddings and religious rituals. A tilak is also applied by a priest during a visit to the temple as a sign of the deity's blessing, for both men and women (and western tourists, too).
Tilak marks are applied by hand or with a metal stamp. They might be made of ash from a sacrificial fire, sandalwood paste, turmeric, cow dung, clay, charcoal, or red lead. In addition to its religious symbolism, the tilak has a cooling effect on the forehead and this can assist in concentration and meditation.
Among some sects the tilak is made on 2, 5, 12, or 32 parts of the body as well as on the forehead. Often a tilak is just a smear of paste, but other times it is more precise and elaborate.
Saivites (followers of Shiva) wear a tilak of three horizontal lines across the forehead, with or without a red dot. Sometimes a crescent moon or trident is included. The devotees of Shiva usually use sacred ashes (Bhasma) for the tilak.
Among Vaishnavites (followers of Vishnu), the many tilak variations usually include two or more vertical lines resembling the letter U, which symbolizes the foot of Vishnu.
There is sometimes a central line or dot. Most Vaishanative tilaks are made of sandalwood paste (Chandan).
The worshippers of the goddess Devi or Shakti apply Kumkum, a red tumeric powder.
"tilak." Encyclopædia Britannica (2007). Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
"Tilak." Swami Shivananda, Hinduism.co.nz