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tilak

("mark"), in Hinduism, a mark generally made on the forehead, indicating a man's sectarian affiliation. The marks are made by hand or with a metal stamp, using ash from a sacrificial fire, sandalwood paste, turmeric, cow dung, clay, charcoal, or red lead. Among some cults the mark is made on 2, 5, 12, or 32 parts of the body as well as on the forehead. Among Saivas (followers of Siva), the tilak usually takes the form of three horizontal parallel lines across the forehead, with or without a red dot. Sometimes a crescent moon or trident denotes a Saiva. Among Vaishnavas (followers of Vishnu), the many tilak variations follow a general pattern of two or more vertical lines resembling the letter U and representing the foot of Vishnu, with or without a central line or dot

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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