Some of the most striking forms of body marking is sectarian forehead marks utilised by Hindus from time immemorial till date. Indian Hindus have been using a large variety of materials in order to mark their foreheads.
These markings are distinct and the tiny variations among each are said to enable differentiation between sects. One can simply gain knowledge about the sect of a person simply by looking at their forehead marks. These markings are very prominent among the orthodox Hindus due to their above-mentioned cause, especially in the southern region of India where these practices are followed on a daily basis.
Observation has led to the conclusion that these markings are very important to the brahmin community as they are approached by others in order to gain blessings. Without these markings, they are not distinguishable and will not be approached.
The sect which follows the Vishnu or the ‘Viashnavites’ as they are so-called, are distinguished by vertical marks on the forehead. Markings include a single vertical line, two vertical lines coupled with a dot under the lines. These markings are done so in order to represent the deity (the dot) as the deity is said to have no length or breadth, a unit of perfection and thus is limitless.
The followers of Shiva or the ‘Shaivites’ utilise semicircle marks or horizontal lines (usually three, one under the other). They also add on a red dot on the lines, over them or below them, the position of which depends on the sect the individual belongs to. This class is identified by other markings such as triangular markings, Shiva’s trishula, crescent moon etc. The ‘trishula’ is said to represent the all-pervading power of Shiva over the three worlds - the heaven, earth and hell.
The ones who follow the shakti, also known as the energetic and dynamic female symbol are said to depict their support of the same via a yellow dot made with saffron, borax, turmeric etc. This sect is also known as the Shakt Panth and they follow and believe in female Goddesses namely Durga, Kali, Parvati etc. as they are symbols of Shakti.
All these marks are called sectarian marks and are said to be prepared from ashes of alkaline nature. Also called as bhasma, these ashes are made from vegetable, mineral ashes, ashes obtained by burning cow-dung cakes (by burning them in a special type of sacrificial fire). These ashes are then mixed with various other substances like cow’s milk, gum and water and moulded into a ball shape. These are used as desired by later breaking and crushing the ball and mixing it with water to make a usable paste. This very powder is also used to clean devotional and ritual metal objects.
Pure white clay has also been reported to have been used. The clay is specially sourced from Gujarat from a pool at Dwarka which is said to be the one where the Gopis jumped into as soon as they heard of Lord Krishna’s death.
Yellow ocher is sourced from the bank of the Ganges from Haridwar. This very material is said to be subjected to its higher oxidation state which gives it its unique red colour, known as red ocher. Both are also widely used in order to create forehead marks.
This rich treasure of information on a simple subject like forehead marking gives us great insight into our ancient beliefs and practices. It also stresses the importance and devotion of our people towards sacred or pious places.
Picture Credits: Traditional Jewellery of India, Oppi Untracht, Imagebank, Wikipedia.