Object 2: The Tilaka

May 27, 2021


A Tilaka is an auspicious mark worn by Hindus and made from powder or paste. Usually, it is red. It is an expression of devotion. In countries where religious freedom is permitted, Tilakas are a common sight among Hindus, making the Tilaka an interesting object for this exhibition as native people from countries other than India or Nepal, may not understand the meaning behind what Hindus are wearing on their foreheads.

The Tilaka can be worn in different shapes, indicating different religious affiliations, so that followers of a particular Hindu sector can easily identify each other. Each community of knowers has the knowledge on how and when they should wear the Tilaka. However, non- Hindus are not likely to know the difference. This object is interesting for this discussion as it shows how the same object, belonging to the same religious community, can be used differently by segmented groups of knowers. Furthermore, Christians in India also use the Tilaka but only to mark special occasions and during worship rites. The Tilaka further contributes to the discussion by showing that what started as a religious knowledge to Hindus has become cultural knowledge in India.

The Tilaka is essentially worn on the forehead, considered to be an auspicious place, the site of the sixth chakra. Applying Tilaka is said to help clarify one’s thoughts, allowing the wearer to see the truth. It is also known as the « third eye ». This general knowledge maybe known to outsiders, but the feeling of devotion is only understood by Hindus as it has been nurtured in them through their religious and cultural beliefs. This emotional knowledge belongs to the Hindu community. It is however shared, at a cultural level when guests visit a Hindu home and are greeted by applying Tilaka on their forehead. It is interesting to see how the repetition of rituals, eventually becomes knowledge.

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