FAQ: What does the red dot on the forehead mean ?

The 'Red dot' on the forehead is not always only red and nor is it always a
dot. The dot is called 'Kumkum' or 'Bindi', and when worn by men it is called
'Tilak' (mark). Usually Hindu women, priests, monks and worshippers wear it.
Men wear it on auspicious occasions such as Puja (ritual worship), or marriage,
or Arati (waving of lights) on festive occasions such as on Bhaai-duj, Karvaa
Chaud or Paadwaa or Dasshera) or while embarking on, or upon return from a
voyage or a campaign. It is also worn by Jains and Buddhists (even in China).
Like all Hindu symbols,'red dot' has multiple meanings which are all valid at
the same time. Let us explore them :

1. By one simple interpretation it is a cosmetic mark used to enhance beauty.

2. In meditation, this very spot between the eyebrows (Bhrumadhya) is where one
focusses his/her sight, so that it helps concentration. Most images of Buddha or
Hindu divinites in meditative pose with their eyes nearly closed show the gaze
focussed between eyebrows (other spot being the tip of the nose - naasikagra).

3. All Self realized saints from India (such as Saint Jnaneshwar, Saint Tukaram)
as well as West describe their experience of seeing 'a bright flame (Jyoti)' of
the size of a little finger tip at this spot. They 'see' this jyoti both with
their eyelids closed and even with the eyes open, hence the term 'seer'. This is
the mystical meaning behind Kumkum. 'Siddha Siddhant Paddhati' of Gorakshanath
(circa 11 th century) describes a linga shaped jyoti at the spot.

4. Swami Muktanand writes 'auspicious Kumkum or sandal wood paste is applied
(between the eyebrows) out of respect for inner Guru. It is the Guru's seat.
There is a chakra (center of spiritual energy within human body) here called
Ajna (Aadnyaa) chakra meaning 'Command center'. Here you receive the Guru's
command to go higher in Sadhana (spiritual practice) to the 'Sahasraar' (seventh
and final chakra) which leads to Self realization. The flame seen at the eyebrow
is called 'Guru Jyoti'. (From Finite to Infinite, by Swami Muktananda, SYDA
Foundation, S.Fallsburg, NY, 1989, pp. 88-89)

5. The encyclopedic dictionary of Yoga informs that this 'Ajna Chakra' is also
called as the 'Third eye'. This center is connected with the sacred syllable
'Om' and presiding it is 'ParaaShiva'. After activation of this center, the
aspirant overcomes 'Ahamkar' (ego or sense of individuality), the last hurdle on
the path of spirituality. (Encyclopedic dictionary of Yoga, by Georg Fuerstein,
Paragon House Publ, NY, 1990,p.15).

Thus the monks apply the auspicious mark of Kumkum on the forehead as an act of
worship to the inner Guru to overcome ego. It is also the same reason why
married women wear the 'red dot'. After marriage Hindu women give up their name.
They take the pains of pregnancy and delivery, yet the child carries father's
name. This selfless sacrifice is done out of love, and for the sake of family
and society. It is for this reason wearing the red dot is considered a sign of '
Soubhagya (good fortune)', because sacrificing you ego and performing selfless
action out of love is considered a sacred act and a good fortune.

6. Magsasay Award winning Pandurang Shastry Athawale who is kindling 'back to
Vedic basics' spirit, writes 'Tilak is not a mere cosmetic adornment, or sign of
being religious, it is a symbol of worship of intellect.

Worship of intellect is trusting your own intellect AND other's intellect,
especially in the fields you do not have enough knowledge. Intellectual honesty
and its worship have been corner stones of Hindu thought. At the end of Gita
(18:63) Bhagwan Krishna asks Arjun 'Vimrushyaita dashesheNa yathechhasi tathaa
Kuru' 'Fully THINK (ponder) on what I said and then do as YOU deem fit'. Indian
scriptures ask 'Drushtipootam nyasetpaadam, vastra pootam pibet jalam' - Look
(think) before you leap (embark on any activity) and 'filter the water with a
cloth before you drink'.

It is this intellectual honesty that made losers in debates such as Mandan
Mishra sincere followers of the victors like Shankaracharya. Shankaracharya
writes 'If Vedas tell that fire is cold, then I will not accept that. But at the
same time I am confident that Vedas will never tell me such things'.

Kathopanashad calls intellect as the charioteer. Body is a chariot, Indriyas
(sense/conative organs) are horses, mind is the reins to be used to control them
, Atman (Self) is the rider within, and Vishay (objects of senses) are the
tracks on which horses run. (Sanskruti Poojan, by Pandurang Shastry Athawale,
Sadvichar Darshan Trust, Mumbai, 1988, pp.225-8 in Hindi/Marathi/Gujarati)
Shastryji also mentions tilak as the 'third eye' of Shiva and reminds that Shiva
destroyed Madan (God of desire) by opening the third eye. Thus the Tilak asks us
to not look at women as object of desires, but look with 'Bhaav'- respect, honor
and worship for their sacrifice for the family and society.

It is intellect worship the Kumkum symbolises. Hence a victor returning
from a campaign is applied a Tilak. It asks us to overcome the ego, be
selfless, yet asks to do all actions/ work/ worship with intellect.