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Devotional Tattoos and ear piercing

Post Author: Swami Gaurangapada    Date: 2006-01-14 06:54:29
Title: Devotional Tattoos and ear piercing
User: Swami Gaurangapada    Date: 2007-03-14 06:54:04

Nityananda! Gauranga! Hare Krishna!
Jaya Shrila Prabhupada! Jaya Sri Gaurangapada!

I am sorry if this topic may sound futile..

What is the purpose of male ear piercing? I saw many devotees and Indian brahmins who have one. Does it have a special signification?
Is it true that if someone gets a devotional tatoo, he/she becomes "a walking divinity" and that his/her bodily vehicle cannot be burned at death? I would like to mark my body with the sanskrit NG Mantrarajas and maybe one of two "bhakti-tatoo".

Answer by Swami Gaurangapada:

Among the 64 limbs of bhakti as described by Shrila Rupa Goswami and in Jaiva Dharma, the 21st and 22nd are as follows:

21 One should decorate the body with tilaka, which is the sign of the Vaisnavas. 22. In marking such tilaka sometimes one may write the names of the Lord on the body.

There is a beautiful commenatry by Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada in his Gaudiya Bhashya to Shri Chaitanya Bhagavata Adikhanda 15.8-12:


ito-madhye kadacit keha kona dine

kapale tilaka na kariya thake bhrame

During this period sometimes by chance a student would forget to mark his
forehead with tilaka.

The word tilaka refers to when a person who is initiated as a Vaisnava
marks twelve parts of his body above the waist-his forehead, stomach,
chest, throat, right waist, right arm, right shoulder, left waist, left
arm, left shoulder, upper back, and lower back-as temples of Hari, or
urdhva-pundra (two vertical lines). The forehead is one of these twelve
places. In the Narada Purana it is stated: "A Vaisnava who marks his
forehead with urdhva-pundra immediately purifies the entire world." The
devotees of Visnu always apply urdhva-pundra, or tilaka, and the devotees
of Siva, who are averse to devotional service to Visnu, apply tripundra,
or three lines. Sastric injunction is that a king should take the
initiated twice-born who does not wear tilaka and sit him backwards on an
ass and have him driven out of town. Therefore every initiated Vaisnava
must always wear tilaka. That is why the Lord, who is jagad-guru, the
teacher of everyone, gave such instructions in His childhood pastimes. If
one wants to worship LordVisnu, then he must accept the five samskaras
related to initiation. Generally a twice-born undergoes ten kinds of
samskaras. Those who are lower than the twice-born undergo fifteen types
of samskaras to become Vaisnavas. Just as a brahmana is obliged to
maintain, an initiated Vaisnava is obliged to maintain sikha, brahmana
thread, tilaka, and mala.

For a description on how to apply tilaka, one should refer to the
Hari-bhakti-vilasa (4.66-98). It is stated in Padma Purana, Uttara
khanda??: "A practitioner should decorate his body with twelve marks while
chanting the names of the Lord such as Kesava." The process for decorating
the twelve parts of the body with the twelve tilaka marks is as follows:

lalate kesavam dhyayen narayanam athodare

vaksah-sthale madhavam tu govindam kantha-kupake

visnum ca daksine kuksau bahau ca madhusudanam

trivikramam kandhare tu vamanam vama-parsvake

sridharam vama-bahau tu hrsikesam tu kandhare

prsthe ca padmanabham ca katyam damodaram nyaset

tat praksalena-toyan tu vasudevaya murdhani

urdhva-pundram lalate tu sarvesam prathamam smrtam

lalatadi kremenaiva dharanan tu vidhiyate

"When one marks the forehead with tilaka, he must remember Kesava. When one marks the lower abdomen, he must remember Narayana. For the chest, one should remember Madhava, and when marking the hollow of the neck one should remember Govinda. Lord Visnu should be remembered while marking the right side of the belly, and Madhusudana should be remembered when marking the right arm. Trivikrama should be remembered when marking the right shoulder, and Vamana should be remembered when marking the left side of the belly. Sridhara should be remembered while marking the left arm, and Hrsikesa should be remembered when marking the left shoulder. Padmanabha and Damodara should be remembered when marking the back. Then one should wash with water and remember Vasudeva while wiping the hand on the head.One should put on tilaka on the forehead first. This is the rule. Then according to the above-mentioned procedure one should put on tilaka. The Lord has stated in Padma Purana: "My devotees always put on tilaka, which destros all kinds of fear."

If one does not decorate his body with tilaka he will incur sin. It is
stated by Narada Muni in Padma Purana: "If one performs sacrifice, gives
in charity, undergoes austerity, studies the Vedas, or offers oblations to
the forefathers without putting on tilaka, then all these activities will
be useless. If a person does not decorate his body with tilaka he is not
to be seen, because his body is as impure as a crematorium." It is
mentioned in the Aditya Purana: A king should put a fallen brahmana whose
body is devoid of Vaisnava marks of tilaka, conch, and cakra on the back
of donkey and drive him out of his kingdom." It is stated in Padma Purana,
Uttara-khanda: "A person who performs any activity like worshiping deities
without putting on tilaka achieves no benefit. There is no doubt about it.
Know for certain that a person who performs sandhya without wearing tilaka is simply demoniac and surely goes to hell."

Prohibition for wearing tilaka that is crooked or in three lines: It is
stated in the Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda: "A person who wears three-lined tilaka instead of Vaisnava tilaka is the lowest of men. Because of breaking the rules for marking tilaka on the body, which is the abode of
Lord Visnu, such a person certainly goes to hell." It is stated in the
Skanda Purana: "A person should not wear crooked tilaka even if he is
about to die nor should he chant any names other than the holy names of
Narayana. He should wear Vaisnava tilaka using gopi-candana if possible??.
Elsewhere it is stated: "Learned person know that there are prescriptions
for the brahmanas and devotees to wear Vaisnava tilaka and other people
should wear three-lined tilaka. If one sees or touches a brahmana who has
put on three-lined tilaka rather than Vaisnava tilaka, he should take bath
with his clothes on. A Vaisnava should not wear three-lined tilaka rather
than proper Vaisnava tilaka because such an act does not please Lord
Hari." In te narrations about the month of Kartika in the Skanda Purana it
is stated: "One should not see a person whose forehead is not decorated
with Vaisnava tilaka. If one happens to do so, he should immediately look
at the sun, for Lord Hari and Laksmi devi reside within the tilaka." It is
stated in the Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda: "Marks of tilaka resembling a
banyan leaf, a bamboo leaf, and the bud of a lotus are most enchanting."

The glories of decorating the body with tilaka are as follows: "The
beautiful vacant space within the mark of tilaka is the sitting place for
Sri Laksmi and Sri Janardana, the Lord of lords. Therefore know for
certain that the body that is marked with tilaka is a sanctified temple of
the Lord." It is mentioned in the Brahmanda Purana: "If a person is
impure, ill-behaved, and engaged in sinful activities with his mind but
nevertheless decorates his body with tilaka, he certainly becomes pure
forever. One should mark his forehead with tilaka while seeing his face in
a mirror or in the water, but never touch the tilaka with one's

The rules and regulations for applying tilaka: It is stated in the Padma
Purana, Uttara-khanda: "The most fortunate unalloyed devotees of Hari
should decorate their bodies with marks of tilaka resembling the lotus
feet of Hari with a vacant space in between the two lines. ??They should
begin to mark from the tip of the nose up to the end of the forehead with
tilaka or other suitable clay. The tip of the nose refers to the
three-fourth part of the nose. One should draw two separate lines
beginning from the middle of the eyebrows upwards." The prescription for
keeping space within the mark of tilaka: "A fallen twice-born who applies
tilaka without keeping a vacant space between the two lines certainly
abandons Sri Hari and Laksmi devi, who reside within that space. There is
no doubt that a fallen twice-born who applies tilaka without keeping a
space maintains the feet of a dog on his forehead. Therefore, O beautiful
one, brahmanas and women should always mark their foreheads with tilaka
resembling two sticks wih a space between.

The symptoms of tilaka as temples of Hari: "The mark of tilaka that starts
from the nose and stretches up to the hair on the head with a beautiful
space in between the lines is called a temple of Hari. Lord Brahma resides
on the left side, Sadasiva resides on the right side and Lord Visnu
resides in the middle of such a tilaka mark. One should not apply anything
in the middle." The clay used for preparing tilaka is described in the
Padma Purana as follows: "One should collect clay for tilaka from the
place over which water that has been used to bathe Lord Visnu flows. One
can also collect clay from the transcendental abode of Hari. One should
devotedly collect clay from the Venkata Hill, from Srirangam, from Sri
Kurma-ksetra, from Sri Dvaraka, from Sri Prayaga, from Sri Nrsimha-ksetra,
from Sri Varaha-ksetra, or from Sri Vrndavana
and then mix it with the water that has washed the lotus feet of Visnu. In
this way one should decorate one's body with such tilaka and come before
the Lor. O Maharaja Ambarisa, just see one whose forehead is decorated
with tilaka made of gopi-candana to minimize your sinful reactions." In
the Skanda Purana, Dhruva Maharaja speaks as follows: "If you see a person decorated with the tilaka marks of a conch and cakra, adorned with tulasi manjaris on his head, and his limbs smeared with gopi-candana, then why should you fear sinful reactions? Thereafter a Vaisnava should mark his
forehead with attractive tilaka of clay collected from the root of a
tulasi plant. On the upper portion of the forehead one should apply the
sandalwood pulp and wear the garland that have been offered to the Lord.
In this way one should decorate one's forehead with three kinds of tilaka.
One should also decorate his body with various shapes like Matsya and
Kurma and various weapons like the cakra in order to please Lord Hari.

The Vedic injunction regarding applying tilaka: It is stated in the
Hiranyakesiya branch of the Yajur Veda: "A person who wears tilaka marks
resembling the lotus feet of Hari becomes very fortunate and dear to the
Supreme Brahman, Sri Hari. A human being who wears tilaka with a space in
the middle becomes eligible for liberation." In the Katha branch of the
Yajur Veda it is stated: "The great soul who after applying tilaka
meditates through mantras on Sri Visnu, who holds a cakra, who is the
Supreme Absolute Truth, who is greater then the greatest, and who resides
in the hearts of His devotees, certainly becomes pure." It is stated in
the Atharva Veda: "The fortunate practitioner who throughout his life
decorates his body with tilaka marks like the cakra certainly attains the
all-pervading Lord Visnu's supreme abode, which is the ultimate goal of
the devotees.


dharma sanatana prabhu sthape sarva-dharma

loka-raksa lagi' prabhu na langhena karma

The Lord is the maintainer of Sanatana-dharma, and He reestablishes the
principles of religion. In order to protect people's religious principles,
He would not tolerate any transgression.

As the protector of religious principles, Sri Gaura-Narayana is the
inaugurator of sanatana-dharma. Therefore He was not an inaugurator of
sudra principles, which are even devoid of karma-kanda. In order to teach
people, the Lord never transgressed Vedic karma-kanda. Rather, He taught
that karma-kanda is insignificant and unfavorable for pure devotional


hena lajja tahare dehena sei-ksane

se ara na aise kabhu sandhya kari' vine

The very moment such a delinquent appeared, the Lord would put him to such
shame that he would never again come without first completing his morning


prabhu bale,-"kene bhai, kapale tomara

tilaka na dekhi kene, ki yukti ihara?

The Lord would say, "O brother, why I don't see any tilaka on your
forehead? What is your explanation?


`tilaka na thake yadi viprera kapale

se kapala smasana-sadrsa'-vede bale

"The Vedas say that if a brahmana's forehead is not decorated with tilaka,
then it is as good as a crematorium.

Translated by Bhumpati dasa prabhu and Pundarika Vidyanidhi dasa prabhu.

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