Click here to load whole tree
NITAAI-Veda.nyf > Spiritual Questions & Answers > Swami QnA 2007 > Devotional Tattoos and ear piercing

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.