The centre of the forehead between the eyebrows is the most important psychic location in the human body and its importance is stressed by putting a coloured mark at this spot. This central spot is where the sixth chakra (Ajna) is located. It is also called the third eye or the eye of wisdom. It is the aim of yogis and devout Hindus to ‘open’ this third eye by constant meditation. The ‘opening of the third eye means the unification of the conscious arid subconscious minds, the point where all elements of duality merge into one universal entity.
This spot therefore is of tremendous importance and the putting of the coloured mark symbolizes the quest for the ‘opening’ of the third eye. All rites and ceremonies of the Hindus begin with a vermilion mark (tilak) topped with a few grains of rice placed on this spot with the index finger or the thumb. The same custom is followed in welcoming or bidding farewell to guests or relations.
The most common material used for making this mark is ‘kumkum, the red powder which is a mixture of turmeric, alum, iodine, camphor, etc. Another popular material is sandalwood paste blended with musk. This has a strong cooling effect and is generally meant for those who have meditated for a long time.
Sacred ash from the sacrificial fire (yagna) or the funeral pyre is considered the best material for the Tilak by the yogis and sanyais because they have renounced all their attachments to worldly life and ash symbolises this.