You are here: Sri Vaishnava Home Page : Bhakti List : Archives : September 1995

Symbols worn by Vaisnavas on the body

From: Eswar Josyula (
Date: Wed Sep 20 1995 - 09:12:09 PDT

Mani wrote:
>is called "Urdhva pundra" in Sanskrit.
>In Tamil, the white part is called "thirumaN" and
>the red part "sri chUrNam".  The whole thing is
>often referred to as "thirumaN" or "nAma", since
>each thirumaN placed on the body represents a
>different name of Sriman Narayana.

to elaborate :
   forehead: Kesava
   belly: Narayana
   chest: Madhava
   throat: Govinda
   right side: Visnu
   right arm: Madhusudana
   right shoulder: Trivikrama
   left side: Vamana
   left arm: Sridhara
   left shoulder: Hrisikesha
   upper back: Padmanabha
   lower back: Damodara

Mani wrote:
>The primary place for the urdhva pundra is on the
>forehead.  The two white lines represent the feet
>of the Lord, and the red line represents Lakshmi
>Thaayar who is everpresent with him.  The Azhvaars
>refer to this tradition of wearing the pundra as
>"wearing the feet of the Lord on one's head",
>representing one's eternal relation as his servant.

I heard a different meaning.  The left line represent Lord Brahma, the
right line Lord Siva and the middle portion is where Lord Narayana
dwells with Mother Lakshmi; so may not be smeared.
This may explain why some put the marks on the Lord's forehead as
Lord Narayana. By putting the marks on the various parts of the human
body, we are acknowldeging and reminded of this fact, and by putting
on the Lord's body, we are not only reminded of this but in His case both
external and internal is the same - spiritual.

Mani wrote:
>P.S. It seems that Ramanuja initiated the tradition
>of only using the special white clay for the thirumaN.
>One Azhvaar remarks that even ash can be used (anathema
>to some Vaishnavas due to its connection with Siva),
>but best would be the dust of the feet of other devotees!

Ash is in the mode of ignorance known as the Tamo guna;  so may be

What is the difference between the Tengalai and the Vadagalai
forehead marks?  Which one did Sri Ramanuja initiate?

The part about dust of feet is interesting.  Some people I have seen go
to the sanctum sanctorum and wipe off some dust from the floor and apply
to their forehead, I think in an effort to gather the dust from the feet
of devotees those that we can see and those that we cannot see such as the
heavenly beings.

When I was in the undergraduate engineering in India, one of our
teachers, an Iyengar wore the forehead marks everyday.  He was also one
the better teachers we had, in the sense of pulling the mischief-mongers
up to a better standard. He was always mumbling something and talked
very little outside of the class, now I know that mumbling to be
constant repetition of the Lord's name.  How many do we know in US who go
to work or school wearing the forehead marks? If you know of any, please
make it known to this group. May be it will insprire those not wearing
now, to do so! In the Padma purana the Lord says that one who wears the
marks becomes fearless.