What are the rules / requirements of applying a Vaishnava tilaka? Is diksha required?

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The following describes how Srivaishnavas wear the Urdhvapundra. Other Vaishnava Sampradayas may have different practices.

Srivaishnavas who have not undergone basic diksha/initiation called Samashrayana wear only one Urdhvapundra on the forehead. Those that are initiated wear 12 at different parts of the body.

According to the Srivaishnava Sadachara Nirnaya of the 46th Jeer of Srimad Ahobila Mutt, and the Prayoga Mala by Uttamur Sri Viraraghavachariar, the following process describes the wearing of the Srivaishnava Urdhvapundra:

Materials:

  1. White clay (Thiruman) which is available in few parts of India such as Melkote, Karnataka and Ayodhya.
  2. Srichurnam (Red/Saffron colored central tilak) prepared from turmeric, rice, tulasi, camphor, sandalwood, saffron, and flowers.
    • The Srichurnam is to be sanctified by performing Srichurna pratishtha - invoking Mahalakshmi with various mantras.
    • One who wears a srichurnam that is not sanctified this way should never be looked upon in the face according to some Smritis.

Process of painting the forehead:

  1. Cleansing the hands with water.
  2. Cleansing the hands with the astra mantra.
  3. Chanting the mRRitikA sUktam and taking the white clay and placing it in left palm.
  4. Adding water while reciting a mantra.
  5. Dissolving the clay in the water reciting the gandha mantram.
  6. Doing ashtha dik bandhanam - binding the 8 directions.
  7. Writing the Nrisimha beejaaksharam in the dissolved clay.
  8. Adding some water with the pavitra mantram and mixing it with right forefinger
  9. Reciting several mantras including the 5 Upanishad mantras and 7 Vaishnava mantras.
  10. Applying the white clay to the 12 parts of the body while reciting the 12 vyuha names.
  11. Mixing the srichurnam with water and applying it to the 12 parts while reciting the 12 names of Mahalakshmi.

As it can be gathered from above, this requires one to have received mantropadesa of about a dozen mantras. In the case of a young child who is not yet vested with the sacred thread, the father can apply it to the child after santifying it himself. Those that are unqualified to recite Vedic mantras can chant equivalent shlokas from the Puranas/Itihasas in order to sanctify the tilak before applying.

  • I've read one is supposed to chant "Om keshavaya namah" when applying tilak to the forehead. Does chanting this require any qualifications? If yes, what can be chanted instead? – SifatR Oct 11 at 7:03
  • Yes. That is the first of the 12 vyuha names mentioned in point 10 in the answer. The Vadakalai tradition allows only men who have undergone sacred thread ceremony to say the praNava syllable. Initiated dvija women replace it with the syllable "am" but drop the namaH (am keshavAya etc.) Initiated non dvijas only recite the name in vocative case (keshava, narayaNa). If one is not initiated, I suppose the last case should apply since it loses the notion of a mantra and remains a holy name. So only saying keshava when applying is the bare minimum that you can accomplish without any initiation – hashable Oct 11 at 17:12

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