The horizontal Bhasma for Siva worshipers and the vertical marking for Vishnu worshipers are well known. I have also seen Smarta folks wearing a vertical mark that is different from the ones worn by Vaishnavites.

Do these markings have a basis in scripture?

  • 5
    Be careful with the tags you create. They are not caste marks. Jan 27, 2019 at 15:20
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    The Sri Vaishnava Urdhva Pundram is from the Pancharatra Agamas.
    – Ikshvaku
    Jan 27, 2019 at 17:48

1 Answer 1


I am providing first the scriptural basis for the Tilak worn by the Shiva devotees.

The God S’iva is always hidden under the cover of ashes; so the S’aivas, the devotees of S’iva are to use the Tripundra. The Brâhmanas are to use daily this Tripundra. Brahmâ is the Prime Brâhmin. When He used Tripundra on His forehead, what need to tell, then, that every Brâhman ought always to use it! Never fail, out of error, to besmear your body with the ashes as prescribed in the Vedas and worship the S’iva Lingam. The Sannyâsins are to apply Tripundra on their forehead, arms, chest, uttering the Triyamvaka mantra with Om prefixed and also the five lettered mantra of S'iva “Om Namah S’ivâya.” The Brahmâchâris should use Tripundra of ashes, obtained from their own fire, uttering the mantra “Triyâyusam Jamadagneh,” etc., or the mantra “Medhâvî”, etc. The S’ûdras in the service of the Brâhmins are to use the ashes with devotion, with the mantra “Namah S’ivâya.” The other ordinary persons can use the Tripundra without any mantra. To besmear the body all over with ashes and to put on the Tripundra is the essence of all Dharma; therefore this should be used always. The ashes from the Agnihotra Sacrifice or from Virajâgni (Virajâ fire) are to be carefully placed on a clean and pure basin. Cleansing hands and feet, one is to sip (perform Âchamana) twice, and then, taking the ashes in the hand, utter the five Brahmâ mantras “Sadyoyâtam prapadyâmi,” etc., and perform short Prânâyâma thrice; he is, then, to utter the seven mantras “Fire is ashes,” “water is ashes,” “earth is ashes” “Teja is ashes,” “wind is ashes,” “ether is ashes,” “All this whatsoever is ashes” and purify and impregnate the ashes with the mantra by blowing out air through the mouth. Then one is to think of Mahâ Deva, repeating the mantra “Om Apojyoti,” etc., and apply dry ashes of white colour all over the body and become sinless. After this he is to meditate on the Mahâ Visnu, the Lord of the universe and on the Lord of the waters and repeat again the mantras “Fire is ashes” and mix water with the ashes. He is, then, to think of S’iva and apply ashes on his forehead. He is to think of the ashes as S’iva Himself and then, with mantras appropriate to his own Âs'rama (stages of life) use the Tripundra on his forehead, chest and shoulders. By the middle finger and ringfinger he is to draw the two lines of the ashes from the left to the right and by his thumb draw a third line of ashes from the right to the left. These Tripundras are to be used in the morning, midday and in the evening.

Source - Devi Bhagavatam, Book 11, Chapter 9.

Further details can be found in the following verses which elaborately describe how to wear the Tilakas and what Mantra to use at the various steps.

First perform the water bath, then the bath of the ashes. In case one cannot have the water bath, one is to have the ash bath. Washing the hands, feet and head with the mantra “Is'ânah Sarvavidyânâm,” etc., and uttering “Tatpurusa” one is to besmear one's face with ashes and by the mantra “Aghora” apply ashes on one's chest; with the mantra Vâmadeva. He is to use ashes on his navel; and with the mantra “Sadyo Jâta,” etc., all over his body; he is to quit his former cloth and put on another fresh cloth. Wash your hands and feet and sip (do Âchaman). It will serve the purpose if one simply uses Tripundrak and if one does not besmear the whole body with ashes. Before the midday one is to use Bhasma with water; but after the midday with dry ashes one is to draw the Tripundra lines of ashes with the forefinger, middlefinger and ringfinger. The head, forehead, ears, neck, heart, and the arms are the places whereon the Tripundras are used. On the head the ashes are applied with five fingers and with the mantra “Haum”; on the forehead, the Tripundra is applied with mantra Svâhâ by the forefinger, mindlefinger and ringfinger; on the right ear, it is applied with “Sadyojâta” mantra; on the left ear, with “Vamadeva” Mantra; on the neck with Aghora mantra by the middlefinger; on the chest with “Namah” mantra by the forefing middlefinger and ringfinger; on the right arm with vasat mantra by the three fingers; on the left arm with “Ham” mantra by the three fingers; and on the navel, the ashes are to be applied with the mantra Îs'ânah sarva devânâm by the middlefinger. The first line in every Tripundra is Brahmâ; the second line is Visnu; and the third, the topmost line is Mahâ Deva. The line of ashes that is marked by one finger is Îs'vara. The head is the place of Brahmâ; the forehead is the site of Îs'vara; the two ears are the seats of the two As'vins and the neck is where Ganes'a resides.The Ksattriyas, Vais'yas,and S’ûdras are to use Tripundras without any mantra; they are also not to use the ashes on the whole of the body. The lowest classes (e.g. the chândâlas, etc.,) and the uninitiated persons are to use the Tripundraks without any mantra.

Source - Book 11, Chapter 11 of the same Purana.

Needless to repeat that Bhashma or ashes is used for the Shaiva Tilaka. And, the Tilaka is named Tripundra.

Greatness of wearing the Tripundra is the content of Book 11's 12th Chapter which can be read from here.


The U-shaped Vaishnava Tilak is known as the UrdhaPundra.

The same Purana also describes about the procedure of wearing it and about it's greatness:

76-84. Since that day the Devas did not allow any other devotee of S’iva to go to the newly created hell Kumbhîpâka. Thus I have described to you the excellent greatness of the Bhasma. O Muni! What more can there be than the glories of the Bhasma! O Best of Munis! Now I am telling you of the usage of Ûrdhapundra (the vertical marks) according to the proper province of the devotees. Listen. I will now speak what I have ascertained from the study of the Vaisnava S’âstras, the measure of Ûrdhapundra, according to the Anguli measurements, the colour, mantra, Devatâ and the fruits thereof. Hear. The earth required is to be seen red from the crests of hills, the banks of the rivers, the place of S’iva (S’iva Ksettram), the ocean beaches, the ant-hill, or from the roots of the Tulasî plants. The earth is not to be had from any other places. The black coloured earth brings in peace, the red-colour earth brings in powers to bring another to one’s control; the yellow-coloured earth increases prosperity and the white-coloured earth gives Dharma (religion). If the Ûrdhapundra be drawn by the thumb, nourishment is obtained; if it be drawn by the middle finger, longevity is increased; if it be drawn by nameless or ring finger, food is obtained and if it be drawn by the fore finger, liberation is attained. So the Ûrdhapundras ought to be drawn by these fingers, only be careful to see that the nails do not touch at the time of making the mark. The shape of the Ûrdhapundra (the vertical mark or sign on the fore-head) is like a flame or like the opening bud of a lotus, or like the leaf of a bamboo, or like a fish, or like a tortoise or like a conch-shell. 85-95. The Ûrdhapundra, ten Angulis high is the super best; nine Angulis high, is best; eight Angulis high, is good; the middling Ûrdhapundra is of three kinds as it is of seven Angulas, six Angulas, or five Angulas. The lowest Ûrdhapundra is again of three kinds as it is four Angulas, three Angulas or two Angulas high.

Devi Bhagavatam 11.15

  • Can I accept without waiting to see if answers will be forthcoming for other sects? @rickross
    – S K
    Jan 28, 2019 at 12:43
  • Well u can always accept because when u find a better answer then u can select that one by unselecting mine .. so acceptance can be changed any time. @SK However my answer isn't complete as I hv only provided details for Shaiva tradition
    – Rickross
    Jan 28, 2019 at 12:45
  • hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/10937/3500 This answer explains significance of Tripundra.
    – The Destroyer
    Feb 7, 2019 at 13:48
  • @TheDestroyer Yes thanks .. nice answer but I can see that I hv already seen it (it is already upvoted by me)
    – Rickross
    Feb 7, 2019 at 14:14
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    Some people put the Bhashma on their whole body like on legs and arms and everywhere else. May be that is prohibited. Other than that everything is allowed for all castes @SethuSrivatsaKoduru
    – Rickross
    Aug 13, 2021 at 3:42

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