Kumkuma is a powder used for social and religious markings in India. It is made from turmeric. The turmeric is dried and powdered with a bit of slaked lime, which turns the rich yellow powder into a red colour.
Kumkuma is most often applied by Indians to the forehead. The reason for this particular location has to do with the ancient Indian belief that “the human body is divided into seven vortices of energy, called chakras, beginning at the base of the spine and ending at the top of the head. The sixth chakra, also known as the third eye, is centred in the forehead directly between the eyebrows and is believed to be the channel through which humankind opens spiritually to the Divine”. Thus the kumkuma is placed at the location of the body which is believed by Indians to be the holiest.\
However, there is a spiritual explanation too. The tilak invokes a feeling of sanctity in the wearer and also in the onlooker. It is considered a religious mark, and its shape and colour varied according to one’s caste, religious sect and the deity one worships.
In ancient times, the four castes or varnas-Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra- applied the tilak differently.
- Brahmins applied the white sandalwood tilak, symbolizing purity, as their vocation was priestly and academic in nature.
- Kshatriyas applied red kumkum- a mixture of turmeric and lemon juice or lime signifying valour since they belonged to the warrior class. The red denotes valour and hyperactivity.
- Vaishyas wore a yellow tilak of sandalwood paste mixed with Kesar or turmeric; the colour yellow signifies wisdom and foresight, which are essential for business acumen.
- Sudras wore a tilak of black bhasma or ash or charcoal, indicating service as they supported the work of the other three classes.
Further, Vaishnavities wear a Chandan tilak in ‘U’ shape, whereas Shaivities have a tripundra or three horizontal lines across the forehead drawn with bhashma. Devi worshippers apply a red dot of kumkum.
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