Tripundra is a Śaivite tilaka, and a body art with origins in South India.
It consists of three horizontal lines on the forehead, usually with a dot made from sacred ash, and has spiritual meaning in Shiva tradition within Hinduism. A Vishnu tradition related mark consisting of vertical lines is called Urdhva Pundra.
The practice is discussed in medieval era Hindu texts such as Bhasmajabala Upanishad, Brihajjabala Upanishad and Kalagni Rudra Upanishad.
The allegorical significance of the “three ash lines“, states Deussen, is that the tradition sees them as streaks of three Vedic fires, three audible syllables of AUM, three Guṇas, three worlds, three Atmans, three Vedas and three aspects of Shiva.
Usage and significance
The Tripundra, three horizontal lines, on the forehead as well as other body parts are symbols during rites of passages, and for some a daily practice.
These lines, states Antonio Rigopoulos, represent Shiva’s threefold power of will (icchāśakti), knowledge (jñānaśakti), and action (kriyāśakti). The Tripundra described in this and other Shaiva texts also symbolizes Shiva’s trident (trisula) and the divine triad of Brahmā, Vishnu, and Shiva.
Tripundra, to those who apply it, is a reminder of the spiritual aims of life, the truth that body and material things shall someday become ash, and that mukti is a worthy goal. Tri means three, pundra means one which is released.
There are three horizontal lines of vibhuti (holy ash) on the brow, often with a dot (bindu) as the third eye. Holy ash, usually produced from burnt cow dung, is a reminder of the temporary nature of the physical body and the importance of spiritual attainment and closeness to Shiva (Atman-Brahman). Chapter 2 of Kalagni Rudra Upanishad explains the three lines as various triads: sacred fires, syllables of Om, gunas, worlds, types of atman (Soul), powers, Vedas, the time of extraction of the Vedic drink Soma, and Mahesvara (a form of Shiva).
- The first line is equated to Garhapatya (the sacred fire in a household kitchen), the A syllable of Om, the Rajas guna, the earth, the external Atman, Kriyā – the power of action, the Rigveda, the morning extraction of Soma, and Maheshvara.
- The second streak of ash is a reminder of Dakshinagni (the holy fire lighted in the South for ancestors), the sound U of Om, Sattva guna, the atmosphere, the inner Atman, Iccha – the power of will, the Yajurveda, midday Soma extraction, and Sadasiva.
- The third streak is the Ahavaniya (the fire used for Homa), the M syllable in Om, the Tamas guna, Svarga – heaven, the Paramatman – the highest Atman (Brahman), the power of perception, the Samaveda, Soma extraction at dusk, and Shiva.
The “Tri” in the word Tripundra signifies the Triguna – Satva, Raja and Tama; Triloka – Bhuhu, Bhuvaha, Suvaha; Tritapa – Bbhoutika, Daivika, Adhyatmika. Tripundra is also called as Bhasma or Vibhuti.
Tripundra also signifies Prana or life force and the three responsibilities performed by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva respectively. Brahma represents Creation, Vishnu denotes Sustenance and Shiva connotes Destruction. Thus Tripundra symbolises Holy Trinity of Hindu Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
Tripundra Applying Tripundra on the forehead is termed as “Bhasma dharana“. The word Bhasma means calcined ash. Those who wear Tripundra on their forehead, often recite the mantras of the Lord while remembering its spiritual meaning and it is not just a sign of culture or identification.