How to apply Vishnu Tilaka

How to apply Vishnu Tilaka (urdhva-pundra) on one’s body

Vishnu-Tilaka refers to clay markings (Gopi-chandan) that are worn on the forehead and other parts of the body by Vaishnavas, signifying their devotion to Lord Krishna or Vishnu. These symbolic markings consecrate the body as the Lord’s temple. The U-shaped mark represents the heel of Lord Visnu, and the oval part represents the Tulasi leaf.

Tilaka, the mark on the forehead, is said to be urdhva-pundra. Pundra means “lotus”. In this context, it refers to the lotus-feet of Shri Hari. Urdhva means “upward”. The lotus- feet of Shri Hari viewed from the heel resemble lotus flowers with five petals. The tilaka mark is therefore a symbol for the imprint of the lotus-feet of Shri Hari. It is the mood of a Vaisnava, in an attitude of reverential submission, that he desires to place his head beneath the lotus feet of his Beloved.

Tilaka is applied to twelve parts of the body, and the twelve names of the Lord are recited with each application. “When putting the twelve tilaka marks on the twelve places of the body, one has to chant the mantra consisting of the twelve Vishnu names. After daily worship, when one anoints the different parts of the body with water, these names should be chanted as one touches each part of the body.” [Caitanya-caritamrita Madhya 20.202]

To apply tilaka, start with a little Ganges or Yamuna water (if you don’t have any, get some water, and stirring it with your right middle finger, chant:

ganga cha yamune chaiva
godavari saravati
narmade sindho kaveri
jale ‘smin sannidhim kuru

“O Ganges, O Yamuna, O Godavari, O Saravati, O Narmada, O Sindhu, O Kaveri, please become present in this water.”

Put the water in your left hand, and rub the hard clay of tilak into the water, creating a wet paste out of the clay. Begin by putting your ring finger of the right hand into the clay, and starting between the eyebrows, bring the finger straight up to the hairline, making two straight lines. It should look like a long, narrow U-shape. Then use some more tilak to make the Tulasi leaf on your nose, it should extend about 3/4 of the way down your nose.

Chant the following verses while rubbing gopi-candana (sacred yellow clay) in your right palm;

lalate keshavam dhyayen / narayanam athodare
vakshah-sthale madhavam tu / govindam kantha-kupakevishnum ca dakshine kukshau / bahau ca madhusudanam
trivikramam kandhare tu / vamanam vama-parshvake

shridharam vama-bahau tu / hrishikesham tu kandhare
prishthe ca padmanabham ca / katyam damodaram nyaset


While marking the body with tilaka, one should chant the following mantra, which consists of the twelve names of Lord Vishnu.When one marks the forehead with tilaka, he must remember Keshava. When one marks the lower abdomen, he must remember Narayana. For the chest, one should remember Madhava, and when marking the hollow of the neck one should remember Govinda. Lord Vishnu should be remembered while marking the right side of the belly, and Madhusudana should be remembered when marking the right arm. Trivikrama should be remembered when marking the right shoulder, and Vamana should be remembered when marking the left side of the belly. Shridhara should be remembered while marking the left arm, and Hrishikesha should be remembered when marking the left shoulder. Padmanabha and Damodara should be remembered when marking the back.” [Caitanya-caritamrita Madhya 20.202]

As you apply the tilak to your body, chant the following mantras:

forehead om keshavaya namah
middle belly om narayanaya namah
chest om madhavaya namah
hollow of throat om govindaya namah
right side belly om vishnave namah
right upper arm om madhusudanaya namah
right shoulder om trivikramaya namah
left side belly om vamanaya namah
left upper arm om shridharaya namah
left shoulder om hrishikeshaya namah
upper back om padmanabhaya namah
lower back om damodaraya namah

The shikha (hair-tuft or ponytail) area is not marked with tilaka; rather, after washing the right hand, wipe the remaining water on your shikha while chanting om vasudevaya namah.

The Nectar of Devotion (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu of Shrila Rupa Gosvami) stresses the importance of tilaka (urdhva-pundra)

qualities-devotee-1a - Copy


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