Of many things that typify Nepalis, tika is the one that’s humble yet alluring — that little red dot on our foreheads. The urbanites in Kathmandu may be an exception but if you go around Nepal, particularly around temples and shrines, people wearing tikas on their foreheads is a common sight.
The tika is one of the significant elements in Hinduism. Made from dried turmeric, it fundamentally signifies purity of faith and devotion. Which is why tikas are used most widely used in religious Hindu spots regardless of the size and importance. Be it a grand and holy temple like Pashupatinath or small, dimly lit puja-kotha at a Nepali household, red vermilion is first offered to the Gods in devotion, and then received as part of prasad is worn with utmost faith as tikas. So significant is the use of tika and bold in terms of symbolism, the stones and roadside idols marked with tikas are not stepped over.
Beyond the temple premises, tikas have for long been part of Nepali culture as an unpassable tradition. Owing to their religious significance, tikas are a must on auspicious occasions like rituals, commencing new tasks or businesses, life ceremonies such as marriages, and birthdays. Also for married women, it’s more of a long-practiced custom to wear red tikas or bindis for modern day convenience. For them, it symbolizes a prolonged married life and longevity of their husbands. What’s more, red vermillion and hence tikas are also an integral element during celebrations, processions and social reverence, especially when someone achieves something big or is victorious.
The usual Nepali practice is to put on red-colored tikas but a few ethnicities prefer other colors as well: like certain Newars use long, slender black tikas; the Mongolians make use of rice; some dwellers of Bhaktapur and Patan also use curd for tika.
Why is it worn on the forehead?
“A symbol of worship and religious sign, the tika is considered the point at which creation began. Traditionally, the area between the eyebrows is said to be the sixth chakra, the Ajna, the seat of “concealed wisdom”. Applied in the center of the forehead close to the eyebrow, the tika rubs the Anja Chakra and thus is considered to be associated with the eye chakra. The tika is said to focus energy and increase concentration. It is also known to be the circle or dot around which the mandala is created; a spiritual symbol, a symbol of nirvana. The dot is meant to denote the center point for one’s spiritual destiny and serve as a medium for personal sanctification.”
There are some other spots on the body where the tika can be applied after bathing. These places include the forehead, the throat, the heart, the stomach, and the two shoulders. When applied, the name of a specific deity is recited. This touching, marking and evocation bring the effect of blessing to the body and the individual. Religious protocol permits the tika to be put only after one has bathed and cleaned their body.