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In the Hindu religion, the Tilaka (a mark on the forehead, commonly but not always vermilion) is one of the three visible signs (along with the Shikha (or Choti or Shendi), a tuft of hair on the crown) and the wearing of the Yagnopavit (or Janeu, the sacred thead around the neck) a person can display that proclaims their adherence to Hinduism. Tilaki are also worn by married women to symbolize their marriage. xunker also points out that the Tilaka represents a third inner-eye (signifying piety).

The Tilaka (literally, 'a mark') does not have a standard shape, form or size and is applied differently by different Hindu sects (worshippers of Vishnu, for example, apply a red, yellow or saffron 'U' while worshippers of Shiva apply three horizontal lines of ash).

For the lay worshipper, Tilaki are most commonly applied ritually after puja (ceremonial worship) or arati (a ceremony to ward off evil influences).

Tilaki are also referred to as bindi (a catch-all name for facial decoration). In my neighborhood growing up, Tilaki were referred to in a derogatory manner as 'Paki dots', even though very few Pakistani practice Hinduism (roughly 1.5% of the population, compared to 97% Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims).

Source:

Eeshvandana
http://www.eeshvandana.com
Indian Culture Online
www.indiancultureonline.com
Religion in Pakistan
http://www.inet.uni2.dk/~i31907/pakistan3.htm
Encyclopaedia Britannica
http://www.britannica.com

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