Why wearing tilak is so important and our duty

When I was Srila Prabhupada’s servant in Los Angeles in 1970, my neckbeads broke one day and I set them aside to restring later in the day. I went into Srila Prabhupada’s room and He immediately said, “Where are your neckbeads?”

I told Him they had broken and I was going to fix them later in the day. He said very strongly: “You must go now and fix them. If you knew how dangerous it is to be in this material world without neckbeads on, you would be shaking in your boots!”

A big reason is that the Yamadutas, the monster-like servants of Lord Yamaraj, who come at the time of a person’s death to escort them in their subtle body to a place where they can suffer the results of negative karma, have orders from their master that they cannot touch a person with tilak or neckbeads on.

Instead, the Visnudutas come to protect that person and assure their safe progress into their next physical body, or ideally, back to their original spiritual body. It is so important to have kanti mala around our neck at all times, you never know when the time will come to leave the body.

(Nanda Kumar Das, as told by Palaka Dasa)

Many have deviated from the standards of our Gaudiya Vaishnava Sampradaya and giving a bad example by wearing long beard, hairs, and no visible tilak as an example.

So here Prabhupada lectures how the standard should look like:

“The Vaiṣṇavas, with tilaka, with kunti, with chanting beads, as soon as you see… And practically you know. As soon as they see these Hare Kṛṣṇa movement people, they also chant, “Hare Kṛṣṇa,” giving a chance to the others. The dress is also required. You should be always equipped with tilaka, kunti, and śikhā, sūtra. Then, as soon as a common man sees, “Oh, here is a Hare Kṛṣṇa man. Hare Kṛṣṇa,” he’ll chant. Automatically you give a chance to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.

So this is required. The foolish rascals, they say that “What is the necessity of this, that?” No. This is necessity. You must always remain dressed like a Vaiṣṇava. That is necessity. So prekṣaṇīya: “is very beautiful to see.” Otherwise how they became impressed? Immediately they become so pious that they chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. The chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa is not so easy. So many people come here, but when there is chanting, they do not chant because it is not easy. Yaj-jihvāgre nāma tubhyam. In the śāstra it is said, aho bata śva-pacato ‘pi garīyān yaj-jihvāgre nāma tubhyam (SB 3.33.7). Anyone who is chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, jihvāgre, with the tongue, even if he is born in a family of dog-eaters he is glorious. He is glorious. Yaj-jihvāgre nāma tubhyam. So we give this chance. As soon as he chants Hare Kṛṣṇa, immediately he becomes glorious. Immediately become glorious.

Audio tape can be heard here:


The Padma Purana states:

“On the left side of the tilaka Lord Brahma is situated, and on the right side Sadasiva, but one should know that in the middle dwells Lord Visnu. Therefore one should not smear the middle section.”

Lord Siva says again to Uma that one who sees a Vaishnava brāhmana wearing tilaka becomes free from all sin, and if one, with devotion, remembers the name of that Vaishnava , then one attains the result of giving everything in charity. In the Brāhmanda Purāna the Lord says: “The human being who wears visnu-tilaka, wherever he may die, even if he is a candala, or dog-eater, by birth, at the time of death mounts a Vaikuntha airplane and as­cends to My abode. If in one’s own home one feeds a Vaishnava wearing tilaka, I liberate twenty generations of that man’s family from hell.” The Brahmanda Purāna further states that one who puts on tilaka with great care while looking into a mirror or look­ ing at his reflection in water, goes to the supreme abode of the Lord.

Taken from the Arcana-Paddhati book

 Prabhupada: And you must see that what you are doing, that is according to the principle which all other sadhus and devotees do. They have tilaka, and you say, “I have no tilaka.” That is not sadhu-marganu. Sadhu-marganugamanam. They have kanthi. You say, “I can avoid it.” That is not sadhu-marganugamanam. So, from very beginning, if you disobey, then how you’ll make progress? 

Conversation, January 27, 1977, Bhubaneswar 

Pishima (Prabhupada’s sister) sets the example

Every one of my disciples must have the flag & marks of tilak on forehead.

“Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter of Oct. 9. I am very sorry to hear that Kirtanananda is advising you to give up the robes and the flags on the head. Please stop this nescience as I never instructed Kirtanananda to act like that. I am not at all satisfied with this action of Kirtanananda. Kirtanananda has no right to instruct you in that way, without consulting me. People are being attracted to the chanting of Hare Krishna & not to Kirtanananda’s devices. Kirtanananda suggested to me when he was here that the Americans do not like the robes & flag. I told him personally if you think that Americans in great numbers will follow you, simply for not having robes & flag, I therefore advised him to drop for a few days in London & test this theory. But he has gone directly to N.Y. & is now causing these disturbances without consulting me. I have not sanctioned these methods. In my opinion, Clean shaved Brahmacharies & Grhasthas in saffron robes look like angels from Baikunta. Translation of prayers into English is good & if somebody dresses like nice American gentleman without any robes, I have no objection; but every one of my disciples must have the flag & marks of tilak on forehead. This is essential. Besides that, nobody should do anything without my sanction.

I am very sorry to hear Kirtanananda, without doing anything practical, changes his ideas constantly. He was first man in our society to take the robes shave cleanly, & take flag & now he is changing his position. You have asked me to tell you whether you are right or carry one by the following the foolish advice of Kirtanananda, & I say straight that Kirtanananda is wrong and you are right when you say that the movement will come to nothing if I am not satisfied with your actions.”


These things are all very elaborately, nicely explained in our books. So those who are going to be initiated, they should take it as a vow, not to fall down again. Catch Kṛṣṇa’s lotus feet very tightly and you’ll not fall down. Mām eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṁ taranti te (BG 7.14). So be determined. Don’t make it a farce, that “Today I am initiated and tomorrow I again I give up everything and again grow my hair and then go to hell.” No. Don’t do that. If you want to be serious, then the path is clear for going back to home.

Lecture on SB 1.16.35 — Hawaii, January 28, 197

The Lord says in the Padma Purana that one who wears tilaka becomes fearless. Narada Muni says in the Padma Purāna that performance of sacrifice, charity, austerity, offering oblations, reading of the Vedas and offering tarpana to the forefathers is all useless unless one is wearing vishnu-tilaka. He also says that one should not look at a person who does not wear tilaka on his forehead, for that per­son is compared to a walking cemetery. But the Skanda Purāna mentions that if one does see a person who does not wear tilaka, then one should purify one’s eyes by looking at the sun. The Skanda and Padma Purāna also state that if a person puts on tilaka with devotion to the Lord, even if he is born in a candala family, that person is supremely pure and worshipable.

Taken from the Arcana-Paddhati book

Saradiya dasi:

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we would have kirtan in the temple room and on alternate days we would go to Prabhupada’s room for darshan. Once we were sitting in Prabhupada’s room and Prabhupada said, “Oh, Saradiya has very nice tilak. Krishna das has no tilak.” He went around to each and every devotee, pointing out whether they had tilak or not. It was very important to Prabhupada that we wear tilak.

“When our students in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness are dressed with saffron-colored cloth, with tilaka on their foreheads and beads in their hands and on their necks, they look exactly as if they have come directly from Vaikuṇṭha.”

Krsna Book 20: 

During the rainy season, all living entities in the land, sky and water become very much refreshed, exactly like one who engages in the transcendental loving service of the Lord. We have practical experience of this with our students in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Before becoming students, they were dirty-looking, although they had naturally beautiful personal features; due to having no information of Kṛṣṇa consciousness they appeared very dirty and wretched. Since they have taken to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, their health has improved, and by their following the rules and regulations, their bodily luster has increased. When they are dressed with saffron-colored cloth, with tilaka on their foreheads and beads in their hands and on their necks, they look exactly as if they have come directly from Vaikuṇṭha.

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