Ever met a Hare Krishna and wondered what in the world was on his or her forehead?? And why?
Tilak is a marking that Vaishnavas apply to the forehead with sacred clay. As a kid I wore tilak but rebelled against it as a teenager. I didn't want to be labelled as "one of those Hare Krishnas." Besides, I didn't really know how to put it on and I always ended up with mud all over my face.
Then a couple years ago I had a very odd inspiration. The tradition for the holy month of Kartik (October-November) is to make a special vow, or vrata, and surrender that effort to the Lord. So I decided to do the unthinkable:
Wear tilak every single day.
To school, to gatherings, and even - who woulda thunk? - to the temple. I figured that a) I would get over my tilak phobia, and b) I would become a killer tilak artist by the end of the month.
So for the first day of Kartik, yes, my tilak was all over my hair and forehead in messy streaks, even after spending ten minutes trying to perfect it. When I went to school, I thought I would get weird looks. But I didn't. What I got were questions. And the question always came: "Why?"
As the month progressed, I began to enjoy answering these questions because they would always stir up a conversation about God. And when the last day of Kartik rolled around, sure enough, my tilak phobia had vanished.
And, if I say so myself, I was a killer tilak artist.
Over the years as I've traveled around the world with tilak upon my forehead, I've been asked that question countless times: "Why?"
Inspired, today I wrote this concrete poem as one of my answers.
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