Tilaka applied on the body at twelve places is one of the most important and indispensible aspects of Vaishnavism. Especially in the Gaudiya way of living applying tilaka on the body is of paramount importance. It becomes compulsory for a person who has atleast taken Hari Nama Samskaar to wear tilaka on 12 parts of the body. The tilaka is positioned vertically on the various parts of the body and the overall tilaka is exactly parallel to the body. People from the Shaivite sect apply tilaka perpendicular to the body. A Vaishnava who does not wear tilaka is considered to be a servant of the body and primarily may not be even considered a Vaishnava. The main significance of applying tilaka is to ascertain within one’s heart that this body is for the service of the Lord. Embellishing the body with Tilaka also symbolizes that our body is a temple and inside the temple, in the heart where one of the 12 tilakas is applied, is seated Bhagawan who is worshipped with noble thoughts of surrender and service. The tilaka also means that the body is to be used only for spiritual purposes and every act carried out with the body is an act of service to the Lord. The tilaka also reminds us that we may not misuse the body in any way. Tilaka at the time of sleeping according to Vedic literature keeps Yamaraja, the Lord of Death, away.
Tilaka at 12 spots on the body is like a fencing that bodes away all that is inauspicious. Prolonged and consistent application of the Vaishnava Tilaka also keeps one in healthy state of mind and body and thus when one is committed to this aspect is also free from disease. Tilaka on the material body when consistently applied also colours our ethereal body and inundates it with the spirit of Bhakti. Hence application of Tilaka should be considered as an essential part of Sadhana and Bhajana.
Within Gaudiya Vaishnavism there are many shapes and types of tilaka which are applied based on one’s internal affiliation, faith and Sastric attachment. Gaudiya Vaishnavas from the 6 major Parivaras of the spiritual family of Sriman Mahaprabhu namely the Nityananda Parivara, Gadadhara Parivara, Advaita Parivara, Srinivasa Acarya Parivara, Shyamananda Parivara and Narottama Thakhura Parivara only apply tilaka which is composed of the mud taken from Radhakunda Lake in Vraja. This tilaka is dark grey or blackish in colour. The application of this tilaka on the twelve parts of the body signifies that one is an eternal servant of Srimati Radharani and accepts the manjari Bhava, the internal servitorship mood of a hand-maid in the spiritual kingdom. Devotees who have accepted a Sadhguru from the Brahma-Madhva Gaudiya Sampradaya and associated with the major Parivaras of Radhakunda perform Ekanta Bhajana with application of the Radhakunda tilaka. The significance of the Radhakunda Tilaka is that it is composed of the water and soil of Radhakunda which itself is a transformation of the transcendental body of Srimati Radhika. The other advantage of Radhakunda tilaka is that it is composed of the bodily residue like the hair and skin deposits of exalted Vaishnavas who bathe in Radhakunda, Vaishnavas who are lost in the contemplation of their eternal service to Srimati Radharani.
Thus one who is qualified in the path of Raganuga Bhajana and in the internal mood of service to Srimati Radharani is naturally drawn to the Radhakunda Tilaka. This tilaka represents the madhura bhava or the mood of conjugal sweetness of the divine couple. The tilaka of the Nityananda Parivara is indicated in the picture.