Hindus wear their sect’s religious symbol on their foreheads.
The symbol is of two types.
Vibhuti is applied to the forehead by those who worship Shiva and Nama or Thiruman by the worshipers of Vishnu, .
The Smritis insist on one wearing either of these; failure will result in spiritual non development.
Vedic scriptures say,
“Lalaata Shoonyam Smashaana Tulyam”,which means that “an empty forehead is comparable to a cemetery.
The great saint Thiru Gyaana Sambandar did many wonders with Vibhuthi and he expounds the greatness of Vibhuti in one of his Pathigams called “Thiruneetru Pathigam” as follows,
Mandhira maavadhu neeru| Vaanavar meeladhu neeru ||
Sundhara maavadhu neeru |Thudhikkap paduvadhu neeru ||
Thandhira maavadhu neeru| Chamayaththil ullaadhu neeru ||
Senthuvar vaayumai pangan|Thiruaalavaayaan Thiruneerae ||
The term Vibhuti means , in general, greatness, and here it means the Sacred Ash as well.
The Bhagavad Gita has a Chapter called The Vibhuti Yoga(Chapter 10) where Lord Krishna speaks of His various manifestations, including His Universal Form, Virat Roopa’
Therefore the Chapter is called the Vibhuti Yoga.
How come this Sacred Ash is reckoned to be Great?
In Life, Hinduism asserts, that one should be humble and remember his status, that is of his Mortality.
Accepting Mortality wholeheartedly calls for great effort, and once you accept this, you would not behave in such a way that hurts others.
Because the Vibhuti represents the Ashes one’s Body is turned into after death, the applying of Vibhuti reminds one constantly of his mortality.
The acceptance of this fact and consequent sober behavior speaks of greatness.
Hence Vibhuti is called as such.
In Sanskrit, Bhoothi means Aishwaryam, meaning wealth, treasure, precious. Vi-bhoothi with an Upasarga (preposition “vi”) means very or more valuable. The synonyms of Vibhuhti in Sanskrit as said in the Amara-kosha is “Vibhuthi: bhoothi: Aishwaryam”.Vibhuhti can also be called as Bhoothi,Aishwaryam,Basma.
Legends and Purana have it that Lord Rudra( as distinct from Lord Shiva) Resides in the Smasana, where the bodies are cremated.
The Hindu custom is that once one dies, the body must be kept at Home for a period of ,minimum 3 nazhikais or approximately one and a half hours before the Death ceremonies begin(One Nazhikai-24 minutes, Two and a Half Nazhikais, one hour).
The ceremonies at Home shall take about an hour and a half.
Travel to burning Ghat an hour,ceremony at the Ghat an hour, that makes about five hours from the time of Death to lighting the Pyre.
The chances of the Death not being final is guaranteed during this period , as the body is not to be set afire before this period.
Rudra is the Deity of Destruction, destroys only to enable for its reappearance -Thirodhana (Concealment), an Attribute of Lord Shiva, the others being,Srusti as Brahma, Stithi as Vishnu,Samhara, as Rudra,Thirodhana and Anugraha as Shiva.(Concealment and Grace).
As Rudra is the ruling Deity of Death,Vibhuti is applied.
Thiruman or Nama is used by the Srivaishnavas, for Lord Govinda, a Name of Lord Krishna, is the ruling Deity after Death.
Blog on Nama, Thiruman, follows.
There are eleven Rudras, the Rudra we have for Death is the Chief among them.
The Eleven Rudras, Ekadasa Rudras and Their Consorts,
The 11 Rudras are as follows:
1. Mahadeva, 2. Shiva , 3. Maha Rudra, 4. Shankara, 5. Neelalohita, 6. Eshana Rudra, 7. Vijaya Rudra, 8. Bheema Rudra, 9. Devadeva, 10. Bhavodbhava and 11. Adityatmaka Srirudra.
Their 11 consorts of these 11 Rudras are:- 1. Dhee devi, 2. Dhritti devi, 3. Ushna (Rasala) devi, 4. Uma devi, 5. Neeyut devi, 5. Sarpi devi, 7. Eela devi, 8. Ambika devi, 9. Ieravati devi, 10. Sudha devi and 11. Deeksha devi respectively.
Vibhuti is applied in Eleven places in the body.
2.Chest Two , one over the Center of the Chest, the other just above the Navel.
3.Right Arm Three, starting from right below the shoulder-blade up to the point where the wrist joins the Palm.( one just below the shoulder-blade, one just above the elbow joint and the other one at the wrist)
4.Left Arm;Same as the Right Arm.
5.Shoulder Blades, one each on each shoulder Blade.
There is also a school . especially the Saiva, following Saiva Siddhanta, to wear more,.
How to wear Vibhuti.
Vibhuti is to be worn in a paste from only if one takes bath;other wise it has to be worn in its dry form only.
It is a practice to wear Bhasma,Dry,in the evenings.
Bhasma should not have lines, it has to be smeared.
No Karma is to be performed without Vibhuti.
Wearing Vibhuti , while performing Srardha, till a particular point is not allowed, so id the case during Tharpanam.
However it is allowed for Tharpana, depending on Family Traditions, I wear Vibhuti for Tharpana, as it is my Family practice.
Greatness of Vibuti.
Vibhuti may refer to glorious attributes of the divine, and in this context is translated as ‘all pervading’, ‘superhuman power’, ‘wealth’ and so on.
The ash of any burnt object is not regarded as holy ash.Vibhuti (AKA Bhasma,Thiruneeru,the holy ash) is the ash from the Homa (consecrated fire) where wood is used to perform the ritual. Or the deity is worshipped by pouring ash as abhisheka and is then distributed as Prassad to devotees. Bhasma is generally applied on the forehead,neck,chest,arms,stomach elbow,wrists etc.,. Some apply it on other parts of the body, like the knees,toes,scalp etc.,.It is considered very auspicious for the hindus especially shaiva sect of people to smear vibhuthi all over the body.
Sri Adi Shankaracharya praises the greatness of Vibhuthi Of Lord Murugan in his “Sri Subramnaya Bhujanga Stotra” as follows ,
ApasmAra kushta kshayArsha prameha|
JvaronmAdha gulmAdhi rogA mahAntha||
PishAchAshcha sarve bhavatpatra bhoothim|
Vilokya kshanAth tArakAre dravanthe|| (Shloka no.25)
Oh Conqueror of Taraka! Severe epilepsy, leprosy, consumption, lung diseases, venereal diseases, fevers, mental diseases of all types, they run away the moment they see Thy Vibhuti contained in a leaf.
This information is based on the Smriti and Vaidyanatha Dikshiteeyam.
Variation, for example is here below.