Q. Why do you put Tilak?
A. Tilak is a traditional mark to identify devotees of Krishna. Tilak is made with sacred clay from a holy place in India, and it marks the body as a temple.
It is worn to remind the wearer and everyone that within the body resides the individual soul and the Supreme Soul, Lord Krishna.
It is a stamp of Lord Krishna’s lotus feet and His great devotee Tulasi on one’s body declaring that this body is the property of Krishna and should be used in His service only.
Q. What are those beads around your neck?
A. The neck beads that Krishna devotees wear are meant to symbolize submission to God. They serve to remind the person wearing them and those who see them that we are all servants of God or Krishna.
The beads are made from Tulasi wood. Although Tulasi appears in the material world as a plant, she is a great devotee of Krishna. By wearing Tulasi beads we please Krishna.
Q. Why do some Hare Krishnas look like Buddhist monks?
A. Shaven heads and orange robes actually pre-date Buddhism by many centuries. In Vedic culture a person dressed according to his or her social and spiritual position. Simple robes, although external, have traditionally been worn to help cultivate humility and freedom from vanity.
In keeping with this reasoning, the Hare Krishna Movement has retained certain elements of Vedic tradition wherever practical. Following this principle, women in Hare Krishna communities wear the traditional sari, while men wear robes known as dhotis.
Young men who have gone forward to observe a celibate student life and train as monks wear saffron colored robes; married men wear white. Most choose to shave their heads leaving a single lock of hair in the back called a sikha. This is done as a sign of renunciation and surrender to Krishna, as well as for cleanliness and simplicity. The U-shaped marking of clay on the forehead is known as tilak, and is made with yellow clay from the banks of sacred rivers in India. Together with these traditional ascetic practices, fully committed devotees of Krishna, whether residing in a temple community or not, also abstain from all types of intoxication, and do not gamble or have sexual relationships outside of marriage.