Published On: Sun, Mar 27th, 2022

Hindu Airman Approved to Wear Tilak in U.S. Air Force Uniform

Senior Airman Darshan Shah is an aerospace medical technician assigned to the 90th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron of the U.S. Air Force. After waiting for years, Shah’s request to be able to wear a Hindu Tilak daily while in Air Force uniform was finally approved. 

The U.S. Air Force has very specific and strict guidelines as to what service members can wear while in uniform. Getting his religious symbol approved was a huge blessing for Darshan Shah. The Tilak holds a very special place in his heart as a proud practicing Hindu.

Shah is a practitioner of the B.A.P.S. Swaminarayan Sampradaya of Hinduism and wearing a Tilak-Chandlo daily on the forehead is a very sacred and important part of his spiritual practice as a Hindu. Shah says “It’s who I am. Wearing it is special. It’s my way of getting through hardships and difficulties in life. It provides me with guidance.” 

The Tilak-Chandlo is a sign of empowerment for him and it serves as a constant reminder of his Hindu identity and his spiritual practices. The “Tilak” is the U-shaped yellow marking made of Sandalwood and the “Chandlo” is the red dot in the center made of kumkum (processed turmeric). This is a classic symbol applied by the devotees of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, who as per the Swaminarayan Sampradayas of Hinduism, is an incarnation of God.

Darshan Shah faced a lot of uncertainty as such proposals are very rare in western countries where Hindus are a small minority. Being a proud Hindu himself, Shah felt motivated to educate others around him about the significance of the Tilak-Chandlo and put in an official application for clearance to be able to wear it along with his Air Force uniform. 

Shah, expressing his excitement said, “It’s something new. It’s something they’ve never heard of before or even thought was possible, but it happened. Wearing the Tilak Chandlo every day to work is amazing, to say it in one word. People around my workplace are giving me handshakes, high-fives and congratulating me, because they know how hard I’ve tried to get this religious accommodation approved.”

Shah’s story is an inspiration to all Hindus around the world to openly express their Hindu identity without fear, shame, or guilt. All Hindu sampradayas have a wide variety of head markings on the forehead and apart from the spiritual significance of the markings, it is also a beautiful display of unity and diversity it represents among all Hindus. Tilaks and Bindis are a sign of empowerment and bliss that Hindus experience through the various beautiful practices and powerful understandings that they represent.