Bilwa Ashtakam, also spelled Bilwashtakam, Vilvashtakam, or Bilvashtakam, is the asthakam (ashtak) addressed to Lord Shiva. Bilwa Ashtakam is a highly powerful Sanskrit Shiva stotra which are the eight hymns chanted while offering Bilwa (Vilva) leaves to Lord Shiva. The Bilwa (Aegle Marmelos) leaves are one of the main offering to Lord Shiv and by offering Bilva leaves (Koovalam in Malayalam) a devotee can easily please Lord Shiva.
Bilvashtakam is in Sanskrit. It starts with bowing to God Ganesha. It is a very pious Shiva Stotra. God Shiva likes Bilva (tree) leaf. In this stotra, how Bilva leaf is pious and why it is offered to God Shiva when we worship (pooja) him, is described. While performing Pooja of God Shiva, it is said to be incomplete if we don’t offer Bilva Patra (Leaf).
Chanting Bilwa Ashtakam especially on Maha Shivaratri is considered auspicious. Here is Lyrics of Bilwashtakam with English meaning.
The tilak invokes a feeling of sanctity in the wearer and the others. It is recognized as a religious mark. Its form and colour vary according to one's caste, religious sect or the form of te Lord worshipped.
In earlier times, the four castes (based on varna or colour) - Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra - applied marks differently. The brahmin applied a white chandan mark signifying purity, as his profession was of a priestly or academic nature. The kshatriya applied a red kumkum mark signifying valour as he belonged to warrior races. The vaishya wore a yellow kesar or turmeric mark signifying prosperity as he was a businessman or trader devoted to creation of wealth. The sudra applied a black bhasma or kasturi mark signifying service as he supported the work of other three divisions.
Indians prostrate before their parents, elders, teachers and noble souls, by touching their feet. The elders in turn bless us by placing their hand on or over our heads. Prostration is done daily, when we meet elders and particularly on important occasions like the beginning of a new task, birthdays, festivals, etc. In certain traditional circles, prostration is accompanied by 'abhivaadana', which serves to introduce oneself, announce one's family and lineage.
Indians greet each other with namaste. The two palms are placed together in front of the chest and the head bows whilst saying the word namaste. This greeting is for all ----- people younger than us, of our own age, those older, even strangers.
There are five forms of formal traditional greetings in the Sastras, of which 'namaskar' is one. This is understood as prostration, but it actually refers to paying homage as we do today when we greet each other with a namaste.