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Vibhūthi, which is believed to be holy ash, is an article of faith. The ash, which the devotee is asked to smear himself with, is a symbol of ash that the desire is reduced to. One who reduces his desires to ash by means of the fire called knowledge (Jñyāna) is real 'śivayōgi' [ಶಿವಯೋಗಿ]. It is figuratively said that his mind, intellect, sense, and the whole gross body are made up of vibhūti. Those who want to emulate him must start spiritual life with the symbolic act of smearing vibhūti on the different parts of their person. One who is told by the guru that it is only a symbolic act leading nowhere, and that the real aim is burning the desires by the knowledge of fire, leaves such practices behind.
Aiśvarya,[ಐಶ್ವರ್ಯ] which is a synonym of vibhūti means lordship. One who has control over his senses is īśvara [ಈಶ್ವರ] (or has aiśvarya). In other words, one who reduces his desires to ashes is the lord of his senses.
Normally vibhūti is smeared horizontally with three fingers, mainly on the forehead, two sides of the throat, etc. The three parallel lines of the sacred ash have mythological reference. According to a myth, when Shiva was meditating, the god of love, Kama or Manmatha, disturbed him by shooting a flower-arrow at him. This act symbolically means that he tried to arouse erotic feelings in Shiva. But Shiva, who was angered by this, opened his third eye (the one between eye brows) and reduced him to ashes. When Kama's wife beseeched he brought him to life again. According to another myth, Shiva burnt three worlds (tripura). This symbolically means he reduces to ashes three bodies out of which man's personality is constituted, namely, gross body (sthūla-śrīra) [ಸ್ಥೂಲ ಶರೀರ], subtle body (sūkshma-śarīra) [ಸೂಕ್ಷ್ಮ ಶರೀರ] and causal body (karana-śarīra) [ಕಾರಣ ಶರೀರ], each of which is a result of karma [ಕರ್ಮ]. In other words, it means that Shiva who is pleased with his devotee's devotion burns all karmas and liberates him from saṃsara. Thus three lines of vibhūti symbolically mean that the devotee is liberated, or at least, that he should strive for liberation.