A true devotee is identified by the sacred ash (Vibhuti) applied on his fore-head. Vibhuti symbolizes pure devotion. Another name for Vibhuti is Bhasmam which means remains of fire. Just as the material substance is destroyed in fire, any evil influence that surrounds a person gets destroyed by the power of Vibhuti. When the sacred ash is applied, it purifies the body and brings the grace of Lord Siva.
Vibhuti also gives a message. This body to which one identifies himself would ultimately be consigned to flames and turned to ashes. Thus, applying white ash paves for knowledge that body alone dies while the Self (Atma) lives on. Once the body identification goes, the Atma Jnana dawns and the devotee becomes free from all the consequences ofKarma and attains liberation.
In his song done at Palani, Arunagirinathar says: “One who has applied Vibhuti is worthy of reverence. According to Muruganar, when the cow-dung is burned only the white ashes of Vibhuti remain and similarly when ego is destroyed by the fire of Jnana, what remains is the Reality, the Self. Since Jiva is represented as cow in Saiva Sidhantam, the cow dung is identified as ego and Vibhuti represents the Self (Atman). Devaram, considered as Tamil Vedas, has ten songs that highlight the importance and sanctity of Vibhuti. In the Uma Maheswara Samvada, Lord Siva says: “Oh! Uma Maheswari, I have given the Bhasmam to protect, to bring prosperity, to purify and to identify my devotees.”
In the holy city of Kasi, it is a divine experience to see all the devotees worshipping Siva with Vibhuti smeared all over their body. Anointment of Siva Linga with Vibhuti is the most important ritual in Kasi. In the song rendered by Arunagirinathar at Kasi he says: “As a consequence of my karma, I never thought it right to apply the sacred ash which the enlightened sages who composed great devotional works smeared all over their body. May the sacred ashes applied over my body give me the vision to reach your Lotus Feet (Dharanikkathi).