My grandmother had some indelible symbols tattooed in her hands. Whenever I met her, I would ask “Was it painful?” The only reply I got from her is “yeah a little pinch”, with a blushing smile. That greenish symbol in her sagged skin, near the thumb was adorable.
The fascination towards indelible inking culture increased my desire to get tattooed. Once I entered college in 2007, I thought I would do it. But then I noticed the rapid increase in youngsters getting tattooed. Getting tattooed began to be considered overly Westernized. My conservative Indian parents forbid me from getting a tattoo ever. Thus, my wished died. I still imagine getting tattooed as the craving for bodily art remains inside me.
Tattoos in Indian Tribes
Tattoo culture have been around India since ancient times within the lower stratum or tribes. [bctt tweet=”What was initially considered taboo in Indian culture became a trending fashion in recent years.” username=”contactrwc”] Tattoos are even customized now and there some famous tattoo artists like “Manjeet Singh” from Delhi India, are considered a celebrity.
This turn of events is quite interesting! Let’s start with the reasons what I have studied it.
- Tattooing was practiced among the rival tribes to avoid the abduction of women from their community. Women getting taken away was a common occurrence. To avoid that, women of their community got covered with tattoos to make them unappealing to others. It was a safe way protective cover.
- The Singhpo tribe followed a set of rules on tattooing for both men and women. The unmarried girls are not allowed to get tattooed and the married folk are allowed to wear tattoos on specific parts of their body.
- Tattoos are mostly used for tribal identity in the region during war times.
- One of the tribes in Orissa believed that getting tattooed with beautiful geometric facial tattoos helps them recognize each other once they enter the spirit world. They were called as “People Of Spirit World”.
- In some regions it is believed that the god of death — Yama’s displeasure and condemnation can be invoked in the absence of tattoos.
Gradual Shift in Mindset
In South India, a community named “Korathi” , who were nomadic and roamed about every direction of the country searching of clients to get tattooed. Their main form of work was tattooing (Pachakuthuradhu in tamil) in return for rice, plantains, betel leaves and nuts, and sometimes cash too.
Korathis start their tattooing procedure with a benediction, blessing the individual who is going to be get tattooed. They then sing some nursery rhymes too to divert the clients from the pain.
People believe that tattooing designs resembling kolam on their body makes them safe from the evil around them until they reunited with deceased ancestors in the afterlife. Kolams are labyrinth symbols that are usually drawn at the house entrance using rice flour or chalk for keeping away the evil from their home.
Tattoos related to the tribal adaptations like a dragon, tiger among men and butterflies among women and other abstract art started gaining popularity. Apart from the tribal symbols, memorial tattoos in name of loved ones which commemorate the death of a loved one or pet got enough attention in every age group. I actually found an interesting article detailing the history of Indian Tattoos here.
Over the past few decades, tattoos have inspired the Indian youth. The regional and spiritual beliefs though have been left behind.
The desire for making a statement or marking a memory will never allow the tattoo culture to fade away. The reasoning for getting tattooed has taken way more paths. Bodily art has become a fashion statement now. It has become a part of pop culture, where seeing the inking art is a path to express their beliefs, memories and their current phase of life. Tattoos are no longer just about identity and territory, it’s also a expressing your story in a creative way.
From the tribes of India, to pop culture, body art in India have come a long way. Tattoo culture is always seen as a combination of high trend fashion and ancient times
Do you have a tattoo? What’s the story behind it?