Engraving a Symbolic Idea: The Tale Of Tattoos in India

With a blend of creativity and fashion, tattoos have transformed over the years, from tattooing for beauty and tradition to that of fashion and belief

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Tattoo Designs. Image Source: tattooeddesign.com
  • Tattooing is an emotional, physical, spiritual and mental experience
  • Various tribes use tattoos for several purposes from recording historic events to strengthening the marital relationship between couples
  • Tattoos are also used to strengthen the marital relationship between couples and depict their resolve to a particular faith

Tattooing is not a contemporary idea rather it has come a long way. The only difference that we now find in the popular tattoo culture is that it has become more customised one. It is now used as a symbolism to share personal life-stories and much more. From the tribes to urban youth, India is obsessed with Tattoo culture and holds it close to heart.

In India, tattooing is an age-old tradition. Various tribes used tattoos for different purposes from recording historic events to strengthening the marital relationship between couples. With a blend of creativity and fashion, tattoos have transformed over the years, from tattooing for beauty and tradition to that of fashion and belief, said the Statesman.com report.

  • The tribes of Singhpo of Assam and Arunachal, had distinct rules for each gender and age. While the unmarried Singpho girls were barred from wearing tattoos, the married women were tattooed on both legs from the ankles to the knees.  The men tattooed their hands.
  • The Konyaks a tribe of Nagaland tattooed their faces to show their prowess in battle and headcount. Tattoos also helped in establishing tribal identity in the region and helped in the recognition of the dead.
  • In Southern India, permanent tattoos are called pachakutharathu. They were very common, especially in Tamil Nadu, before 1980. To keep them safe and secure until reunited with deceased ancestors in the afterlife, a kollam, a sinuous labyrinthine design was inked on the bodies.
  • Tattoo on a old woman’s hand. Image Source: Flickr

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  • The Dhanuks in Bihar tattooed their women to deglamorise them. The women from lower castes had to have visible parts of their bodies tattooed to signal their inferior status.
  • Munda men have a tattoo on their foreheads, three straight vertical lines which represents the three victorious battles of the Mundas against the Mughals. Here the tattoos are used to record historic events.
  • The Gonds of Central India, one of India’s largest tribes, traditionally left much of their bodies exposed. The bare skin was covered with kohkana (Gondi for tattoos) to ensure they looked decent.
  • The men of the Santhal tribes of Bengal and inscribe odd number of tattoos on their forearms and wrists. The odd numbers signify life and even numbers symbolise death in Santhal cosmology. The women of Santhal are subjected to extreme pain by tattooing their bodies with floral patterns. It is done so as they believe that painful experiences prepare a girl for motherhood.

    Image Source:.freetattoodesigns.org
    Tattoo made on the neck of a woman. Image Source: freetattoodesigns.org

Tattoos are also used to strengthen the marital relationship between couples and depict their resolve to a particular faith.

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According to the Statesman.com report, Nagaland’s Mo Naga, one of the three Indians featured in the World Atlas of Tattoo. He wants to create modern patterns emerging out of the traditional designs and has founded the Headhunters’ Ink Tattoo School at Guwahati. Using modern machines and techniques of tattooing, he seeks to revive the traditional designs of the tribes of the North-east.

An elephant tattoo on hand. Image Source: The better India

The art of tattooing is one thing but the symbolic meaning and the tales behind it, is what makes a tattoo iconic. We often associate pictures, songs and certain symbols with people, memories, ideas and beliefs. When some of these are worth submerging ourselves into or when we are ready to completely embrace these emotions or ideas, tattooing them make them immortal. They are now permanent and represent who you are. These symbols that are engraved into you become an eternal ideal.

The process of tattooing is a ritual. Though done in different ways, the essential idea is the same. Hence, it is not wrong to say that tattooing is an emotional, physical, spiritual and mental experience.

prepared by Ajay Krishna an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @ajkrish14

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  • devika todi

    interesting read.

  • Vrushali Mahajan

    There many tribes which consider tattoo as a traditional culture. They have their bodies tattooed very soon and like to display it as a form of their culture and recognition of their tribes