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by Annesha Das Gupta
Tattoos and the culture of India are the two things that many of us will immediately deem as an oxymoron. Through the electronic and the print media, the masses are feed upon the images that the art of tattooing as particularly a western phenomenon. Though, here the idiom of ‘What we see is not always true’ can be thoroughly applied.
Many of the customs and traditions of our subcontinent did become obsolete a long time ago, and the surprising bit is that the culture of tattoos is one of them. Tattoos were hold in ultimate veneration throughout the agrarian landscapes for much longer than what the annals of documentation tells us.
The ancient patterns of maze-like creations carved on the rocks dating back to the time of 1000 B.C. were later adopted by the tribal communities to mark their arms and other parts of their bodies. The patterns resembling a labyrinth known as Kolam, were often drawn by the families, residing in the regions of South India. The symbols were placed outside the threshold of their abodes, in order to protect the members of the household.
It was believed that the illustration is capable of magical powers which would trap the demons and other evil beings in the puzzle of the maze, something which cannot be solved by those creatures. The Kolam was usually made during the time of dawn, when as the legend goes, the inhabitants of the darkness come alive. Thus, it is of no wonder that the same was inked on the human bodies to permanently keep themselves safe and secure.
Apart from this one tattoo which was and still is believed to have magical properties, the marks, the symbols, the lines and the dots were regarded to borne medical, religious and sympathetic significance as well.
Exploring the power of tattoos – Surreal and beyond
Gauitra Bahadur writes that while researching for her book Coolie Woman, she found out about the tradition of Sita Ki Rasio, a tattoo without which the married women of northeast India cannot cook meals for their in-laws. While another of the tattoos drawn on women, denotes the five Pandavas and one Draupati, as five dots centered around a single one. This can depict the harmonious relationship between various husbands as polygamy was readily practiced by some tribes like that of the Nagas.
Such instances, also tells us about the heavy influence of the Hindu epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata. Then there is the symbol of Krishna’s crown which was wore by the Rajput women to show off their aristocracy indicating that the social status or position of someone’s caste or class can be read upon by the tattoo they have been marked with, like the caste of Govals who had the tattoos of Kanhaiyyaa and his milk maids inscribed on their arms.
The tattoos also used to work as something which will strengthen the marital relationship between the couples. The symbol of Moon or Chandi protecting his favorite wife, Rohini and the tattoos carrying the decorations of Vishnu’s tools like wheel and lotus are marked on the palms of the wives keeping with the terms of the legend that the God drew his weapons on the arms of his wife, Lakshmi to keep her secure while he was away, engaging in wars.
The craft of tattooing which is called Gudna in Hindu was mainly used to be done by the elders of the village or otherwise the itinerant women, who may be were illiterate but there was no standard of complex design that cannot be drawn by their expert hands and shrewd eyes. The Kothari women, who practiced tattooing on both men and women, generally began the task by restoring benediction on their subjects. The materials that were used in the exercise were three or more sharp needles tied up in a thread, organic materials like the coating of turmeric, cow’s milk and urine mixed with oil to lubricate and redeem the pain which will be felt by the person when the pricking will be going on.
Sometimes songs and nursery rhymes were also sung to divert and soothe away the pain which the man or the woman is going through. It is known that in the earlier times, no such distractions or ointments were applied and the area where the person has been tattooed would have been bloated and pain remained there for even more than a week.
Moving on, comes the religious powers that were believed to be donned by the tattoos, they also were said to have affinity to ease the work of everyday life. We can start on by the instance, where the horses and Hanuman being tattooed on the thighs of women so that they could be protected while walking barefoot and have the ability to labor all day in the field and carry out burdensome materials and task from one place to another.
The sector of agricultural, while, holds a primary place among the rural population and tribes and was therefore included it in the evolving structure of the tattoos. Especially when the harvesting season comes, the women who are not tattooed were not allowed to reap the crops and was considered to be impure for cultivation and its various purposes.
On the other hand, one can also speak of the medicinal importance of tattoos, like the ‘tattoo operations’ being performed to affect the remission of gout, rheumatism and arthritis.
Some of the tattoos are separately reserved to pay respect to motherhood like that the image of goddess Bara Deo, drawn on the breastbone of women, when their first infant is born. This particular part of the woman’s body is chosen due to the fact that it is where the child rests its head while been suspended inside the clothing. It is supposed to protect the child while the mother’s hands freely work in the fields.
Among the superstitious facets, it is held by some that tattooing can help them in keeping themselves secured, especially in their afterlife. As it is a common believe that the marked ones are safe as the devil do only devour the beings who are not tattooed and also that the inscriptions help the people to find their way safely back to their deceased ancestors.
It is also feared by some communities that if a man interrupts the tattooing ceremony by accident and markings on the body of the girl is not finished, no further performing of the task can be carried out. And that it is the will of the God, who will be shredding the woman’s body with iron rods after her death.
Concluding – The present state
We can make an appraisal of the current situation by Akhilesh Shukla’s report on tattoos of India at the Caravan Magazine which he titles as ‘Fading out’.
The traditional tattoo artists, he reports are at a total loss as the scope in this occupation has already gone its prime time and is now withering slowly away. Most of them, does not want their next generations to pursue the same path as the customs of the tattoos are getting erased from the minds, even of those who belong to the tribal communities.
In pre-Independent India, most of the tattoos used to cost a sum of one-sixth annas to that that of five and now it is more than that of hundred bucks even for a single line. Earlier, of course it was a fashion statement for the elites and also a necessity as the girls who do not have tattooed themselves before tying the knot, were considered as belonging to an uncultured background.
But now, the times have changed and so have the norms. Separating men from women, the male population, have also stopped getting themselves involved in the arena of tattoos as most of them, coming from the rural settings try out for the positions in the military. Since, there are already strict rules on any tattoos in the field many are discouraged to try their ‘hands’ out on this way.
Therefore, it may be safe to conclude that the future of traditional Indian tattoos, are rather degenerating into the pit-holes of loss of memory. Lack of proper anthropological research and dissemination of the topic is creating crevices which if not repaired soon, will become irretrievable.
Annesha Das Gupta is a student of Sociology, pursuing her degree from IGNOU, Kolkata. She has a special interest in the branches of Feminism, Sexuality and Dalit Studies. Twitter: Dancingbluepen
The director of Tribal Research Center located in Ooty, C. Maheswaran has revealed some very intersesting facts about the tribal communities while addressing the audience at the Vanavarayar Foundation. The event, ‘Lifestyles of Kongunadu Tribes’ was organized by the foundation as a part of the monthly lecture series.
Mahaswaran talked about one of the tribes, where the people from the boys side approach the potential bride’s family by asking, “We have some seeds, will you give us some land to sow it in?’ and if all goes well, a stick representing the boy will be left behind on the girl’s house, denoting that a bond has been created.
In another instance, the Malayaalis go swirling round a stick over their heads to declare that they are seeking for a bride. The probable sequence that will follow be either that the woman’s family accepts the stick or else they will throw it out, without facing any protest from the boy’s side.
He also mentioned a extremely thoughtful custom practiced by the Todas, is which the husband of a pregnant woman will gift her a Toda shaped house constructed from grass blades and shrubs. This is the way of proclaiming to the world, that the husband is the child’s father and the infant will be heartily welcomed in his clan.
Apart from the ceremonies relating to selection of mates and marriage, there are also tribal traditions of respecting each other’s territory and dedicating one’s life to the community.
Mahaswaran explained about the Aalu Kurumbas, where once every year, seven members of the tribe travel to live in the forest secretly, for a whole week. This is done in hope that the Nature will grant protection to their villages. On their return, the seven of them cooks a meal of pongal in seven pots and feeds the villagers.
While, in a different case the Pazhiyar tasks themselves to dig into the hard ground searching for edible tubers. After a hard work of half a day, the person will tore off the half of the tuber for himself and keep the rest for the community. It is also known that if the similar person finds a honeycomb in the forest while going on the search for tubers, he will mark the tree. And if the same tree is noted by anyone else from the tribe, they will refuse to touch the honeycomb, showing respect for other’s territory.
Finally, C. Mahaswaran concluded that, “This is how tribals communicate. Without many words being spoken”.
To give a little more information, it is established that Kongunadu which is home to six vulnerable tribals like Todas and Kotas, also is the place of origin for the 14 out of 36 tribal communities in the whole of Tamil Nadu.
By Megha Sharma
This video, published on August 18 in 2015, is an extensive study of the eminent anthropologist and assistant professor at the university of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Kumar Mahabir on the migrated Indian population and their later vanish from the West Indies Island, St. Kitts.
Watch it here:
The islet is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and the vast Atlantic Ocean with an approximate distance of about 2100 km from Florida. The land is the first British colony in the Caribbean Sea, becoming the richest of them by 1776. It is a well-established place with a national park, famous medical universities, and even the smallest nation throughout the world to host the cricket world cup 2007.
The data provided examines the number of Indian immigrants to the Caribbean Sea, where this land comes under the ones received the least by these people. From around 250000 individuals, only 337 opted for it. The researcher also observes how even the literary fields are devoid of any exploration of Indians’ presence in this space.
A personal visit to the place too didn’t fetch him a substantial amount of record to scrutinize into the matter as he just received a few documents of National Archives to satiate this search. Further, the St Christopher Advertiser, a newspaper maintained by a free-coloured family ran from 1782 to 1915. He has otherwise not found any digitised information on the same from the English National Archives.
361 immigrants of different Indian places retreated from Calcutta on February 26, 1861, on the ship Dartmouth, with 337 setting foot on the Island and 2 dying during the voyage. The immigrants included 209 males and 128 females and children who were distributed to work in 25 estates.
These people converted to Christianity, some even changing the names of their children to Christian ones. The scenario totally turned with only 10 Indians on the Island absorbing in the local population after seven years with 21% moving to their origins and a great mass settling in Trinidad.
It is seen how the whole population of Indian outsiders scattered throughout the Islands was too small in numbers to form settled communities wherein Dr Kumar studied the case of a Trinidadian novelist Merle Hodge.
These studies analyse how these Anglican Indians lost the essence of their lands and are immersed in the cultural discourses of their alternative identities. The recent people who have put their roots in the land are Sindhis establishing retail stores and supermarkets. Archibald, a Kittitian author, observes how political actions were taken to hold the increasing immigration to these lands.
(Megha is a student at the University of Delhi. She is pursuing her Masters in English and has also done her studies in German language.) Gmail- email@example.com
Washington: Texas Governor Greg Abbott has appointed Arun Agarwal, CEO of Nextt, the Dallas-based leader in the US home textile industry, to the Product Development and Small Business Incubator (PDSBI) Board.
The first Indian American to be appointed to the key post in the state’s history, Agarwal will hold the office until Feb 1, 2019.
The PDSBI is a revolving loan programme, administered by the Office of the Governor, and overseen by a nine-member board appointed by the Governor.
The PDSBI Fund provides financial aid for the development, production and commercialization of new or improved products and to foster the growth of small businesses in Texas.
“It is such a huge honour for me to serve on one of the Governor’s boards,” said Agarwal.
“As global business owners, it is our responsibility and civic duty to help other local small businesses survive and thrive in this global economy, and I am excited to do my part.”
Nextt is a $500 million revenue, privately-held company that provides textiles to all of the major US retailers including Dillard’s, Belk, Wal-Mart and Kohl’s.
Nextt also has a robust portfolio of leading celebrity brands, such as Beautyrest, Ellen Tracy, Jessica McClintock and Royal Sateen.
The company was recently awarded the patent for “alpha cotton,” a luxurious fabric that will make sheets 30 to 40 percent cheaper than 100 percent cotton.
Nextt CEO Arun Agarwal was awarded “NRI of the Year” by TIMES NOW and ICICI Bank in 2015 and was selected as a 2014 Minority Business Leader by the Dallas Business Journal.
Agarwal’s Dallas headquartered company was ranked 17th in the 2014 Dallas 100 list of fastest growing companies selected by the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship of SMU. (Arun Kumar, IANS)