Indian culture and tattoos- the complete story

While many Indians prefer a clean body with no marks or booms, that’s not entirely the case with the whole country. Either being used as a sign or status or just a jewelry notch, from where the art of tattooing originated in India remains a mystery. ‘Godna’ as known in the Hindi language is an art done on the body using needles and colours. The art of permanent tattooing is deeply entrenched in Indian culture. From the snow-soaked hill forests of the beautiful seven sisters to the dry humid deserts of Rann of Kutch of west, the art of tattooing has one way or another to be talked about. Be it the Ramnami Samaj or the Headhunting Konyaks of Nagaland- people with green bodies can easily be located anywhere across the country. Let’s explore how the culture of Tattooing resides with Indian Traditions and how much influence does it have on our culture.

Indian Tribes and the Tattoo influence

In many remote villages of India, people with permanent body drawing can be seen at every nook and street corner. Even women who are overly obsessed with the idea of being beautiful too has a number of tattoos imprinted on their bodies including the faces! One such tribe is Apatani tribe of Arunachal Pradesh. The Apatanis are also known as the Tanis who trace their origin as a migratory tribe who moved to Arunachala Pradesh. The women of this tribe can be seen wearing large nose plugs and tattoos on their faces. It is said that the women of this tribe were extremely beautiful and thus were abducted by the enemy neighbors. In order to prevent such kidnappings they turn towards tattooing, which they believe as a tool to make them less appealing. Nose plugs and tattoos are imprinted on them from a very young age so that they could stay protected and since then it has now taken a shape of a custom which is prevalent till today.   

Tattoos is the tribal heritage for the Singhpo of Assam and Arunachal. Facial tattooing is prevalent among Noctes and Wanchos tribes of Arunachal Pradesh as well. It is said that the married women of Singpho tribe are tattooed from their ankles to knees while the men tattoos their hands as a part of their custom. Whereas the young unmarried girls are barred from wearing any. And the reason? Same as the Apatanis people! The headhunting tribe, Konyaks of Nagaland are famous for the neck tattoos which according to them shows power and superiority. Their headhunting skills along with a unique tattoo custom forms an integral part of their warfare. The iconic ‘specs’ facial tattoos of the Konyak men depicts their unique cultural practice that distinguish them from the rest of the country! The tattoo tradition is also very famous among the Noctes and Wanchos of Arunachal. The Nocte men tattoo their chest and body apart from the face whereas the women generally tattooed on the arms and the back. The common design is normally the big stars with cross lines joining the ends. The small Nocte girls are tattooed on chins with diamond lines along with the other body parts include chest, naval, thighs and calf’s. These different tattoo designs on different parts of body signifies the attainment of several stages of life from being a child to an adult.

Not only has the state of Northeast, the regions of south too had a history associated with tattooing. Long before the 1980s, there is prove that the art of permanent tattoos called pachakutharathu prevailed in south India, especially in the regions of Tamil Nadu. It was used as a cultural symbols rather than anything else. The nomadic Korathi tattoo artists are nothing less than an exception as they roam around the country selling the art of tattooing which they see as the aid of beautification. Around 1900, Korathi women tattooed both men and women through the form of piercing. These women generally pronounced tattooing as a blessing for welfare and betterment. Using coconut water and turmeric, the wounds are healed in a way to make them brighter in colour and to reduce pain. The Todas are a pastoral tribe inhabiting the higher elevations of the Nilgiri Hills of southern India. The geometric tattoos of this tribe are exceptionally unique and symbolizes superiority. Their hands and calves are designed in geometric outlines! They believe that these tattoos protect them from entangled evil spirits and keep them secure from bad omen.

The Dhanuks of Bihar are considered very low in the caste hierarchy thus the women of this tribe are usually subjected to molestation by the men of higher castes. They use tattoos as a form of security for females against the creeping eyes of upper caste males! According to the Dhanuks, tattooing disfigures women, and turn them undesirable for sexual marauder! While the Munda tribe in Jharkhand are too popular for carving tattoos onto their bodies from ancient times. The Munda’s believe that tattoos are the symbol of courage and power. The men of the tribe carves tattoos on their wrists and hands including the forearms whereas the women use floral arts to tattoo their faces. These bolds imprints describes their status and the tribe is very boastful about that. The Gonds of Chhattisgarh use ‘Godna’ or Tattooing as the weapon for power of healing and their ritualistic significance. The tattoos on women signifies the life stages of their life such as puberty, marriage and childbirth. These tattoos has many motifs and are very curative in nature. The Kutia Kondh tribe of Orissa also known as ‘the people of the spirit world’ uses ink to carve pretty geometrical facial tattoos. These tattoos ensures that the people of this tribe recognizes each other after they enter the spirit world. The procedure of tattooing is a bit painful as they use natural methods of imprinting using thorns to cut and in order to make them more darker and larger, the wounds are left to be infected!


Now, this long list of Indian tribe and their tattooing culture isn’t enough as there are many more walking the same path such as the Santhal tribes of Bengal and Jharkhand who have different tattoos for men and women. The men tattoos are called sikkas which are imprinted on their forearms and wrists. The name is given because they are usually as big as the size of coins which is called sikka in the Santhal language. Same goes with the Rabari women of Kutch, Mer tribe of Gujarat and of course the Chhattisgarh’s Ramnamis who are battling discrimination by carving ‘Ramnam’ all over their bodies!  

Temporary tattoo art of mehndi and the religious significance

If you are an Indian women than you must be aware about the art of Mehndi. Every festival, every occasion and of course the big Indian wedding is incomplete without Mehndi! Women literally are crazy over them. But do you know that this Mehndi is actually the temporary tattoo art? Many religions in India do not favour the permanent tattoos. Like tattoos are considered to be haram in Sunni Islam, based on rulings from passages in the Hadith. So thus to counter this fact, the temporary tattoos came into place so that such people can too enjoy the libery! But this religious belief does not goes hand in hand with everyone. As Shia’s in Islam does not forbid tattooing, and many of them have tattoos, specifically with religious themes. Say it anything, this art is undoubtedly an amazing art used for beautifying your palms!


Medical significance of tattooing

According to a research, tattooing serves to inoculate the immune system. This happens when your body detects foreign invaders which you get from tattooing and thus prepare antibodies to fight them. These antibodies attack the foreign invaders which is why swelling occurs after tattooing. And this whole system results in our improve immune system, got while combatting the ink. Similarly the more tattoos compound the positive effects on your immune system! Apart from this do you know that tattoos are excellent in fighting stress? The cortisol in our body is responsible for stress and anxiety, while tattoos reduced the cortisol level in our body which in return, helps us fight migraines, increased weight gain, inhibited memory and elevated blood pressure. Cortisol reduction isn’t just good for deducting anxiety, it also helps well in athletics. Reduced cortisol level helps people who trains as this means that our muscles can repair faster after a workout and simultaneously requiring less time off from the gym. Tattoos nowadays are also in talk with replacing the vaccines. As the old method was more conventional and costly, scientists are finding ways to replace vaccines with the art of tattooing which is comparatively less costly. The DNA delivery by tattoos are much easy as it helps in delivering multiple vaccines in one session which is said to be 16 times more reliable than the old method! So, you see that tattooing is not just all about beautification or a merely a counter measure, it is actually more beneficial as we sees it to be.  

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