Ramnami Samaj- battling discrimination in the name of Ram
Shri ram stickers on your cheeks? Wait! It’s not just a thing for Aamir Khan, instead we found out from where exactly PK drew his inspiration! It’s been 10 decades or more since a community in the lanes of Chhattisgarh, is carrying the name of Lord Ram all over their body and what for? To battle discrimination in a very odd way. Forget about chanting and hallucinating, people of Ramnami Samaj has a different way to portray their faith in god, almost battling two crows with one arrow! Interesting enough why they do so, is a journey 100 years old that needs a recognition.
The journey of Ramnami Samaj:
The 19th century in middle India saw the revolt of several socio-religious groups that primarily challenged the existing political and religious fabrics. Movements like ‘Kabirpanthi’ were all done as a revolt against the caste hierarchy that has been imposed on lower castes. The Ramnami community also known as the society “in the name of Ram” has been battling discrimination by tattooing their bodies in Ram name as an act of rebellion against the higher castes. Ramnami community has always been subjected to untouchability as they belong to a lower caste according to Hindu patriarchy and thus this cool way of utilizing god has proved quite well for them! The practice originally dates 100 years back almost a century, when they were outlawed and forbidden to enter social temples or other places of worship. Even the well were different for them. And just to counter this odd, they came up by a brilliant idea that even movies seems to be opting today, – permanently imprinting Ram’s name on their body including the face and in some cases eyelids as well so that they could spread the message of God’s omnipresence. This ninja technique of tattooing begins at a very young age among the Ramnami Samaj, where every child has to do it before turning 2 years of age. Besides this tradition, another important custom of this society is to occupy at least one copy of Ramayana (Hindu epic) and should chant ‘Ram’ every day. Recital of Tulsidas’s epic poem ‘Ramcharitmanas’ is too an important part of their daily lives.
According to an old legend, it is said that the Ramnami community was started by Persuram Bhardwaj who was a son of a share cropper. He belonged to the Charpara village of Chhattisgarh. During his childhood days, his father used to recite Ramayana every day and the little Bhardwaj was greatly insured by lord Ram. But the fate had something else for him. Persuram was soon got infected by leprosy and the social stigma attached with the disease made him live his life in complete denial. He was socially discriminated and rejected. Later, he got a chance to meet a sage who blessed him and asked him to recite Ramayana again and again. Much to Persuram surprise, the next morning all the signs of leprosy were vanished and he was fully recovered. Another fascinating thing that happened that day was his body which was imprinted by the word Ram! Since it was no less than a magic, the villagers from then on started preaching Ram name and considering Ramayana a sacred text. Initially only few people tattooed Ramnam on their body but by the end of the decade several others had done so.
The Ramnami samaj is unique in its approach as it do not mend with the business of Hindu caste status neither seeks validation. They like to remains self-sustaining as much as possible. They do not try to establish their relationship with the Hindu Brahmanical system to get a position in the patriarchy as they do not welcome any prejudice or ignorance. Instead these people have opted their very own set of values and customs that make them differ from the rest of the community. Today, the Ramnami Samaj has more than 100k Ramnamis living in several villages across Chhattisgarh and other regions.
Why the Ramnami Samaj is vanishing?
With advent of technology and development, youth of this community has seems to get lost in the midst of materialistic world. While many people in the past has imprinted the Ramnam all over their body today only few choose to do so. This difference has led to a cultural chronology in the community itself. People with their whole bodies including head to toe tattooed are called Nakhshikh. Whereas people with tattoos on their foreheads only are known as Shiromani. While those with tattoos on their faces are called Badan. So, you see not all fellas can be seen green!
With the rising negligence it can be easily thought that the Ramnami Samaj who once maintained to keep their culture and tradition untouched for almost a century will completely disappear very soon.