(This is a continuation of a 3-part series on Tattooing in India. If you haven’t read the first part, you can read it here.)
In our last post, we read about the rich tradition of getting Tattoos of different kinds in the North Eastern and Southern parts of India. Let’s move on to the Western, Central and Eastern parts of India in today’s post.
Central India also has a long tradition of tattooing. The Dhanuks from Bihar used tattoos to deglamorize their women – this helped them evade the eyes of influential sex predators.
Due to the prevalence of purdah, women from lower castes had to have visible parts of their bodies tattooed to signal their inferior status.
On the other hand, for The Mundas in Jharkhand, which values courage, body art was a sign to record historic events. The Mundas, who defeated the Mughals three times, have three straight vertical lines on their foreheads. The men, even today, continue this tradition and have tattoos on their foreheads.
The Gonds of Central India, one of India’s largest tribes, traditionally left much of their bodies exposed. They would engulf themselves with Kohkana (Gondi for tattoos).
Women of the Kutia Kondh tribe of Orissa were called the ‘the people of the spirit world.’ For them, inking themselves with beautiful geometric facial tattoos was a way to recognize each other once they enter the spirit world.
The Santhal tribes of Bengal and Jharkhand have different tattoos for each sex, parts of the body, and life stages. The men would inscribe tattoos the size of coins called ‘Sikkas’ on their forearms and wrists. They kept the number of these tattoos to always an odd figure because odd numbers signify life and even numbers symbolize death in Santhal cosmology.
On the other hand, womenfolk of Santhal would ink Floral patterns on their faces. They believed that the painful experience prepares a girl for motherhood and gives her the strength to face the challenges of life.
Even in Western India, the tradition of tattooing has deep respect. To them, there was a close relation to secular and religious subjects of devotion and tattoos.
The Rabari women of Kutch have practiced tattooing for decorative, religious, and therapeutic purposes for hundreds of years. A traditional Rabari tattoo kit is simple: a single needle and a gourd bowl to hold the liquid pigment, which is made by mixing lamp soot with tannin from the bark of local trees and a turmeric powder to brighten the color and to prevent swelling. Ingenious isn’t it?
The Rabari women tattoo elaborate symbols onto their necks, breasts, and arms, signifying their strong faith in magic.
The Kothari women begin elaborate tattooing by bestowing blessings on their subjects, while the Rajput women bear the emblem of Lord Krishna’s crown on their arms as a mark of aristocracy. Despite the undiluted pain, the ladies are always perfect in their designing of the symbols and figures. Tattoos are also used, as a sign of strength in the marital relationship between couples, with the symbol of Moon protecting his favorite wife and Lord Krishna’s tools like wheel and lotus being marked on the wife’s palms to keep her secure.
The Mer tribe of Gujarat, have different ideas about body art. For them, tattoos include holy men, popular gods, and symbols derived from nature. A Mer woman’s most favorite tattoo design is called ‘hansali,’ which starts at her neck and goes all the to the border of her inner feet.