We’ve looked at tattoos being used across India for different reasons. Here’s another interesting reason:
In the recent past, Ramnamis of Chhattisgarh fought caste discrimination with full-bodied ‘Ram Ram‘ tattoos, a message to their persecutors that God is everywhere, regardless of a person’s caste or social standing. Denied entry to temples and forced to use separate wells, the Ramnamis first tattooed their bodies and faces more than 100 years ago with these words, which were a much sought out demonstration of devotion and a talisman against persecution.
And then there’s the body art of ‘Mehndi’. After all, body art is not limited and restricted to inking.
The temporary art of ‘Mehndi’ also has a beautiful and deep-rooted cultural connection in India. The use of mehndi and turmeric is well described in the earliest Vedic ritual books.
The art of ‘Mehndi’ in India, has always been used by women of the house to traditionally celebrate weddings and rites of passage. Their patterns are intricate and customizable to the choice of the person making it. The brightness and longevity of the design are generally associated with the internal body heat of the person. But there’s the old wives’ tale, though, that says: “The deeper the shade of the Mehndi, the deeper the love by the husband.”
While body art has been practiced as a tradition and culture for centuries in many Indian communities, it is only over the past few decades that tattoos have become a fashion statement among urban Indian youth.
Tribal adaptation of designs like the dragon and tiger and abstract art have gained traction among the youth. Memorial tattoos, spiritual tattoos, and tattoos with the name of the significant other, to name a few, are hugely popular.
In 2015, Mo Naga from Nagaland, Abhinandan ‘Obi’ Basu from Kolkata, and Manjeet Singh from Delhi were featured in the World Atlas of Tattoo. They were listed as one of the 100 notable tattoo artists from around the globe published by Yale University Press.
Mo Naga wants to create his unique design by creating modern patterns emerging out of the traditional designs. He uses modern machines and techniques of tattooing to revive the traditional designs of the tribes of the northeast. He founded the Headhunters Ink Tattoo School at Guwahati.
Mo Naga says, “I am not trying to bring back the old beliefs and lifestyle. My effort is to tell the stories of our forefathers through art and design.”
Mo Naga believes that a study through the traditional tattoo patterns can reveal priceless pieces of history.
Over the ages, Indian body art has undergone a drastic transformation. From tattooing for beauty and tradition to tattooing for fashion and beliefs. A blend of creativity and fashion, tattoos are no longer just about identity and territory. In today’s world, they have become a way to express beliefs, memories, and phase one is going through in life.