Home Culture Running skin deep: India’s tradition of tattoos

Running skin deep: India’s tradition of tattoos

India’s tradition with tattoos is ancient. Several tribes of India used tattoos as a body art. In tribes of the North East such as Noctes and Wanchos of Arunachal, these tattoos are regarded as a sign of courage and strength.

July 25, 2021: India’s tradition of tattoos is 100 year old. In some communities tattoos have been flaunted as body art and in other communities, it has been shown as a kind of jewellery and adornment.

India’s tradition with tattoos: Sign of strength & courage  

Image: Quartz

Tattoos, the slightest mention of the term in contemporary times, would lead us to visualizing a person all jacked up in stylish attire, earphones plugged into their ears probably flaunting their hip hop moves.

But India’s tradition with tattoos is ancient. Several tribes of India used tattoos as a body art.

In tribes of the North East such as Noctes and Wanchos of Arunachal, these tattoos are regarded as a sign of strength, courage, and virility because of the pain associated with the piercing process.

India’s tradition with tattoos: Tracing the tattoo culture of South India

According to Better India, permanent tattoos called pachakutharathu exists in South India. They were very common, especially Tamil Nadu, before 1980.

The tattoo artists from the Korathi tribe were wandering travellers who popularized the idea. Kollam, is a kind of tattoo pattern that brings along with it safety from the evil beings and the dead souls.

Among the Toda tribe of South India, the hands and calves and shins are tattooed with the same geometric patterns used in their embroidery.

Also read: Get inked! Top 10 meaningful tattoo ideas

Tattoo culture in modern India

Today, tattoos have found their way into the fashion industry now with every young adult having the desire to sport one.

Image: Utkal Today

From Akshay Kumar, Virat Kohli, Deepika Padukone, to Ajay Devgan, and Hardik Pandey, the list is endless for the number of celebrities who sport a tattoo on their physique.

Tattoo can signify a lot of thoughts, but essentially it exhibits people’s love for some person, idea, faith, religion and even at times ethnicity.

 Tattoos are said to have been a constant companion and source of motivation as it exhibits the idea one is attached to.

Tattoos, the age-old practice

Here are the Indian tribes who from ancient times to 2021 have kept up the culture and tradition.

  1. Santhals: This tribe, which have marked their presence mostly in the states of West Bengal and Jharkhand, consider inking tattoos to grant maturity and strength to the tribe members. From coined-shape tattoos on men to flower patterns on women, these people have shielded their tradition from all odds.
  2. Dhanuks from Bihar: The tradition in this tribe is a social proof of exploitation of the female sex since ages. For the women are inked only to make them ugly which would ultimately shield them from the flesh thirsty upper class nobility.
  3. Naga tribe of Nagaland: The tattoos are inked onto girls reaching their puberty and the entire process is a huge ceremonial affair along with animal sacrifice. The tattoos are inked with bamboo thorns and colour extracted from the barks of various trees.
  4. The Rabaris: Gujarat is the land of these tribes and the process of tattooing is known as trajva. The entire mechanism is beyond endurance and hence the tattoos are considered as a symbol of strength. The women are tattooed as naked skin is believed to be taboo. Various patterns along with symbols of Scorpions, snakes and camels are common occurrence.

India is a land that exhibits and holds a glorious history to almost all art forms and ways of life. Tattoos don’t escape this truth. Whether it is the tribes with age-old practices or the youths and celebrities, Indians have mastered the art.

By: Shubham Kumar Nath


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