India - Body Modification Encyclopedia - The Tattoo Art And Education Guide | The Tattoo Concierge | | The Artists Choice
India - Body Modification Encyclopedia - The Tattoo Art And Education Guide | The Tattoo Concierge | | The Artists Choice

A brief overview of the wide range of body/art practices on the subcontinent, exploring more popularized appearances as well as highly specific regional adaptations. The latest entry in the encyclopedia, we are always excited to post articles covering the breadth and scope of body/art’s use around the globe
 | ‘Tattooing, piercing, and the use of henna are widely practiced on the Indian subcontinent, among tribal peoples as well as among caste Hindus. Women in India have practiced tattooing since at least the fifteenth century and probably before. Indigenous tribal groups use tattoos to mark tribal identity, individual identity, marriageability, and sometimes ritual status. Designs include symmetrical patterns, birds, and animals, and tattooing was also seen as a purely decorative practice, used to beautify the individual. Men sometimes wore tattoos as well, but this is far more common today than it was in the past. Among the Mers, for example, girls are tattooed starting at seven or eight, starting with their forearms and hands. Later, their feet, calves, neck, and chest are tattooed. Dots and lines are used to create gods, animals, domestic images, and plants. Among the Naga of Northeast India, women were tattooed on the back of the knee if they were married, and men wore facial tattoos that demonstrated their achievements in warfare and headhunting.
 Tattoos are also used by some caste Hindus; this probably derives from Hinduism as both Krishna and Vishnu wore tattoos, and one theory explains women’s facial tattoos as a way of identifying women who were captured by Muslims in the Middle Ages. Hindus also saw tattoos as evidence of earthly suffering, so wearing a tattoo could act as penance for one’s sins and get one entry into heaven. The Bhils, on the other hand, saw tattoos as evidence of good deeds that also could ease entry into the afterworld. Women in the Gujarat region see the tattoo as the only items that stay on her body after her death, so her tattoos are used to identify her in heaven. Finally, Christian Indians had birds tattooed on their arms and thighs as symbols of the Holy Ghost. In any case, tattoos for Hindus were certainly used to mark status, especially for women. Forehead tattoos were common, and higher caste women had fewer tattoos. Also, tattoos implied chastity and fidelity for a woman, and most women were tattooed prior to marriage, since tattoos were often a sign that she was marriageable. Traditionally, tattoos were created on women by women, using three needles, wrapped together, and dipped in ink, and primarily utilized abstract designs. While they were not applied in a ritual context, they still were seen as an important rite of passage for a woman. Today, however, some men, often from the Waghari tribe, work as itinerant tattooists, traveling around the country tattooing at festivals and markets with an electric machine, and sheets of Indian flash with peacocks, gods, flowers, watches, and other local symbols…. | full article

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