Indian Tattoos

India’s vibrant tattoo tradition dates back centuries when markings symbolized one’s society.   Unfortunately, like so many other Indian customs, this one, too, was lost over time.

London-based Shah launched his Instagram project India, Ink, to explore underrepresented parts of Indian culture.  Through his work, Shah understands that each inked symbol carries an important meaning.

 The Korava

Tattooing is an old art practised by different tribal parties across India.  It has been passed down from generation to generation for centuries.  And recently, some people have started using it medicinally.

One of the most renowned tribes that practice this art is the Korava tribe.  These women employ a hand poke technique to create complex designs on their skin.

This tribe uses traditional Indian signs and designs in their tattooing.  It can be seen in both men and women.

Koravas who are getting married often has their arm and forehead tattooed with patterns.

Representing the gods signifies that their partner will always remain loyal to them.  This ritual helps guarantee their loyalty throughout life.

Koravas consider tattoos an important part of their culture and tradition.  Believing these designs can guide them toward success in life.

Additionally, Tattoos can help people find true love.  Tattoos naturally contain black and red ink.  But some can also feature pink or yellow shades.

Obtaining your Tattoo done accurately is critical.  To avoid serious health complications if it does not match up with the rest of your body.

It is vital to make sure you aren’t allergic to the ink.  Ink can trigger allergies and sensitivities.  It leads to symptoms like a sickness.  Or itching on your skin.

Remember that ink can sometimes stain a dress, particularly if you are female.

Therefore, it is essential to wear clothing that complements the ink.  Famous types of apparel include t-shirts, shorts, and skirts.  You could even rock a headband.  Or a necklace featuring the same design.  If you are still determining which type of ink works best for you, consult an expert before choosing.

The Bihar tribe

Bihar is home to multiple tribes with their culture, traditions, and methods.  This state should be visited by those who appreciate nature and religion alike.

The Bihar tribe is an intriguing ethnic class from central India.  They are well-known for their vibrant tattoos.

Tattoo have long been an integral part of their culture and lifestyles.  They symbolize faith in God and mark different stages in one’s life.

They are devout followers of Ramanantha, with rituals and practices similar to those described in the holy book.

Another group of tribals with tattoos is the Danuks in north-central India.  They believe tattoos reduce women’s attractiveness.

Thus protecting them from sexual predators.

These tribals are deeply religious.  And proudly display tattoos as a testament to their trust in God.  Women, in particular, get travel tattoos on their faces, forearms, and breasts as symbols of their devotion.

These men often sport tattoos on the backs of their hands.  And sometimes above the wrist.  The ink is created by mixing lampblack.  And tannin extracted from a local kino tree.

Tattoos are widely popular throughout the country.  And can be seen in every tribal community.  They serve as a representation of their faith.  And play an essential role in people’s everyday lives.

Bihar is home to many tribals with diverse tattoos.  It’s some for religious reasons, while others are purely cosmetic.

Tattoos in Asia differ greatly from the ones commonly found in the West.  They are complicated and integral to their culture.  It represents their faith in God.  And plays a significant role in their daily lives.

 The Nagaland tribe

The Naga tribe is one of India’s oldest, practising animism.  However, they had adopted Christianity into their lifestyle.

It’s Since the 19th century when Christian missionaries arrived in the province.

Nagaland state boasts a diverse ethnic population with numerous traditions.

Their customs are an intricate mix of animist beliefs.  And various forms of Christianity brought by missionaries in recent decades.

Since ancient periods, the Nagas have accepted that heads possess life-giving powers, which could increase crop yield.  And produce more newborn children.  Thus, they were accorded special care and food.

Today, there are still some tribes in the region that practice headhunting.

However, these practices have become increasingly rare as more.  And more people convert to Christianity.  The Konyaks of Mon district are believed to be among the last remaining practitioners of headhunting.  And they still sport their ceremonial tattoos on their bodies as rewards for successful hunting.

Moba Langfhoang is 35 years old and employed by the government.  He does not look upon her tattoos with the same nostalgic fondness as others.  “Sadly, we have lost so much of our culture – but we are striving to restore it,” she reflects.

American anthropologist Lars Krutak describes tattoos as a permanent reminder of one’s identity.  It is a connection to nature and heritage.  It can signify tribal association.  The completion of a rite of passage.  Or transition into the afterlife.

He travelled to the northeast, where several tribes practised tattooing.  And observed that their designs had evolved.

According to him, those who do have them now don’t believe in their significance anymore.

However, those tribes that have maintained their ancient tattooing habits flourish.

And proudly uphold their culture.  Some of these artisans will be showcased at the Humboldt Forum in Berlin for two years.  An incredible milestone for any tribe.

 The Mer tribe

Tattooing has been an integral part of Indian culture for centuries.  It marks one’s status, community affiliation, and rites of passage.  Or simply as permanent jewellery.  Designs vary across regions in India based on ethnicity and traditions.

The Mer tribe from western India has unique Tattoo designs.  That tells a tale of life and identity.  Each symbol or set of dots symbolizes something.  It’s from grains to flowers, animals, physical items, and Hindu deities.

Women of the tribe were generally protected in markings.  Hence they approached puberty and prepared to marry.  And begin a family.  Women donned these symbols as security from enemies.  And hoped that tattooing would aid them in finding their husbands and producing healthy children.

However, tribal women increasingly choose not to get tattooed as they integrate their culture with modern lifestyles.  Mangla Bai is a member of the Baiga tribe from Madhya Pradesh.  She told the BBC: “These days, we see many girls and women avoiding getting inked anymore.  Because they feel it’s becoming an outdated tradition.  That will soon be forgotten.”

Shah’s India Ink Archive project has documented how these markings are becoming less and less prevalent.  It seeks to digitally archive and detail indigenous tattooing practices to preserve their cultural heritage.  And inspire future generations with positive role models.

A woman from Gujarat’s Mer tribe is covered in tattoos resembling ornaments on her body.

These markets are known as Godna markings.  It can be seen throughout her body.

Tattooing has been practised since ancient duration as a form of protection and blessing.

It is believed to bring good health.  Tattoos are made using a stick and pigment made from soot and tannin.  Found in the bark of a kino tree.

It can be a tedious process that requires women to sit for extended periods.

Nonetheless, the discomfort is believed to prepare them for pregnancy.   And strengthen them through difficult times.