History of Tattooing — By Whiskers
From being used as a sign of status to jewellery-like markings, tattoos have been around in India since ancient times. But just how old this custom is, remains a mystery. From the dense, rain-soaked mountain jungles of the northeast to the dry deserts of Rann of Kutch in the far west, tattoos have not always been about beautifying the human body; they have been used for diverse reasons by different communities across the country.
In India, tattoos are known as different names such as Gondan,Tarazwa and Ungkala etc. In the ancient era carving on archaic rocks was copied by tribal communities on their bodies. They called this process Gudna and flaunted the marking as jewellery.
Tattoos in North India
Most of India’s northern tribes lived in the secluded areas of the country, where purloins of women by rival tribes is a common happening. In India Arunachal Pradesh and Assam have some tribes like Apatani tribe and Singhpo tribes respectively represent the oldest art of tattoo. To prevent herself from rival tribes, apatani tribe women make the tattoos on their skin to look ugly.
In the Apatani tattooing procedure thorns are used to cut the skin and a flaky substance, consisting amorphous carbon, mashed with animal fat to fill in the blue colour, so that tattoos become clear, large and darker. But the Indian Government has ban on this type of tattoo practices.
Besides that, the Singhpo tribe of Assam had a distinct rule for each gender for tattooing. Man tattooed their hands only and women tattooed both their legs from knee to ankle. The unmarried girls were not allowed for tattooing. Tattooing also prevalent among the famous Warlike tribe of northern India they regarded it as a sign of courage, strength and virility.
Tattoos in South India
In Southern India, permanent tattoos are called pachakutharathu. They were very common, especially Tamil Nadu, before 1980. The nomadic Korathi tattoo artists travelled the countryside in search of clients.
The Kollam, a sinuous labyrinthine design believed to ensnare evil beings, is inked on bodies to permanently keep them safe and secure until reunited with deceased ancestors in the afterlife.
Toda is another famous tribe of southern India used the geometric pattern, like embroidery for tattooing in the hands and calves.
Tattoos in Central India
Central India also has a long and barbaric tradition of tattooing. The Dhanuks in Bihar believe tattoos deglamourize women – this helps 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, the Munda tribe in Jharkhand, which values courage, uses body art to record historic events. The Mundas thrice defeated the Mughals and, to commemorate these victories, Munda men even today tattoo three straight vertical lines on their foreheads.
The Gond tribe of central India exposes their bodies with tattoos. The bare skin was covered with kohkana (Gondi for tattoos) to ensure they looked decent.