Tattooing in India: History and Evolution

Tattooing in India
1. Tattooing was practiced mostly in the older generations (like your Grandmother, pre-1947 born)
2. Mostly among those who didn’t go to school, as a sign of identifying them in case of being lost.
3. Mostly among the scheduled tribes and the so-called ‘lower castes’ who were illiterate, again as a form of identification when people got lost and separated from their parents/community/tribe. Upper castes strictly forbade tattooing as it was seen as primitive and unwanted for and differentiated them from the lower castes. Again a few older upper caste women can be found having tattoos but only due to the reason of being illiterate.
4. Tattooing can be done for the following reasons too- Medical, beautification and caste/tribe identity.
5. In general, tattooing was perceived as unnatural, unwanted, a sign of the ‘lower’ classes, primitive and against the Indian scriptural writings.
6. Exclusively the domain of wandering gypsy tribes, who offered to tattoo people in exchange for food and other goods. Also offered fortune-telling services. This occupation continued when these Indian gypsies migrated to Europe and are currently known as the Roma in many European states..
7. The tattoos of the ‘lower class’ Roma in Europe crept up the social ladder and what was once ‘forbidden'(European society forbid their members to associate with the dark Roma, who sometimes also doubled as thieves) became fashionable among the young of Europe, who didn’t know about the negative effects of tattoos and wore them as a sign of rebellion against authority-Parents, teachers, community norms, government etc..
8. This same trend of tattooing has now come to India from Europe and the USA and is copied among the educated, urban youth of India, via western thinking, fashion and lifestyle. Now it is only a few urban, educated youth in India who get tattooed and it is prevalent among only a minuscule proportion of the population, given its earlier lower class associations.
9. The trend is however catching on in urban westernized cities, with the availability of professional, competent tattoo artists and most importantly, due to the dwindling importance of caste identity among urban Indians.
10. now it is fashionable to get a tattoo among urban youth as a sign of individuality, but still frowned upon by family, elders and society for being narcissistic.

Ishani Sawant: @adventureishani

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