Thursday, 25 Jan 2024 09:38:52 GMT+7 | 163 views

When the tattoo defeated casteism

In the late nineteenth century, low-caste Hindus in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh first began tattooing their bodies and faces as an act of devotion and defiance after being forbidden to enter the temples and forced to use separate wells. The Ramnamis, as followers of the Ramnami Samaj religious movement are called, tattooed the Hindu god Ram's name on their bodies as a message to higher-caste Indians that god is everywhere and already embedded in them, regardless of social status.

There is no standard age for tattooing. Many Ramnamis get tattooed soon after birth while some do at the time of their marriage. However, not everyone tattoos their entire body. Some may just get Ramnam inked on their forehead while others choose to cover their entire body. There is no gender discrimination as both men and women can get themselves tattooed. 
The ink used for tattooing is black, made by burning kerosene oil covered in an earthen pot and the soot is collected thereafter, the ink is stored in coconut shell to prevent contamination.
The tattooing is done with two needles by designated people from the Ramnami community. The ink used for drawing on cloth is similar except for certain plant additives, such as extracts from banana leaves and the bark of babool, which are added to increase the long last use.
Nowadays, the present generation of Ramnamis does not want to adhere to the tattooing of their body. Simply, they need to go out of their commuinity for work, and  find the tattoos an obstacle in integrating into the outside world. As a compromise, many have started getting Ramnam written on the parts of their body that are covered. Although they still follow the other practices of the Samaj, including devotion to Ram (i.e. their God/Lord), they refrain from getting tattooed. This is not surprising as the movement has already achieved the purpose it had set out to fulfill.
Location: Raipur - India
Date taken: November 2022 - 2023
 
Set Bai, 73 years old, was making the tattoo ink by burning kerosene oil covered in an earthen pot and the soot is collected thereafter.
 
The soot then mixed with water to provide a traditional black ink.
 
Gularam Ramnami, preparing two needles for the tattoo process.
 
The tattooing was processed by designated people from the Ramnami community.
 
Set Bai, 73 years old, said: “I got tattooed after I got married. It was extremely painful but once the process started, I felt like I wanted to tattoo my whole body and hence was ready to endure the pain. I was happy to have tattooed my body with the name of my god.
 
Pitambar Ramnami’s portrait, unlike the Hindus, the Ramnamis did not practise idol worship as they believe that Ram was omnipresent, as even their bodies are temples covered with Ramnam.
 
Firateen Bai Ramnami, 67 years old, had tattooed the Hindu god Ram's name on her entire face since her early age.
 
Rambhagat Sarkela found out spiritual peace in taking the name of lord Ram. He was purnanakshik, one whose entire body had engraved name of lord Ram.
 
Tiharu Ramami was a designated tattooist and also a herbal healer, who prepares medicines for both humans and animals.
 
Reverse direction of two generations, while the Ramnam tattoo was successfully completed its task, the present generation of Ramnamis did not want to stick out with the tattoos on their body. As they were moving out for work, they found the tattoos an obstacle in integrating with the outside world. As a compromise, many had started getting Ramnam tattooed on the parts of their body that were covered.
 
In the middle of a green field, there was a platform, supported by four cement columns, a ladder leading upstair, where the Ramnamis usually gathering and dancing around a pillar covered by the Ram Ram lettering. That was the Ramnamis temple.
 
Set Bai’s smile, finally, the Ramnamis has been granted as a cultural community, as said “No man ever steps in the same river twice”.
Text and images all right reserved by Ly Hoang Long 

 

 

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