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From Rural to Urban India: The Travel Tales of the Tattoo 

The journey of tattoos from rural India to Urban India. 

4 min read
From Rural  to Urban India: The Travel Tales of the Tattoo 
Hindi Female

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In a large part of India, married women still wear the tattoo of Sita ki rasoi. Sita’s kitchen was said to be always organised, and so, the tattoo is considered a lucky charm for women and their families.

But don’t look for finesse in these tattoos. Rough, raw designs are all that could be managed with the home built machines that created them.

And yet, these tattoos carried a lot of weight. They signified the traditions and beliefs of these communities. The melas in villages saw many men and women getting black ink permanently etched onto their bodies. No longer.

A tattooed woman dipping her child in river Ganga, as part of a ritual. (Photo: Reuters) 

Traditional tattoo artists now make only a dozen tattooes a month, down from 6-7 a day. There is no money to make, with only about 1500 rupees to be earned in a month.

Many in the village of Taukalpur in UP, which was earlier a ghetto of tattoo artists have decided to leave this art form altogether.

It happened gradually – as rural inhabitants migrated to the cities and entered the armed forces, their rustic body art was objected to.

A man getting a tattoo by a roadside artist in a village. (Photo: iStockphoto)

The threat of getting infected with HIV also deterred many. At a health camp in Udaipur last year, 27 people were found to be infected with HIV. Most of them had tattoos.

As the art form is laid to rest in rural India, so has its community iconography.

A village farm woman. (Photo: iStockphoto)

From religious and tribal meanings that signified communal living, the tattoo has now become an assertion of individuality.

Each tattoo has a different story. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Cut to New Delhi: Tattoos are big business. They have long passed the ‘fad’ bubble. They are now strong personal decisions, representing the identity and thoughts of the wearer.

Tattooing equipment costs anywhere between 40,000 rupees to a lakh. And on an average, tattoo artists make over a lakh a month.

What was once a part of selective subcultures has now been brought to the mainstream by pop culture and mainstream actors. Tattoos are now being embraced even by the reticent middle class.

Film stars like Saif Ali Khan and Priyanka Chopra helped bring tattoos in the mainstream. 

The designs are now sharper, and the subjects more fascinating. Here are a curated few:


Seed of Life

The seed of life is a symbol which depicts the six days of creation in which the Judeo-Christian God created life.


The Dragonfly 

A dragonfly is winged; it flies and represents change.


The Origami Crane

Cranes are birds of peace and happiness. They are the only birds that fly continously to their destination. They don’t let anyone get in their way. Imitating the Japanese art of folding paper, the minimalistic crane tattoo signifies the endless journey called life.


Memento Vivere

As we became busy making our lives, we somewhere forgot to live them.

This Latin phrase, incidentally means Remember to live. 


Calvin and Hobbes

We are all cartoons at the end of the day. Maybe this Calvin & Hobbes tattoo reminds us of just that!

P.S: The author had an epiphanous moment when she decided her tattoo would be मैं. She just hasn’t found the courage to get it etched yet!

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Topics:  Urban India   Youth 

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