Traditional Indian tattoos are an enormous step away from the ordinary. Rich in superstition and symbolism, these “temporary tattoos” are most commonly a representation of transcendence for those bearing them and thus should never be taken lightly. The typical Indian tattoo is done using the art of Mehndi, a temporary ink made from the Henna plant which dyes the skin temporarily rather than permanently. However in recent decades many have adapted their intricate designs permanently, especially as enthusiasts from around the world seek inspiration from the art form. Despite mainstream acceptance and promotion, Indian tattoos are typically meant to display a deep respect for worship and the work put into all aspects of everyday life (rather than a means of of beauty and vanity). Unfortunately enough this is often overlooked as the “trend” continues to spread worldwide.
There are several superstitions surrounding the tattoos themselves. With regards to an Indian wedding, it has been said that a bride is never completely dressed unless both her hands and feet are adorned with a Mehndi tattoo. In fact, the darker the tattoo the better. This supposedly inspires the mother-in-law to have a deeper love for the bride herself. The tattoos themselves are generally made up of hundreds of tiny dots and tear drops encased in a lacy pattern of lines and circular shapes that extend up the arm. In the Arabic styling, the tattoos are incorporated into a more floral design and are drawn to one side of the woman’s hand rather than the entire palm. Some of the more popular Indian tattoos are those bearing the peacock and lotus blossom. The Asian elephant with its trunk raised high in the air is another favorite and is a widespread symbol of luck to those who bear it. The names of both the bride and groom in a wedding are quite often hidden within the design itself and, in some traditions, the wedding itself may not begin until the groom discovers their whereabouts in the tattoo.
Depending on one’s motivation for the tattoo at hand (especially in the United States where culture has a tendency to mix in order to showcase originality) the traditional Indian style of art tends to become blended with Arabic scripture. These tattoos almost always incorporate religious proverbs or inspirational sayings such as, “The journey of a thousand miles only starts with one step.” When it comes to spirituality itself, images of the gods Kali (the source of all life) and Shiva (destruction) are a vital piece of the puzzle.
As with nearly all forms of tattooing, placement is everything when considering Indian tattoos. There is almost always a deep spiritual connection with where the tattoo will reside. Brides, as mentioned, must decorate their hands and feet in order for the art to better partake in the night’s merriment. Married women will embed a vermilion “pottu” between the brows on their forehead so that they may proudly display their marital status. While generally shunned by the Middle-eastern religions, a convert to Islam will also sometimes tattoo their former names upon the neck or jaw line so that they may have a constant reminder of the life they left behind.
One can scarcely deny that Indian tattooing as a whole is by far one of the most inspiring and involved mediums that this world has to offer. The level of detail alone requires a deep commitment not often found in many other tattoo styles.