Beware your tattoos in India!!

Yellama tattoo....

Yellama tattoo….

My tattoo....

My tattoo….


Tattoos are for life and not just for a whim.  They should come with a warning, or deep pockets and a huge dose of pain tolerance in case of a change of heart!

I have no problem with my own tattoo and display it proudly in the Indian subcontinent, albeit often plastered in factor 50 to prevent it from fading in the all too bright sunlight. After making the decision of going ahead I thought long and hard about a design I could live with for my remaining days.  And I only found out afterwards about the tenuous link that exists in China between cherry blossom  tattoos and a celebration of sexual freedom…  And let’s face it, in Europe it  will be neatly hidden under socks, tights or inside other footwear to cope with the often cold and inclement weather.

Not so in India where flip flops and sandals give my feet breathing space in the great outdoors.  And indoors, in my own classroom, my bare feet on cool stone floors help to regulate my body temperature.  So at school, my tattoo has indeed been the subject of curiosity. Not just from the younger children, mind you, whose little fingers struggle to resist the temptation to touch and brush my foot to check if it’s real.  Older children ask questions, ‘Is it a transfer?’ whilst my fellow teachers shake their heads in disbelief that anyone would go to these kind of lengths for some skin decoration.  ‘What’s wrong with a henna pattern?  At least it is not permanent!’  They are clearly missing the point!!  My room mate and fellow English teacher for three months, A., confides that she thought my tattoo was the prettiest she had ever come across.  By the way, I feel rather good about my tattoo, and definitely no regrets.  Sticking to the flowery pattern was the right course!

But spare a thought for a twenty-something Australian tourist, Matthew Gordon , who on a visit to Bangalore, had the audacity to air the tattoo on his shin depicting the Hindu Goddess Yellamma.  It was hot; he is male, so shorts should not raise any eyebrows! The tattoo was neither offensive nor intended to offend; it merely mirrored his interest in Hinduism, an interest stemming from earlier visits to India.  As a matter of fact, the tattoo in question was inked on his shin IN India…  But last Saturday his display riled some local Hindu ‘fanatics’ (including a local politician)  in Bangalore, who threatened to skin his leg to remove the tattoo.  And if the Australian had hoped that the interference of the police would have been helpful, he found out otherwise.  Instead of the ‘aggrieved’ Hindu followers being reprimanded for their violent behaviour, the police officer in attendance expected the Australian tourist to write a letter of apology for his gross insult to the religion of Hinduism…    It was not so much the picture that was deemed inappropriate, but having it tattooed on his leg was ‘hurting their religious sentiments’.

Possibly not quite having anticipated the public and media interest in the story, the politician who had been the voice of the mob, mellowed a little later on.  In an interview with a national newspaper, The Hindu, he hinted that maybe it was not Matthew’s fault after all…  Maybe it was because Hindus, being not sufficiently outspoken, had failed to educate some Indian tattooists properly so they would understand the importance of positioning these pictures on the correct body parts (apparently not below the navel???) or somewhere out of sight.  After all, they had suggested that Matthew cover up the tattoo – as it clearly would not be a simple task to remove it – by wearing a pair of trousers as they feared for his safety at the time of an important Hindu festival, Durga  Puja, which would be taking place just a few days later.  They were very ‘understanding’ and only had his best interests at heart…

What was all the fuss about?? A New Age Crusade in India??  It certainly made for entertaining reading on the web and in the newspapers.

2 thoughts on “Beware your tattoos in India!!

    1. lievelee Post author

      I beg to differ on this one… Religious symbols (Christian symbols such as crosses, doves, Christ with his crown of thorns, as well as symbols from other religions) are used as tattoos all over the world, and many people have those tattoos on their legs. In the West no one would bat an eyelid as it is deemed personal choice and there is no negative connotation attached to legs/shins.. I have tried to research why Hindus should have such a problem with a god being tattooed on a shin, and wonder whether it stems from the caste divisions in Hinduism which are linked to various body parts and the lower caste (Sudras: farm workers, labourers, servants) has been fashioned from the feet/legs… You are correct in saying that at least the Australian man should have been made aware of the sensitivity of putting a tattoo of a God on his leg as the tattoo was done in India – but very few people outside of India would know about this…

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