WRAPPED WITH FAITH…. Article and Images by Tania Chatterjee
Fascinated by the people who have tattooed the famous Hindu God’s name “RAM” all over their body, I made an attempt to photo document this diminishing tradition of body art. The art of tattooing in India has existed since ancient period, where people used to inking their skin for different reasons. But the caste-defying tattoos of the Ramnami Samaj in Chhattisgarh is something very unique.
Its a low caste movement that formed to challenge the religious restrictions being imposed upon them by the upper caste community. “Wrapped with Faith” is a series of images of RANMANI ethnic group, that documents a unique religious practice in remote part of India.
The RAMNAMI sect of Chhattisgarh, India is a movement that started in early 1890’s by low caste as a disagreement to the upper caste Hindu religious beliefs and practices. Hindu religion is divided into caste system and in earlier days the upper caste were rich, powerful and dictated religious terms whereas the low-castes often did menial jobs, were poor and powerless. Forbidden access to religious places and deities the followers of RAMNAMI sect tattooed their entire body with the name of Lord RAM as an act of devotion to be gript with God’s. It’s a message to higher-caste Hindus that god is omnipresent, regardless of caste, class and gender. In Hindu religion lord RAM is the embodiment of truth, of morality, the ideal son, the ideal husband, and above all, the ideal righteous king. It is therefore considered that chanting his name protects and enriches the religious virtues of one-self.
The process of tattooing was extremely painful and it was done by using an ink made from soot and water. RAMNAMI followers never drink, smoke, and eat non-vegetarian food. They chant the name of “Ram” daily and treat everyone with equality and respect. Almost every Ramnami household owns a copy of the Ramayana epic, a book on Lord Rama’s life and teachings. Most followers’ homes in their villages have “Ram Ram” written in black on the outer and inner walls.
Unfortunately the practice of full body tattoo called “NAKSHIT” ended in 1970s and presently there are only 5/6 aged people left. NAKSHIT’s even have tattoos on their genitals. Presently RAMNAMI movement is rapidly diminishing. The practice of tattoo is no more followed by younger generation nowadays as they perceive it as discrimination. Younger generation has started going to school, colleges and cities for job and they don’t want to be targeted as “ backward” by their tattoo.