India: tattoos on the hands

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by lcfatima, Feb 26, 2009.

  1. lcfatima Senior Member

    In a teapot
    English USA
    I have noticed that in certain segments of lower or lower middle class Indian society many people seem to have these homemade tattoos on the tops of their hands, usually near to the thumb.

    Depending on a person's religion, the tattoo might be a cross or an om symbol or a swastika. They sometimes just have a heart or even just some dots or their initials.

    I feel that for upper class Indians who are generally less conservative, tattooing, especially for women would be a major social taboo and would be read by many as a sign of being overly Westernized and loose (though I do know a few Indian girls with Western style tattoos). So I am wondering how more conservative people from the lower stratum end up with these hand tattoos.

    The people I have observed with this are normal homely type people, not gangsters or anything like that. Any idea why they do this?
  2. palomnik Senior Member

    Are you sure these are tattoos, and not just designs made with henna that wash off after a week or two?
  3. panjabigator

    panjabigator Senior Member

    غریب الوطن
    Am. English
    I'm not too sure why this is done. When my father was very young, he went with a group of his older cousins and got a small Ek Onkār tatoo. His parents were irate, but it was too late. It's pretty faded now, but it's on the prone side of his hand.

    Is this a regional practice or have you seen this throughout India?
  4. lcfatima Senior Member

    In a teapot
    English USA
    I am 100% sure that they are tattoos and not mehndi.

    About the region, I have never been to South India, but I have seen it pretty widely in the North and also in Bombay. My neighbor's housemaids (Gujarati) both have them, so does their Rajasthani male cook. Also, another Goan housemaid from Bombay who lives down the street from us has them. Plus, I have seen them a lot in India. I asked them why they have it but none of them could tell me.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2009
  5. Sarasaki Senior Member

    India - English & Kannada
  6. lcfatima Senior Member

    In a teapot
    English USA
    Yes Sarasaki, that is exactly what I meant. Thanks for the link, that explains a lot. The post mentions wrists as well, and come to think of it, I have seen those dark green tattoos there, too.
  7. Illuminatus Senior Member

    Mumbai, India
    India, Hindi, English, Marathi
    Here's most of what I know about tattoo/designs in India.

    Henna patterns and designs are very different in term of their cultural meanings.

    Mehndi (Henna, which incidentally comes from Arabic) is considered very auspicious. Before important functions like marriages, all (or several) girls and women of the family get Henna designs painted on their palms, hands and feet. It is considered achha shagun (~ Good Omen). It is also used to dye hair and condition them.

    Tattoos, in general, are not very popular with old people. The new generation obviously get tattoos done, but they are generally not very prominent ones.

    I am not able to draw a very strong correlation with the Lower/Upper Stratum thing that you mentioned.

    I have to rush off now; I will be back with a more detailed response.

    Also, I have seen some women who have the name of a deceased relative (somebody close, like a brother) tattooed on their forearm.
    Last edited: Mar 1, 2009
  8. lcfatima Senior Member

    In a teapot
    English USA
    Regarding the upper lower stratum thing, my meaning was that I noticed it is more poor people or less educated people with these green tattoos on their hands.

    As I said, I do know some Indians with Western style tattoos, but that isn't what I am asking about.

    The green tattoo doesn't look like something done to look attractive or cool, it seems to be some sort of cultural practice. Did you have a chance to look at Sarasaki's link? It seems these tattoos are for shubh shagun as well.

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