Monday, November 22, 2010

Sanskritisation of Tattoos and Piercings

I’m constantly amazed by how everything does exist in the subcontinent, but has been what I like to call, ‘sanskritised’. That is, no idea or practice is really rejected. It’s just tamed, brought into the tradition and made okay to follow as long as you stick to the official template.

Take tattooing and piercing for example. The kind of tattooing and piercing that’s practiced by young people today freaks my mother out. And yet, these things are nothing alien to her. Although tattooing isn’t very popular in mainstream India today, it was very much part of everyday life fifty or so years ago. In a recent conversation my mother recalls how her grandmothers and aunts had tattoos. But they couldn’t get tattoos according to their whims and fancies. So no full body skull angels allowed. You could only get certain set patterns. Often the names of gods or little motifs. It was apparently believed that tattoos go with you even after you die.

Same with piercings. Most Hindu women at least get their ears and nose pierced. But that’s all that’s allowed. Anything else and they start freaking out. No personal freedom allowed here either.

I can think of other forms of sanskritisation. The use of ganja by many sadhu traditions and the rumors of necrophilia among the trantic sects are two such.

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