The Vanishing Art of Sindhi Hindu Women’s Tattoos


In the cultural tapestry of Sindh’s Hindu communities, tattoos are not merely ink on skin but symbols of tradition, identity, and a fading art form. Sindhi Hindu women belonging to various communities like Kachhi, Jogi, Mewasi, and more have carried forward the ancient practice of tattooing for centuries. These tattoos, etched on different parts of their bodies, tell stories of religious beliefs, community affiliations, and personal expressions.

The art of tattooing, deeply embedded in the cultural roots of Sindhi Hindu communities, serves as a visual narrative of traditions, beliefs, and identity. Women from various communities, such as Kachhi, Jogi, and Mewasi, have preserved this ancient practice for generations. Each tattoo on their necks, faces, hands, and palms carries a unique story, reflecting religious beliefs, community ties, and personal expressions.

A tattoo depicting a heart and arrow. — Photo by author
A tattoo depicting a heart and arrow. — Photo by author

For Rattni, a 55-year-old woman, the tattoos on her neck, cheek, forearm, wrist, and palm are not just ink; they are the only belongings that remain with her until her last breath. In her community, tattoos are a rite of passage for girls approaching their first menstrual period or marriage. As Rattni points to a 13-year-old girl beside her, she explains that, as she grows older, Kamli will adorn her body with more tattoos, just like her.

Tattoos in Sindhi Hindu communities are not mere body decorations but symbols of religious beliefs, community affiliations, and personal expressions. The intricate designs, etched on various body parts, depict animals, birds, flowers, trees, and symbols of social activities. Water scarcity, a prevalent issue in some communities, is represented in tattoos of women fetching water with clay pots on their heads.

These tattoos are not just artistic expressions; they are identity markers. Forehead tattoos distinguish Jogi and Mewasi women, while a small cross on the cheek signifies belonging to the Kachhi and Kolhi communities. Each symbol carries a specific meaning – a deer for prosperity, horses for the sun, wooden fans for air, crocodiles for the goddess Ganga, and camels for the folk-god Gogaji.

A young Mewasi girl smiles for the camera. — Photo by author
A young Mewasi girl smiles at the camera. — Photo by author
A young girl with a <em>Makhhari</em> tattoo. — Photo by author
A young girl with a Makhhari tattoo. — Photo by author

Sukhaan Jogan, an eminent tattoo artist in the Jogi community, emphasizes the significance of each tattoo. The Makhhari, a locust tattoo, is essential as a community identification symbol. The process involves a hand poke technique using a unique mixture of wooden coal, goat milk, and water, resulting in black-colored tattoos. Sukhaan takes pride in passing down the art to other women in her community, ensuring that each tattoo carries meaning and cultural significance.

However, the tradition is at risk of fading away. Well-to-do families are gradually abandoning this practice, citing reasons such as societal integration and the belief that tattoos are not essential in contemporary society. Despite the waning popularity, female tattoo artists like Sukhaan Jogan and Rattni Kachhi continue to play a crucial role in keeping this cultural heritage alive.

Hand-poked tattoos with symbols. — Photo by author
Hand-poked tattoos with symbols. — Photo by author

Dr. Rafique Wassan, an anthropologist, highlights the anthropological perspective on tattoo-making as a form of body art. Tattoos, seen as expressions of culture and a way of life, communicate cultural values and meanings. However, the dwindling number of families practicing this ancient art raises concerns about its survival.

A woman with multiple face tattoos. — Photo by author
A woman with multiple face tattoos. — Photo by author

Amid societal changes, the footprints of this culturally rich tradition still linger in the southern regions of Sindh. As modern influences threaten to erase these ancient practices, preserving and celebrating the art of Sindhi Hindu women’s tattoos becomes crucial – an indelible part of their cultural heritage.

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