Thursday, 22 October 2009

Indian Kutch Tribal Tattoos

Well, it's been a few quiet days boys and girls, but here I am, in the library, utilising the free internet access and posting again! For the time being, due to a recent change of address, I am left without an at-hand connection to the outside world - hence the recent radio silence:)

First off, I wanted to write about the interesting tattoos that caught my attention a few weeks ago. Leicester has a very significant Asian ethnic population, and I've noticed a few older Asian ladies in the hospital with very interesting and extensive tribal tattoos. The amateur ethnographer in me was dying to ask about them, but sadly, neither of the ladies spoke English, and I was never lucky enough to see them when their family was around. The only thing I knew about them, apart from their illnesses, was that their 1st language was Gujarati.
The tattoos covered the calves, forearms and the neck in little geometric symbols made of dots and short lines. I wish I had photos, but due to the difficulties in communication I mentioned above, I wasn't be able to get the ladies' permission.
I dug up a few books and articles in the library, determined to find out more.
I think what really spun this interest is my own cultural background. Let's just say that a respectable elderly lady covered in tattoos is not a common site in Poland.
So, here are some relevant images and paragraphs I found in a brilliant book"Decorated Skin - A World Survey of Body Art" (by Karl Groning, published by Thames and Hudson Ltd, London 1997).

(enlarge to read about the tattoos :)

just to show you where we are talking about:)

And here I've got a few brighter pictures of what I believe to be examples of more such tattoos:

For more images check out:,rabari

I will keep you updated on any more developments. And if you happen to know anything about Kutch tribal tattoos please let me know!:D


  1. the only thing I can say is that most of the [well, non egiptian] ancient mummies have got tatoos, and very often it's women who have them on their faces :> [pardon my lousy english]

  2. 'travelling smiths'? so cool :D

  3. That's so cool!
    Elsewhere in the book, in a section concerning the Berber tribes of North Africa the author mentions a custom of tattooing faces, especially with small marks around the eyes, mouth and nostrils. It is because evil spirits can most easily enter your body through orifices, and the tattoos offer 'magical' protection.
    Also, it seems in most indogenous populations it is the women who master over the art of tattoos and scarification. They have so many functions: from adornment and asserting beauty, through religious/spiritiual expression to a symbol of endurance and status.
    Fascinating stuff!:D

  4. Hey, I liked your blog. I was looking for more ratios like mine. I was so fascinated by this specific kind of tatop when I saw it on the discovery channel as a child. Near my 21st birthday I decided to get one and decided on horizontal dots on my feet. I remembered vividly without research how the tatoos were to be done. Maybe I was Kutch in another life, if I believed in that, that is...

    Thanks for the happy memory!

  5. Thank Candice! Those tattoos are pretty amazing! I want to see that documentary now:))

  6. Hello, am a student from Mauritius. Actually, am doing some research on Indian who came to Mauritius to work during British colonisation. Can you please help me if ever you have photos or some information of those people with tattoos and piercings.
    I'l be very grateful if someone could help in a bit with it.

  7. Hi!
    I'm afraid I don't have any more information than what I already posted - I got the pictures via google images mostly typing in key words like "indian tatoos". Why are you specificaly interested in the tatoos?:D I am very curious now:) You simply must let me know if you're able to find any good publication on the matter:)

  8. The tattoo that you probably saw in Leicester is that of Maher women who orginate from gujarat. They have the tattos on their hands upto the elbow, their feet slighly over the ankle area and on their neck. These tattos used to be etched at a young age when the they were probably the age of 7-10. The practice of ecthing this type of tattoo's is very rare know.

  9. It could also be Aihir or Rajput, there are a few castes with tattoos like that in Gujarat. Not sure if any other than Mahers live in Leicester though

    Different castes will have different symbols tattooed