Tattoo culture in Nepal is one of the oldest traditions practised in Newars, Tharu ,Gurungs and Magars communities of the country. The real time when the tattoo culture in Nepal began is unknown, but the practice of getting a tattoo was a part of the cultural and social aspect of people’s lives since the ancient times. In the modern times the same trend may not be followed by the young generation but, religious symbols and designs can be seen in older members of many families.
Social and Cultural aspect
Mostly popular amongst women, getting inked during Jatras (festivals) and Melas (carnival) like Rato Machindra Jatra, Indra jatra in the Kathmandu valley was quite popular during the old days especially in Tebhal and Thimi, Bhaktapur. Lha: Chyogu as called in Nepali Bhasha, ‘Lha’ means ‘flesh’ and ‘chyogu’ means ‘writing’; the tattoo in the legs of Newari women symbolizes her strength. And an interesting belief about getting a tattoo is when a person dies he takes nothing but the tattoos on his body. And on the way to heaven, if one finds hardships he/she can sell the tattoos and therefore make a way to heaven more comfortably. Tattoos making in children at an early age are also believed to protect them from illness and evil spirits. The Newari usually get images and symbols of different gods and goddesses and specific patterns related to nature. In the Syashyas tribe in Newar community, designs in legs and hands can be seen in the old Jyapu women’s around Bhaktapur and Patan. The mixture of coal and milk from selected plants were used to produce color for the tattoo design.
Similarly in Tharu tribe Tattoo or “Godhani” are the part of their social norms. Ladies decorate their hands, limbs, legs and chest with symbolic designs of nature mythological stories and historical events. They are encouraged to have their bodies inked before marriage which is the part of their beautifying process. Getting inked is common in the tribe and men and women both have their tattooing ritual in detailed Tharu ritual. It is a common Tharu belief that one will find a peace of heaven. Usually women’s with good memory power known as ‘Tikaniya’ are the one who are experts in carving the designs. Mustard oil and cow dung are the traditional ointments used as ink and thorn from Neem trees to imprint a tattoo in Tharu culture.
In Gurungs and Magar, tribe ladies decorate their faces and near lips with designs of sun, moon and the stars. They used the designs as beautifying process and a symbol of good luck for them and their families. Some even believe that the trend of getting their face inked, started in ancient times when the king use to take any women he wished. And to keep the women safe, they started making face designs to distract the king from taking their women in ancient times.
Nepal a perfect destination for tattooing
In Nepal the trend of cultural tattooing have evolved and taken different forms. Now-a-days getting a tattoo is a way that a person expresses him/herself through art, words or symbols. Nepal is now a known as one of the best destinations for getting inked. Many Nepalese artists have been internationally renowned for their artistic work and creativity. For sure Nepal is a very affordable and a special place for getting inked.