The Ramnami People, Chhattisgarh, India

The Ramnami Samaj are a group of people living in Chhattisgarh in India. They are the only people in this project who cannot be categorised as a tribe. They are simply a sect of Hindu believers who devoutly follow Rama as their god. Their tattooing practice was started as they were not allowed into temples in the past because of their dalit status in the caste system that India’s society operated on.

Unlike most Hindu groups, the Ramnami tattoo रामराम (RAM RAM – their god’s name) on parts of, or even their whole, bodies. In the past, young children were tattooed as a coming of age, but nowadays children are given a choice if/when and where to place their first tattoo. Not all are choosing to carry on their tradition as they wish to have the benefits reaped from education and work in the larger society. Formally, the first tattoo was done in the centre of the forehead, but now many place it on an arm or another body part as they spend much of their time in the outside world now as well.

Unlike many of the tribal tattoos we find in Asia, the Ramnami do not discern the gender of the person being tattooed. A man or woman may tattoo as much or as little as they like. Many describe an overwhelming feeling of devotion that compelled them to have their tattoos and continue to cover their bodies in the name of their god. The design is also not fixed, so one is able to choose where, when, and in what pattern the tattoo should be completed.

The older Ramnami still follow the traditions and many continue to extend their tattoos, but the number of Naksikh (full body tattoos) is dwindling with the changing society. Several still remain and others are still planning to finish their tattoos. However, the younger generation will likely not continue their dedication to their god in this way.

The Ramnami Naksikh, or full-body-tattooed person, is considered the most devout of followers

The Ramayana is the text that all of the Ramnami keep sacred

In the past, children were tattooed, but this practice is waning

Part of the structure erected to celebrate the Ramnami people

The mukut, ramayana, and other parts of a Ramnami's life

Kartikram Sursadhu has his head shaved in order to show me his full tattoo

Women are free to tattoo as much as men in the Ramnami Samaj. No distinction is made between the devout.

A Ramnami woman stands in front of her house in a small village in Chhattisgarh

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