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Tattoo Culture: 'Get Inked Or Die Naked'



tattoo-culture-get-inked-or-die-naked

Preeti Byanjankar

In recent years, Nepal has undergone a drastic transformation regarding our views on tattoos. Many people, mainly the youth, are attracted towards the skin painting, known as tattooing. Getting their skin inked is a self-proclaimed way to express them in society.
However, if we look at our culture we find tattoo culture in Nepal started long back, may be in ancient times. The earliest known evidence of tattooing dates back somewhere between 3300-3100 BC. From the very beginning, tattoo culture is a part of culture as well as the social aspect.
It is one of the oldest cultures practiced in various communities in Nepali society like Newars, Tharus, Gurungs and Magars. During special occasions like Rato Machindra Nath Jatra and Indra Jatra and other ethnic festivals, people love to tattoo their skin. Among Newars, tattoo in legs is referred to as ‘Lha Chyogu.' In the newari language, ‘Lha’ and ‘chyogu’ mean flesh and writing respectively.
 The best part about getting inked is that when we die, we take nothing but tattoos on our body. So, it is said, “Get Inked or Die Naked”. Getting inked is a part of the social norms in the Tharu tribe which is also referred to as ‘Godhani’. Women decorate their bodies with symbolic designs of natural mythological stories and historical events.
 Getting a tattoo is quite common in both men and women in the Tharu community. They believe that one will find solace in heaven if s/he has a tattoo. Mustard oil and cow dung are the traditional ointments used as ink to imprint a tattoo in Tharu culture. The women belonging to the Gurung and Magar communities have a common trend of decorating their faces and near lips with designs of sun, moon and, the stars. Now it’s more like a trend that can also be considered a meaningful symbol. 
 
Tattoo Tourism
Nepal is one of the most affordable and finest destinations for getting tattooed. Most people like to get inked because it reminds them of their memories of Nepal. Travellers also visit Nepal to get themselves inked by renowned tattoo artists.
Also, the travellers prefer to get tattoos that represent the country they have visited. Tattoo studios can be mostly found in the Thamel, Jhonchhe, Lazimpat, Jhamsikhel and, Durbarmarg areas. According to the veteran tattoo artist, tourists love to get Buddha’s eyes, Lord Ganesh, Lord Shiva, and Buddhist sutra, “Om mane Padme hum”. Devanagiri Font tattoos are also popular for getting name tattoos. 
 Tattoos in Nepal are growing not only culturally but also in an increasingly fashionable way due to which Kathmandu has gained popularity and also tattoo shop in Thamel has got featured in the “Miami Ink” – the American reality show on TLC.
 Tourism organisations such as the Trekkers Agencies Association of Nepal (TAAN) and Nepal Tourism Board have been promoting Nepal for tattoo tourism. Whereas, the International Tattoo Convention takes place each year in April. But due to COVID-19, it hasn’t happened in 2020 & 2021. On April 26-28, 2019, Nepal held its 9th International Tattoo Convention.
 There were around 200 tattoo artists from all over the world. Including top local artists like Mohan from Mohan’s Tattoo Inn and John Ma from JADS Tattoo Inc also participated in the convention. The convention was started by Mohan Gurung and fellow artist Bijaya Shrestha in 2011. The convention is a great platform to exchange skills and explore the tattoo industry. It is promoting art as well as promoting Nepal at the same time. 

Tattoos in Buddhist Culture
Tattoos in Buddhist culture have been a controversy. Some believe it as a sign of devotion whereas some see it as profanity. While Tattoos are allowed in Buddhism, you can be a Buddhist monk with tattoos. Buddhist tattoos are a representation of Buddhist symbols and mantras. Mandala tattoos are a new trend that is influenced by Buddhist culture.
Buddha and Buddhism have become some of the most popular subjects in tattooing. “Buddhist tattoo is the representation of Buddhist symbols and mantras. Mandala tattoos are a new trend that is influenced by Buddhist culture.”  
 Buddhist Tattoo is an art that was originated from South-East Asia. It is believed to be something holy, magical, and religious. There is a Buddhist Goddess whose tattoos are popular such as the manifestation of 21s Taras including red tara, white tara, green tara. Some of the other famous female Buddhist Goddess for tattooing are: Bajrayogini, Bajrabarahi, Bishvamata and Yeshe Tsogyal.
 
Tattoo Parlours
In recent times, the tattoo culture in Nepal has grown rapidly like a mushroom every few months. Since customers have a wide range of choices, the idea of getting inked has become much more convenient. Here is a list of tattoo parlours that you should check out where you will not regret getting tattoos. This list is based on Tattoo Nepal research.
 1.Mohan’s Tattoo Inn (Narsingh Chowk Marg) 2. Gagan Tattoo Inn (Thamel Marg) 3. Wanderthirst Tattoo (Kaldhara Marg) 4. Aamali Tattoo Inn (Narsingh Chowk Marg) 5. Ink’s Tattoo Pvt. Ltd (Paryatan Marg) 6. Kasthamandap Tattoo Inn (Jyatha) 7. Jads Tattoo (Chaksibari Marg)
 
Nepali Tattoo Artists
Nepali tattoo artists are even internationally renowned for their creativity. Mohan Gurung, a tattoo artist from Nepal has gained international fame with his artistic work. He went to South Korea for employment where this tattoo journey started during the early 90s. In South Korea, a Dutch tattoo artist trained him for two months. From 1992-1994 he learned the basic skills of tattoos.
Later he came back Nepal and made free tattoos for his friend even though he had a financial crisis. He had a plan to go back to South Korea for employment but his friends encouraged him to explore his art skills while staying in Nepal. Mohan opened his first tattoo studio in Pokhara in 2000. His client started to invite him to different places (Kathmandu, Butwal and, Narayangadh) since he did not have his permanent tattoo studio. 
 Later, he opened a studio in Thamel that gained even more popularity and clients had to wait for weeks to months to get inked by Mohan. The Mohan’s Tattoo Inn has now become a brand name in Nepal. He has tattooed more than 8000 skins.
 His journey led him to open the branch in New York in 2014 and he has now passed his skills on to his son, Arjun, as well. Mohan is already a renowned face in the tattoo community and has contributed to developing Nepal's tattoo culture and tattoo tourism.
 
(A college student, Preeti is an amateur tattoo artist)