Tribal traditions: The art of tattooing on the wane in MP
Godna, the art of tattooing prevalent among tribes of Madhya Pradesh, is on the wane in a sharp contrast to growing craze among youth in the urban areas to get inked.
Experts fear that with the rate the art was declining among tribals it would cease to exist soon because of mainstreaming of tribes and falling number of godna artists called ‘godanhari’.
Earlier, seeing even a five or six years old tribal girl with a tattoo on her forehead was common in tribal areas. Now, one hardly sees it.
‘Tattooed tribal girls who make it to college, are even made fun of’
“Our lives in cities change fast in comparison to lives in tribal areas. They witness gradual changes but technology has started creeping in their lives too. They have mobile phones, television and access to education. Their children go to schools, live in hostels. Girls and boys going to schools are now not interested in getting tattoos. During my research, I have found out that tattooed girls who make it to college, are even made fun of,” said Vasant Nirgune, researcher and National Tagore Fellow with the ministry of culture.
Laadoh Baai, a godanhari, said: “The tradition has its root in a myth associated with godna artists . According to it, Lord Shiva once invited all the Gods to a feast. A Gond God also came while his Gond goddess was sitting separately in a Goddess group. The Gond God went there to fetch his wife but could not recognise her. By mistake, he puts his arms around Goddess Parvati’s shoulder that made her angry. She commanded the tribal women to tattoo themselves to distinguish themselves. Since then, it is believed to be an important part of the tribe.”
‘It will be difficult for my daughter to carry godna in a city like Bhopal’
Laadoh, who hails from Chhattisgarh and a practicing artist in Bhopal, said: “There is another mythological story that when a spirit of dead person appears before the God, it has to solve a godna riddle, but if it fails to solve, the spirit is sent back to the Earth for rebirth. The elder ladies in the tribe tell that when the God of death, Yamraj, comes to us at the time of death, to take our souls, he will not confuse us with our husbands.
These are our ornaments. That’s what I have believed all my life, but when it comes to my daughter who now goes to school, I could not get her tattooed because it will be difficult for her to carry godna all her life in a city like Bhopal.”
Senior researcher Nirgune said: “It is important to understand that Godna and lifestyle of all tribes are different from each other. Merely by looking at tattoos of any tribal community one can understand the social structure and even their economic and political situation. During my research, I found that the Godna practice is declining among the major tribes of Madhya Pradesh.
‘There is just one godna artist over 20 tribal villages in the state’
“On an average, there is just one godna artist over 20 tribal villages in the state, which is scary. The government is making efforts, but they need to understand that holding workshops on godna promotes the art but the real canvas for this art is human body and until we don’t promote these artists, we cannot save it from dying.”
‘Tribals should be given freedom of choosing their lifestyle’
However, Ashok Mishra of Tribal Museum, Bhopal is in favour of mainstreaming of the tribals and they should be given freedom of choosing their lifestyle.
“According to basic human understanding, traditions are obstacles to development. Not only tribes are shunning their traditions, but so are we. We all are on a journey towards acquiring developmental pleasures of life, so why cannot they? We, living in big cities, want tribal people to be in ‘cultural cage’ while we are on a ‘development’ spree. This is an irony of our society. We should give them ample opportunities so that they can be mainstreamed while they also don’t leave their traditions. And this applies to all of us,” said Mishra.
Vandana Pandey, director of Tribal Museum, said: “Development cannot be stopped and should not be stopped. All we need to do is to give them (tribes) confidence that we are proud of them and their arts. Simultaneously, we should welcome them into our world.”
Facial Godna extinct
Godnas of Baiga tribe are the oldest and its form remains unchanged till date.
Thick lines are drawn on the entire body, which are perfectly geometric in shape. These are still engraved by needles.
The Godnas in Gond tribe has not changed nor the body parts where these are engraved, except the facial Godna tattoos which are extinct now.
The effect of time is clearly visible on Godnas by Kole Korku, Saharia, Bharia tribes.