Members of a “secret” tribe living in Central India are so dedicated to their god that they tattoo his name all over their bodies.
Explorer and videographer Drew Binsky visited the Ramnami Samaj to find that their strange show of devotion is on the decline – but their religious faith is as strong as ever.
People with full-body tattoos are known as purnanakshik. They would have their bodies, faces, and in some cases their tongues tattooed with the word “Ram.” They say that the tattooing wouldn’t hurt at all, because of their strong faith.
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But these days, younger Ramnami people have rejected the eye-catching full-face tattoos. Instead they will just have one discreet “Ram” somewhere on their bodies where it can be hidden by their clothing.
One younger member of the group explains to Drew: “I have only a small one… the younger generation of people are going for jobs, anything in government services, and so they’re not doing the all body tattoos or all face tattoos.”
There are probably no more than 20 or 30 of the fully-tattooed Ramnami left. These more devoted members of the religion, who wear peacock-feather crowns and chant the name of Ram all day, tend to be in their seventies. With the younger generation abandoning the tradition, the bizarre look will one day quite soon consigned to history.
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Punia Bai Ram, 90, is one of the the oldest purnanakshik. She says her husband, who died 20 years ago, tattooed ‘Ram’ on her body 1,000 times
The sect formed in 1890 in response to India’s rigid class structure, which prevented lower-caste people from worshipping in Hindu temples. They chant “Ram” in reunite to Rama, one of the most important Hindu gods.
But it’s more than just a mantra, says Drew. When you’re living among the Ramnami “all you really have to know is two words; ‘ram ram.’ Really just one word – it means hello,, goodbye how are you? thank you …it’s all the above.”
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