On the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, read about the Baiga tribe women from Chhattisgarh who mandatorily have to get their bodies tattooed. The ritual is performed in the forest by senior women from the community and involves appeasing the ‘tiger god’.
The tattooing ritual is essentially an all-women activity which is performed at a considerable distance from the village. All photos by Gopi Krishna Soni
Sixty-five-year-old Shanti Bai, a senior member of the Baiga tribe in Chhattisgarh, has earned the title of badneen from her fellow villagers. A resident of Ba Paani Basakola village in the Pandariya block of Raipur, Shanti Bai has been practising godna (tattooing) for the last several decades.
Godna, or the tattoo art, is unique to the culture of women belonging to the Baiga tribe found across Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and some parts of Uttar Pradesh.
The tattoos are generally engraved by a senior woman in the tribe, such as Shanti Bai, who is also known as a badneen and has years of experience in the tattoo art as well as the intricacies of undertaking the procedure with safety measures.
This tattoo art is performed only on Baiga women. Despite the painful procedure of getting tattooed, the beliefs run deep about its importance in the tribal customs and the act of tattooing is followed by rituals that are observed to appease the forest gods.
“I have been tattooing for many decades now, the godna (tattooing) stays with the soul of the person not only in this birth but also in the next birth,” the 65-year-old badneen told Gaon Connection. “A girl is tattooed for the first time when she is six-year-old. More tattoos are added in the years that follow and the last tattoo is done after the woman delivers a child for the first time,” she informed.
Talking about the procedure to conduct the tattoo ritual, she informed that the girls are tattooed in the forests. It involves bleeding and the sight of blood by the males is considered to be a bad omen.
The tattooing ritual is essentially an all-women activity which is performed at a considerable distance from the village.
“The girl or woman who is to be tattooed is taken to the forest along with other women to help in the procedure. The colour used for tattooing is made from ground kala til (black sesame),” explained Shanti Bai. “The woman is made to lie on a mat in the forest and a total of 35 needles are dipped in the colour and are engraved on the skin. The procedure is very painful but very important,” she said.
“After the tattooing is done, the area is washed with cow dung diluted with water and it protects against infection,” the badneen added.
As the threat of a tiger in the forest is immense and in order to appease the ‘tiger god’, a ritual is performed, Shanti Bai shared with Gaon Connection.
“The tattoos also protect people from diseases as it purifies the blood and the soul. The pain cleanses the body and it helps in living a healthy life,” she explained.
The Baiga tribal code makes it compulsory for the girls to be tattooed, failing which, the gods are believed to punish the girls after death by hitting them with a club.
“Because we badneen ensure that the girls don’t face the fury of gods, we are gifted with food, grains, and money after the tattoo ritual,” Bai told Gaon Connection.
With inputs from Mohit Shukla