A group of locals from Bastar in Chhattisgarh has taken up the task of reviving the region’s age-old ‘Godna’ tattoo art form, which tribals believe is the only ornament that remains with them even after death.
This primitive artistry, known for traditional designs like the bow and arrow and bison horn headgear, is waning in the fast-changing world as people are more attracted towards the modern tattoo designs.
This has been a concern for the tribal community from Bastar.
Some local youth, mostly tribals, are now trying to give a face-lift to the Godna art by promoting it among tourists, telling them about its significance and drawing the traditional designs with a modern twist while also ensuring safety, hygiene and use of good quality ink and other equipment.
A catalogue of the traditional Godna patterns and stories behind them is also being prepared to conserve this art form, a prominent tattoo artist from the state told PTI.
Nearly 20 young locals attended a 15-day training on Godna and modern tattoo art organised at the Bastar Academy of Dance, Art and Language (BADAL) by the district administration in May and June this year.
After training, most of them have started working as tattoo artists and set up stalls in places of tourist importance in and around Jagdalpur, the headquarters of the Maoist-hit district, located around 300 km from the state capital Raipur.
They say their aim is not only to earn money from Godna tattoo-making, but also to preserve this art form.
“People know that Godna has always been an integral part of the tribal culture, but they lack the knowledge about its significance. During the training, we were told how we can promote this art form and take it up as a profession for livelihood,” said Jyoti, a 21-year-old tribal woman from Bade Kilepal village.
She is among those who attended the training and now makes tattoos at the Bastar Art Gallery, Jagdalpur.
Jyoti travels for about 45 km every day by bus to reach Jagdalpur from her village. She is also pursuing a Bachelor of Science course through correspondence from a government college in nearby Tokapal town.
Earlier, most of the tribal women had Godna tattoos on their bodies and tribal men also preferred it, she said.
“Each design has a particular significance. It is believed some designs keep evil powers and illnesses away, while some say it is the only ornament which remains with people even after death. My mother also has a Godna tattoo on her face below the lips and forehead,” she said.
One can still find traditional Godna makers in the haat-bazaar (weekly market) and fairs in Bastar, but the art is gradually losing its popularity, Jyoti said.
“We hope that young people from Bastar would join us in keeping this art form alive,” she said.
Jyoti’s mother works at an anganwadi (government-run women and child care centres), while her ailing father is confined to home.
“Tattoo-making is helping our family financially,” she added.
Another local Sandip Baghel (24) and four other youth have set up a small tattoo-making stall in front of the famous Chitrakote waterfall, which is a popular spot among tourists throughout the year. Baghel has been interested in art and drawing since childhood.
“After completing school, I quit studies and started working in farms with my parents,” he said.
Baghel said he had never imagined that he could be a tattoo artist before attending the training session.
“Tourists are hardly interested in getting inked with a traditional tribal design, but when we tell them about its significance they agree to it. We also make trending designs, but we always try to convince people to go for the old and traditional motifs,” he said.
The traditional patterns comprise the bow and arrow, bison horn headgear and tamarind leaf designs, he added.
Baghel said two of his female group members are Class 12 students, who join the Godna work only on weekends.
Raipur-based tattoo artist Shailendra Shrivastav, who trained these young artists, said previous Bastar collector Rajat Bansal had conceptualised the idea of the training programme, aimed at preserving the rich Godna art, also known as Godni, Bana and Bani, by giving it a modern twist and making it a means of livelihood for locals.
“We mostly find old tattoo designs of the African and Egyptian tribes online, but not of the Bastar region as it does not get promoted. I was initially apprehensive about how these artists would learn the Godna art in 15 days, but they started showing significant improvement in just one week,” said Shrivastav.
One of the main reasons for the dwindling craze of the Godna art form was the unhygienic way it was made using as a single needle for several people.
The tattoo-making was also a painful process and would sometimes cause side-effects, he said.
“On my suggestion, the district administration provided good quality tattoo-making equipment and US-made herbal inks free of cost to all the 20 artists,” he said.
Shrivastav also said he will ensure that these Godna tattoo makers get the supply of ink at an affordable price.
A catalogue of the traditional Godna designs of Bastar, mentioning the significance of each pattern, is being prepared and it will be released soon, he added.
Bastar Collector Chandan Kumar said the region is progressing towards peace, prosperity and development. Hence, it is important to conserve and promote its art, culture and traditions.
Young people in Bastar are not only taking interest in the Godna art, but they also wish to promote it far and wide, he said.
“In future, it will be our duty to conserve the existing Godna tattoo motifs prevalent among the communities in Bastar and also collect stories and legends associated with them,” he said.