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by Arnab Adak
More than 100 years ago, as part of the Ramnami Samaj religious movement in India, a sect of Hindu people called the Ramnamis, males and females, started the custom of tattooing their faces and bodies with the name of the Hindu God, Ram. Tattooing starts in childhood.The Ramnamis neither maintain a temple nor worship an idol like the other Hindus. They worship the name of the god. They sing and dance the praises of Ram. They have faith in the power of his name and recite and swear by the holy Ramayana, a scripture that combines ethical values with the spiritual beauty of poetry. During festivals they all gather together to take a holy dip in a nearby lake and chant the name of Ram all night long.In this modern age when technology is reaching to every corner of the world, the younger generations , who travel out of the villages to study or work, are resisting the custom of tattooing. As a result, a community, which once numbered 100,000 or more and was spread over dozens of villages in India, has been reduced to a few hundred. The remainingfollowers believe, in days to come, the faith will still be alive amongst their future generations, but only a counting few willcarry the symbol on their bodies.
The name of God Ram painted on the walls outside the home of a Ramnami.
A Ramnami ready with the bells to sing hymns of Ramayana.
The head of Chanda Ram tattooed with the name of God.
The body and hands of Krthik Ram Sadhu tattooed with the name of God.
Chanda Ram of Chapora village, with his face tattoed, looks at the camera.
Phirtin Bai tattooed the name of the Hindu god Ram on her entire face, when she was young.
Mahettar Ram Tandon inside his house in the village of Jamgaha.
Punai Bai, while attending a religious gathering.
An associate of the Ramnami samaj locking the doors of her small house before leaving for a religious gathering.
Chanda Ram inside his house checking his head crown designed with peacock feathers.
Karthik Ram Sadhu, a visually-impaired follower of Ramnami Samaj, getting ready to visit a religious gathering.
Sumitra Devi outside her house with her grand daughter.
The holy Ramayana, the verse of which are recited by the Ramnamis.
Three Ramnamis sing the hymns from Ramayana inside the temple.
Ramnami group singing and dancing on the birth day of God Ram.