Tattoos of Tibetan Refugees: Tashi
‘Tashi’ is 27, and came to Dharamsala from Kham 7 years ago. It took him 12 days to cross the Himalayas, part on foot, partly by Jeep. He didn’t go to school in Tibet – he came to India for an education.
He is from a nomadic family; his entire family is still in Tibet.
Tashi got his first tattoo when he was only 13. One of his older friends had many tattoos and he liked the way they looked. On the top of his had he has ‘yundon’, an ancient symbol of the Bon religion, which his family has practiced for many generations. They didn’t have access to any tattoo machines, so it was done by hand, using the Tibetan ink for painting signs on wood with a needle wrapped in thread. He and his friend did it together in one hour.
On his finger he has a symbol, he doesn’t know the name for it, but it was painted over the door in his home, a yurt, or the traditional tent houses of nomads.
When his parents saw it, they thought it was very bad; only people who hang out, do bad things – gamble, robbing fighting, drinking – only they have tattoos. Also, some lamas say it is very heard to find your soul when you die, so he tried to remove it.
Not many of his friends in Dharamsala have tattoos. He says that in exile, if he had a better quality tattoo, maybe it would be seen as art, but people look on his homemade tattoos badly.
Tashi doesn’t have a job in exile, but he noted that in China, if you want to join the military, it is not possible with a tattoo.