Photo © Wei Tan
The Tattooed People of God
Kartik Ram Sadhu, a 67 year-old visually impaired follower of Ramnami Samaj who lives in the village of Arjuni,Chattisgarh, India.
Ramnamis, living in the eastern state of Chattisgarh, India, are a devout sect of Hindus who follow the Ramnami Samaj religious movement and display their piety by tattooing their entire bodies, including their face and head. Most are leather-workers who process the skins of dead cows and all are considered to be “untouchables,” meaning they belong to the lowest of the Indian caste system. The Ramnami people first began the tattooing rituals more than 100 years ago as an act of devotion and defiance after higher caste Hindus denied them entry into temples and forced them to use separate wells. Seeing temples as unnecessary due the belief that God is omnipresent and sees all people as equal regardless of caste, the Ramnamis defied the higher castes by tattooing the name Ram, a Hindu god, across their body. Today the Ramnami Samaj people, who number 100,000 or more, live in dozens of villages across Chhattisgarh.
Wei Tan CHINA
Wei Tan is a freelance photojournalist who is currently working in Southern Asia but is based in both the United States and China. He undertakes long-term projects concerning social and environmental issues, as well as short-term assignments for magazines, newspapers, and companies. During his time living in China, Tan works in the field of advertising and portrait photography. Since 2011, while working in Southern Asia, he has focused on social issues.
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