Heads up tattooed yogis. A man’s Hindu goddess tattoo got him into some big trouble over the weekend. Australian tourists Matthew Gordon and his girlfriend were out for lunch in Bangalore, India when locals began harassing him after seeing his large shin tattoo of Yellamma the Hindu goddess of the fallen and India’s lowest caste. The police were called, but it’s reported that Gordon was not released until he wrote an apology note.
Gordon, a 21-year-old law student, says he was confronted about his tattoo and threatened after several patrons of the restaurant began taking pictures and videos of him. “One of them came to me and confronted me about my tattoo,” he told the Hindu newspaper. “Soon, they surrounded us and threatened to skin my leg and remove the tattoo.”
The police arrived but according to Gordon, the reprimanding continued.
“A policeman arrived and said this is India and one couldn’t sport such a tattoo on the leg,” said Gordon, who also has a large tattoo of Ganesh on his back.
Gordon wrote in a facebook post that they were taken to the police station where he was forced to write an apology letter in order to be released.
Having studied in India years prior, Gordon promises he loves India and is respectful of Hinduism. “I love India which is why we came back to visit,” he said. “We have heard about the growing Hindu nationalism, but nothing justifies the way we were treated. I love Hinduism,” he said.
Many are saying this incident is just one example of the growing Hindu nationalism in India encouraged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi (the one who successfully established International Yoga Day to praise and skepticism).
The incident illustrates, yet again, a growing climate of intolerance and lack of free expression under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. Religious hard-liners who insist India is a Hindu nation (rather than officially secular as its constitution states) have become emboldened in the face of lackluster government opposition.
According to the Deccan Chronicle newspaper, several members of the crowd that threatened Gordon and his girlfriend on Monday belong to Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party.
This may have been an isolated incident, but we have to consider all of the people out there with Hindu deities inked on their skin (not to mention Sanskrit), a majority of which are Westerners, and a bunch of whom travel to or study in India. Regardless of intention, the question of cultural appropriation hangs heavy in the air. One has to ask, is this a healthy blending of cultures? Or is it an unfair bastardizing of Indian heritage as “selective cultural adoption“?
Either way, it would be unfortunate to see these spiritual symbols become the markings of intolerance.
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Great article. Even better travel advice. Seemingly, a percentage of Hindu practitioners are repelled by what they consider to be offensive tattoos of their deities. Those considering inking themselves may consider this, lest they risk an impromptu skin graft or detention.
It shows that many Westerners are clueless about Hinduism and Eastern culture as a whole. How many instagrammers say “I’m feeling zen” when talking about their yoga practice and mental state? When I comment that Zen is in fact a Japanese Buddhist sect and not a Yoga term, they retort “that isn’t very zen of you.” Welcome to the age of ignorance.
Another example of an entitled westerner who feels they have the ‘right’ to walk into any other country without doing a midge of research about what is acceptable / not acceptable. If this was ISIS they would have probably held him for months and then beheaded him in the public square. He should consider himself fortunate. Bloody idiot.
Violence is never an appropriate action for this type of offense. But, cultural appropriation is offensive to those whose sacred rites and symbols are being misused. It’s likely that Matt Keith’s motivation for inking Hindu symbols onto his body was to honor Hinduism in his own way. But it was also tone deaf of him not to understand that wearing another culture’s sacred symbols on your body or on a T-shirt or window sticker might be interpreted as trivializing them.
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It is stupid and wrong to threaten some one with violence because they have a tattoo featuring a character from one of your favourite works of fiction.
Cultural appropriation? It’s not “cultural appropriation” when Indians quote Shakespeare…
This is no different that women visiting conservative muslim areas being threatened for going bare headed.
My only comment, as an American who has lived overseas (Africa and Southeast Asia), is that it was extremely imprudent of Mr. Gordon to publicly display his tattoos in India. Yeah, the threats of violence were wrong, but not particularly surprising.
First up – I am an INDIAN.
Something is not right about this story. I think some key details are being left out.
The only way I can see this kind of incident happening in India (more so in a city like Bangalore) is if the tattoo of the goddess was on the legs OR feet.
In India – we don’t touch anything sacred with our legs or feet. Forget about deities – it is not even cool to touch another person with legs or feet.
In fact – as a child I was often scolded if my feet touched a “book” (education is considered sacred as well).
That being said – tattoos are cool in India -even those of Gods and Goddesses – just don’t put any religion related tattoo on the lower half of your body. It is considered offensive. If you already have one, make sure cover it so nobody can see.
I consider myself fairly open-minded, but if I saw person with a Ganesh tattoo on their leg, I would find it offensive as well. This is just the way of our culture.
Bottomline- when in Rome, please don’t do what Romans find offensive.
I believe that this particular one was on his lower leg.
Was it perhaps less about the content of the tattoo than the placement? i.e. putting a deity near the foot?
I can’t count the number of yoga studio bathrooms hang an om symbol over or near the toilet (in the West). Please. This is really foul.
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