Those who lack faith may close their eyes, hypocritically pretending and faking devotion, but their false pretenses shall soon wear off.
~ Guru Ram Das Ji, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 734
In an age where image is everything, more and more youth are beginning to define their spiritual connections – not necessarily by public display of devotion – but by showcasing their alliances in the form of tattoos. While no religion specifically condones them, tattoos however, raise suspicious and sarcastic looks from those that find them undesirable, no matter how simple and clean they may seem. The Sikh youth are abandoning the Guru’s form (specifically the turban and unshorn hair) and replacing it with their own alternative – by expressing their pride through ways that find them acceptance with their peers who can longer bear the weight of conforming to their age-old tradition of wearing dastaar and unshorn hair.
The turbans have swiftly lost their princely status, and replaced with chic statements of tattooed arms, chests, backs and necks. Today’s generation is into the GenerationX thing – technology, luxury, image and peer-respect. It no longer matters what the Guru thinks is better – our educated youth ‘know better’ and have given godly status to their outer displays of fashion statements. Tattoos have today joined the legions of body piercings, crew cuts and blings. It seems like God is in fashion these days, regardless of how aloof or ignorant we want be in trying to understand His Will, and attempting to win His attention with our artistically decorated bodies. Whether it is to show your religious alliance, to make a fashion statement or to try and interpret your version of spirituality, tattoos may not be condemned by religion, but they lead you no where.
The Sikh Gurus revealed to us what Akaal Purakh had envisioned for His peoples. Over 240 years, the Sikh of Guru Nanak was groomed into the Khalsa of Guru Gobind Singh. Abandoned were all rituals and meaningless aspects of life, and replaced with those that would stand the test of time and be of purpose and lead us to our Creator Lord. One may argue that while tattoos are of outer display, then so are the turbans and beards. Valid argument, but . . . the dastaar and kesh of were marks of our affiliation to the Guru, a form blessed to the adherents of the Sikh way of life. One may adorn the Sikh turban and even maintain his kesh, and yet still pierce his body and tattoo his skin, is far more close to manmat and foolishness than those that have forsaken the Sikh identity altogether. Tattoos are nothing less than body-modification which is a process of deciding who you are and what you want to be. Tattooing and its allied arts, in other words, are increasingly understood as substitutes for more traditional religious rites of passage. Body art may be considered as an individual expression but it will never find favour with Sikhi, no matter how much one may claim to defend it as their way of spiritual expression.
Many who decorate their bodies with religious icons as tattoos claim to educate those that catch their curiosity. This is simply a sign of cultural starvation, resulting from rebelling against the norms and established way of a religious life. People claim to wear meaningful tattoos, but unless their life is dedicated to the inner self, the outer statements are as good as decorating a dead body. When we lose our intrinsic values, we attempt to guise that vacuum with alternative, self-defined ways. By ignoring the path of religious teachings and claiming to be wiser than the Masters, we do nothing more than condemning ourselves into the darkness of meaningless existence.
The greatest show of religious affiliation and devotion is a silent and humble one. When one sees a turbaned Sikh with a full kesh, he says more than one who has discarded the form of his Guru. What God wants to see is not your self-defined image, but the one that He commissioned, through teachings of faith. In the end, the outer is to rot away anyway, whether it is adorned by the dastaar or by tattoos, but what will matter in the Court of the True Lord is how much of our being we offered to the Guru and accepted as good what they instructed us to do, not what our fickle minds thought so otherwise. A life lived without contemplation on the Word of God is far worse that exhibiting our decorated bodies that insult our divine form.
In Sikhi, any body modification is a clear breach of the rehAt (way of living of a Sikh) – and is tantamount to of cutting hair – a clear indication of adversity to the true teachings of the Gurus. The modification and interference in any way of the human body – termed as the temple of God – is totally against Sikhi. Tattoos, thus, not only a cheap way to exhibit your Sikhi, but is also vain, empty and useless in the quest for whatever they are used to portray.
If one loves Sikhi, the only acceptable and useful way to express is to live by the true principles of it – through Gurmat, Gurbani and Rehat. All other ways are rejected by the Guru and not acceptable to Him. If it is not specifically written where the Guru disapproves of body decorations in the form of tattoos and piercings , neither will one find such an argument to be approved of in Gurbani. To challenge that is to verily express further ignorance and contempt for the teachings of the Gurus.
Without the Naam, all occupations are useless, like decorations on a dead body.
-Guru Arjan Dev Ji, Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, Ang 240