Your Sanskrit Tattoo (And Its Sacred Graffiti)
Posted on June 1, 2012 by admin under
It happens to me almost every day.
Some yogi from somewhere out in the world decides s(he) wants to get a tattoo with some Sanskrit phrase on it.
My email is full of messages like the following:
Since I didn’t go to graduate school and earn a doctorate to become a Sanskrit “vending machine,” I’ve resorted to Google in response to these requests in the hopes of finding someone who specializes in the practice of Sanskrit “tattooing.” And I’m astonished to discover that as many people are searching for help with Sanskrit tattoos as they are looking for places to practice “naked” yoga.
And since Yoga Journal recently announced in one of its latest issues a “yoga tattoo” contest, I’ve finally surrendered to the fact that this is an official trend—and a not-so-new one it turns out.
Once while in Benares, I made the mistake of wearing a tee-shirt with Ganesha on it and was practically chased down and throttled by a neighborhood priest. “We do not put the god-figure photos on our mundane cloths,” he admonished.
Yet despite the truth of the priest’s claim among mainstream Hindus, I did encounter an entire village of people, the Ram-Namis (“those rapt in the name of Ram”) covered in Sanskrit tattoos.
In these ways, they saturate themselves with the presence of God—from skin to soul.
This practice is in imitation of Lord Ram’s best devotee, Hanuman, who when questioned if he really had any faith in God, tore open his chest to reveal the name of Ram permanently etched on his heart.
Devanagari, meaning “divine” (deva) and “city” (nagari), refers to one of the systems used to write down the oral Sanskrit syllables. Sanskrit can be written in any script (including the Roman script we use to read English) provided it accounts for all the nuances of its distinct sounds.
The word, devanagari, translates as “city of the gods,” or more loosely, “the container of divine light.”
The Sanskrit characters written in devanagari are, therefore, the outer symbols that express the intercommunication between human and divine.
In the ancient days, devanagari adorned temple walls to attract the gods to earth as well as to inspire humans toward their unified nature. This is why devanagari is also called “divine temple writing.”
It’s a kind of sacred graffiti.
Writing the Sanskrit letters in devanagari is a sacred practice called likhta japa (“repetitive writing meditation”). The order of the strokes especially disciplines the mind to recognize specific flows of prana through the body and in nature. It trains you to recognize through eye/ hand coordination the movement of energy currents pulsing through everything in creation.
As you write them, the shapes of the script have a kind of musical quality to them, like Western musical notation, conveying the movement of primordial sound.
Although much of this knowledge is lost to us in the modern age, the shapes of the letters serve as pictographs for all the spiritual and terrestrial objects of the universe.
Like asana, yantras consist of specific arrangements of geometrical shapes—circles, squares, and triangles—that expand your consciousness visually in the same way mantras do aurally. Yantra is visual mantra, embodying the inner, vibratory nature of creation.
So in contemplating your next Sanskrit tattoo, I offer the following suggestions:
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