The 'Godna' Art

Godna, a tribal ink tattoo art is practiced by the tribe of the Baiga women which live in the jungles of Madhya Pradesh. The tattoo serve varying functions- seen as markers of social identity, they are equally a part of bodily adornment that outlives death.

Baiga women especially have extensive tattoos on their body as there are a lot of myths and folklore associated with the origin of these tattoos. Tribal men too have Godna, with a belief that it is the only ornament that they can carry with them after death also. However, the objective of Godna is not just ornamentation but the art form is also believed to have some healing practises too. The tattoos are highly valued for their powers of healing and their ritualistic significance.




During pre-historic times, there was a devastating drought which made Shiva and Parvati worried. Shiva told the Baiga women to pray to Indra for rain. He made Kajar with the dirt from his hands and gave it to them. the Baiga women covered their whole bodies with tattoos to look more beautiful. As Indra was very fond of beautiful women he was very pleased and gave them a plough to farm. The women started farming, soon it rained and the frogs croaked and peacock screamed. Since then the Baiga women always tattoo their bodies.




Contemporary Indian society has continued the pre-historic rock art tattoos as their popular tradition. Noteworthy Godna paintings are Devar Godna of Rajanandgaon district of Chhattisgarh, Godi godna of Surguja district of Chhattisgarh, badi Godna of Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh and Madhubani Godna of Mithila region of Bihar, done by Brahmins and Kayasthas to picturize the sacred Hindu Mythological texts.

Paswans design animals, minerals and vegetables on their huts rather than divinities Madhubani Godna artists use natural colours derived from bark, leaf, flowers, seeds of plants and trees, clay and cow dung. They wash handmade papers in cow dung and dry it before using it as a canvas for painting. They have started using synthetic colours easily available in the market. Now, colours obtained in powdered form are used after mixing these with goat milk.

Women in Jamgala, in Lakhanpur district of Sarguja, like Safiano Bai, Ramkeli and Budh Kunwar, have revived traditional Godi godna, by mixing natural pigments procured from the forest with acrylic paint to stabilize these on fabrics.

Modernisation has influenced the Godna art and artists to a great extent. Tattooing has shifted from body to paper, cloth and canvas. Female tattooists have played an important role in the dissemination of Godna painting in India and abroad through exhibitions and workshops.