Are Sikhism Tattoos Allowed?

Body Piercing and Sikh Code of Conduct

Ik Onkar Tattoo
Ik Onkar Tattoo. Photo © [Vikram Singh Courtesy www.amasingh.com]

Question:

Does Sikhism allow tattoos and piercings? What does the Sikhism code of conduct say about body piercing and staining? Can a person with existing tattoos, or piercings, be initiated into Sikhism?

Answer:

Sikhism generally forbids any method of piercing of the body for any reason, but especially for the sake of adornment or fashion, and wearing of jewelry. Dyeing the hair and beard, or coloring it with henna, are considered a major infraction, and cause for penance and penalty, or reinstatement of initiation.

Tattooing, piercing, wearing jewelry, bindi dot, makeup and trendy fashions, etc are restricted, but are not spiritually punishable offenses, so much as considered impediments of spiritual consciousness. There is however, a registered legal restriction against tattooing of Sikh religious symbols as harming Sikh sentiments.

There is no ban preventing a person with existing tattoos, or body art, to be initiated into Sikhism. However, at the time of initiation, the Panj Pyare, five beloved Sikhs who conduct the initiation ceremony, request both Sikh men and women to remove all jewelry from the body and to forgo wearing such adornments thereafter, and may, or may not, recommend tattoo removal.

For the most part, elaborate body art tattoos with Sikhism themes are displayed on the bodies of those the uninitiated who wish to promote Sikh identity. However occasionally a single, small, simple Khanda, or Ik Onkar, may be tattooed on the hand, or body, of an initiate as a statement of devotion and commitment.

Intention

When deciding whether or not to tattoo or body pierce, keep in mind these secular and spiritual considerations:

  • Does the tattoo further spiritual consciousness?
  • Does the tattoo defile the body as the temple of the divine?
  • Is the tattoo intended as a private symbol of personal conviction?
  • Is the tattoo a body modification intended as public display to attract attention?
  • Have tattoo health risks including allergic reaction, or fatal infection, been assessed?

Code of Conduct

All existing interpretations of Sikhism code of conduct, or Reht Maryada mandates, condemn any manner of body piercing.

Damdami Taksal (DDT) Gurmat Rehat Maryada – Sikh Code of Conduct regards any piercing of the body to be considered by Sikhs as anti-gurmat, against the Guru's tenets admonishing that one is not to pierce any part of the body in any manner for any purpose, nor should a child be subjected to piercing. Earrings, nose rings, or other ornaments are not to adorn the body, including ink stain tattoos. Initiates are instructed to dress simply in colors like white, yellow/orange, blue, or black, but no red or green, no fancy saris, finger rings, earrings, nose rings, or any kind of piercings, long fingernails, nail polish, lipstick, bindi dots, or henna.

Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) Sikh Reht Maryada - Sikh Code of Conduct and Conventions clearly states:

"Sikh marad athvaa istree noon nakk kann chhadnaa manhaan hai|
Sikh men and women are forbidden the piercing of nose or ears for wearing of ornaments."

"Dahrrha rangann vaalaa|
One who dyes the beard (is subject to boycott and penance)."

Akal Takhat Edict

In July of 2013, in response to high profile celebrity tattoos, the Akal Takhat issued an edict warning that it would seek legal recourse against any one who tattoos the body with Sikh symbols such as Ik Onkar, Khanda, Sikh Swords, or verses of Gurbani, holy scripture. Jethadar Gurbachan Singh announced that a complaint would be lodged following the procedure of filing a First Information Report (FIR) and a case would be registered against offenders citing Section 295 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) "Deliberately hurting the religious feelings of any community by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representation."

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