12 September 2009

Evil Tattoo

A friend posted this on his Facebook page and I thought it would make a good cautionary tale:
A Buddhist, who’s more faith than reason, into all things tantric, spots the paṁ syllable in a purification practice. He goes along to the local tattoo parlour and has it tattooed on his shoulder blade.

He's showing it off to a friend who reads the practice and says: 'It says here that paṁ is the seed syllable for all evil.'

'Oh, I’ve got the seed syllable for all evil tattooed on my shoulder blade.' Sad, but true.

My response was that he might reassure his friend by reminding him that paṃ is also the bīja for Paṇḍāravāsinī, plus I think evil would have to be pāṃ (from the first syllable of the Sanskrit word pāpa). This is one case where diacritics matter!

12/9 Noticed this Kelly Osbourne interview today:
"I hate my tattoos. I saw someone about getting a couple removed, especially the keyboard, because I don't even know how to play the piano and I was drunk when I got it. I was a spiteful brat who got tattoos to piss off my mum and now I think they are ugly. People define you by tattoos and I don't want to be defined by an anchor on my arm! Unfortunately, having them removed is going to be painful."


  1. I'm reminded of countless cautionary tales about people getting something written in Chinese that is very derogatory in translation.

    Things like that have also driven me to work on my own Indic script, the letters derived from Takri, but taking on something of a south Indian/south east Asian look. Entirely mine, and the authority on it is myself, sort of a protest against folks who think "If you speak English you shouldn't be writing in other scripts!" It's intended to be as much decorative as functional (I could for instance write accurate mantra).

    Of course, the other side of the coin is using a script that would be considered "deficient", such as the Tagalog script that couldn't even represent Tagalog fully even when it was in common use. A word like "malagkit" (sticky) would have been written as "malaki" (big). consonant clusters simply had one of the consonants dropped in writing, and final consonants were omitted. Reading required an understanding of context, rather than explicit phonetic information. A bit like reading un pointed Hebrew or Arabic.

    What's interesting is though the Spaniards introduced the virama, it never caught on, as the Filipinos saw the script as sufficient enough for their uses (love letters, notes, poems).

  2. Hi Barry

    Thanks for your comment. Very interesting. In Japan they often use Siddhaṃ to write slogans on teeshirts and things like that. I'd be interested to see an example of your Indic script. Also omniglot.com feature new or artificial scripts.


  3. I came across one site randomly while looking up bonji, which was a Japanese attempt to write an English phrase in Siddham: Why don't we spend tattooes life? Interesting example of English, and they even show the Siddham glyphs they use.

    I'll try to get an example of my script up, probably the plain pencil/pen written version, rather than a more ornate calligraphic example (as I am still figuring out letter forms in it).

    Omniglot is a favorite website of mine as I am a bit of a scriptophile (I've even got the book "The World's Writing Systems").

    Above all, my favorite scripts are the Indic scripts because they use a novel approach to writing the sounds, which ends up making them very beautiful. I was especially happy to find out about Siddham because for the most part, Indian cultures really haven't developed their scripts calligraphically, other than modern font designs for Bollywood posters and the like.

  4. Kelly is a good example of what NOT to do when getting tattoos: out of spite, or on impulse. All of mine took me a year to conceptualize and finally get, even the ones that have no meaning.

    Anyway Jayarava, here's an (rough) example of all of the bija you've listed, plus the two bija words, and finally "bija" and "siddham" in my own Indic script. The list starts at top left column, and continues at the top right column, downwards.

    Bija, Bija words, and "bija", "siddham"