By Victor Epand
In the Krishna faith, the process of initiation consists of the five purification processes that includes either the branding or the tattooing of the four symbols and wearing the tilaka markings.
This is viewed as a way to sanctify yourself so that your true spiritual nature can develop, because this process is not only applied to the body, but also to the mind and soul. The form of branding, stamping, or tattooing can not be only physical, because if this was true, then this process would not have actually taken place in the religious practice. This process would then be hollow and shallow, because the individual would look good on the outside, but on the inside there would be nothing.
These symbols of the conch shell, disc, and the name of Krishna must be marked upon the body. Real devotion over rides in the heart by simply looking like a devotee and actually acting as one. These tattoos show the an individuals progress in the consciousness of the Krishna faith. Instead of wearing them to become an obsession or a distraction, then they should be displayed in the right mood and intentions so that they can become powerful tools in the individuals service to Krishna.
Every thing you do is suppose to remind you of Krishna, which includes tattooing or branding. If you are getting a tattoo for any other reason, then you should definitely examine your motives. If something material like a tattoo helps you to remember Krishna, then it can be used in Krishna's service. However, if it is used in excess, then it becomes an end in itself. You should decided that by getting a Krishna conscious tattoo, that it will be a bona fide way to express your devotion and to remind yourself and others of Krishna.
Professional tattoo artists will tattoo hundreds of devotees each year. What ever type of tattoo you decide to get you should make sure that it will be some thing that expresses you and that you will be happy living with it. It is a positive statement that will be on your body much longer than you will be in it. When it comes to artwork, tattooing is a practical style that can outline your beliefs.
Besides Sharma's devotional depictions of Krishna, professional tattoo artists have tattoed devotees with a variety of images, with the most popular being the maha-mantra and Lord Nrisimhadeva. Some devotees will go as far as to get tattoos of all thirteen of the tilaka marks, not to mention several mantras in Sanskrit. The best kind of tattoo a devotee can get is one with a built in conversation starter so they can share their belief with others, because when others see it they will never fail to ask what it is. This is a way that a devotee can explain various mantras and a little bit about the Krishna consciousness.
With a tattoo, a devotee can begin building a rapport with others. Modern western tattooing has always had a heavy Asian influence, mainly from the two hundred year old Japanese tradition. However, in the past ten years, there has been a huge rush of interest in Indian imagery, especially with yoga becoming so big these days. Students of yoga are often influenced to get tattoos of mantras and various symbols like the om sign. Every where individuals can see more and more signs of Vedic tattooing. In fact, if you pick up any modern tattoo magazine released within the past five to ten years, then you will find either an image directly related to Krishna, or something from the Vedic paradigm.