Persian Tattoo Documented in Persian Literature

Rumi's Tattoo Story (Mathnawi - 1st Book): The great Persian poet, JALÁLU’DDÍN RÚMÍ  (1207 –1273 AD), in his famous book "Mathnawi” tells a story about a man who wants a lion tattoo on his shoulder blade but he changes his mind once he experiences the pain that the tattoo needle gives him.

Here is the full text of the tattoo story in Rumi's mathnawi book (scroll down for English version):

این حکایت بشنو از صاحب بیان
در طریق و عادت قزوینیان
بر تن و دست و کتفها بی‌گزند
از سر سوزن کبودیها زنند
سوی دلاکی بشد قزوینیی
که کبودم زن بکن شیرینیی
گفت چه صورت زنم ای پهلوان
گفت بر زن صورت شیر ژیان
طالعم شیرست نقش شیر زن
جهد کن رنگ کبودی سیر زن
گفت بر چه موضعت صورت زنم
گفت بر شانه گهم زن آن رقم
چونک او سوزن فرو بردن گرفت
درد آن در شانه‌گه مسکن گرفت
پهلوان در ناله آمد کای سنی
مر مرا کشتی چه صورت می‌زنی
گفت آخر شیر فرمودی مرا
گفت از چه عضو کردی ابتدا
گفت از دمگاه آغازیده‌ام
گفت دم بگذار ای دو دیده‌ام
از دم و دمگاه شیرم دم گرفت
دمگه او دمگهم محکم گرفت
شیر بی‌دم باش گو ای شیرساز
که دلم سستی گرفت از زخم گاز
جانب دیگر گرفت آن شخص زخم
بی‌محابا و مواسایی و رحم
بانگ کرد او کین چه اندامست ازو
گفت این گوشست ای مرد نکو
گفت تا گوشش نباشد ای حکیم
گوش را بگذار و کوته کن گلیم
جانب دیگر خلش آغاز کرد
باز قزوینی فغان را ساز کرد
کین سوم جانب چه اندامست نیز
گفت اینست اشکم شیر ای عزیز
گفت تا اشکم نباشد شیر را
گشت افزون درد کم زن زخمها
خیره شد دلاک و پس حیران بماند
تا بدیر انگشت در دندان بماند
بر زمین زد سوزن از خشم اوستاد
گفت در عالم کسی را این فتاد
شیر بی‌دم و سر و اشکم کی دید
این‌چنین شیری خدا خود نافرید
ای برادر صبر کن بر درد نیش
تا رهی از نیش نفس گبر خویش
کان گروهی که رهیدند از وجود
چرخ و مهر و ماهشان آرد سجود
هر که مرد اندر تن او نفس گبر
مر ورا فرمان برد خورشید و ابر
چون دلش آموخت شمع افروختن
آفتاب او را نیارد سوختن
گفت حق در آفتاب منتجم
ذکر تزاور کذی عن کهفهم
خار جمله لطف چون گل می‌شود
پیش جزوی کو سوی کل می‌رود
چیست تعظیم خدا افراشتن
خویشتن را خوار و خاکی داشتن
چیست توحید خدا آموختن
خویشتن را پیش واحد سوختن
گر همی‌خواهی که بفروزی چو روز
هستی همچون شب خود را بسوز
هستیت در هست آن هستی‌نواز
همچو مس در کیمیا اندر گداز
در من و سخت کردستی دو دست
هست این جمله خرابی از دو هست 

And here is the English version of this story translated by the British scholar Reynold A. Nicholson (1868-1945):

“Hear from the narrator this story about the way and custom of the people of "Qazwín" (1).
They tattoo themselves in blue with the point of a needle on body and hand and shoulders, so as to suffer no injury.
A certain man of Qazwín went to a barber and said, “Tattoo me (and) do it charmingly (artistically).”
“O valiant sir,” said he, “what figure shall I tattoo?” He answered, “Prick in the figure of a furious lion.

Leo is my ascendant: tattoo the form of a lion. Exert yourself, prick in plenty of the blue dye.”
“On what place,” he asked, “shall I tattoo you?” Said he, “Prick the design of the beauty on my shoulder-blade.”
As soon as he began to stick in the needle, the pain of it settled in the shoulder,
And the hero fell a-moaning—“O illustrious one, you have killed me: what figure are you tattooing?”
“Why,” said he, “you bade me do a lion.” “What limb (of the lion),” asked the other, “did you begin with?”

“I have begun at the tail,” said he. “O my dear friend,” he cried, “leave out the tail!
My breath is stopped by the lion's tail and rump: his rump has tightly closed (choked) my windpipe.
Let the lion be without a tail, O lion-maker, for my heart is faint from the blows of the prong (the tattooer's needle).”
That person commenced to prick in (the blue) on another part (of the man's shoulder) without fear, without favour, without
He yelled—“Which of his members is this?” “This is his ear, my good man,” the barber replied.

“O Doctor,” said he, “let him have no ears: omit the ears and cut the frock short.”
The barber began to insert (his needle) in another part: once more the man of Qazwín set out to wail,
Saying, “What is the member (you are pricking in) now on this third spot?” He replied, “This is the lion's belly, my dear sir.”
“Let the lion have no belly,” said he: “what need of a belly for the picture that is (already) sated?”
The barber became distraught and remained in great bewilderment: he stood for a long time with his fingers in his teeth;

Then the master flung the needle to the ground and said, “Has this happened to any one in the world?
Who (ever) saw a lion without tail and head and belly? God himself did not create a lion like this.”
O brother, endure the pain of the lancet, that you may escape from the poison of your miscreant self (nafs),
For sky and sun and moon bow in worship to the people who have escaped from self existence.
Any one in whose body the miscreant self has died, sun and cloud obey his command.

Since his heart has learned to light the candle (of spiritual knowledge and love), the sun cannot burn him.
God hath made mention of the rising sun as turning aside— like that—from their cave.
The thorn becomes entirely beautiful, like the rose, in the sight of the particular that is going towards the Universal.
What is (the meaning of) to exalt and glorify God? To deem yourself despicable and (worthless) as dust.
What is (the meaning of) to learn the knowledge of God's unity? To consume yourself in the presence of the One.

If you wish to shine like day, burn up your night-like self-existence.
Melt away your existence, as copper (melts away) in the elixir, in the being of Him who fosters (and sustains) existence.
You have fastened both your hands tight on (are determined not to give up) “I” and “we”: all this (spiritual) ruin is caused by dualism. ” 

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(1)  “QAZWÍN” is the name of a city in Iran

(2)  Source: “THE MATHNAWÍ OF JALÁLU’DDÍN RÚMÍ “, by Reynold A. Nicholson