Out of all the different religions and belief systems, perhaps none have such strong associations with the exotic and mystical as Buddhism holds for those in the West. Images of ancient monasteries perched on Tibetan cliffs, hidden from the world and holding the keys to enlightenment are conjured. This, of course, is not the whole story.
The Buddhist tradition arose 2500 years ago in India, founded by Siddhartha Gautama, a wealthy prince who renounced his extravagant lifestyle in favor of an existence of poverty and deprivation. When this path didn’t fulfill him he created the “Middle Way”, a method of existing without luxuries but also not embracing abject poverty. After six years of meditation Siddhartha reached enlightenment and became the Buddha, spreading his knowledge and approach to life with all that would listen.
There are a number of different symbols used in the different forms of Buddhism, but the unalome is interesting for a number of reasons. These lovely designs represent the path to enlightenment: the spirals in these designs represent the various twists and turns though out life, and the straight portion refers to the instant that enlightenment is achieved. The dots at the end of the design represent death and the moment life fades to black.
Most common in the Theravada Buddhism of South East Asia, the unalome makes for great tattoos thanks to their simple, elegant shape and the practically endless ways they can be incorporated into body art.
1. Black Unalome Tattoos
Many people prefer bold colors in their tattoos, and while there is nothing wrong with vibrant ink, some designs really don’t need it. In the traditional sacred tattoo process of South East Asia known as Sak Yant the unalome is a common element, and as these tattoos use only black (or sometimes blue) ink this style translates perfectly to these interesting shapes.
Black ink is a perfect way to create these designs and ensures that the tattoo will maintain a clean, understated elegance.
2. Color Unalome Tattoos
Despite the fact that these Buddhist symbols are generally black ink tattoos, the beauty of the art form is the ability to take existing ideas and designs and use them as a starting point to create one of a kind tattoos. An unalome is a simple design that is perfect for this type of creative development, and color is a great way to spice things up.
The traditional Buddhist association of different colors with different traits, directions and physical elements is also a great starting point to create a more unique and meaningful tattoo.
3. Delicate Unalome Tattoos
Some people prefer the big bold lines that are popular in many tattoo styles, while others prefer more subtle, fine line work to create their body art. The graceful shape of the unalome translates perfectly into this style, allowing an artist to create a beautiful tattoo without the need for bold line work.
4. Floral Unalome Tattoos
Flowers make for great tattoos for a number of reasons. They are often associated with different birth months, as well as being symbols of dramatic life events like weddings, funerals and anniversaries. The powerful way that the sense of smell is connected to memory and the way a specific scent can transport someone to a different time is another reason we have a deep connection to flowers.
Incorporating a flower into an unalome tattoo is a winning concept.
5. Large Unalome Tattoos
Go big or go home. That’s the attitude many people take when it comes to life, tattoos included. There is no mistaking the way a large, visible tattoo can turn heads and catch people’s attention, and for some that’s what tattoos are for. Large pieces also let everyone know the significance of the subject matter in the wearer’s life, and these powerful Buddhist designs make for great large tattoos.
6. Tiny Unalome Tattoos
Just as some folks prefer big pieces, just as many like their tattoos small, creating more intimate ink that gives the impression that they are not for the whole world to see. Unalomes are great for these small pieces thanks to their elegant shape, spiraling lines and the powerful meaning they hold. These tiny tattoos perfectly symbolize the deeply personal path to enlightenment that these Buddhist symbols represent.
7. Unalome Tattoos on the Spine
The spine is the centerline of the human form, separating the hemispheres while also unifying the different parts of the body. The spine is also where the different chakras or energy centers reside, giving this essential anatomical feature a more mystical connection that makes an unalome tattoo placed there even more significant.
8. Unalome Tattoos with a Circle
The circle is another symbol that holds deep significance in Buddhist traditions, specifically the Zen Buddhism of Japan. These circles, known as ensō, represent the moment of clarity when the body is free to create. Circles also represent oneness, unity and make for great additions to unalome tattoos.
9. Unalome Tattoos with a Lotus
In Buddhist tradition the lotus is a flower that holds deep meaning for a number of reasons. Most significantly, the lotus represents the path towards enlightenment: these beautiful flowers grow in muddy waters, literally rising from the muck only to bloom and open in a multi layered fashion that exemplifies the gradual development of those on the path to realize their Buddha nature.
Thanks to this significance they make perfect additions to unalome tattoos.
10. Unalome Tattoos with a Moon
The moon is a powerful symbol in every human culture around the world, maintaining strong associations with the feminine, purity and transformation. In Buddhism the moon is used as an allegory for the way that our true nature is obscured in the same way that clouds hide the moon. When the clouds pass, the way is illuminated.
Whatever the symbolism that the individual associates with the lunar body, the moon makes for great tattoos.
11. Watercolor Unalome Tattoos
A growing trend in the tattoo world is the use of swaths of bright, vibrant ink to create the effect of watercolor paintings applied to the skin. This technique can create great tattoos that instantly catch the eye and the design possibilities in this style are endless. These pieces are especially successful when incorporated with black line work, and an unalome makes for a great addition to these striking tattoos.
Unalome Tattoo FAQ’s
What does a Unalome tattoo symbolize?
In Buddhist tradition the unalome represents the path towards enlightenment that is each person’s duty and purpose on this physical plane. The swirls and twists in the design represent the trials and tribulations that we all face in everyday life, while the straight portion symbolizes the clarity and peace that is reached through enlightenment. Finally, the dots at the top of the piece signify the infinite nothingness that comes after death.
These interesting shapes can also represent the different aspects of the male and female depending on which way the spirals face. Female unalomes face left while the male faces right. This orientation can also make for a more informed design concept when incorporating other elements into a unalome tattoo. These shapes should always be pointing up, as the path towards enlightenment moves the individual to a higher plane of existence.
Are Unalomes disrespectful?
The unalome is a religious symbol and should be treated as such. In Buddhist countries using a sacred symbol like the unalome in profane ways, for advertising or other gratuitous purposes, would be considered very disrespectful. That being said, these are traditional elements in Sak Yant or sacred bamboo tattoos of South East Asia, so it is common to see them inked on people in the region—many monks even have these shapes tattooed on their bodies.
Short answer: if worn with the right intentions and with respect, an unalome is a completely acceptable tattoo choice.
Did you enjoy these beautiful unalome tattoos? Click on the links below for more examples of enlightening body art:
- Top 57 Sanskrit Tattoo Ideas
- Top 103 Buddhist tattoos
- Lotus Flower Tattoo Designs
- Chakra Tattoo Ideas