Sak Yant tattoos is a traditional and peculiar form of tattooing originated in Cambodia and practiced in Asia, principally Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and certain regions of Myanmar.
I have to say that before going to Thailand, I had not even heard about these tattoos. It wasn’t until a friend of mine talked to me about it that I started to get interested and even considered getting one. Let me tell you why…
The history of these particular tattoos in Thailand started in the 13th century, when thai soldiers generally were tattooed on their chest and back to classify their military status, while prisioners were tattooed on their face.
All the Sak Yants are based on superstitions and mystic beliefs. They are categorized, according to their purpose, in “Metta Maha Saneh”, to attract finantial stability and success and “Kongkrapan”, to obtain immortality and protection against bad luck, weapons and accidents.
Sak Yants are tattooed by Buddhist monks or by “Ajarns”, who are magic practitioners and experts on this form of tattooing.
How and where could i get one?
There are several Buddhist temples in Bangkok, Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai and some other cities in northern Thailand. The most famous temple for yantra tattooing is Wat Bang Phra, which is located 40km away from the capital, Bangkok.
According to the tradition, the monks or Ajarns are the ones who choose the yantra or design and the location of it, depending on every person´s aura. When the tattoo is finally done, the monk will say a prayer to “activate” the power of the yantra.
Its important to mention that there are certain rules every person must follow after getting a Sak Yant to make sure that the tattoo remains sacred. These rules may vary from one monk or Ajarn to another, but some of them are:
– Not to use any illegal drugs
– Not to cheat on your husband or wife
– Not to consume pumkin or star apple
– Not to consume any reptiles
– Not to disrespect your parents
After the purchase of some offerings that i will explain later, basically you just need to wait for your turn in a small room full of people, so everyone will be present when you get yours.
Normally women get their yantras on the back left shoulder or upper-back, while men get “inked” most commonly on the chest and lower back. None of the Sak Yant will be placed below the waist (this will be considered offensive due to the fact that according thai cultural beliefs, bad energies focus on people´s feet and they are also considered the dirtiest part of the body).
The person that is getting the tattoo will be sitting on a small pillow on the floor and giving the back to the monk (this after bowing 3 times as a show of respect).
Buddhist monks are not allowed to have any kind of physical contact with women´s skin, that is why they use a small piece of paper or fabric to lay his hand on their back or shoulder to avoid any direct contact with them.
Two people waiting for their turn to get their yantra will help or assist the monk by holding the tattoed person´s skin; one on each side.
Neither monks nor Ajarns use any kind of sketch. Every single design is executed by hand and with only the use of a “Khem Sak” (long metal spike), or a “Mai Sak” (long sharpened bamboo stick), and a bucket containing the ink.
How much would i have to pay for it?
You wont have to pay with cash to get a yantra unless its done by an Ajarn in his own establishment. If you decide to get it in a temple, you will have to purchase some offerings consisting in flowers, incense and cigarettes. The total price for them may vary from 70 to 100 thb ($2 or $3 usd).
Most of the people leave some extra cash offerings to help the maintenance of the temple and the monks that live there. At the end of the day all the offerings are taken outside the temple to be re-sold to visitors. In this way the items are recycled to make sure all the money from these sales remains consistent.
What about the health risks?
I personally consider that getting a Sak Yant is a unique and unforgettable experience, but the risks are definitely something you need to think about before getting one.
Monks use the same needle or spike to execute all the tattoos. They will wipe it with alcohol after each one, but the bucket of ink will still be the same for everyone, imagine that. Besides the mix of ink, venom and oils, it’s a lot of mixed blood remains too. Monks will simply use plastic gloves as a preventive measure, so this is not the healthiest and most sterile environment to get a tattoo.
Sak Yants became more popular among foreigners after 2003, when the actress Angelina Jolie traveled to Thailand to get two of the most famous yantras, the “Five Rows” and the “Phaya Suakrong” or Tiger King. However, the popularity of them remains the same among local people.
The amount of tattoed people I had the chance to see on the streets of the city is unbelievable!
If you ever consider getting a yantra while visiting Thailand, my advice would be to go to a tattoo shop and get it done by an Ajarn. I know it takes away a little bit the mysticism, but you will easily find an expert in this art with his own tattoo shop and even website located in basically every main street of the city. It will be just as meaningfull, but safer, i think.
Finally after reading, asking and searching a lot, I decided to get a Kongkrapan in a tattoo shop. The “Three eyes of Buddha”. A tattoo that, besides of reminding me of my time in Thailand and everything I learned while being there by myself, it protects me from bad energies and bad luck.