Sak Yant Tattoos
Sak Yant is the Thai name for sacred geometrical designs inked into the skin. Sak is the Thai word for tattoo and Yant, or Yantra as it is known elsewhere in the world, is the Thai name for a geometrical design believed to posses magical powers of protection.
The Sak Yant tattoos are normally inked by Buddhist Monks or Brahmin priests/holy men. Each of the different Sak Yant tattoo designs is said to carry a certain protection, some Thai’s believe that when a design is inked onto your skin by a Buddhist monk you then become imbued with that protection. Some designs are meant to give the owner the power to charm a lover or become wealthy while others offer protection against enemies.
Yant tattooing is an ancient Buddhist tradition practiced in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The prayers tattooed around the Yant are written in Pali Sanskrit, the original language of Buddha, using ancient Khom or Khmer lettering. The use of magic Yantras and the sacred alphabet to wrtite them has been a common practice with the Khmer race for thousands of years.
Local beliefs in Nature Spirits, Animism, and other sub-belief systems have been incorporated into the vast array of Yant designs used in traditional Thai Sak Yant Tattooing. The Sak Yant tradition in ancient Thailand times had warriors being given Sak Yant tattoos as it was believed that the Sak Yant would protect them by making their bodies more slippery and harder to grab in battle.
This particular ancient tradition of Sak Yant tattoos for warriors saw the development over time of new Sak Yant Tattoos that would be inked to protect against penetrative weapons such as guns and knives. Some Thai’s believed that if you were covered with Sak Yant tattoos it would make your skin slippery and hard to penetrate by these types of weapons.
Thai Sak Yant tattoos represent the myths of Himmaphan. The unique designs depict the images of the gods Shiva, Brahma, Rahoon, Rama, Lak, Ramayana and Hanuman who Thai’s believe are celestial beings. Having the images of these gods inscribed on ones body is thought to bring good luck.
Each Sak Yant tatto has it’s own particular design, method and meaning Each Sak Yant tattoo also has a prayer ( Kataa ) that accompanies it and is the final step of the tattooing process as the monk speaks the Kataa and blows it’s words into the newly inscribed tattoo, awakening it’s power. The Sak Yant is said to become alive and to continue growing with it’s owner for the rest of their lives.
Sak Yant tattoos have a very strict application method that must be adhered to and takes many years to master at the training of Yant masters. The tattooist must concentrate very hard while inscribing the tattoo as he must silently chant a mantra that changes with each new element of the design while inscribing the ancient Khmer lines.The recitation helps to pass on the magic onto the Sak Yant Tattoo.
Sak Yant Tattoo Tools & Inks
The tools and preparation of inks used in traditional Sak Yant tattooing today vary from temple to temple and with every Yant Master. In ancient times monks used a very hard , sharpened to a point Rattan tree thorn which would be up to three feet in length. As time went on monks found other suitable objects used to inscribe the Sak Yant tattoos such as sharpened umbrella spikes and often coffin nails that were picked up after a traditional cremation would be sharpened and attached to the end of a stick to use.
Whatever instrument was ultimately used by the monks they would have to be prepared as well by singing and chanting matras that would be blown into the new tool by the monks to give it magical powers.
The preparation of the inks used also vary from Yant Master to Yant Master with some preferring to prepare their inks the ancient ways from the sap of a rare tree found in the North East area of Thailand ( issan ). The sap is cooked into a black pigment to which a small amount of snake venom is added. While other Yant masters prefer to use Chinese ink mixed with aromatic oils and whiskey.
The Meanings of Thai Sak Yant Tattoos
Each Thai Sak Yant Tattoo has it’s own particular meaning and purpose. The beliefs stem from ancient Thai peoples and culture. While not all Thai people today subscribe to the belief in the power of the Yant tattoos, there are still many Thai’s from every walk of life who not only believe but practice the ancient art often.
The following are just a few of the more popular Sak Yant designs and their meanings.
Hanuman Soong Rith ( White Magic Monkey ): In the Ramayana Indian tale, Hanuman is immortal, lucky in game and lucky in love. If you want success in life, protection from weapons and want to be lucky in love, then this is the Sak Yant tattoo for you.
Gao Yord ( Nava Horakoon ): This is probably the most popular of the Sak Yants for newcomers. Also known as the nine spires the Gao Yord is is explained by the 9 magic abilities of Lord Buddha that appear in 9 lines of the tattoo’s inscription. This is a good Sak Yant for protection.
Matchanu ( Semi God’s Monkey & Fish ): Matchanu is the son of Hanuman and Suwanmadcha ( mermaid ) This Tatoo looks very similar to Hanuman except if you look closer it has a tail like a mermaids. This is a popular Yant with the fishermen.
Ganesh ( Pra Pikanesha ): Ganesh is the god of wealth and success and very recognizable by the elephants head on a human body. This Yant is considered good for artists, actors, singers and technicians, and, of course, people who want to be wealthy.
Erawan Elephant: The Erawan Elephant is a god elephant with three faces. He is the largest and most powerful of all elephants in heavan and is the mount of Indian God Indre. This Yant is particularly sought out by travelers and politicians as it protects the owner from harm.
Rules of the Sak Yant
After you receive your sak Yant tattoo and it is blessed by the monk you are usually given instructions or rules to follow in order for your you to make sure the Yant’s magical powers remain. Some monks may tell you that you must recite a certain Buddhist mantra every morning or that you must closely follow the 5 precepts of Buddhism closely as not to devalue your Yant and lose it’s power.
Buddhism is the most profound and wholesome education directed by the Buddha towards all people. Five precepts are the curriculum of Buddhist teaching, which are embraced in the moral code of Buddhism. By observing precepts, not only do you cultivate your moral strength, but you also perform the highest service to your fellow beings. The Five Precepts are:
- Do not kill
- Do not steal
- Do not indulge in sexual misconduct
- Do not make false speech
- Do not take intoxicants
It is believed that if you do not follow the 5 Buddhist precepts that your Yant will not only lose it’s power but the wearer will also lose their moral strength.
There is also the question of women. Some monks believe that woman should never touch the Sak Yant while other monks believe it is okay as long as the woman in question asks and is given permission first. When the touching occurs the Yant wearer should be in a lower position than that of the person touching the Yant.
Where to get a Thai Sak Yant Tattoo
Most Wats ( temples ) have at least one monk who can inscribe the Sak Yant but there are several popular Temples such as Wat Bang Phra in Bangkok where the faithful go daily to have Yant’s done. There are also Yant Masters around Thailand that are not monks and also do Sak Yant Tattoos. Some of these Yant Masters such as Ajarn Noo Kanphai are very popular for their work and that of their students. Ajarn Noo is the Yant Master that gave Angelina Jolie her Sak Yant tattoos.
Sak Yant Tattoo Cost
If you are having the Yant done at Wat then the cost is very inexpensive. You will be required to make a spiritual offering which usually consists of a pack of cigarettes, candles and incense which usually rins about 80-100 baht ( around $3.00 ). You will also be required to give a monetary donation that is usually between 50-200 baht ( $1.50-$$6.00 ). Done at a Wat the Sak Yant not only is inexpensive but you get the whole experience.
Sak Yants done by Yant Master outside of the Wats are usually more expensive and if done by someone like Ajarn Noo then we are talking serious money. It’s said he now charges over 100,000 baht to anyone wanting g the Tiger Yant like the one he gave Angelina Jolie, that’s over $3000. The one reason many seek out individual Yant Masters as their work is usually of a finer detail and much more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
No matter what you choose, make sure you have thought through your decision to get a Sak Yant Thai Tattoo, because like any tattoo it will be for life. If it’s definitely on your agenda then I would suggest going to Wat Bang Phra in Bangkok to get your first Sak Yant.