Sak Yant: This Magical Thai Tattoo Was My Dream Until This Happened!

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Photo of Sak Yant: This Magical Thai Tattoo Was My Dream Until This Happened! by Samarth Arora

Here I am, sitting inside a claustrophobic room, watching a monk penetrating the flesh of man with a stick repeatedly like a sewing machine. This man has his fists clenched and every once in a while, he lets out a screeching sound. No, he’s not being killed. This is his first tattoo. He’s getting a Sak Yant. I’m next.

I’m an avid tattoo lover, with quite a few pieces of art inked on my body. Sak Yant, the tattoo blessed by a Buddhist monk, caught my attention a few months back. The idea of getting inked with mystical powers of the Gods was enough to make it reach the top of my list of tattoos. Finally, when I had saved enough money, I decided to come over to Thailand.

Here are some of the designs I have on me...

Photo of Sak Yant: This Magical Thai Tattoo Was My Dream Until This Happened! 1/2 by Samarth Arora
Mein Herz Brennt [German: My Heart Burns]
Photo of Sak Yant: This Magical Thai Tattoo Was My Dream Until This Happened! 2/2 by Samarth Arora

What is Sak Yant?

Practiced in Thailand, the traditional Sak Yant (also called Sak Yan, or Yantra) tattoos are etched onto the skin using ancient geometric designs mixed with Buddhist prayers. They have been around for more than 2000 years and the click is they are made using bamboo sticks, directly with hands and not needles. People believe these tattoos give them magic powers associated with healing, luck, strength, and protection against evil.

While originally, Sak Yant were engraved into warriors seeking protection and strength in battle, today masses flock to popular Sak Yant temples to be blessed. Just as I have to Wat Bang Phra, one of the most famous temples to get things done the right way.

A Sak Yant called Gow Yord (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Photo of Wat Bang Phra, Bang Phra, Nakhon Chai Si District, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand by Samarth Arora

The Art Of Etching A Sak Yant:

• A Sak Yant design is a traditional Thai tattoo, engraved into the skin with a long metal spike or bamboo sharpened to a point without the use of any machines.

• The bamboo needle is dipped into ink and repeatedly stabbed into your flesh by hand by a professional monk.

• It is usually the monk who would choose the design for your tattoo.

Bamboo stick used for making Sak Yant (Image Credit: Flickr)

Photo of Sak Yant: This Magical Thai Tattoo Was My Dream Until This Happened! by Samarth Arora

Till this point, my determination was unflinching. ‘Needles are my ally, bamboo becomes my kin!’ I said to myself. But things are changing fast. My tattoo artist, Master Luang Pi Nunn, has quite a reputation in his field and works up to 50 students every day. As I entered the temple, we are told to make the payment.

The Payment:

If it’s magical, it better have a special cost, right? You offer orchid flowers, incense sticks, and menthol cigarettes for 75 baht as a payoff. Yes, we offer them cigarettes! After making the offerings, I was guided to a small room inside the temple. I was hoping to enter a room full of smoke and shady lights, possibly with some Pink Floyd or trance music playing in the background, considering their love for cigarettes. But it wasn’t so. I was informed that the cigarettes are usually returned to the shop owners and the cost price is used for refurbishing and maintenance of temple infrastructure and services. Sweet!

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The Workplace:

Talk About Regard For Safety & Hygiene! (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Photo of Sak Yant: This Magical Thai Tattoo Was My Dream Until This Happened! by Samarth Arora

This room had around 30 people already in line to get their Sak Yant and I had to join the queue by sitting on the floor till I wait for my turn. The work place for the tattoo monk was nowhere near safe or hygienic. I could see the same needle being used on more than one person. Moreover, the ink pot in which the needle was dipped was the same for multiple tattoos. The fear of getting infected with HIV or other health issues was hovering over my mind now. Should I continue to wait? There are so many others getting this done, so maybe it isn’t that bad. F*ck it! Let’s move ahead with it.

The Magical Ink

Image Credit: Picryl

Photo of Sak Yant: This Magical Thai Tattoo Was My Dream Until This Happened! by Samarth Arora

I start to whisper to the people around me. Apparently, each monk has his own secret recipe for the magic tattoo ink. Yet some ingredients are believed to be Chinese charcoal, snake venom, palm oil, and even human remains! I’m not much of a philanthropist, so human remains didn’t bother me. But snake venom? Why kill/torture a poor animal for a tattoo? I’m saddened. But I’m still here, waiting my turn.

Finally, it’s my turn. The monk chose a design. His assistant started explaining that there are certain rules that need to be followed once you get a Sak Yant.

The Rules:

- I can’t be in a romantic relationship with a married woman.

No Problem!

- I must absolutely never defame anybody’s mother.

I respect women. So, again, no issues.

- I can’t brush by the blouse or skirt of a woman, especially during her periods.

Well, I wouldn’t do it knowingly. I’m beginning to respect this culture even more.

- I can’t eat left-overs.

No more left-over pizzas for breakfast? Hmmm… ok, I’ll make it through.

- I can’t let a woman lie or sit on top of me.

Oh shit…! There goes half of my sex life… I’m willing to do that for a magical tattoo. “Stay strong… stay strong” I keep telling myself.

- I can’t eat food from a wedding, or funeral banquet.

“What??” I almost screamed! I’m a Punjabi! We swear by our food. We live to eat! Food is the main reason why we attend marriages. And you’re telling me I can’t have any of it, anymore?

“Tattoos are love, but food is life”.

I’d had enough of this. I couldn’t take it anymore and that’s when I decided to walk out of the temple. I can’t wait for the Gol Gappa Challenge with my cousins at the next family wedding!

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4 Comment(s)
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Sat 05 11 19, 20:16 · Reply · Report
Hey what if you don't follow all the rules? It's like kuch paap lagega? :P
Thu 02 21 19, 15:08 · Reply (1) · Report
It's magic n stuff... I'm sure if you don't follow the rules, Paap k sath kuch or bhi lag jaenge.
Fri 02 22 19, 10:18 · Report
Was interesting reading the blog, always kept hooked and engaged. Thanks for such interesting writing, keep up the good work.
Thu 02 21 19, 12:47 · Reply (1) · Report
Thanks a lot! Really appreciate your words.
Thu 02 21 19, 15:01 · Report
how much does getting this tattoo cost you ? can we go to this place directly or through any guide ?
Thu 02 21 19, 09:35 · Reply (1) · Report
They don't charge anything. They only accept offerings of about 75-80 Baht. You dont need an appointment. You can drop in directly or through a guide who would take u to an authentic Sak Yant temple
Thu 02 21 19, 11:12 · Report