Everything you need to know about Sak Yant Tattoo

Phra Ajarn Bpom

Phra Ajarn Bpom

From the past few years, there has been an increasing craze about getting your body inked. Every tenth person I know either has a tattoo or wishes to have one. But as the say, “ You don’t choose your tattoo, your tattoo chooses you!” 

Every tattoo has its own story. If you plan to get a tattoo, it is important to be well versed with its history. Some tattoos like Sak Yant tattoo have a deeply significant meaning associated with it, others are done just on an impulse.

Tattoos have been in existence since the days of World War II, when the bodies of soldiers were inked for identification purpose. In one form or the other, tattoos have existed in various cultures around the world. And when it comes to Sak Yant tattoo, evidence dates back to the Khmer empire in the 9th century. Thus, behind its existence, Sak Yant tattoo holds a long proud history. 

Sak Yant History

Thai hand poke style using a stainless rod.

Thai hand poke style using a stainless rod.

As mentioned earlier, the history related to Sak Yant tattoo dates back to the Khmer Empire that is now dissolved into what we know as Thailand and Cambodia. 

In the past years, all across the world, they believed that entire human existence was based on 4 basic elements which were earth, air, fire and water and Indian tradition influenced the Khmer empire to follow this belief. 

Later, as the Buddhists made their way into the Khmer Empire, they added a fifth element in the form of spirit of Buddha which was incorporated in the Sak Yant tattoo. And that is why the warriors heading into battle very commonly wore this tattoo. 

This Thai Tattoo was even believed to prevent the arrows and blades from piercing the skin of the warriors. With the faith in the Buddhist Sak Yant tattoo, the Khmer Empire ruled Southeast Asia for more than 600 years. 

Even after the demolition of the Khmer Empire, Sak Yant tattoo continued to be known for the mystical powers during American World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars. Thai soldiers were nicknamed “Tahran Phee”, meaning “ghost soldiers” because of their Sak Yant tattoos and amulets. 

Even today, these tattoos are available in various designs, with each type offering different powers or effects. For example, the tiger design provides strength, protection, and authority. 

Meaning of Sak Yant Tattoo

The literal meaning of t Yant Tattoo is:

“Sak” meaning “to tap” and “Yant” meaning “ “Yantra”.

In Thai, Sak Yant tattoo is described as “tattooing of sacred geometrical designs on skin”. 

Also, the Buddhist script around the Yant is known as “Khata” which is also known as “Mantra”, meaning “prayer”. In Thailand, tattoos especially the Yant tattoos are drawn by Buddhist monks or holy Brahmin men. These tattoos have been influenced by different religions over the centuries. 

However, the Yantra designs were adapted by Thais from the Indian Hindus. Not all the sects of Thai Buddhism incorporate the ancient art of mystical Sak Yant tradition but in general believe in the validity of the Sak Yant tattoo, regardless of the school of thought they belong to. 

In other words, the Sak Yant tattoo has become a part of Thai culture and is seen as a way to offer protection and bring good luck. Usually, the monk or Ajarn who inks the Sak Yant tattoo has studied the traditional art and this incorporates magical blessings in addition to the Sak Yant itself. 

After learning the art of Sak Yant, the Ajaran or the monk can alter the design of the tattoo depending on the individual. Therefore, it is always recommended to take the advice of local folks of Thailand, if you are looking for traditional Sak Yant tattoo and do not some fancy Bangkok tattoo shop to get a Sak Yant tattoo. Opt for someone who understands the history and significance of it. 

Wat Bang Phra or the Sak Yant Tattoo Temple

Wat Bang Phra dates back to the 15th century. However, the temple became popular in the 20th century. The temple is now known as the centre of mystical tattoo cult because of Luang Phor Phern, the late monk, known for his excellence in both technical and magical sides of Sak Yant tattoo. 

Wat Bang Phra is home to many monks including Luang Phi Nunn, the best known tattoo master, who inks almost 50 tattoos per day. Moreover, the Wat Bang Phra temple hosts the Wai Kru Festival that is held annually in March and attracts thousands of visitors.

Wat Bang Phra is the most sacred place in the Thailand to get the Sak Yant tattoo. Thousands of monks draws the tattoo with traditional methods, inculcating the powers, for which the Sak Yant Tattoo is known for.

giving an offering

giving an offering

Sak Yant Rules 

Sak Yant Tattoos in Thailand are mainly drawn at Wat Bang Phra temple and thus the set of rules to be followed are also created by this sacred temple. Some of these rules are:

  • Do not eat food from banquet, wedding or funeral.

  • Do not duck under a washing line or an overhanging building.

  • Do not eat leftovers.

  • Do not be a lover of anyone who is married.

  • Do not slander anybody’s mother.

  • Do not let woman lie on top of you, or sit on top either.

  • Do not let a man cross a woman from the front, especially during menstruation.

Besides these basic rules given by the Wat Bang Phra temple, there are other rules that are conducted according to the Buddhist concepts. These are:

  • Do not kill.

  • Do not steal.

  • Do not lie.

  • Do not get intoxicated.

  • Do not speak ill of your mother.

  • Do not desire another person’s lover or spouse or be unfaithful to your own.

Because the monks and the Ajrans gain spiritual knowledge associated with Sak Yant tattoo, they can expand these set of rules, customizing it to the need of follower. 

  • Do not commit evil deeds.

  • Do not take alcohol or take drugs.

  • Do not make special claims of having protective powers because of your yant tattoo.

  • Do not think the powers offered by the tattoo will protect you if you are planning to indulge in bad deeds.

Although there are so many rules linked to the sacred Sak Yant tattoo, the whole purpose of defining these rules is to ensure that the person wearing the tattoo is a good human and leads a good life, in order to maintain the sanctity of the holy tattoo.

Celebrities and the Sak Yant tattoo

Angelina Jolie Sak Yank 5 line Tattoo and more.

Angelina Jolie Sak Yank 5 line Tattoo and more.

Besides having a rich history and spiritual value, the Sak Yant tattoo was actually got popular in the modern world when Angelina Jolie made several trips to Cambodia to receive the tattoo from the same tattooist, Ajarn Noo Kanpai. Angelina Jolie first tattoo is a Yant Hah Thaew. And now Yant Hah Thaew, 5 lines or 5 rows Yantra is very popular. Not only did Angelina Jolie but Brad Pitt has also received the sacred tattoo. 

Ajarn Noo Kanpai has also inked tattoo for British actress, Cara Delevingne and Thai celebrity, Chompoo Araya.

Thailand, “the land of smiles” is master of the tattoo industry. Although, there are numerous tattoos that visitors from all the world come to get inked on their body but the Sak yant tattoo still remains the favorite of all because of its centuries-old history and the magical powers it offers.