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What is a Sak Yant tattoo?

A Sak Yant tattoo is a traditional form of tattoo art originating from Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.

A Sak Yant tattoo is a traditional form of tattoo art originating from Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar. Sak means to ‘Tap’ or ‘To Tattoo,’ and Yant means ‘Yantra,’ derived from the Sanskrit word for a magical design and text. So the term “Sak Yant” can be translated as “sacred tattoo” or “blessed tattoo” in English. These tattoos are deeply rooted in local cultural and spiritual practices and often hold religious significance.

Buddhist monks or Brahmin Holy Men create Sak Yant tattoos by manually puncturing the skin and injecting ink or oil with a metal rod or needle, often accompanied by chanting sacred chants. A tattoo that uses ink is visible, and a tattoo that uses oil is invisible. The intricate designs range from geometric patterns to complex symbols, animals, deities, and scripts. Each tattoo design has specific meanings, powers, and protections.

It takes Sak Yant masters many years of training and knowledge to understand the Sak Yant designs and meanings. A Sak Yant master uses the basic Sak Yant Design as a template and then modifies the tattoo meaning by changing the spell to suit the individual specific wishes and desires. A Sak Yant tattoo from a tattoo shop will not have any powers of protection.

Sak Yant tattoos are often associated with spiritual and supernatural beliefs. Many people who get Sak Yant tattoos believe they can provide them with various benefits, such as protection from harm, improved luck, increased charisma, and enhanced physical abilities. The efficacy of the tattoos corresponds to the wearer’s spiritual intentions and the blessings the tattooist gives during the tattooing process.

There are three primary reasons to get a Sak Yant tattoo. The first power benefits the wearer, such as making them more eloquent or successful in their career. The second power is protection and to ward off evil and hardship, which is why military personnel, police, Muay Thai fighters, taxi drivers, gangsters and others in perceived dangerous professions get these tattoos. And the third reason to get a Sak Yant tattoo is to invoke fear or other emotions in people around the wearer. In all three cases, the benefit only comes if the person observes specific rules and taboos, such as abstaining from a particular type of food.

In recent years, there has been a movement away from these animistic beliefs in Thailand. Sak Yant tattoos remain popular, but mainly as a stylish good-luck symbol.

Before getting a Sak Yant tattoo:

Research the meaning of the design.
Find a reputable and knowledgeable tattoo artist who understands the tradition.
Be aware of the cultural sensitivities surrounding the practice.

Parts of a Sak Yant Tattoo

There are three parts to a Sak Yant tattoo; the design, the khata and the blessing. The design is the image of the Sak Yant. All Sak Yants come with their meaning implicit in the design. If you like a particular design but want a different meaning ascribed to the tattoo, the master can include this change in the khata and blessing elements.

The khata includes the magic spells within the mind of the Sak Yant master as they create the Sak Yant. The master recites special prayers as they apply the design to fill it with the desired intention of the final design. The khata also includes the text written around the Sak Yant. This text is usually presented incorrectly in drawn images to hide the proper design knowledge. Only a qualified Sak Yant master can correct the design during tattooing.

The third part of a Sak Yant tattoo is the final blessing at the end of the procedure. The recipient may request special intentions and desires for this blessing. Only an authentic Sak Yant master can bless a Sak Yant.

Role in Traditional Thai Medicine

Buddhism has a rich and extensive history spanning over two millennia in Thailand. Presently, 95% of the population practices the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. However, over time, this religious practice has amalgamated with mystical beliefs and tantric customs, leading to the infusion of magic into Thai Buddhism.

Mystical Thai Buddhism, also known as Tantric Theravada, is a distinctive form of Buddhism that integrates magical and ritualistic practices with a systematic approach to attaining Buddhist enlightenment. This variant of Buddhism employs various esoteric methods, such as number symbolism, mantras, and sacred language, to accomplish aims such as protection, healing, good fortune, longevity, and more. Devotion to Devas, Buddhas, and Spirits is also an integral part of this mystical belief system.

Sak Yant tattoos are part of Traditional Thai Medicine.

History

Sak Yant tattoos have developed over the centuries under several different religious philosophies. The Yantra designs that already existed in Hindu India were adapted by the Thais as Buddhism arrived from neighbouring India.

Sak Yant tattoos date back to ancient times, possibly originating in the Khmer Empire, which existed from the 9th to the 15th centuries and covered parts of modern-day Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

Over the centuries, the popularity of Sak Yant Tattoos grew, and they became an integral part of the culture and traditions of Southeast Asia. Today, these tattoos are still deeply rooted in the spiritual and religious beliefs of the region and are considered a sacred art form.

Common Designs

Many of the figures and motifs portrayed in Sak ant tattoos come from the mythologies and legends of Thailand. The devas, divine beings, feature prominently in these tattoos, including Rama and the mythical Himapant animals, legendary creatures usually composed of two or three different animals.

Some of the most common Sak Yant designs include the Hah Taew (Five Line), Gao Yord (9 Peaks) and Paed Tidt (8 Direction).

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