March 2, 2015
Where faith meets mayhem – A combination of tattoos, faith and dreams
Revised Jan 2017
Where: Wat Bang Phra in Nakhon Pathom Central Thailand
When: March 2017 (Dates TBA)
How to get there: From Bangkok located some 50 kilometres west of Bangkok in Nakhon Pathom province. The easiest option is to take a taxi roundtrip for around 1,700 baht including waiting time, but it’s also possible to catch a Nakhon Pathom bound minibus from Victory Monument and ask to be dropped at the town of Nakhon Chaisi, from where you can hire a motorbike taxi or Tuk Tuk to take you the rest of the 15 kilometres to the temple. By train from Bangkok’s Thonburi station direct to Nakhon Chaisi
Wat Bang Phra Tattoo Festival
Thailand has its fair share of bizarre and equally colourful festivals, from the national watery mayhem of Songkran, to the wacky Monkey Festival of Lopburi and the equally, strange but colourful Ghost Festival of Loei Provinc, but this event may just take the crown as the countries wildest.
The event usually takes place in early March and always on a Saturday, it starts at 09:30 but is normally busy from 07:00, so it worth getting their as early as possible, especially if you want somewhere to park. Each year thousands of Thai’s and tourists attend the special ‘Wai Kru’ ceremony honouring the late sacred tattoo master, Luang Pu Poen. It is also a time for those that already have Yantra tattooing, to have their tattoos re-consecrated by the temples monks.
The wearers of the tattoos believe so strongly in the strength of their Sak yant, (also called Sak Yan, or Yantra),that some will enter a state of trance during the event and become possessed by the spirit of the animals and mythical figures that adorn their bodies.
More about Yantra Tattooing
Yantra tattooing also called Sak yant, is a form of tattooing first thought to have originated in Cambodia, but now practiced through-out Southeast Asian countries including, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. Sak means “to tap tattoo”, and yant is Thai for the Sanskrit word Yantra, which is a mystical diagram.
In Thailand both the process and the actual Yantra are seen as sacred, with Master Monks and a select number of trained laymen referred to as ajahns, being able to produce the tattoo on temple grounds.
Many of those who receive the tattoos are required to follow a set of rules laid out by the monk who blesses them, such as adherence to the five Buddhist precept or avoidance of certain types of food. If these instructions are ignored, the tattoo’s power is thought to potentially cause more harm than good.
The Ruesi (known as Rishi in India) of Thailand, are what can be termed as ‘Hermit Sages,’ their deeds can be found in the many legends and stories in Thai folklore, that appear through-out the Kingdom’s long and colourful past, they too are able to provide these special tattoos. More on the Wizards of Thailand
The Power of Yantra
Thai-style Yantra come in many shapes and sizes and are said to possess miraculous powers to heal and protect the host. While they always display impressive detail and usually incorporate Khmer or Sanskrit script, with mystical depictions of animals, Buddha, celestial beings and deities, the art work is not restricted to the art of tattoo.
Here in the kingdom you will often find them on strips of fabric that are kept in homes or hung from rear view mirrors of automobiles. It’s also common for monks to draw Yantra on the ceilings and hoods of vehicles to provide a “higher” protection for those who use them.
Sak yant designs are normally tattooed with a long bamboo stick sharpened to a point (called a mai sak) or alternatively with a long metal spike (called a khem sak). A tattoo can take anywhere between 10-30 minutes with the decision on the nature of the design and where it’s placed on the body is up to the artist and not the person who wears them.
Waking the power of a Yantra
It is not until the monks utter sacred blessings, or magic spells, while blowing on the design will the tattoos powers awaken. While traditional Sak yant techniques and designs are employed by all sorts of tattoo artists throughout Thailand, they are not considered genuine and therefore do not hold any magical powers unless ritually blessed by a master monk.
A word of warning to those that simply get adorned with tattoos of Buddha as a fashion statement, many Thai people believe it is culturally inappropriate and erodes respect for their religion and simply displays an ignorant of the true significance of the image.
The Thai government along with others in Southeast Asia are instructing their boarder controls to refuse entry to their countries if they believe a non Buddhist person is wearing an inappropriate tattoo of Buddha. (see more)
Whether you believe in these magico-religious tattoos or not, those attending certainly do. The day is full of quiet serenity and utter madness in almost equal measure and may leave you questioning your own beliefs
More about Wat Bang Phra
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