It all started when I began researching things to do in Thailand, and I stumbled across the magic of Sak Yant tattoos. My Sak Yant adventure had begun. Now all I had to do was get to Thailand.
“I didn’t want to just settle for any old tattoo-er throwing random shit on my body, forever.”
Sak Yant Magic
and how I found mine.
I started researching for Monks around Bangkok, and the internet has nothing short than a plethora of bloggers who had received a Sak Yant, from various Monks or Ajarns, and even tattoo artists. Thailand is never lacking someone trying to make a quick Baht posing as a religious official, Monk or Ajar to give you a ‘fake’ Sak Yant. It seemed the more I delve into the Magic of Sak Yant, the more difficult it seemed to be to get an actual, authentic, monk-blessed and empowered tattoo. After all, I didn’t want to just settle for any old tattoo-er throwing random shit on my body, forever. This begs a lot of questions…
Hours of research later…
I had a lot of questions as well. I resorted to asking any and all of my Thai friends and as it turns out the answers are not very widely known to questions like: Where can I get an authentic Sak Yant? Whats the difference between a Monk and an Ajarn? Does the Monk traditionally decide on your tattoo and placement? Are there particular symbols to get first? How do I pay, and what protocols do I follow? And the list goes on and on.
After a few weeks we found out most of the answers, and I discovered a temple, pretty far out of town, that was used almost solely by locals and I would have to be accompanied by a Thai speaker otherwise I’d risk being turned away as someone who wasn’t serious about the Sak Yant art.
Q & A
*All of these answers were either researched from the internet, or spoken word of mouth with Thai natives.
What is the difference between a Monk and an Ajarn?
- A Monk is a practicing religious figure who has temple duties. And an Ajarn is a non-practicing monk who performs Sak Yants for profit outside of the temple setting. A Monk will usually refuse to tattoo women due to their religious commitments; However if they do tattoo a woman they will likely wear gloves, or use a cloth to protect them from making skin to skin contact with a woman’s skin. (side note: women cannot get a Sak Yant anywhere that would expose their breasts to the Monk or Ajarn.)
Does the Monk traditionally decide on your tattoo and placement?
- If you would like, you may have the monk/ajarn make a suggestions but ultimately, since Sak Yants provide a magical blessing of protection, you may choose what you would like to have protected/blessed. Now, in saying that, certain Sak Yant symbols have specific places they must be placed in order for the magic to be real.
Are there particular symbols to get first? How do I pay, and what protocols do I follow?
- The Hah Taew, or 5 lines, is namely the ‘master of Sak Yants.’ This is because each of the lines provides a blessing that can be enhanced and boosted with other Sak Yant Symbols, therefore, traditionally the Hah Taew is the first Sak Yant to receive. (Made wildly popular by Angelina Jolie)
How do I pay, and what protocols do I follow?
- Traditional Sak Yant blessings (from monks) are not-for-profit and all done for donation. By historical tradition you make a donation of cigarettes, flowers and incense, accompanied by a monetary donation, (amount depending on size, and under the discretion of the person receiving the blessing) which will go towards temple maintenance; However, Ajarns and tattoo artists are for-profit tattoo-ers, and will charge whatever they choose.
- Protocols are all unique to the temple and Monk preforming the blessing, but it is customary to never sit with your feet pointing towards the Monk, and to never have your head above theirs (this can be proven difficult as some are particularly short…) but the typical procedures include prayer, tattooing, blessing followed by more prayer. And every Sak Yant blessing there comes rules to follow, some symbols have more than others.
“every person blessed by these sacred symbols are expected to follow the 10 Buddhist guidelines.”
If you have any other questions that haven’t been answered here, please comment below or shoot me an email and I can do my best to answer them!
A bit of History
Sak which literally means to tap, hence the tapping of the bamboo, and Yant which is derived from the Sanskrit word yantra meaning a sacred design, typically geometric, and/or magical spell or chant, forms the phrase, Sak Yant.
The Sak Yant blessings are all derived from the ancient religious beliefs and as much as they are an aesthetic accessory, in the South East Asian religions these mere tattoos are imbued with spirituality and superstition. Each of the 9 primary symbols have accessory symbols which can boost their powers; The number 9 has great significance in Buddhism, as well as 108, which is the number of times the monk chants each of the yantras after performing the blessing. Each of the 9 primary symbols have their own unique rules, but every person blessed by these sacred symbols are expected to follow the 10 Buddhist guidelines.
- Do not commit murder, with intent.
- Do not commit theft for ones own advancement.
- Do not lie with intent to taint anyones life, with the exception of merciful white lies.
- Do not lye with another’s partner.
- Keep from spitting or otherwise dirtying the toilet, as it is a clean place and to show disrespect to it is to show disrespect to others.
- Do not portray disrespect to ones elders, including parents, either verbally or physically.
- Do not spread rumors behind another’s back with intent to cause harm.
- Remain in control when consuming alcohol. And be sure not to drink in excess.
- Avoid temptation from females.
- Avoid participating in anything that can be considered evil.
*Note: To avoid direct plagiarism, these guidelines have been reworded to the best of my ability.
After much research I finally found a temple located around a 45min motorbike ride outside of the city. The temple is Wat Jamjong, and it is well hidden in the forrest, up a large winding hill. There is a painted blue walk way that opens to the temple ground.
I had hired a Thai/English speaker to be a translator and international escort for me to go to the temple, this cost 1000THB for 5 hours. Very expensive, but I was helping out a friend of a friend and I knew they needed the money, this also came in handy for taking pictures! The guide also helped me get fair prices at the Thai-market where I bought the offering.
I kneeled infront of Monk “K”, as he was aptly named because his actual name had a seemingly unspeakable number of syllables. Meet K,
Blessed by K
After chatting for a little bit about the tattoo, which design (taking his suggestion) it was time to begin! It began with the offering, chanting, and then repositioning to sit with my back facing him. I was instructed to hold still as he used a straight razor to shave my back left shoulder.
Let the stabbing begin.
Time slowed to a crawl as it felt as if K had been stabbing with with the large bamboo needle in the exact same spot, hundreds of times. The burning sensation began, and all I could do was try and clear my head and focus through the pain. This hurt WAY more than a gun tattoo.
I was told when it was 80% complete, after about 10-15 minutes, and I just wished that they would have let it go.. because my mind started trying to calculate how much longer it would be and then attempt to keep that time in my head. Well it distracted me enough, because before I knew it, it was over.
We then proceeded to chant more, and I could swear that kneeling in front of the monk while he chants and sprayed me with holy water took twice as long as the tattoo, and hurt twice as badly for my knees… There were no mirrors, so I had to take a look on my camera, and I really liked what I saw.
Hah Taew – 5 Lines
I decided to go with the Monk’s suggestion and get the traditional first Sak Yant symbol, the 5 Lines. Each of the lines represents a yantra, or chant, which is imbued with a blessing.
The first four lines have a basis in the ancient Roman belief that all things come from the four elements of the earth, and their respective meanings: Earth, Air, Fire and Water. The belief that everything on earth could be made up of a combination of these four elements, yet you couldn’t find a “pure” version of them. The four elements have been used to describe the 4 temperaments a person can have, likewise, Hippocrates used them to describe the four “humors” found in the body, and it is said that these elements, humors, or temperaments needed to be balanced within ones body for them to be a sound and healthy individual.
Now the 5th element comes from the Lord Buddha. This is the added to praise him, and thus you have the 5 Lines. Which represent:
Row 1: Prevents unjust punishment and leans in your favor when the area is grey, cleans out unwanted spirits and protects the place you live in.
Row 2: Reverses and protects against bad horoscope constellations and bad fortune.
Row 3: Protects you from the use of black magic and anyone who tries to put a curse on you.
Row 4: Energizes your good luck, success and fortune in your future ambitions and life style.
Row 5: Gain charisma and attraction to the opposite sex. It also is a boost to the fourth row.
Sak Yant Overview
- Guide: 1000THB
- Offering: 20 THB
- Donation: 400THB
- Bike Rental: 159THB (With insurance)
- Petrol: 30 THB
- Total: 1609THB (~$45USD)
Chiang Mai, and Pai my farewell for now!
Cambodian Voyage to Kep, a small beach town
*Health Disclaimer: There is a certain degree of health risk when receiving a Sak Yant tattoo due to the repetitive use of the same bamboo needle and ink; However, they do sterilize everything using alcohol. Please research on your own and use your best judgment if you attempt this on your own.
**Sources: sak-yant.com & bangkok-ink.com, as well as spoken word of mouth from Thai natives.