I’m not sure what it is about Thailand that tempts so many people to get tattoos done during their stay here. It’s probably cheaper than having it done back home and then there’s the mystical, spiritual element that clearly tempts people to get Buddhist-inspired designs. However, it isn’t just farangs undergoing the needle.
Sak Yant – traditional temple tattooing
The Sak Yant is usually performed by monks and is believed to bestow certain powers on the person receiving the tattoo. The Sak Yant is a serious Buddhist ritual and many Thai men undergo the pain of the ink being pricked onto the skin manually with metallic rods rather than by the usual machine associated with tattooists. Even that is a slight nod toward modernity; originally nails from coffins were used. The ink used in Yants is a mixture of Chinese or Indian ink and whiskey. Snake or scorpion poison and ashes from a cremation may also be added to the ink.
The magical power of the tattoo
Many Buddhists believe in the power of the Yant. Some Yants are meant to protect against physical harm (Kong Grapan Yant) whilst others are meant to bring good luck (Maettha Yant), but it isn’t quite as simple as that. If somebody receives a Yant and does bad things then they will receive bad luck. The rules of the Yant are supposed to make people live their lives in a better way.
For the true believers there are numerous tales and evidence of the power of the Yant. There are stories about corpses where the body has rotted away except for the area where the Yant is inscribed. Old Khmer designs and patterns are all meant to have their own meaning and to become a Sak Yant master involves years of dedication.
Having tattoos misspelled: true or urban myth?
Many of us have probably heard a variation of the story about the backpacker who went to Thailand and got a tattoo done at the Full Moon Party on Ko Phan Ngan. The tattoo which he thought was Thai script for his name turned out to be the Thai words for “stupid foreigner”.
Whether that particular story is true or not, even Sak Yant masters have admitted they have deliberately misspelled the lettering for people who were believed to be getting a Yant without good intentions. If a Thai person can receive a misspelled tattoo then there’s every chance that some Westerners have also been on the receiving end.
Source: Tiger Airways magazine, April 2007