The ancient art of sak yant are Buddhist tattoos performed by a Thai monk or ajarn master in a temple or studio using a bamboo rod with a steel tip.
In recent years, a popular cultural experience is to get inked with a sak yant tattoo in Bangkok. You can do this either in a sak yant temple or in a studio.
If it's in a temple, you provide a small donation or offering before bowing to the monk and turning to receive your sak yant tattoo while two attendees hold the skin taught.
The choice of design and location on the body is determined by the monk alone and – having dipped the needle into the mix of ink, palm oil and snake venom – he commences to tap out the design with swift dexterity and accuracy born out of years of practice.
The length of time taken can be anything from 10 to 30 minutes depending on the complexity, but after between 1,000 and 3,000 jabs the sak yant is complete.
To finish your sak yant tattoo in Bangkok, the monk then breathes a blessing into the tattoo bestowing the wearer with a number of attributes such as luck, strength, health, protection from evil, courage and fortitude.
The experience is a deeply spiritual one and many Thai people and monks are heavily covered in sak yant tattoos each pertaining to a specific aspect of their life.
It is not permitted for a monk to touch a woman and you find many who will not tattoo females at all. However, it is possible to find monks that will, and they often perform their work wearing gloves or leaning with a piece of paper upon the woman’s back.
An alternative for your sak yant tattoo in Bangkok is to this is a visit to an ajarn, a master sak yant artist who was previously a monk. In a blessed studio space and by prior appointment (rather than queuing at the temple) you can undergo a similar treatment.
The cost of your sak yant tattoo in Bangkok may be higher, but the ajarn will often talk with the customer and get their views on which sak yant they would like or think best for them.
Another advantage of visiting an ajarn is the standards of hygiene put in place. In the temple the monk will often use the same ink well for multiple people and the steel tips are either just wiped or dipped in alcohol between sessions. The ajarn will use a new steel tip for each session and change the ink, which can be a mitigating factor in peoples’ decision to pay the extra for a private session with a higher standard of service.
Either way the ajarn will also bless the sak yant tattoo by breathing upon it and therefore protect the wearer from harm or bestow power.
There are many different types, also known as yantra, and each sak yant tattoo meaning is different.
Square yant represent the four elements of the world – earth, wind, fire and water. Triangular yant represent the trinity of Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. A circular yant represents the face of Buddha himself, whilst many others are pictorial, showing animals, temples or other Buddhist symbols. Each carries a special meaning and has different magical properties to aid the wearer.
Getting a sak yant tattoo in Bangkok in this way is not for everyone, but those that do really feel that the tattoo brings something into their lives and that the experience was an unforgettable and unique one that they not only look back upon, but carry with them throughout their lives.
For those looking to receive a sak yant tattoo in Bangkok and blessing from either a monk or ajarn should know there are sak yant tattoo rules you must follow.
There are five main sak yant tattoo rules to follow after the tattoo and blessing has been performed (for a monk there can be as many as one hundred). Failure to follow these simple rules will result in the loss of any spiritual power attached by the blessing to the wear. The sak yant tattoo rules are as follows.
This includes any sentient being from a human all the way down to the smallest of insects. It does not however prevent a person from the consumption of meat dispatched by another.
Fairly self-explanatory and really it relates back to the first rule in not doing harm to others. The lying part can be difficult to uphold in some cases as we sometimes lie to protect others feelings, but if you truly want the blessing to stay with you for life then the rules must be obeyed at all times.
This third sak yant tattoo rules includes avoiding marital affairs, cheating on partners or loved ones and even the avoidance of desirous thoughts. Only two unattached people should want or connect with one another.
No one said these sak yant tattoo rules were going to be easy, but they are somewhat open to interpretation. Most ajarn won’t expect you to remain sober for life in order to retain the power of a sak yant's blessing. Instead this rule represents the need to avoid losing control of oneself. A drink in itself is ok, being drunk (and certainly being uncontrollably drunk) is not. You have been warned!
The last of the sak yant tattoo rules are about family. Family is of the utmost importance in Thai culture. Most children do not leave the family home until they are married, with many staying at home well into adulthood. Having respect, particularly for one’s parents and elders is imperative. You must not speak ill of or to those you love and are closest to.
The monk or ajarn who performs your sak yant tattoo in Bangkok may ask that you uphold any other rules he wishes and/or that may be of relevance to the properties of the sak yant you have received.
This can include, but is certainly not limited to – do not commit evil deeds, do not make claims for or tell others about the magical properties of the tattoo you have received, do not boast, do not have feelings of superiority, but stay humble, do not fight or be violent toward others, do not take drugs, be charitable and giving toward those less fortunate than yourself, do not be jealous and covetous or possessive of another among many more.
But the five sak yant tattoo rules as stated above are mandatory for any and all sak yant tattoos. What you may be about to embark upon is not just a tattoo, but a spiritual mark connected to a specific aspect of one’s life. It is therefore taken seriously by all followers of the Buddhist faith who undergo the procedure and should be by you.
The cost of a sak yant tattoo in Bangkok can vary immensely and will depend very much on the size and design and who you visit.
If you opt for a sak yant tattoo with a monk, you simply offer a donation. However, if you decide to visit a private ajarn for your sak yant tattoo in Bangkok, you should expect to pay around US $30 for something palm sized up to US $350+ for something larger on your back or a half sleeve.
So, you're decided you'd like a sak yant tatoo in Bangkok? There are several ajarn studios around the city and a temple further out west where monks will perform sak yant tattoos in Bangkok.
Soi 6, Rarm Intra Road
+66 85 736 9784
Ajarn Fu is a master of his craft with years of experience. If you decide upon this ajarn for your sak yant in Bangkok, you can expect a spiritual experience in his blessed studio just north east of the city. You're in good hands with Ajarn Fu.
288/296 Phueng Mi 50/24 Alley
+66 85 075 9061
Ajarn Neng has run his practise since 2007 and is one of the most revered and respected in the city. He is known for his powerful, pronounced sak yants in Bangkok and has been trusted by likes of Steven Seagal and Brooke Shields.
147/7 Sukhumvit 4 Soi Samahan
+66 95 251 8767
The studio of Ajarn Ta may not be quite as charming, but the sak yant tattoos are done with absolute precision. It's also the closest ajarn studio to the centre of the city, so if you don't want to travel to the outskirts of Bangkok, this may be the right place for you.
16 Somdet Phra Pin Klao Road
+66 95 594 6398
Ajarn Keng is another master of sak yant tattoos in Bangkok and runs his blessed studio out of the Thai Tattoo Cafe. Like all the ajarns on this list, Ajarn Keng creates all his work using the Thai hand poke method with a steel rod.
369 Phattharaniwet Samakkhi Village
+66 95 558 8578
Ajarn Fluke is known for his intricate and detailed sak yant tattoos in Bangkok. He has a style which is somewhat different from other ajarns and comes highly recommended. His studio is found a few miles north of the city, but it's easy enough to reach by taxi.
Ajarn Noo Kanpai is perhaps best known for having give Angelina Jolie her five lines of Buddhist blessings sak yant tattoo. While she may be his most high profile client, this sak yant master has ink thousands more of the years.
4014 Bang Phra
Lastly, you could opt to have your sak yant tattoo at Wat Bang Phra, the nearest temple to Bangkok offer the procedure. As we've mentioned above, the experience here will be quite different and the monk will choose your sak yant for you. It's certainly worth considering for your sak yant in Bangkok and by far the least expensive without being any the less spiritual.
Before you get inked with your sak yant tattoo in Bangkok, why not experience another side of the city on this chef-designed food tour. Over four hours, you'll get to grips with the city's cuisine in a way that would be impossible to do on your own.
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