The history of traditional Thai Sak Yant tattoos

The history of traditional Thai Sak Yant tattoos

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Sak which translates as tattoo in the Thai language and Yant which is taken from the Sanskrit word yantra, meaning mystical diagrams, are a special group of tattoos which are believed to offer protection, luck and other mystical benefits. They have been recorded everywhere throughout South East Asia but are predominantly associated with Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. While the tradition itself originates with indigenous tribal animism, it became closely tied to Hinduism and Buddhism. In Angkor Wat, Cambodia, you can see many yants carved into the walls by both the Hindus and later on the Buddhists, going right back to the 12th century. Both religions use yantras during meditation. Tattoos of yantra designs were believed to hold magic power, and are used in the same way spells were used for the pagan religions of the west.

The script used for yantra designs varies across South East Asia but they are generally written in either old Khmer script or Sanskrit. Different masters / monks have added to these designs or even designed their own Sak Yants over the centuries through visions received in their meditations. Some yantra designs have been adapted from pre-Buddhist shamanism and the belief in various animal spirits which have now been incorporated into Thai tradition and culture. There are two types of Sak Yants, ones that brace to the Buddha and ones that brace to an animals spirit. The Buddha ones must always be placed on the upper body and are generally for luck and good fortune. The animal Sak Yants can go on either the upper or lower body but never above a Sak Yant that braces to the Buddha. They are “prayers” to help you take on the spirit of the animal and the characteristics that come with the animal depicted in the Sak Yant. So for example, the Yant Suea Koo, known as the two tigers Sak Yant, is believed to give you the strength and power of the tiger. You will quite often see these on Muay Thai fighters. Sak Yants that depict crocodiles are often seen on soldiers as they are believed to make the skin so strong that it is impenetrable. In fact, in times of war, monks would tattoo Sak Yants onto soldiers to make them appear invisible. Thailand has never been conquered and it is the only country is South East Asia that was never colonised. Thais believe this is due to the power of the Sak Yants turning the Thai army into warrior ghosts.

Keep following us for more blogs where we will dive into more detail about the most popular Sak Yants along with Thai history and culture.

Thank you.

Lauren and Keng
The Bamboo Rooms

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