KATHMANDU: Have you heard of Buddhist monks with tattoos that are regarded to be magical bestowing mystical powers on the person who gets it? Believe it or not, this is a unique tattoo culture from Thailand.
“Known as Sak Yant, a sacred Thai tattoo tradition, the wearer is supposed to help stop a bullet, attract the opposite sex, or even find jobs,” says Tom Vater, the author of Sacred Skin: Thailand’s Spirit Tatoos.
Vater, who is in Kathmandu and looking forward to the 2nd International Nepal Tattoo Convention, 2012 has brought out this book in collaboration with photographer Aroon Thaewachatturat from Thailand. And the focus is on this sacred tradition — Sak Yant — “usually inked by working class people on their body” says Vater adding, “And people get the tattoos as per specific purposes”.
Vater claims these tattoos are not just a mere form of art but “there is magical power in those tattoos and that power is activated if the devotees follow the set of rules given by their tattoo masters”.
The tattoo masters usually provide five Buddhist precepts and other regulations that guide the wearers to walk a righteous path.
The one unique thing about this type of tattoo is that Thai people do not get this ink to show off. “They are very private and covered up,” reveals Vater, whose book Sacred Skin has featured the photographs of these unique tattoos worn by people together with texts.
So, how did they manage to take those photos? “We took permission from the tattoo masters and on the request of the masters, the people agreed to be featured in the book,” shares Vater.
Vater, who spends most of his time in Thailand and Cambodia and is an established travel and screenplay writer from Germany, “was interested to write this book as no one had ever shown interest in this topic and was a completely new thing for foreigners”.
“Sak Yant — a combination of Buddhism and Brahmanism — which is believed to have originated from India in the third century is also popular in Laos and Cambodia,” he says further revealing “some 50 to 100 people practice this tattooing which is not commercial, though there are
commercial tattoo studios too.”
While very few monks in monastery practice this form of tattooing, the tattoo masters practice it in the community. “The tattoo masters in fact give advice to people to solve their problems,” says Vater who are “like the counsellors of society”.
But as there is no tattooing in the Buddhist religion, the so-called high class Buddhists “often feel uncomfortable with such a practice”, says Vater revealing, “Last year before the election, the Thai government tried to pass a serious law forbidding one from inking inappropriate body parts. But nothing was heard after the election”.
There are protests against this form of tattooing from the “middle-class people who are educated and think it is just superstition” asserts Vater who is quite fascinated that even “higher-class people in Thailand have this tattoo”.
Vater, who does not find any connection between Nepali traditional tattoo form and that of Thailand however states, “This Thai tradition is unstoppable and getting
And he concludes, “But as this form of tattooing has roots in Buddhist and Brahmanic tradition, I may be bringing you something back that might have been a part of your culture.”
If you want to know more about Sak Yant, you catch Vater as he will be giving a presentation on it at the tattoo convention to be held at Yak and Yeti from April 27-28.