Monday, September 5, 2016

Magical Tattoo - Sak Yant In Thasang Village

Monk With Magical Tattoos - Wat Pha That Nong Mat

Being married to Duang, a devout Theravada Buddhist, gives me many opportunities to experience and document many unique cultural and religious events, rituals, and ceremonies.

Many of the unique opportunities are and have been associated with the "outside" Wat of Thasang Village - her home village.  Duang and her immediate family favor Wat Pha That Nong Mat which is just outside of her village nestled amongst the agricultural fields and wetlands as well as seasonal waters of Nong Mat.

The Abbott of Wat Pha That Nong Mat is a late twenty or early thirties year old friend of Duang's son.  Ajahn Ott, besides being a regular Monk, had studied under the famous Monk, Luang Pho Poen at Wat Bang Phra.  At Wat Bang Phra, Ajahn Ott learned the powers and skills of the magical tattoos - Sak Yant.  He now performs special rituals related to Sak Yant, Korb Siarn Khru, and the occult.

I knew that Ajahn Ott was able to tattoo people with magical tattoos.  He had told my wife that when he was going to tattoo someone, he would let me know so that I could observe and photograph the process.

The "magical tattoos" are actually "sak yant" - Yantra tattooing.  Sak yants have a long and mystical history dating back over 2,000 years ago.  Sak yant tattooing is an ancient tradition of Thailand, Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic and parts of Myanmar (Burma).  Today the tradition is largely restricted to Thailand.
Yantra originated in India.  Yantra are symbols and geometric arrangements that are used in Eastern mysticism to focus on spiritual concepts and to balance the mind.  Wearing, creating, and concentrating on yantra was believed in Indian religions to provide spiritual benefits.  In India the yantras were typically created on cloth.
Thai Yant (Sak Yant) Flag Hung In Our Living Room
The use of Yantras printed on cloth is still popular today in Thailand.  Yantra flags are hung in homes and vehicles to bring good luck and fortune.  They are especially popular for posting in businesses to bring success.  We have two Yantra flags in our home - one in our living room and a second one hung above the entrance door to our bed room.  The cloths are blessed by the Monks of each specific Wat that distributes them. The cloths are believed by Theravada Buddhists to protect from evil spirits, provide good health and ensure safety for the residents of the home where they are displayed.
Some Yants are small - similar to soccer club pendants, and are hung from motor vehicle rear view mirrors to afford protection from accidents.  We do not have one but we do have a small plastic disk - a sort of medallion with yantric symbols on it.
Yantra Cloth Above the Door To Our Bedroom
However it was the Khmer culture that adapted the yantras into tattoos.  During the Khmer Empire period, the warriors were covered from head to toe with yantric tattoos incorporating ancient Sanskrit script.  It was believed that the power of the Yantric tattoos protected the warriors - arrows and knives were unable to penetrate their skin.  Ok - you might be wondering why if the warriors were invincible, why are we all not talking Khmer today.  Although the Sak Yant tattoos are very powerful, there are rules that the bearers must follow to maintain the powers and the tattoos have to be re-energized periodically.  Apparently the Khmer warriors did not follow the rules faithfully or kept their tattoos energized.
Ajahn Ott Creates a Sak Yant On A Monk As 2 Year Old, Pope, Obseves
Today, Yantra designs for tattoos contain Animist, Hindu and Buddhist symbols.  It is yet another example of the Thai people incorporating rather than getting rid of beliefs and practices of previous religious systems into their current system.

Sak Yants are created using the "mae sak", originally a bamboo needle, but today it is a long metal pointed rod.  A trained Monk or a lay Sak Yant master uses the slotted metal pointed rod to apply special ink beneath the skin to create the selected design. The rod more closely resembles a knitting needle than any needle that I assumed would be used to create a tattoo.  After he has finished tattooing the person, the Monk or the Ajahn recites a prayer and blows twice onto the new tattoo to energize it.

Today in Thailand, many Monks, military men, Policemen, and gangsters have Sak Yants on their skin.  Many tourists also get "magical tattoos" in more of a right of passage than a belief or commitment to the heritage of the tattoo.

Yesterday, Duang and I had gone out to Wat Phra That Nong Mat to participate in a special ritual - the casting of a Naga in front of the shrine for Ruesi on the Wat's grounds.  It turned out to be quite a busy day at the Wat - the daily ritual of offering food to the Monks, the ritual for casting the Naga statue, the actual casting of the statue out of concrete, a surprise ritual called "Kahn Ha Kahn Phet", village women making handicraft brooms out of palm fronds, and ... Ajahn Ott creating two Sak Yants on the back of one of the Wat's younger Monks.

Ajahn Ott Accepting Offering for Sak Yant Tattoo

Soon after setting up my gear inside the small Ruesi shrine, I was joined by the young Monk to be tattooed and Ajahn Ott.  The young Monk made the traditional offering prior to the start of the tattoo process.

After removing his cover, the young Monk presented his back to Ajahn Ott .  Ajahn Ott used a long metal rod much like a knitting needle to apply ink dots beneath the skin.  He worked diligently, patiently and quickly to add two Yant Gao Yord tattoos on each side of an existing Yant Gao Yord.

Yant Gao Yord is the  most sacred of Buddhist tattoos. The nine vertical lines of the tattoo represent the nine peaks of Mount Meru, the home of Brahma and other Deities. Nine Buddhas are represented by three ovals with each Buddha granting special powers or protection.  Beneath the spires are a series  of small boxes - magic squares.  Inside the squares are symbols for individual powers and protections that are provided.  Some of the powers and protections include good luck and fortune, improvement of your fate and destiny, protection from accidents and violence, protection from black magic, power and control over people, as well as invincibility.  Beneath the spired configuration is a kataa - magic spell.

Upon completing the tattoos, Ajahn Ott quietly recited a kata, magic spell, to energize the tattoos.

Reciting a Kataa to Energize the Tattoos
Upon completion of energizing the tattoos, the young Monk paid his respects and returned outside to the other Monks and laypeople working on the components for the Naga statue,

I look forward to more opportunities to witness and document the unique process of creating magical tattoos.

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