Thousands, some in trance, pay homage to sacred Thai tattoo master

By Reuters   March 23, 2024 | 03:08 pm PT
Thousands, some in trance, pay homage to sacred Thai tattoo master
A devotee attends the religious tattoo festival at Wat Bang Phra, where they come to recharge the power of their sacred tattoos, in Nakhon Pathom province, Thailand, March 11, 2017. Photo by Reuters
Thousands of devotees, some in a state of trance, gathered at a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Bangkok renowned for sacred tattoos known as Sak Yant, paying their respects to a revered monk who mastered the practice and seeking purification.

The gathering at Wat Bang Phra Buddhist temple is part of a Thai Wai Khru ritual where devotees pay homage to Luang Phor Pern, the temple's formal abbot, who died in 2002. He had a reputation for refining and popularizing the temple's Sak Yant tattoo style.

The idea that tattoos confer magical powers has existed in many parts of Asia for thousands of years. The Sak Yant is a practice also shared by Cambodia and Laos that blends spirituality with superstitions and not specifically related to traditional Buddhist teachings.

These tattoos, which usually include geometric motifs, animal shapes, deities and scripts, are believed to offer protection, bring luck and heal sickness for the wearer.

The tattoos' magical power were on display during the ceremony where some devotees were in a trance state, or were shouting, running and had to be held back. Some were growling and exhibited behaviors resembling the animals on their tattoos.

Some said they got goosebumbs from the ritual where monks gave holy water to bless thousands of devotees.

Petcharat Mothin, 21, said he believed that his tattoo saved his life.

"I was almost shot once, but the bullet didn't come out," he said, adding that the incident made him a believer of the tattoo's magical power.

Many attend the ritual in the hope that it will help recharge the holiness of their tattoos and boost their luck.

Participants were asked to offer the monks 100 baht ($2.75), flowers, incense and a pack of cigarettes for a new tattoo or an added inscription. Some of the elaborate sacred tattoos from the temple could cost as much as 20,000 baht ($550).

Monk Tuk, one of the temple's current tattoo masters, said that beyond the aesthetic these tattoos remind people to be virtuous and adhere to Buddhist five precepts; to refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and using intoxicants that cloud the mind.

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