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Sak Yant, the sacred tattoo

28/07/2020 1.419 Views

In the countries of South-East Asia, tattooing has a special place and represents an important significance. Some tattoos have a kind of magic and have the power to protect the tattooed, to bring him health and wealth: this tattoo is the Sak Yant. Why does it provoke such a passion? We will find out...

Tattoos, more than just an industry 

The tattoo. This drawing on the body has become a real industry resulting from the richness of a history and a culture mixing different styles. Simple trend for some, it is a real meaning for others.

Thailand is the Asian country known for its traditions and customs as well as the strong spiritual appeal of its Buddhist people. It is by combining the tradition of tattooing and the spirituality of Thais that Sak Yant established its place. Indeed, this tattoo is the result of a lucky ritual for several generations.

The term Sak means “tattoo” and Yant means “sacred prayers” and is used to designate a tattoo that is written in Sanskrit in pyramidal form.

A Sak Yant on the shoulder, mixing prayers and sacred characters

The origins of Sak Yant

It was in times of war in Southeast Asia that the concept of protection went beyond simple armour. The soldiers relied above all on a spiritual and divine protection that materialized not a tattoo: the Sak Yant.

We find the Sak Yant in Cambodia, Burma or Laos but it is the Thai Sak Yant which is the most popular today. Sak Yant always represents a god of Hindu mythology chosen according to the benefits we wish to have, such as strength, wealth or health. It would even repel bad omens and potential dangers, hence the origin and belief of soldiers in their protection. 

A tattoo performed according to a specific ritual

In order to make a Sak Yant tattoo authentic and its benefits apply, it must be performed according to a particular ritual… This ritual consists first of being practiced only by a Buddhist monk or a Brahmin priest. To make the tattoo effective, the session is accompanied by songs and prayers. 

Also, the place where the Sak Yant is placed is very important! His powers and virtues will be greater if he is placed closest to the head, where the soul resides. The placement is not the only one that plays an important role, there is also the ink used for this tattoo. It must be blessed, and sometimes even it may contain crushed relics of ancient venerated monks in order to increase the power of tattooing.

Finally, once the placement is chosen and the ink is ready, it is time to start the session. These tattoos are stitched with a steel wand where one hand directs the needle and the other performs pressure so that the ink penetrates the skin.

Session of Sak Yant piqué à la baguette

A special meaning

A sacred ritual, but not that! Meaning also plays a role on the benefits brought by tattooing, depending on what everyone wishes. 

A Thai Sak Yant always contains Yants which are prayers written in Thai, and it is also composed of Ounalom, it is the tips at the top of the tattoo which serve to convey these prayers to Nirvana.

Each symbol of the Sak Yant must be placed in a precise position to ensure the desired benefits at the risk of a fault being committed and the whole ritual falling into the water.

There are many types of Sak Yant tattoos, the main one being the 5 line tattoo. Although its meaning varies, it usually consists of a first line aimed at the protection and purification of the home, it repels enemies. The second removes the evil spell and the bad karma, the third brings protection against the curse and the black magic. The fourth line deals with success, fortune and luck, and finally, the fifth and last line gives a power of attraction.

A risk of desacralization of Sak Yant?

Today the Sak Yant has become very popular with foreign travelers. So popular, that Thailand would try to ban Buddha tattoos and their realization for tourists, because this practice does not respect the culture of the country. A non-religious symbol for tourists, Thais perceive this practice as a simple fashion and aesthetic aspect, without respect for the local religion, or even offensive.

Mass tourism would bring the risk of altering the true meanings of Sak Yant. It is therefore important to be aware and sensitive to the fact that this is a spiritual and sacred practice with a deep meaning so as not to make this practice playful and meaningless and to preserve the history of this sacred tattoo. 

Sak Yant in the back, favorable place and close to the head

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