Sak Yant – Thai Temple Tatoos

Written by nopadon wongpakdee. Posted in All, MuayThai, Tradition and Culture

Sak Yant –  Thai Temple Tatoos

Published on January 26, 2007 with 23 Comments

I got my first tat back in ’95 and since then I’ve always had an itch to get another. I’ve been playing around with the idea of getting a Sak Yant, or a Thai Temple Tattoo.

“Sak Yants the Thai name for the Tattooing of Sacred geometrical designs on the skin. Yant (or Yantra, as we call them in the west), are normally tattooed by Buddhist monks, or Brahmin Holy men . The Yant tattoos have developed over the centuries under the influence of several different things The Yantra designs that already existed in Hindu India were adapted by the Thais as Buddhism arrived from neighbouring India.”

I consider the Yantra sacred so my decision whether or not to get one will be weighed carefully. Last February I undertook and requested the Upasampada “Going Forth” or Buddhist Monk Ordination. It is tradition for males in Thai families to undertake ordination and become a monk for a temporary period, at least once in their life. I’ll be sure to blog about it later, as it deserves more then this short paragraph.

My Ordination

Anyway my initial point is that I saw several of the Monks at the Temple with Yantras. I’ve always been intrigued by them, but the timing has never been right. To have them done properly they have to be done by a Monk or “Shamen”. Not too many running around San Francisco. Also I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the videos of the Sak Yant ceremonies. It’s straight up crazy. People claim to fall into a trance or become possessed… not really my cup of tea. I’ve attached a clip at the bottom of the post. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

The Designs

Here are 2 designs that I like however the issues are I don’t know their purpose/meaning, and I think they are a bit too intricate for me. If you look at pictures of Wanlop Sitpholek he actually has quite a few Yantra’s on him.

Sak Yant tattoo

Sak Yant tattoo

I’m thinking I should just go with something outside of Yantra… I don’t want or need anymore Karmic baggage. I was thinking about going with a battle scene out of the Ramakien. If any of you are interested in learning more about Yantra, check out SakYant.com

Ramakien Image

Hanuman in battle

Sak Yant Ceremony

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23 Comments

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  1. Looks pretty cool. I think I’ve seen a version of that top one before on someone at my gym (Say?).

  2. Tong Po-

    Close… the one Say has is of Hanuman Sleeping. It is from the Ramakien. This is what he has on his back

    http://nopadon.smugmug.com/photos/52173230-M.jpg

  3. Oh, ok. Either way I think he got it in the pen, not from a monk.

  4. i briefly considered getting one as well, as i think the designs are beautiful and would be a great way of literally embodying my thai pride, but my parents seem really dead set against the idea – they think that tattoos (even sak yant) will doom you to life as a thug. my dad also told me some crazy stories about people getting “powers” after getting their sak, as well as the crazy rituals you mention. i also share your concerns about adhering/participating in the rules and customs that go along with the sak. definitely not something that should be taken lightly.

  5. Wow, those are awesome. Do you have anymore pictures of some designs? Isn’t there one with a tiger?

  6. So.. what sort of powers do they give you?

  7. I appreciate you sharing your experiences….I check out your site everyday!

  8. Josh-

    Yeah there are tons… yes the tiger one seems to be pretty popular. Check out the link sakyant.com they’ve got a lot of the designs on their site.

  9. Hey does anyone know what the tattoo is on tong po’s shoulder in kickboxer? and also if there is a design of it anywhere as i am very keen on getting something similar

  10. [...] had made mention in a old post I had once took ordination as a Buddhist monk. In Thailand it is often customary for a male to take [...]

  11. i think that sakyant has abeautiful history worth preserving and to be taught to the younger generations

  12. [...] did a post last year on Sak Yant, or Thai Temple Tattoo’s. I’ve noticed at my camp, nearly all of us have some sort of [...]

  13. i did a lot of research on these tattoos also because i wanted to get something in relation to my thai background. i love my culture and wanted to celebrate it but i strongly advise anyone considering getting these designs to please consider the sanctity of these tattoos. once the ink is in your skin and the prayers are chanted you will be condemned for life.

    basically, the tattoos are suppose to make you invincible but you’re soul will forever burn if/when you die.

  14. This type of interesting dailogue about Muay Thai and its history is what makes your site so cool. Not just a bunch of meat heads talking about beat downs and smoking pot. Thanks Nop!

  15. I have decide to get an Sak Yant. I dont know what im going to get yet but i am dead set on getting one

  16. i really wan get a Sak Yant but aftr a comment by Piseth:”your soul will forever burn when u die”. I don think is true rite. Then ure sayin all monks with Yants soul will burn. Anyone has any opinions ??

  17. it is not right I am also a American born Thai and I have been to Thailand 15 times
    last time I went I got a sak called khao yod or nine peaks temple its is the primary sak that u get b4 other ones. There r certain rules that apply to these saks u must follow the 5 presteps, never ever cuss at all and never lie, with that said each sak has a different power some make jump high or fight stronger, khao yod protects u from blades and bullets and evil spirits,
    when u go back to the monk to “recharge” ur sak if have broken any of the rules u will be possessed by the sak u got u will not be condemned or anything like that

  18. what is the meaning of the second tattoo in “THE DESIGNS”?

  19. Hello I have a question, the third picture, the Hanuman in battle picture. what is the menaing of the Thai sentence under the animation??? thank very much!!!

  20. [...] Tip of the hat to MyMuayThai who helped inspire this post with their great article on Thai tattooing here. [...]

  21. [...] A tip of the hat goes to MyMuayThai who helped inspire this post with a great series of articles about tattoos, especially here. [...]

  22. I’m an Australian born Thai, but I have heard many stories about Sak Yant. My great great grandad got it done, and was ‘knife proof’ but he said when he got older he regretted it. My grandad was a senior policeman in Thailand so he had a lot of experience with robbers who had sak yant. Apparently in the procedure, along with the chanting, they put mercury on their palm and then it seeps into their skin, and after that it is always coursing through their body, and whenever they get shot or whatever, the mercury moves to that particular part of the body to stop the bullet. However, whenever there is lightning they feel agony in their body. Also, they are not completely invincible. Even though they are impenetrable from the outside, their internal organs are still vulnerable. So to kill someone with Sak Yant, they would shove a bamboo stick up their a** and out through their mouth, so they bleed from the inside. Lovely eh?

  23. i really like the whole idea of this tattoos and the strength that you are receiving just by looking them, but if i could not get one by monks, the strength and the power that the tattoo has is certainly inoperative but if ill do one similar with out the ritual ceremonies by a tattoo artist ? i mean theres no bad effects on me or bad luck? please repply

  24. I am deploying again soon (this time to Afghanistan) and I have thought about getting one, I will be in Thailand next week. My wife is sketchy about it though and I know the rules can be hard to follow. What are the drawbacks? I made it through Iraq twice without one, I think that I can do this, but I am drawn to them. Maybe I just need something to be a constant reminder to live a good life (especially my language, as a Marine I tend to cuss alot).

  25. I actually got my own back piece from the artist who was doing the first yant., and this is actually a true and pretty coincidental story. I had seen that picture on the web before and was set on gettin it done on my back.
    So when i went and trained at Tiger Muay Thai in the oustskirts of Patong, Thailand I went to their own tattoo artist down the road who did most of the gym’s fighters. When I walked into his little shack-like office, that picture was sitting on the table, but about 3 times the size.
    Its made up of 3 different segments, put together. The bottom is Hanuman the monkey god, and the other two are characters from the Ramaya such as Rama, the king. A client had put together the piece to get done within the coming weeks. You can do a search on them through google and pretty much figure out what the yant means.
    In the case that the piece was a personally put together work, I of course did not get it done, but got one of Hanuman himself portrayed with 6 arms, all with weapons in them “ready to go into battle.” Its a very nice piece and its meaning suits me perfectly, I did a lot of research before getting it done, with help from the tattooist. He did in fact, bless the tattoo when it was finished, with a prayer and ‘sealed’ it by outlining it with an ancient war dagger. The pictoral buddhas (swirls around the picture) were done with the traditional bamboo stick.

  26. hELLO MY NAME IS CLAUDIA and in my recently trip to thailand i get a sak yant tatoo in ink name gao yord in the temple WAT BANG PHRA that is located about 1 hour drive from Bangkok. The temple opens early and is busy so is better arrive early, you must get some cigarrets and flowers that you can purchase in the Temple plus 200 baths as an offer.You must wear apropiate clothes if u are a girl, and with that i mean not showing to much skin, and a extra jacket if is possible.Make sure you enter the room with respect, without shoes, and with your head down and shoulders in meaning of reverance of the monks present.Also make sure you know rhe name of the sak yant that you want a get and where you want it or where it supossed to go and show it to the monk. maybe is a good idea take with you the symbol somewhere like in a piece of paper and show him where you want the Sak Yant, as the monks dont speak english.Or well you can maybe ask for a taxi driver, from a local taxi company that speak english to take you there and be your translator this will cost you about 1500 baths, trust me is a good deal.The pain that you will experiment is really reasonable dont worry about it. Just try to keep your hands together like if you will pray, or you can hug yourself as well. The process is fast and efficient, you almost wont even bleed.When the Sak Yant is done make sure you say Thank You. (ka pun ka)You can get a Sak Yant tatoo in ink, if you are a girl, dont worry about it and go for it you wont regret the experience.The temple is beautiful, and you can eat the best fried rice you ever tried in your life in there plus feed the fishes in the river.Is such a wonderful experience, just do some research about the SAK YANT you wand and why?Buddhism is such a beautiful wise and peaceful philosophy i reckon we all should get more in to it Dont hesitate ask me for more info if you need it, i will do my best, and hope this clear some of your doubts.WITH LOVE XX

  27. The most important thing with a Sak Yant temple tatoo is to remember exactly what it is. What it is not, is a piece of ‘art’ tatoo in the normal sense. I have several ‘tatoo shop’ tats depicting Thai Khmer Buddhist images. I have seen these on westerners quite a bit. Fine. I also have a Sak Yant temple tatoo ‘Yao Gord’ on the back of my neck. I have seen many tattoo shop versions of ‘Yao Gord’ on westerners and I’m sure that many of these people don’t know what it represents (or says). It’s a bit like those celtic style patterns you see on girls lower backs or upper arms, or the ‘biker’ style swirl patterns frequently seen on men who often don’t even ride. Such people think (a) I want a tatoo (b) I’ll get what’s popular. What needs to be remembered, is that any type of Buddhist inspired tatoo has spiritual or religious meaning – not cultural meaning. Let’s suppose your from London, you won’t go on holiday to Morocco and come back with a tatoo from the Koran just because you like Moroccan culture will you? So, if you want a ‘tattoo shop’ image of a pretty princess Kinaree, find out who she is to both Buddist and Hindu alike, so when your friends ask you about your new tattoo, you can answer them with pride, rather than risk the embarrassment of ‘them’ telling ‘you’ what your new tatoo represents. In this way you can say with pride, that you have some spiritual interest in Buddhism and be proud of yourself. And by all means you don’t need to be Buddhist to get a temple tattoo, but after you do, contemplate a little bit on why you wanted it, because you might find that this act of getting it represents a subconscious desire to introduce some spirituality into your life. And if this is the case, wear the tattoo with the pride it deserves. Just remember, if you saw a Thai person coming back from a trip to London with a tattoo of three wise men surrounded by latin symbols but did not know what it meant, you’re going to think he’s a nerd eh. Well, I’ve been visiting Thailand for nearly thirty years and spent all of last year there, and I can tell you for sure, that the bar-girls or motor-bike taxi men will admire your new tattoo, and then ask you “you Buddha?” And unless you reply “yes, me follow Buddha”, they will turn to their friends and say in Thai or Lao “what a wanker!” And who can blame them.

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