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Sacred Ink and Wai Kru

Wai Kru in Thailand is a festival that honours Buddhist monks and tattoo masters who ink sacred Sanskrit scripts on the bodies of the devout believers. The famous tattoo temple of Wat Bang Phra in Nakhon Chai Si, Nakhon Pathom province plays a major part of this annual ritual.

The tattooed devotees of Wat Bang Phra enter into a trance-like state called “khong khuen” often with a crazed expression of rage. From the waist up, their bodies are tattooed with ancient Khmer scripts and bearing the images of tiger, crocodile and Hanuman (the Hindu deity which appears in the form of half monkey and half human). These tattoo designs commonly known as Sak Yant are known to provide supernatural powers protecting the wearer from harm. This of course has to be inked onto the skin of the devout wearer.  

Beyond Beauty and Protection

Sak Yant history goes back to ancient times.  The meaning of Yantra comes from the Sanskrit word Yant that relates to a mystical diagram. It's a shamanistic practice from ancient days that has nothing to do with Buddhism.  In a way Buddhism was incorporated into this art form of tattooing the body by shamans who later was indoctrinated with the Dhamma teachings.  

A painful process which entails a long instrument with very sharp steel spike dipped into a kind of magical ingredient.  The black ink containing this magical ingredient will then be “Sak” or injected into the skin of the devotee body.  Enduring the painful process is the easy part. But once the tattoo is inked, it will be left permanently on the body skin. To some, these sacred tattoos may appear to be artistic and masculine with a fully embodied religious design on the body.  Power!

Before we go any further, let's take a look into each of the Sak Yant category and their meanings. Each of this Yant category can be represented by the powerful symbols tattooed on the skin of the wearer.   

Maha Amnaj – This type of yant is rendered with power in commanding respect and obedience e.g. politician, military and police.

Metta Mahaniyom - Compassion from others is obtained, popularity is achieved with one's peers and people feeling the need to help you.

Kong Krapan Chathri - Protection from sharp weapons and projectile objects

Maha Saneh - Charm and attraction to make one attractive to the opposite sex, or even obtain the love of a particular person.

Klaew Klaad - Powers of evasion - fatal accidents and dangers are avoided through the power of this kind of Yant.

Chok Larp - Luck and Fortune; designed to bring one fortuitous results, such as promotion in one's workplace, winning lotteries, achieve higher social standing.

Sometimes different mythological animals are tattooed onto the body of a devout to invoke specific powers from each of the inked animals. A series of chanted magical spells completes the blessing ritual that grants a tattoo its magical properties.  Below are descriptions for some of the common tattoo designs that can be really motivating for people to ink it onto their body.

Diamond Armour
Developed by the legendary Luang Phor Pan of Wat Bang Nam Kho in Ayutthaya.  The diamond armour formation grants the wearer the power of impenetrable skin, tough enough to withstand blades and bullets. The only way to kill someone wearing this tattoo with a gun is by aiming a shot into one of the body’s orifices. Indeed this sound very violent for someone wearing this diamond armour on the body.  

Five Columns
The Khom wordings are vertically inclined. The first line is a spell for mercy, kindness and popularity. The second line is a luck booster.  The third line is a success booster. Forth line is a spell designed to match the wearer’s own astrological sign. The fifth line grants the power of charm.

Tattoo recipients are told that they will gain invincible power from Hanuman and the ability to never easily get tired from a fight.  Hanuman can always be seen holding a flag and dagger always at the battle forefront with impeccable leadership and fighting spirit.

The Golden Swan
Wearers of this tattoo are granted the gift of charm and popularity. This tattoo also allows the wearer to practice good virtues of self-sacrifice and kindness toward others.  
Chu Chok
Chu Chok design symbolizes the power of becoming rich through perseverance. This tattoo grants the wearer the wearer to make more money while always remembering the lesson of over indulgence. 

Tiger Yantra
One of the most popular tattoo design that appears in most Sak Yant cult is the Tiger that provides Maha Amnaj to the wearer. Tiger Yant is frequently chosen by business people who are in fierce competitive environment. The Tiger Yant is also a good choice to instill strength and fearlessness.

Ganesh Yantra 
Ganesh or Ganesha is known as the Remover of Obstacles. Ganesh is a well known Hindu deity and can be instantly recognizable by his Elephant head.  Although Ganesh is a Hindu God, he is worshiped by people of many religions and is especially revered by many Buddhists in Thailand.  Ganesh is the patron deity for arts, science and learning.

Maha Saneh Love Attraction
Beyond love and beauty Maha Saneh category can be very revealing in terms of the occult images embodied onto the skin. Uniquely attractive for those seeking love passion with this form of Thai tattoo Sakyant.

Sak Yant Tattoo Effectiveness 
All in there are many designs to choose for the devout believers of these sacred tattoos. Mysticism does not limit anybody to have a Sak Yant inked permanently onto their body skin. Whether men or women, Thais or westerners, they are equally intrigued with such protective tattooed talisman that carries significant beauty when done right. Whether you view Sak Yant tattoo as an art or something more religiously meaningful, it takes a lot of courage to have one or more of these mystique animals or geometrical designs permanently embedded onto your body.

If you want to guess how effective are some of these sacred tattoo designs are for especially Kongkrapan Chatri (impenetrability from sharp weapons), try the above video. You may soon realize the reason why devout believers are attracted to this form of Sak Yant tattoo in Thailand.

In our humble opinion knowing which type of Sak Yant tattoo to be inked onto your body is important. Equally important is to know which master is qualified or known to have the skills to do the job right. This requires research not just merely by hearsay in order to get your first Sak Yant done right but also sacredly.

Amazing Khong Khuen Craze
In all Wai Kru ceremony particularly during the trance state, devotees seemed to gain super human strengths once they “connect” spiritually with their tattoos.  It can be chaotic where these devotees can turn violent while mimicking the energy of the patron animal of his personal tattoo.

At the beginning before this ritual takes place, all devout tattooed participants will sit in tight quarters inside the temple compound listening attentively to the chanting of monks. As soon as the ritual starts, the devotees gradually enter a state of possessed "khong khuen" by the inked animal of his body.

If you have some personal experience of entering into this trance during a Wai Kru ceremony, please share your side of the story with all of us by dropping an e-mail. I'm sure readers would love to listen to your side of the story.

The sudden outburst of energy from the trance can be very alarming when the monks started reciting Buddhist chants at the stage. Upon entering the trance state with a full body of sacred tattoos, the devotees charge to the stage where monks are seated.  Volunteers and attendants will have to quickly subdue them and bring the entranced participants to the monks to be brought back to a conscious mind state.  

Whether it is angel of mercy or a mystic guardian animal in the tattooed body, life changes for those who embarked on this sacred inked talisman. From an inner perspective, when a devout have every inch of his upper body tattooed he won't wanna display his tattooed armour openly in the public. Try to imagine the awkwardness if he tries walking bare chested at a swimming pool or at a beach. He will definitely cause a stir from people surrounding. On the other hand, he or she will have to abide by the rules of do's and don't once the sacred designs are inked. The protective qualities of tattoos by the respective masters are always with the wearer thus caution and care must be observed at all times.

Alternatively, carrying or wearing amulets "phra kreung" e.g. Somdej, LP Thuad, Khun Paen, etc. on the body is still a much preferred way for most devout Buddhists in this South Asia region.  This is a very important point for consideration even if you are willing to bare the painful tapping from the sharp needle to create the most sacred tattoo. Hence, it is up to each individual's choice and destiny to be affiliated with this ancient sacred art of protection that is still very much alive today.

Note: All photos and video presented in this article are copyrights of their respective owners. 

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