Devotees of the Ink

Once a year, thousands of people from all over Thailand travel to the Wat Bang Phra temple, located about 70 kilometres outside of Bangkok in Nakhom Pathom province, to take part in the Wai Kru, a Thai ceremony and one of the country's most bizarre festival.The festival is attended by tattoo masters - some who are monks and some who are not (called "Ajans"), and by those who believe in the magical powers of the tattoos which are inked into their skin during the festival.

These tattoos - called Sak Yant in Thai - are believed to bring spiritual and physical protection to the person who wears them, especially those drawn by Wat Bang Phra's famous monks, which are thought to have mystical power. Many people choose tattoos which depict monkeys or tigers, as well as inscriptions in the ancient Khmer/Cambodian script.

During the festival, some men will go into trances, acting out the characteristics of the animals depicted in their newly-carved tattoos. These holy tattoos are believed to give the wearer protection of evil, as well as bring strength, good luck and other magical features. The tattoos are blessed by the monks, who breathe life into them.

The practice is full of history and tradition. The word "sak" in Thai means "to tap" (i.e. "to tattoo") and the word "yant" refers to the Sanskrit word "yantra -mystical diagram or amulet supposed to possess occult powers or magical benefits-.” Thousands of years ago, Hindus began painting and working with magic symbols, which were used for meditation. Today, this history is reflected not only in the drawings inked forever on the believers' bodies, but also in the methods. Made in the traditional way - using a bamboo stick sharpened into a needle - and drawn entirely by hand, each tattoo is composed of more than a thousand stitches, giving the impression of a thin line.

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