- Sak Yant – A Brief History
- Sak Yant Meanings & Symbols
- Sak Yant Example Images
- Performing Sak Yant with ‘Khem Sak’
Sak Yant – A Brief History
The term Sak Yant or Sakyant (actually pronounced as Sak Yan in Thailand) comes from the Thai words ‘Sak’ meaning tattoo and ‘Yan’ meaning ‘Yantra’ – a mystical symbol or image.
The art has been in practice for thousands of years throughout South East Asia initially beginning through tribal beliefs and rituals and becoming more refined by the Hindu-Buddhist culture, it is now predominantly performed in Thailand.
Sak Yant tattoos are believed to hold magical powers that are bestowed onto those that receive them.
When the correct ritual is performed by a qualified Sak Yant master, they have a myriad of different purposes, a few examples are:
• spells of protection to ward off evil, illness or danger
• bringers of good luck and fortune, be they through monetary gain, good health or a happy family life
• personal improvements such as improved skill and success in the bearers chosen field of expertise
As the tattoo is performed, the master will be silently chanting throughout, changing the chant with each new element of the tattoo to ensure the power is instilled as the image is placed on the body.
Various regional scripts (languages) are used to accompany the symbols and images that spell out the Pali chants which imbue the tattoos with their powers. At Lanna Sakyant the ancient Lanna script of Northern Thailand is used. These characters are unique to the area and not seen in other regions. Characters from Burma (Myanmar) and various hilltribe dialects like Shan and Lisu are used in Thailands Northern areas. Whilst they appear to be very different, they actually purvey similar meanings and powers in the blessings they bestow.
An interesting factor in Sak Yant tatooing is that, while many may appear to be beautiful pieces of art, the appearance is an unimportant factor to those wanting to be blessed with the powers contained within them. The holiness of the Sak Yant master performing the work and his ability to instill magic is the highest priority and of utmost importance.
After receiving a Sak Yant tattoo from a monk, it is customary to only return to that monk for future sacred tattoos as a matter of respect and to ensure their particular blessings remain pure and strong within the body. Further Sak Yant tattoo’s are usually performed on the yearly anniversary date of the first one.
There are 9 classifications of Sak Yant, each with general meanings and more specific subsets within them. These are:
Mahaa Sanaeh – Gives the bearer the power of attraction, followers believe these Sak Yant can aid in finding love and help enhance their personal charm and charisma
Kong Grapan Chadtri – These Yant were particularly popular among warriors in ancient times as they offered protection from weapons and sharp objects. They are still used among those in Thailands military forces and Police as a means to stay safe during conflict.
Klaew Klaad – Whether it be motor vehicle crashes or falling rocks on a mountain pass, these Yant are believed to give the ability of evasion and lessen the chance of injury from accidents.
Amnaj – The Amnaj Yant are said to provide power to those who wear them, used as a method to improve influence over others and popular among leaders and those with political aspirations.
Jang Ngang – A more unusual Yant, these symbols are used in conflict, the spell they cast is to stun and immobilize enemies
Maettha Mahaniyom – The power of eliciting empathy from others are the object of these Yants. Whether it be to bond with people or encourage their help and assistance more readily.
Choke Lap – These Yant’s are used to bring good fortune to those marked with them. Many believers have them in hope of having great success in business, receiving promotions, or for luck in winning in bets or lotteries.
Sathw Himapant – This category of Yants are of mythological animals, often they are animalistic representations of Buddhist deities and are greatly respected images, they bring the power that particular beast holds and the spirit of the animal is said to bond with those who have these tattoos.
Tam Kwaam – Many Sak Yant masters are reluctant to perform these rituals without strong reason and justification. These images are angled towards the ‘black’ or ‘grey’ magic area of Sakyant tattoos, they are used particularly when wishing to control a situation e.g. make misfortune befall an enemy, escaping legal trouble or coveting another persons lover. Although not always negative they are not as commonly used as the other Yants.
The lines used in a Sak Yant tattoo are known as ‘The Bones of the Yan’ and represent the connection to or ‘Umbilical Cord’ of Buddha. They may be used in many different forms with each having a different meaning. Below is a brief explanation of some of the different forms they may take (click an image for more detail, also check out the gallery of our Sak Yant masters work):
The ink is pushed into the skin using a long metal rod ‘Khem Sak’ with single use medical grade tattoo needles attached. The traditional method of using sharpened bamboo called ‘Mai Sak’ is no longer employed for both hygiene reasons and to lessen the pain. The Khem Sak does not penetrate as deeply as a modern electric tattoo gun, no blood or body fluids are exposed and the risk of infection is greatly reduced. As a result of this the instance of scabbing is very rare and the tattoo will heal rapidly.
Due to the very low risk of infection, many Sak Yant masters do not wear gloves so that they can more easily feel the movement of the Khem Sak and manipulate it in order to create the perfect Sak Yant. The one exception to this is when they are tattooing a woman which their beliefs forbid them from touching directly.