SAK YANT AND NAK MUAY
Special report by Serge TREFEU (2008)
“Sak Yants” is the Thai name for the sacred tattoos drawn on the skin. “Sak” means tatto and “Yant” is a word derived from the Sanskrit which in the known at the origin as “Yantra”. Yants exist for centuries in India and have been adapted by Thais people when Buddhism arrived in Thailand. The Khmer Civilization has also influenced much the Yant letters because at the Khmer time who possessed powerful magic fate were very dread by the Thais people.
These sacred tattoos with geometrical drawings were done uniquely by Buddhist monks or Saint Men (Brahmans).
The tattoo was made to give a magical protection against bad fate and bring luck to those wearing it. The ancient tradition wanted the warriors to have tattoos so as to make their slipping and hard, protecting them also during the battles against penetrating weapons, such as swords, spears, arrows or knives. But certain warriors besides the magical protection overlapped their bodies with Yants to obtain a psychological advantage on their enemies.
These tattoos form an integral part of the Thai culture and a lot of Thai people are tattooed. People from all level of the Thai society wear Yant tattoos, from the most simple country man to the most important politician. But also bad boys or Mafia leaders wear tattoos, they often were Yants called “Maha Ud” (supposed to stop a bullet).
Thai women are rarely tattooed with ink but rather with oil. Indeed, the tattoo can also be done with oil. Which makes it invisible on the skin but the magical effect is quite as beneficial. Moreover, certain Thai people who have jobs in which visual contact is important with the public such as teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers or even militaries prefer being tattooed with oil.
A tattoo is before a whole spiritual initiatory ritual whose people must in theory observe very strict rules after being tattooed.
Before being tattooing, the initiate makes a symbolic offer to the Master (Ajahn). Generally, it is made of a flower, 3 incenses, a package of cigarettes, betel nut wrap in a sheet and a little sum of money (often not more than 100 bahts). But also what ever you would like to offer to the Master.
The disciple (Luksit) presents his back to the Master who tattoos him with a needle measuring around 60 cm long (May Sak) which he plunges in a container filled with a special ink.
The Ajahn draws Yants according to his personal inspiration. Sometimes animals Yants under simplified forms or under a mythical form of the “Ramakian” (Thai mythology), Yant Gao Yord (Sacred mountain in the centre of the Universe), of Lersi (an ascetic). There is a multitude of Yants which are generally accompanied by sacred inscriptions written in Khom or old Khmer.
When tattoo is finished, the Master poses on the head of the disciple a mask representing a Brahmanic divinity or an ascetic (Lersi). Then the Master makes the divinity’s spirit enter into the tattoo by reciting mantras (prayers), this moment is called “krop khru”.
The disciple enters in communion with the spirits through the Master. The disciple is then in transe (khong keun) as if a power seized is whole body…
Thailand has an important number of Ajahn tattoos who are settled in the 4 parts of the country. All are much respected and some of them tattoo more than one hundred people per day!
Among fighters, some of them have traditional tattoos because boxers are in general very faithful and often superstitious. Either they make tattoos to have daily luck or for a spiritual protection which would help them avoid a bad hit during a fight. Some boxers do not have the back or the chest covered with Yant tattoos but just one or two Yants on their body.
It is the case of the great champion like Samart Payakaroon (5 times Lumpinee champion) who has 2 Yants, one on the shoulder and the other on the chest. Or Yodseanklai Fairtex (Lumpinee champion) who has 5 Yants, one on each shoulder, arrow punches (Muut thanu) on each hands and a last on the throat.
Other champions such as Wanlop Sitpholek (World champion, Thailand champion) and Hein Phutong (Great Cambodia champion, Sak Yants culture exists also in Cambodia, Laos and in Burma) have many Yants on the body, back and chest.
Also champions are simply tattooed with oil such as Yotchai Keannorasing (Radja champion in Boxing) and Dany Bill (World Thai Boxing Champion) who have been tattooed by a great Master, Ajahn Keaw.
Ajahn Keaw is a much respected tattoo Master. He lives in Bangkok in a northern district of the city. His house is known by everyone and he has a very large reputation.
Ajahn Keaw has built a friendship with two great French fighters, Jean-Charles Skarbowsky (Europe Champion, N° 1 in Radja in 2003 and 2006) and Stephan Nikiéma (World Champion). Both of them became his disciples and wear today his sacred Yants on their bodies. Jean-Charles Skarbowsky has been tattooed around 10 times, first with oil then with ink.
He has often attended the Master’s day which takes place every year, on the 9th of December in a temple of Bangkok. Ajahn Keaw gather together all his disciples sometimes more than 3000 persons and blessed all of them on by one.
He has also accompanied the Master during his annual sacred pilgrimage which consists in visiting near than 45 temples during more than one month…
Ajahn Keaw besides being an important spiritual character is a generous man and very kind. He often helps the poorest who come to consult him to settle familial problems. Ajahn Keaw offers his advice without selected. He shares his meals and even gives money to people so as to help them. Always at the disposal for his disciples, he is never absent from his house for long. Indeed, he needs the spiritual aura of his house. It is so powerful that it is quite impossible for him to leave his house…
Very few Farang (foreigners) wear traditional Thai tattoos, generally they are lovers of Thai culture. In the 90’s, the French Fabrice Payen (World Champion, N° 3 of Radja in 1989) has been one of the first foreign champion to be tattooed in Thailand by a tattoo Master. Later, other foreign great champions such as Australian John Wayne Parr (World champion) and Nugget McNaught (World champion) have initiated themselves to Thai tattoos customs.
Today, many foreign boxers have been tattooed by tattoo Masters. For instance, Ajahn Keaw has tattooed French, English and also American people.
It proves that Thai people are really open, sharing their ancestral arts with the foreigners. But Thai people as for Muay Thai only give their secret to the foreigners who are the most respectful and loving towards their cultures…
AJAHN KEAW R.I.P.
(For more infos on Yants to see the French Web site www.buddha-amulet.net site)