Thai Buddhist temple festival puts magic back into tattoos

March 5, 2012

(A Buddhist monk uses a needle to tattoo the body of a man at Wat Bang Phra in Nakhon Pathom province, about 80 km (50 miles) from Bangkok March 2, 2012. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang)

Shrieks and wails hang in the air as thousands of tattoo devotees pack into a Thai Buddhist temple for an annual festival they believe renews the protective magic in the elaborate designs on their skin. Crowds seethed through the temple grounds, with men roaring, hissing and screaming while imitating the creatures tattooed on their bodies, as if they had been possessed by them. One pecked towards the ground as if he was a chicken, others flung up their arms and danced.

The yearly ceremony took place at the weekend at Wat Bang Phra in Nakon Pathom, 80 km (30 miles) west of Bangkok, which is known for magically charged tattoos and amulets said to protect their bearers against danger. While honouring the founding masters of the Buddhist temple, the gathering is also seen by believers as an opportunity to “recharge” their tattoos.

(A Buddhist monk is seen with tattoos on his body at Wat Bang Phra in Nakhon Prathom province, about 80 km (50 miles) from Bangkok Picture taken March 2, 2012. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang)

“You get many things: to pay your respects, to make your body and spirit happy, to worship our masters,” said Nakhom Tonghum, 35, who had a tiger tattoo on his back and chest.

The tattoos vary from legendary heroes from epics such as the Ramayana to mythical creatures or Pali and Sanskrit writing. In most tattoos, animals such as panthers, tigers and snakes are intricately woven into magical signs and scriptures.

(Devotees pay respects to Buddhist statues at Wat Bang Phra in Nakhon Prathom province, about 80 km (50 miles) from Bangkok March 3, 2012. REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang)

“I’m a believer. I like this,” said Akkaporn Silom. He said that when possessed, it’s an out-of-body experience and one goes numb and gets goosebumps.

Not all Thai Buddhists believe in the mystical powers of protection of the sacred tattoos, known as Sak Yant. But many do, and an increasing number of Westerners are also being enticed by the purported magic.

Read the full story by Annie Chenaphun here.
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