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.
“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.