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Wat Bang Phra Tattoo Festival

Wat Bang Phra

The tattoo festival is happening this month…

Wat Bang PhraWat Bang Phra Tattoo Festival
Saturday, 27 February, 2010
5am (starting time) – 9am (main presentation from the head monk)

If you visit Wat Bang Phra during a regular week, you can pretty much expect peace and quiet. And as I’m a softly-softly type of gal, that’s what my previous post was all about: Wat Bang Phra: Tattoo Temple Time Out.

But if you show up during the Tattoo Festival, everything changes. For a few short hours, the Wat is flooded with thousands of followers attending the historic ไหว้ครู (wâi kroo ceremony). Some devotees are hyper, some are not. Others are overcome with the spiritual power garnered by their tattoos of tigers, monkeys, and snakes. And last year, all this jumping around culminated in a photographer getting his arm broken during the fracas (yet another reason why you won’t see me there… this time).

Thailand’s temple of tattoos: The centuries-old Thai tradition dates back to the time when schools were located in temples and teachers were monks. Once a year, students would make obeisance to past and present generations of knowledge bearers — a hierarchy of ancient Brahmin gods represented by colourful masks on a multi-tiered stage. Nowadays, the wai khru ritual is performed rarely, except in a condensed version at schools or boxing matches. And at this unusual temple.

Wat Bang PhraRichard Barrow states that he arrived one year at 7am and: “by 9 a.m. there were literally thousands and thousands of people packed into every available space”.

Btw: The final dates for the festival came from three separate phone calls to the Wat. If you are arriving from overseas, please check back here and/or with Richard’s Paknam forum before booking your ticket.

Which tattoo to choose…

Patty (one of WLT’s readers), asked about a Sak Yant (สักยันต) tattoo to protect travelers.

The Thai Guide to Thailand mentions that there are many varieties of tattoos to choose from. The different styles include (but are not inclusive to) the Five Sacred Lines Yant, Nine Spires Yant, Tiger Yant, and the Hanuman Yant (Monkey God).

Your tattoo of choice does not stop there, as Khmer script makes an entrance too (Tip: Khmer script is pronounced Kom in Thai). My research gathered the following (but don’t hold me to it):

  • อำนาจ (am-nâat – personal power)
  • โชคลาภ (chôhk lâap – luck and fortune)
  • ตามความ (dtaam kwaam – power over people, law)
  • จากนาง (jàak naang – paralyzing, stunning spell)
  • เเคล้วคลาด (kleow klâat – evasion and invisibility)
  • คงกระพันชาตรี (kong grà pan chaa-dtree – protection from harm and danger)
  • เมตตามหานิยม (mâyt-dtaa má-hăa ní-yom – lucky/popular in love)
  • มหาเสน่ห์ (má-hăa sà-này – charm and attraction)
  • สัตว์หิมพานต์ (sàt hĭm-má-paan – animal powers)
  • ยันต์กันไฟอุบัติเหตุ (yan gan fai ù-bàt-dtì hàyt – protection from fire and accident).

So from the looks of it, the ยันต์กันไฟอุบัติเหตุ (yan gan fai ù-bàt-dtì hàyt) will protect travelers. But with the possibility of five to nine lines to fill, it looks like party time! Ouch!

Arjan NooNote: I am obviously not an expert on Thai tattoo so please ask around before choosing your tattoos. In addition, each tattoo artist/monk/teacher will have their own twists and turns, so be sure to discuss it with them too.

I do have a fat book by อาจารย์หนู Arjan Noo (arjannoo.com – no longer online), the Thai tattooist responsible for working on Angela Jolie. The book is called หมื่นยันต์ (mèun yan – ten thousand magic symbols).

Arjan Noo points out that the drawings in his book are merely representative of the Khmer tattoo prayers he uses. He goes on to say that the designs have already been copied by disreputable tattoo artists, and as the Khmer script shown mean nothing, neither do their tattoos.

So, as they say in Thailand… up to you

Other Thai tattoo resources…

Tattoo Museum
Sak Yant Thai Khmer Buddhist Temple Tattoos
Sak Yant – Magic Tattoo
Wikipedia: Wat Bang Phra

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

17 Comments

  1. This is one festival I would really like to see Cat. Unfortunately I’ll have to wait for next year but if all goes well I could use a little jumping around.

    I added this to my events calender and linked back to your post.

  2. Hi Talen. This is definitely one to watch out for. Alert – This post was not supposed to go until much later as I was first told that the festival was at the end of March. Many emails and phone calls later, Feb 27 was confirmed (and reconfirmed).

    So if you are booking tickets from overseas, be sure to double check the dates as they change every year (sometimes more than once).

  3. Well not usually being one for spamming blogs with links of my own … I actually went to the Tattoo Festival this morning, and the hilarious thing was that I didn’t know that that was what we were going to before we went!!

    And having said that I don’t spam blogs with links, I have a link here to the blog entry I just wrote about the festival!

    EDIT: no longer online

    Sorry for the spam :)

  4. Scott, no apologies needed at all! I appreciate it when information is linked. Especially when it comes to the Tattoo Festival.

    Now off to see if you got a tattoo ;-)

  5. Sorry, please can you tell me when exactly is this festival in March?
    Please let me know :)
    Thank you / Kop Kun Krap!

    Marco

  6. Some people told me “at the end of March”.. but I read about 27 February too.. I’m a little confused about that
    Thank you

  7. Marco, the festival for this year is already over. I too had some confusion about the dates because a monk at Wat Bang Phra told me March.

  8. Very nice post with plenty of info contained within the scope of the article – i often wonder why Ajarn Noo misspells his designs because the Yantra cloths he sells have exactly the same spelling as the ones in his allegedly deliberately mis-spelled design books.
    One cloth which was on display in seven eleven stores for mass product distribution said “itipatawa” instead of “itipakawa”.

    Ajarn Noo is the commercial face of sak yant, with tv advertising, Video marketing, product franchising and the like

  9. Welcome Spencer (and thanks). I’ve come across stories about Ajarn Noo, but I haven’t heard that twist. I did see his products at one 7-11, but didn’t look closely. He’s carved out quite a lucrative business for himself, in a profession that generally kept to the low end in Thailand. I believe it’s about fifty baht for a tattoo in a Wat, and he charges… ?

  10. The price of all the tattoos we had was always a matter of how much we wanted to donate. But that was at วัดบางพระ where they take their tattoos a lot more seriously than someone who runs it as a business.

  11. Hi Scott, I wasn’t sure what to offer for the experience (no tattoo, just photos). When I asked what figure was being batted around for a tattoo they mentioned 50 baht or ‘up to you’ (donation). Each of the tattoo monks are allowed to keep the donations, which I found curious as there is that money issue. But even monks have family at home needing help too. I’m not one for tight rules so if they are bending them – shrug – no matter.

  12. Hello,
    does anyone know when the festival is in 2011? Should be soon, no?

  13. Hi Tom, I scanned through Talen’s Thailand Calendar but didn’t find it. Thailand isn’t exactly the most organised country in the world. Often they don’t get their act together until right before an event, if that (goes for big business as well).

    You might have to call the Wat. Pity, I was just there a week or so ago. But after last time, even after talking to someone in charge, I wouldn’t advise buying plane tickets on the information given. Am I jaded? You bet.

  14. Actually … my Good Lady Wife just informed me this very morning that it looks like the festival is on 2011-03-19 this year.

    Furthermore, it looks like we’re going again.

    I’ll let you know when I know more.

  15. Thanks Scott. I’m looking forward to your next tattoo…

  16. OK, just had it confirmed that it’s on the 19th of March. Wifey is particularly annoyed because it clashes with ComMart, to which she also has to go – so it looks like we’re going to the temple in the morning, and the Sirikit Centre when we get back.

    Tattoo? I only have the one! And I did indeed get it at Wat Bang Phra, two years ago.

  17. I’ll add the festival to my maybe list for March but it gets awfully wild out there.

    So, are you going to get another tattoo? :-)

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