Samui Wining & Dining
Sak Yant
The ancient mystical tattoos of Thailand.


The art of tattooing is a heritage common to most indigenous cultures. This used to be performed with meaning—the spirit of which remained sacred. This sacred tattooing is called ‘sak yant’ in Thailand. The name originates from the ancient term ‘yantra’. Yantra in Thai would be yant, while sak refers to tattooing. The practice originates from parts of Cambodia and India, but it seems to be an endangered art form in those countries today. However, the Buddhist monks in Thailand have been practicing sak yant for years. This vibrant culture is usually passed on from sak yant ajarns (teachers) to their disciples. It’s believed that as the ink is etched deep into the skin, deep relationships are formed between the master and the disciple, and the master passes on his powers and wisdom to his followers. The practice involves attaining knowledge on the teachings of Buddha, which are believed to be 2,600 years old.

        Sak yant is traditionally performed with a long bamboo stick sharpened to a point (called a mai sak) or alternatively with a long metal spike (called a khem sak). The designs and patterns are influenced by the language and cultural history of the region. They often incorporate the Lanna script of

Northern Thailand, or the Tai Lu script, along with the traditional patterns. However the Khmer script from Cambodia seems to be the most common script used. They say various masters have contributed to these designs and patterns over the centuries, through visions received during their meditation and practice.

        Sak yant is often used to heal, cure and overcome negative energy. And for this one needs to get it done in the right way by the right person. Ajarn Panthep Phruekthara, is one such well-known sak yant practitioner who can guide you through this mystical process. He provides some insight on the preachings. “We often forget what’s good for life and for us. We must all understand in depth the importance of the five elements of nature - earth, wind, fire, water and space. Feelings are just like the elements – sometimes like water, at times like fire. They change constantly.”

         Ajarn Panthep talks about the six ayatanas (sense spheres) - eyes, nose, tongue, ear, mind and body, the importance of which are emphasized in Buddhism. “This opens one’s mind,” explains Khun Lek, Ajarn Panthep’s partner and translator. “Ajarn teaches people to forgive, apologise and be grateful. We often forget to say ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’. Ajarn reminds people to understand the importance of compassion.”

          People from forty countries, including Canada, France, Japan, and India, have visited him to consult. Although the tradition of sak yant is growing fast among the youth, you find people of all age groups at Ajarn Panthep’s ‘Samui Sak Yant’ in Lamai, close to Samui Yacht Club. “Following this form of sacred art without understanding its roots or its historic relevance can be futile. Ajarn Panthep guides you in the right direction.” says Khun Lek. Sak yant isn’t just about inking, but more importantly indulging in meditation and appreciating the teachings. Not everyone understands this. “All powers lie within us, and Ajarn helps you seek these powers by helping you get in touch with your inner self.” And how is this done?

          In the first sitting, Ajarn explains the value of sak yant with Buddhist teachings. This usually takes one hour but for those who don’t find clarity, Ajarn doesn’t mind spending a couple more hours explaining and teaching further. Whether or not they choose to do sak yant later, Ajarn wishes wellness, good health and energy for all, and he passes on the blessings of his teachers through meditation.

          “Ajarn doesn’t expect anyone to pay for the offerings. He chants the mantra and the prayers on behalf of his visitors and followers.” One doesn’t have to chant along with him. He places the picture in front of you and passes on his powers and healing. The language Ajarn Panthep uses is 2,000 years old, and there’s no school where you can learn it. “We just must follow the monks for their teachings. That doesn’t mean all monks understand this. One language is the name of the Buddha. One yant has many languages and many names of Buddha.” she adds.

          The smaller designs take about an hour and the bigger ones take 2-3 hours to finish. “People ask why we take so long when they can get the same art done elsewhere within ten minutes. This is because Ajarn follows the right method - the four sacred steps. He believes in making it meaningful.” explains Khun Lek. The four steps are as follows: 1. Thanking elders, parents, the big Buddha, all the teachers and gods. 2. Offering flowers as a tradition and for respect. 3. Sak yant. 4. Meditating -- The traditional mask ritual is done as a blessing for contentment.

          The protection with the mask can be done any time any number of times. Those who are interested in Buddhism or learning Buddhist philosophy can go to Teepankhon, a temple situated on top of the mountain in Lamai. Samui Sak Yant doesn’t charge you any fee for this, as Ajarn Panthep believes in passing on knowledge for a cause. “Each individual is different from the other - the elements of nature consist in different proportions in every soul. Ajarn chooses the right design for everyone by learning their element, through their birth date.” says Khun Lek. “We use the money for donations-- to the temple and the underprivileged. We serve food to the poor and help those who are affected by cancer, for example. Also, many offerings are made to the monks.”

          There is one ancient design that Ajarn Panthep adapts in most of his work. This design was passed on to him by his master, and is 100 years old. This sacred pattern sets him apart from others who follow sak yant. “Every morning Ajarn prays for everyone who’s visited him. We are all connected together through the energy and prayers of Ajarn with blessings of Buddha,” explains Khun Lek. Ajarn Panthep and Khun Lek place great importance on the yin-yang philosophy. Buddha doesn’t follow a religion. The actual teachings of Buddha aren’t a religion. It’s about being aware of our strengths and weaknesses, and work on bettering the mind by working towards becoming better individuals.

          You may be just married and on your honeymoon, or just about to begin a new job, or experiencing a new change in life, or having new beginnings - this is the ideal time for sak yant.


 Charisma Bharadwaj


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