Tattoos have a rich history of tradition, dating back thousands and thousands of years. Over time, there has always been an important role of tradition and ritual behind tattoos. In the past, women in Borneo used tattoos as a way to mark their skills. Tattoos were also used in the past as a way to ward away illnesses and diseases by placing the tattoo around the fingers and on the wrist. Throughout history, tattoos have also been used to symbolise a clan or society as well.
The purpose of tattoos has differed from culture to culture over time. Research has shown that the earliest tattoos come from Egypt during the time of the pyramids, although most believe they started much earlier. Egyptians at this time were believed to use tattoos as a way to mark the slaves and the peasants. Around 2,000 BC, tattoos spread to China and then on to Greece, where the Greeks used tattoos as a way to communicate among spies.
In Thailand, a bamboo tattoo, formally called Sak Yant, is one of the world’s most ancient and sacred traditions and is expertly engraved into the skin entirely by hand using a traditional Khem Sak – a handcrafted metal rod designed to replicate the shape of a bamboo stick, that is often passed down to an Ajarn, meaning master in Thai, by their own master. The practice has become increasingly popular with foreign tourists to Thailand in recent years. A master, teacher and learned scholar in the sacred art of Sak Yant, the Ajarn has more than ten years of perfecting his expert craft on over 10,000 people under his Khem Sak.
Sak Yant tattoos are traditional forms of tattooing magical ancient geometric and deity symbols with Buddhist prayers onto the body and are sacred blessings that are believed to impart magical powers for luck, protection, charisma, fortune, and other powers onto the wearer to help in their own personal journey.
Before and after inking the Yant, the Ajarn performs a ceremony where the body and art are blessed, giving the wearer a permanent and deeply significant reminder of the unique experience. The burning of incense plays an important role, along with the recital of sacred mantras, to invoke good spirits into each Yant design so that they may offer protection against evil forces or bad luck. Each number of incense sticks burned simultaneously has a specific purpose and most Thai people believe and value odd numbers as auspicious, with 108 being the maximum number of incense sticks that can be used – three sticks relate to success in life; four sticks should be avoided; nine sticks relate to shifting your goal in life and moving on; and sixteen sticks are burned to worship ancestors and making a wish.
The sticks can also be used by people who do not want a tattoo but want sacred blessings to impart magical powers and enhance spirituality and prosperity, by burning a specific number of sticks relating to a specific purpose and reciting the “Si na ta si ma ni no ye na ye no thit sit wat prat hit sit” prayer three times per day.