What is a Sak Yant Tattoo?

Sak Yant Tattoo Meaning | Traditional Thai Bamboo Tattoo

Sak Yant Tattoo Meaning History and Explanation from Sak Yant Masters:

The Sak Yant Tattoo is a Traditional Tattoo applied by a holy man, while chanting prayers using a Steal Needle in either Ink (visible) or oil (invisible) that is ended with a Magical Blessing.  The Sak Yant Tattoo offers protection to the wearer and serves as a Talisman of Affirmation for a personal quality, quest or goal.

What is a Sak Yant Tattoo?

Sak Yant Tattoo Meaning – สักยันต์ – Sak Yant

Twin Tiger Sak Yant Meaning and design

Sak - Meaning

The term Sak (สัก in Thai) means to 'Tap' or 'To Tattoo'. Traditionally done with a Bamboo Needle, hence the combination of 'Tap Tattoo'

Yant - Meaning

The term Yant (ยันต์ in Thai) means 'Yantra'. Originally derived from the same Sanskrit word a Yantra or Mantra is the magical design and Text.

Sak Yant Tattoo are the Thai name for the Tattooing of Sacred geometrical designs on the skin. Yant (or Yantra, as they are call them in the west), can only to be tattooed by Buddhist monks, or Brahmin Holy men.

The Yant tattoos have developed over the centuries under the influence of several different religious philosophies. The Yantra designs that already existed in Hindu India were adapted by the Thais as Buddhism arrived from neighboring India.

What does a Sak Yant Tattoo Do?

A Sak Yant Tattoo is seen as the strongest form of protection against bad luck, black magic and supernatural forces.  The primary meaning of Sak Yant Tattoos are as a magical form of protection against negative influences of ones life.  In addition to the supernatural protection they are used as a personal Talisman for creating change in personality traits, life circumstances and assistance in the achievement of goals.

For the wearers of the Sak Yant Tattoo, the Sak Yant does have an important part to play in obtaining assistance in life through the benefit of receiving the positive Karma from the Monk or Sak Yant Master who creates it.  In Thai culture as well as many religions around the world, the ability of a spiritual master to share/bless/charge the spiritual status of another is accepted as a matter of reality.  The Sak Yant Tattoo then, bestows spiritual and magical power to the user from the knowledge and wisdom of the Master.  This is Why you don’t get a Sak Yant Tattoo from a Tattoo Studio

Do you have to be Buddhist to Get a Sak Yant Tattoo?

The Short answer is No, as the Sak Yant Tattoo has only a partial history in Buddhism.  To Understand What are Sak Yant Tattoos? First you need to know that the Sak Yant Meaning is steeped in the tradition and history of Thailand.  Thailand is a Country that is now 98% Buddhist, but has a long pre-Buddhist history with a belief in magic and the supernatural.  

As Buddhism came to Thailand, many of the old belief systems in the supernatural were incorporated into the Buddhist beliefs.  As it was the Buddhist Temples that primarily taught reading and writing, in order to study any subject you usually first became a Monk to learn.  While it has remained the tradition of Buddhist Monks to include the Sak Yant tattoo as one of the tools of blessings.  You do not have to be a Buddhist to get a Sak Yant Tattoo.

Why do people get Sak Yant Tattoos?

The reason people get a Sak Yant Tattoo is to gain control over various aspects of their lives – that they are unable to accomplish themself.  Divided into two main categories of Protection and Traits.  The protection aspect usually relates to asking for a supernatural element of assistance in overcoming problems.  The Traits or Personal Qualities aspect relate to changing a persons behavior and thinking to advance in life.  Both of these aspects rely on the Sak Yant being Blessed which esentially means being magically charged by the spiritual authority of the Monk or Sak Yant Master.

And of course the Sak Yant Tattoo just looks awesome.  If you are going to get a Tattoo while in Thailand, why not get one that has special and significant meaning?

Sak Yant Tattoo Protection Against

Unwanted Spirits
Bad Luck
Physical Harm
Black Magic
Spells & Curses

Sak Yant Ajarn Naruphat Tom Chiang Mai
Why do people get a Sak Yant Tattoo?

Sak Yant Tattoo Personal Qualities

Good fortune and Luck
Avoid bad Habits
Attraction and Charisma
Power and Authority
Overcome Opponents
Comparison and Kindness

What is a Thai Tattoo? | What is a Bamboo Tattoo?

Often the Sak Yant Tattoo is also described or called
1) Traditional Thai Tattoo
2) Bamboo Tattoo

So lets look at these terms and how they related to Sak Yant Tattoos.

What is a Traditional Thai Tattoo | Meaning of Thai tattoo

A Traditional Thai Tattoo refers to both the combination of the original Sak Yant Designs, and the historic Thai style of the poke method of applying them using a Bamboo Needle.  Ironically when modern Tattoo machines and techniques were first made available in Thailand, the Tattoo artist rejected the Traditional Thai Tattoo hand poke methods and adopted the Western Tattooing method.  They saw this as a way of separating themselves as modern for Thailand’s youth and left the Traditional Thai Tattoos to the old rural people.

Sak Yant’s have always been referred to as a Traditional Thai Tattoo. In the last couple of decades as the popularity of the Sak Yant increased, the terms ‘Traditional Thai Tattoo’ or just ‘Thai Tattoo’ has also been developed as a marketing method of modern Tattoo Studios.  This is primarily used as a way to gain customers who would have originally been looking for a Thai Tattoo from a Sak Yant Master.  Today you will find many Tattoo Studios (especially in popular tourist destinations) promoting the use of this method applied to both modern and Sak Yant Designs.

What is a Bamboo Tattoo | Bamboo Tattoo Meaning

A Bamboo Tattoo refers to the old hand poke method of applying a traditional Thai Sak Yant Tattoo. For centuries getting a Tattoo in Thailand meant getting a hand poked tattoo using a Bamboo Needle.  Most of the ancient and traditional Tattoos (before modern designs and tattoo artist became a profession) were applied for spiritual and magical reasons.

Decades ago the Sak Yant Masters abandon the Bamboo needle as it was too light and unhygienic. Using it required additional force to penetrate the skin making the Sak Yant Tattoo painful.  They adopted the use of a metal ‘Kem’ rod which in itself was considered a magical tool – much like a wand is known in the west.

The term ‘Bamboo Tattoo’ however remained and was often used by tourists (not so much the Sak Yant Masters) in blog posts and articles to describe their Sak Yant Experience.   Like the Traditional Thai Tattoo, the term Bamboo Tattoo is mostly used by modern tattoo artists as a marketing gimmick to satisfy the public demand for the misunderstanding of the question ‘What is a Sak Yant Tattoo?’.

The use of a Bamboo Tattoo by Tattoo Studios in Thailand consists of a small chopstick like rod that has a tattoo machine needle attached.  They are cheap and disposable and are often given to the customer as a tourist souvenir after their Tattoo.  The Tattoo Artists in Thailand have embraced using the bamboo needle and hand poked tattoo style as a way of distinguishing a Thai Tattoo from one a person could get back home. Thailand has become famous for this Bamboo Tattoo using the hand poke style because of the beautiful art that it can produce and the skill and artistry of the Tattoo artist.

Is a Thai Tattoo or a Bamboo Tattoo a Sak Yant Tattoo?

Yes and No, but mostly not really.  While a Sak Yant Tattoo can be and often is described as a Thai Tattoo or a Bamboo Tattoo – The Sak Yant Tattoo has a magical blessing component that the other two terms do not include.  The terms are mostly used by modern tattoo studios as a way to offer a different and distinctive experience for their customers.   The confusion about the different terms creates a opportunity for the tattoo artist to provide Sak Yant Designs, but the tattoo itself, has no meaning or magic and are not real Sak Yants

About Sak Yant Tattoos

The History of Sak Yant Tattoos

The Meaning of the Four Elements of the Traditional Thai Sak Yant Tattoo

All across the world in the past, cultures have developed magical systems based on the four elements they thought made up the physical properties of the world.  They are, earth, air, fire and water.

Cultures such as the ancient Greeks, Romans and Incas, and later the Wiccans, and mystics of the West, the idea that these four elements – earth, water, air, and fire – made up all matter was the cornerstone of philosophy, science, and medicine. The elements were “pure” but could not be found in that state on earth.

Everything was made up of some combination of earth, water, air, and fire.  Indian tradition follows this belief before the ancient Greeks and later influenced the Khmer empire. The empire was dissolved into what is now known as Thailand and Cambodia.  As Buddhism made its way into the Khmer empire, a fifth element was added that of spirit or Buddha.

For hundreds of years, Thai and Khmer warriors where renowned and feared for the magical markings tattooed on their skin. These markings were a mix of Buddhist psalms and prayers, and shamanistic spells and sorcery that had survived the Religious transition from the pre-Buddhist, Hindu era and had been incorporated in the belief system of the newly born Buddhist countries.

Since the days of King Nareswon, in the golden era of Ayuttaya, Thai soldiers not only sought protection in the power of Sak Yant and also the wearing and praying of amulets. In World World 2, Korean and Vietnam war, Thai soldiers were nicknamed “Taharn Phee” (ghost soldiers) by the allied forces because of their Sak Yant tattoos and amulets. Many Muay Thai Boxers (”Nak Muay”) seek the magical powers said to be afforded them by Sak Yant tattoos.

What is a Sak Yant Tattoo Mean in Today’s World

A Yant is a Sacred geometrical design that provide powers of protection and various blessings through Buddhist psalms and magical formulas. The Buddhist psalms written in Thai or Khmer script around the yant are know as “Khata”.  A Khata is also known as “Mantra” in other meaning, the word Mantra is a Sanskrit word meaning “Prayer”.

The Sak Yant Tattoo has become ingrained in the Thai culture as a way to provide protection and gain good luck through the mystical side of traditional philosophies and the Buddhist influence.  Usually the Monk or Ajarn who preforms the Sak Yant has studied the magical side of the ancient traditions and incorporates charms and magical blessings in addition to the design of the Sak Yant itself. 

This additional learning comes from the pre-Buddhist era, and while not strictly part of Buddhism, it is part of the traditional culture of Thailand.

About Sak Yant Tattoos
Today, Sak Yant's are done in hygienic conditions with steel (not Bamboo Needles)

Who can give Sak Yant Tattoos? - What Makes Sak Yant Real?

The Sak Yant is a combination of Tattoo design, Prayers administered as the tattoo is being made, and a final blessing to charge and activate it with the power of the Sak Yant Masters.  It takes Sak Yant Masters years of training in the magical art’s and living a good and Spiritual life to gain the knowledge and power to create these personal charms. For a Sak Yant to be real they must be done by a spiritual trained and qualified Sak Yant Master.  Sak Yant Tattoos can not be done from a tattoo shop!

Qualified Sak Yant Masters are either Buddhist Monks, or Sak Yant Ajarns (Ajarn means Master Teacher).  Almost all Sak Yant Ajarns learned to administer the Thai Tattoos while they were Monks at a Temple.  Not everyone wants to be a Monk their whole life, and those men who want to still be holy, without the restrictions of Monk-hood, become Ajarns.


Sak Yant Monks and Sak Yant Ajarn Masters both command the same level of respect in Thai society.  Many Monks from Temples who do not have a Sak Yant Master will happily go and Visit an Ajarn for their Sak Yants.  Ajarns are able to develop their artistic skills, and learn different magical systems, making them generally more flexible and relaxed in their approach.

Sak Yant Masters, Monk and Ajarn
Almost all Sak Yant Ajarns learned their skill as Monks

Learning to become a Sak Yant Master

About Sak Yant Tattoo

In Thailand the Sak Yant is associated with Buddhist Mysticism with Monks and Temples and Ajarns (learned Masters) who have usually served their time as a Sak Yant Monk before leaving to pursue the scared hermit magical life.  There is years of training to become a Sak Yant practitioner and in-depth study of the magical arts is required.

The Sak Yant Master must learn Pali, the sacred Buddhist language, the ancient Khmer alphabet, the yantra designs and the Blessing chants that go with each.  In northern Thailand many also learn and use the ancient Lanna language and script, and many Sak Yant Tattoos in this region use this script over the Khmer style.

In addition they power of the Sak Yant is drawn from the Sak Yant Master and they must learn and practice throughout their lives meditation techniques, to harness the magic that is used in the scared blessing.  Only after their masters feel they are ready, are they given the Ruesi mask, signifying they have gone from being a student to being a Master.

The years of study it requires to become an authentic Ajarn of Sak Yant Monk means that each Sak Yant Design can be altered especially for the individual. It is also the reason a Tattoo Shop, is not the best place to obtain one as they are copying the text of a scared blessing meant for someone else. It is also the reason we at Sak Yant Chiang Mai, can not 100% tell you what a photograph of a Sak Yant means. While the designs used are similar, the ancient text and blessing is a deeply held trade secret among the Sak Yant Masters.

What is a Traditional Thai Tattoo? - Ruesi and Thai Monks

Sak Yant Ruesi Maks

The Ruesi Connection to Sak Yant Tattoos

In Thailand, before Buddhism became the predominate religion, the locals practiced a form of animism religion, that worshiped (and feared) the role of animal spirits and ghosts.  Ruesi legend has it, was a hermit sage that was a master magician and held power and control over this world.

Ruesi lived in the jungle, and since this animal worship has remained a part of the Thai culture and belief system was integrated into the magical side of Buddhism.  When a Monk becomes an Ajarn, Ruesi often becomes the primary influence and teachings in relation to the Sak Yant Tattoo.

About Sak Yant Monks

The Sak Yant Temples and Monks

Long ago, education especially about Spiritual and Magical matters took place in Temples.  For many Thai people in order to learn to read and write, you had to become a Monk to learn these skills.  Learning the magical text’s and blessings of traditional Thai Tattoos was no different.

Usually a Temple will call out for help to a Monk preforming Sak Yant Tattoos when they require funds to build and extend their Temple grounds.  The Monk will relocate and provide Sak Yants until funds have been raised and extensions built. 

What is a Sak Yant Tattoo Meaning and it’s relationship to Buddhism

The Sak Yant is strictly not part of the original Buddhist traditions.  As Buddhism influence expanded and spread across Asia and the world, local and pre-existing traditions and religions that had no direct contradiction with Buddhism were integrated into the style of local Buddhist teachings. Sak Yants came from these previously held traditions in Thai (and other Asian) cultures as part of the Shamanistic traditions that already existed.
Sak Yant tattoo in Thailand

The Sak Yant is strictly not part of the original Buddhist traditions.  As Buddhism influence expanded and spread across Asia and the world, local and pre-existing traditions and religions that had no direct contradiction with Buddhism were integrated into the style of local Buddhist teachings.

Sak Yants came from these previously held traditions in Thai (and other Asian) cultures as part of the Shamanistic traditions that already existed.

In today’s Thailand, not all sects of Thai Buddhism incorporate the ancient art of mystical Sak Yant tradition and Monks from these schools of thought will seek out an Ajarn or Sak Yant Monk to obtain one for themselves.  Generally almost all Thai Monks accept the validity of Sak Yants even if the tradition is not part of their particular school of thought.  Monks with an interest in the Talismans magic of Sak Yant will externally learn the art and operate from a Samnak (Sak Yant room) off location to the Temple and order they belong.

In city areas, the Sak Yant began to lose favor with the influx of Christian Missionaries and the social elite adapting to Western influence in the late 19th century.  While still popular among the rural communities, and with people in dangerous jobs;  the resurgence of the Sak Yant really took off when Angelina Jolie received her Sak Yant Tattoo.  On very rare occasions you may run across a Monk from this era who has a personal opinion that the Sak Yant is not part of Buddhism.  In fact the current head Monk of Thailand is actively trying to suppress Sak Yants being done at Temple locations.

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