Home Get to know Sak Yant: the traditional Thai sacred tattoo

Sak Yant: the traditional Thai sacred tattoo

by Pierre To
8 minutes to read
Sak Yant: the traditional Thai sacred tattoo

When Angelina Jolie unveiled her first sacred Thai tattoo - five rows of Buddhist blessings on her back, she created a fad and elevated Thailand's international status in spiritual tattoos.

What you need to know

Sak Yant comes from Sanskrit, sak = tattoo - yant (yantra) = sacred prayer

In Thai: Sak Yant: สักยันต์

Fabrics printed with sacred images and texts found in many Thai homes are called Yant

Ajarn or atchane means teacher or master in Thai

History of the Thai Sak Yant tattoo

Sak Yant is not part of the original Buddhist traditions.

As the influence of Buddhism spread throughout Asia and the world, local and pre-existing traditions and religions that were not in direct contradiction with Buddhism were integrated into the local Buddhist style and teachings.

Sak Yants is derived from these ancient traditions of Thai (and Asian) cultures within the framework of existing shamanic traditions.

Today, not all schools of Thai Buddhism incorporate the ancient art of the Sak Yant mystical tradition.

The Buddhist monks with an interest in magic and talismans will learn the art from the outside and operate from a Sunnak (Sak Yant room) at the Temple and in the order to which they belong.

What is a Sak Yant tattoo?

In the past, cultures around the world developed magical systems based on the four elements which they believed constituted the physical properties of the world.

These are earth, air, fire and water.

The Indian tradition followed this belief and then influenced the Khmer Empire.

As Buddhism made its way through Asia, a fifth element was added, that of the Buddha mind.

For hundreds of years, Thai and Khmer warriors were renowned and feared for the magical marks tattooed on their skin.

These marks were a mixture of psalms, Buddhist prayers, shamanism and sorcery spells that had survived the religious transition of the pre-Buddhist and Hindu era and had been incorporated into the belief system of the new Buddhist countries.

The international craze for Thai sacred tattoos

Fifteen years ago, Ajarn Noo Kanpai quickly rose to global celebrity status after tattooing actress Angelina Jolie, contributing to the rise of tattoo tourism in Thailand.

Ajarn Noo Kanpai

Ajarn Noo Kanpai

In modern times, Sak yants have become a popular brand for mafias and gangsters, who use the protective blessings of tattoos to commit criminal acts.


"That's why I designed the ha taew, or five rows," explains sak yant master Ajarn Noo Kanpai, referring to five rows of Buddhist scriptures (found in Angelina Jolie's tattoo), beginning on the day Buddha was born and ended with his enlightenment.

"Ha taew is supposed to bring positive and balanced blessings into people's lives."

Meaning of the 5 row tattoo, ha taew

Its meaning varies according to the tattoo master but generally includes :

  • Row 1: Protection and purification of the home, keeps enemies away
  • Row 2: Removes bad luck and bad karma
  • Row 3: Protection against curse and black magic
  • Row 4: Gives success, fortune and luck
  • Row 5: Power of attraction: makes it attractive and consolidates rows 3 and 4.

Tattoo artist Ajarn Noo Kanpai's background

Noo took up the art in his fourth year, browsing the pages of his grandfather's white magic books.

As a teenager, Noo practiced ancient Khmer spells and used these spells and Buddhist chants in conjunction with weapons to run a gang.

After being stabbed several times in a confrontation with a rival gang, Noo traded his life in a gang for a life as a Buddhist monk, rising through the ranks at a temple in Nonthaburi province.

When he was asked to become the temple superior, or "master", Noo refused because he wanted to continue practising Sak yant.

sak yant

After years of training himself in the art of sacred tattoos and under the guidance of monks in temples throughout Thailand, Noo established his own tattoo institute "Samnak", a two-storey shrine located 20 kilometres from Bangkok (link to the address of the centre given at the end of the article).

"What you see today of my Sakyant art comes from my own ideas and designs that I have adapted and created," he says.

"They are my way of sharing my thoughts, beliefs and values to the world through my art."

A few "disciples" gained Noo's trust and trained for 10 years with the master to perfect the Sakyant in the traditional bamboo method, piercing the skin with a sharpened stick dipped in ink.

But the only students he taught the sacred mantras, or incantations, for a "real" sak yant were his sons, Ajarn Joe and Ajarn Jay.

"In the past, I used to teach anyone who came to me for help, but I don't teach anyone how to make sak yants anymore," says Noo.

"There are many people who can do the tattoo, but they don't know the mantras required for the blessings."

Angelina Jolie, who now sports three of Noo's designs (including the "Tiger King"), and models like Cara Delevingne have helped expose sak yant to the world, but it was the tattoo master who popularised one particular type of sak yant, the ha taew, which is the most common form in ink.

Sak yant by Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie's Sak yant

"Nowadays, when people think of sak yant, they see it for its positive meaning and spiritual blessings," he says.

"I think that's the biggest impact I've had on Sakyant: changing his negative perception, opening him up to everyone and spreading positivity to the world."

Report on the sacred tattoos of Ajarn Noo Kanpai

In Thai with English subtitles but you can activate the French subtitles on Youtube.

Book on Sak Yant

Sacred Tattoos - Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar - Can a tattoo change your life?

Sacred tattoos

In South East Asian countries with Theravada Buddhist doctrine, some tattoos are said to possess a kind of magic.

They are said to have the power not only to protect the tattooed person, but also to bring luck, health, wealth and charm.

Why do these tattoos provoke such passion?

Based on a three-year survey of Sak Yant masters, lay and religious, and tattooed people, and drawing on studies in fields such as anthropology, religion, history, etc., this book is the first work written in French on the practice of sacred tattooing in Theravada Buddhist countries.

The 244 photographs, illustrations and drawings in the book illustrate one of the last examples of traditional and sacred tattooing in the world.

See it on Amazon

Contact Ajarn Noo Kanpai

Tattoo, Bang Khayaeng, Pathum Thani, Pathum Thani Province, Thailand,

Tel: +66 62 292 8799

Mail: [email protected]

source : Wikipedia ; nationalgeographic.comsakyantchiangmai.com

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