Wat Bang Phra
Wat Bang Phra translates into English as the "Temple of some Monks", or alternatively "Temple of some Buddha Images" (the word Bang means "some" or "settlement", and Phra means "Monk" or "Buddha image").
There is no existing record of when this temple was founded, however the architecture of its assembly hall indicates the late Ayutthaya period, while the murals inside the sermon hall demonstrate the craftsmanship during the reigns of Kings Rama III and Rama IV. Former abbot Phra Udom Prachanart, more commonly known as Luang Por Phern, was a famous meditation monk well known for his potent incantations and was also well rounded in the knowledge of the body of canons binding the Buddhist priesthood (Tripitaka). He built many of the structures on the premises from public donations during his time. The well renovated assembly and sermon halls, as well as the local museum where many abandoned artefacts have been put on display, are of interest.
The temple is also known for the daily tattoos or Sak Yants given by the monks that live there, and especially for the tattoo festival held on the temple grounds once a year during March. The power of any amulet or tattoo decreases with time, so, to re-empower tattoos each year, Sak Yant masters celebrate with their disciples the Wai Khru (Wai Khru meaning to pay homage to one's teacher). On this day devotees gather in the parlours of their Sak Yant masters to honor them and get their tattoos blessed and re-empowered.
There are many articles found on the internet regarding the tattoo festival but very little information found regarding the day-to-day operations of the temple as described below.
Before the tattoo
A person wanting a tattoo will arrive at the temple around 8:00 AM. Before entering the temple, the person will purchase flowers and cigarettes(70 Baht as of Feb 2011) as an offering to Buddha and to support the Wat. These offerings are then recycled back into the place where purchased and the money used for up-keep for the Wat. Upon removing your shoes and entering the Wat, a person will sit down in line. The offerings are kept in the center of the room. The tattoos are done in groups of about 20 people. When the previous group is complete, the monk blesses the next batch of offerings observed to be between 18 and 30.
Upon entering the Wat, one of the first things a person sees on the wall is a very large banner of tattoos available. Unless there is a specific choice requested, the monk will begin with a simple tattoo at the top of the back.
Right before reaching the monk, the people next in line to the one being tattooed will assist the monk with holding the one receiving the tattoo still. The monk uses a single long thin needle about 18 inches in length and about four millimeters in width. The tip of the spike is split into two (like a split cane), so that each stab of the spike produces two dots of ink in the skin. There are about 8 of these needles in a pot of a type of cleaning solution. Sometimes the monk will sharpen the needle with fine grade sandpaper before beginning. The monk will then select from several different rubber templates with the design of choice. He will apply the template to ink and then press it on to the recipients back to transfer the design. When ready to begin, he will dip the tip of the needle into a mix of oil, probably palm oil, Chinese charcoal ink, and possibly snake venom. He then begins to trace the pattern. The typical tattoo takes about 3,000 strikes to complete. The monk dips the needle into the ink about every 30 seconds. When complete, he blesses the tattoo and blows a sacred Kata (Ghata) on it to infuse it with power. For men, the monk uses the charcoal ink. For women he uses a transparent ink and will use a glove in order to not touch the female body.
The sanitation of the needle and ink are unknown. Receiving a tattoo at the Wat Bang Phra temple potentially exposes a person to HIV, Hepatitis B, or Hepatitis C. There are approximately 580,000 people living with AIDS in Thailand. However, it is important to note that according to the "UNAIDS 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic" there are no recorded cases of contracting HIV or AIDS from a tattoo needle due to the absence of a reservoir inside the needle containing enough blood to deliver the virus into the body to pass infection.
- Drouyer, Isabel azevedo, Drouyer Rene, Thai Magic Tattoos the Art and Influence of Sak Yant, Riverbooks,2013.
- Sak Yant
- Drouyer, Isabel Azevedo, Rene Drouyer, Thai Magic Tattoos, The Art and Influence of Sak Yant, Riverbooks, 2013.
- Information, pictures and videos about daily Sak Yant, Tattoo festival and more about Wat Bang Phra
- A video about Wai Khru (honor the teacher) day at Wat Bang Phra, March 19,2011
- Website dedicated to the Sak Yant tattooings
- Festival at Tattoo Temple
- The Thai Tattoo Festival
- Monk sharpening the needle with sandpaper (video)
- Monk preparing the needle (video)
- Monk dipping the needle into the ink (video)
- English Synopsis of Wat Bang Phra temple and sak yant tattooing
- Biography of Hlwong Por Phern (abbot of wat bang pra and master of sak yant)