Yantra Tattooing

Friday, October 14, 2011 7:20 PM By Stephen J Christophers

My years of living in Southeast Asia have made me realize, spiritually and traditional Buddhist philosophy form the dominant cultural norm; a keystone, or network of social cohesiveness by which one gravitates towards a collective social value set. Buddhism has its roots in everyday life here, from basic daily living, to business and economics. And, for the most part, religious practice towards Buddhist values help form the general daily aesthetics - the heart-beat of society, that is, the shroud of Asian life, the colourfulness and vibrancy.

It wasn't long until I became acquainted with one such colorful part of the Buddhist tradition, the art of Yantra tattooing: Traditional tattooing is one aspect of Buddhist culture that appeals to me; one beyond the flowers and adornments that swing like pendulums from the rear vision mirrors and handlebar of cars and motorbikes alike. An ancient form of skin-art known simply here as 'Sak Yant' (Sak means, to tap 'tattoo' and yant, derived from the Sanskrit word yantra, means "sacred geometrical design").

The art of tattooing has been around for centuries in Asian Buddhism. The Sak Yant style of tattoo can be dated back to the indigenous Khmer population of the Mekong Delta, and as far back as the Angkorian Khmer -800 to mid-1300s, with roots quite possibly as far back as Pre- or Proto-Khmer.

A few days ago, and with a little apprehension, I bit-the-bullet and arranged a Master to Sak Yant, the Gao Yord Yant or 9 Spires Yant: "The Gao Yord Yant or 9 Spires Yant is a sacred tattoo with magical powers. These powers are believe to protect and bring good luck to the bearer. Sak Yant tattoos are made by Buddhist Monks, Brahman Masters and Ruesi ascetics. A place where Sak Yant is practiced is called a Samnak Sak Yant (if a temple or a very large establishment), or “Dtamnak” (if a smaller establishment with one Master). The Gao Yord Yant is usually tattooed at the top-middle of the back area (However, it might also be placed in other areas of the body). Traditionally done by a Buddhist Master, using the bamboo method: snake venom, herbs and ash. The Gao Yord Yant, "...the 9 Spires Yant is a geometric design and represents the 9 Sacred Peaks of Mt. Meru. It also contains 9 symbolic images of the Lord Buddha, demonstrating just how important the number 9 is in Buddhism. The Buddhas are the 3 ovals, in diminishing sizes, placed one above each other." -- Thai Guide to Thailand. The Gao Yord is best known for possessing magical powers: These powers are said to become stronger, with its power increasing with frequency, between the tattoo Master and receiver of the tattoo under ritual practices - in some cases, the Gao Yord Yant is believed to possess the power to stop projectiles. Giving it a cultist following amongst warriors, soldiers and those who face danger.

It's this aspect of Buddhist culture I find fascinating, and my recent time spent in the countryside that borders the Thailand and Cambodian region has only given me a little more insight into - and, respect of - the complex nature of Sak Yant Tattoo culture. These tattoos are often seen covering both the backs of adults and young teenagers alike and can be as complex as a depiction of the life journey of the Lord Buddha; or, as simple as Ling Lom the, ‘Dancing Monkey’. either way, the depth in history and meaning for me was reason enough for choosing the Gao Yord Yant.

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