The Tattoo Temple

From the outside Wat Bang Phra looks pretty much like other wats, or monastery temples, in the greater Bangkok area. Beautiful? Yes. But, uniquely so? Not really. What makes Wat Bang Phra unique is that its tattoo artists/monks can bestow superpowers onto mere mortals. Yes, the monks at Wat Bang Phra are famous for creating yantra, or sak yant tattoos that impart the newly inked with mystical strength, protection and good luck. People arrive from all over the world to be tattooed here. One of the more famous recipients is the actress Angelina Jolie.

Getting one of these tattoos is not for the faint of heart. Monks repeatedly and skillfully pierce the skin by tapping it with scary 18 inch long needles to create mystical monkeys, tigers, buddhas, celestial beings or deities. The tattoos also usually incorporate ancient Khmer or Sanskrit script. Because the needles contain no ink it must be applied into the tiny punctures afterward. Often people will request that the monk choose the form and placement of the tattoo based upon what the monk perceives to be a person’s special needs or weaknesses.  Monks have also been known to refuse specific requests because they did not meet the spirit of the individual. Payment is usually in the form of offerings of flowers or cigarettes purchased in the temple gift shop which are often returned to be resold with the proceeds going for upkeep of the Wat.

There is a witticism that describes a tattoo as, “A permanent reminder of a temporary feeling”. As a person that has gone 52 years completely un-inked I am not sure I will ever need to be the recipient of superpowers such as these but, if I ever decided that I need the strength after, having seen the beauty of these tattoos and the reverence with which they are applied, this is where I will go.

If you ever got a tattoo would this be the kind of place where you would want to get it? What would you get? Where would you put it?

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Author: Jonathan Look

In 2011 Jonathan Look decided to change his life and pursue adventures instead of comfort and possessions. His goal is to travel the world solo; one country at a time, one year at a time. To accomplish this he got rid of most of his possessions, packed up what little he saw as necessities and headed out. His goal is to spend ten years discovering new places, meeting new people and taking the time to learn about them, their values and their place on this tiny planet. He embraces the philosophy that says a person is the sum of their experiences and rejects the fraud of modern consumerism that makes people into slaves of their consumption. He doesn't intend to be modern day ascetic, just more mindful of his place in the world and to make decisions according to that new standard.

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