Yantra tattooing, also called Sak Yant, is a form of tattooing traditionally using a long bamboo stick with a sharpened point, called a mai sak, though more recently practitioners began using a metal spike, called a khem sak. Sak Yant began in Cambodia using the Khmer script, spread to Laos and parts of Myanmar, and is now predominantly in Thailand.
The script used for a Sak Yant design varies according to cultural and geographic factors. In Cambodia and central Thailand, Khmer script is used, while in northern Thailand Sak Yant tattoos use Shan, Northern Thai or Tai Lu scripts, and in Laos the Lao Tham script is employed.
Some Sak Yant designs have been adapted from pre-Buddhist Shamanism and the belief in animal spirits that was found in the Southeast Asian sub-continent and incorporated into the Thai tradition and cultures.
Sak Yant designs are believed to be magic and bestow mystical powers, providing a means of protection from danger or illness, increasing wealth, or even attracting lovers to the bearer. The power of the sacred tattoos decrease with time. So, to re-empower them each year, Sak Yant masters celebrate with their devotees with a Wai Khru ritual. Wai Khru, meaning to pay homage to one’s teacher.
There are many traditional designs of Sak Yant tattoos, with some of the most popular being the Ongk Phra (Buddha’s body), which is meant to provide insight, guidance and illumination. The Ha Thaew (five rows) which is popular with Thai women is typically tattood on the back left shoulder. Each of the five rows relates to a different blessing for success and good luck. Also the Kao Yord (nine spires) is usually tattood in the center of the back in various sizes and levels of detail.