Hand poked tattoo by Thai monk
By Ron Garza
Recently when visiting Thailand for the Phuket vegetarian festival, I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life. A very well known Thai Buddhist monk Luang Pee Pan at the world-renowned tattooing temple in Thailand - Wat Bang Phra, tattooed me by hand. It's widely known as the 'tiger temple' because of the patron monk saint who lived there and brought Thai prayer tattoos into the thai mainstream if you will -Luang Paw Poen
Luang Paw Poen was supposed to have offered the most powerful prayer and protection tattoos in Thailand's history. Their tattoos aren't just a way to adorn the body--they actually mean something. The monks give them as protection against knives, bullets, and ethereal spirits, while also bringing good fortune. The belief dates back to 9th-century Khmer culture and superstitious soldiers tattooing their torsos as a form of drawn-on battle armor to guard against enemy swords.
Being as revered as they are, the monks have the ultimate decision on who they choose to tattoo, regardless of social status or career choice in life of the client. In fact, the people who come to them regularly for protection range from normal people, possessed devotees and also people who might actually need protection. People like police, criminals, mafia and underworld figures.
Legend has it Luang Paw Poen would go out in the jungle and could summon the tigers. They walked with him. On one journey he stayed out in the jungle and meditated for 7 years. This was when he got his powers to summon the tigers. Luang Paw Poencame famous during the Korean War, a time when many soldiers would get these tattoos for protection against bullets and knives before embarking on their war duties. He died there in 94 and they still have his body on display. Its said he had to stop tattooing under the authority of the Thai goverment because he was making the criminals to strong with his protection, so he passed on the tradition to the few monks who still practice the tradition today.
On the same property is another temple where there was the 'gift shop' of the wat where the body of Luang Paw poen Still lies in plain view. It is said the body does not decompose because of many reasons , but he is an immortal whose spirit has left his body. There I got blessed by another monk who prayed over me and anointed me with sacred oils and gold leaf prayers.
While on this trip I began collecting amulets that only a certain sector of Thai's wear, but are a HUGE deal at temples. They are sort of like baseball cards or souvenirs of where you've been to, or whom you believe in. As well as, in what monks you believe, associate with and attend, basically what 'sect you claim'. They are worn as necklaces and some are worth A LOT of money. There is an industry for all of this and they put out monthly magazines that tell you the latest prices and values of these things just like baseball cards and comic books. I received quite a few at the veggie fest from friends and and devotees after I pierced them. Here I picked up a couple more for my necklaces. Being covered as much as I am, it doesn't take much to realize proudly that I am a 'son of Luang Phor Pern' as the Thai now call me.
As for the tattoo, it was such an amazing feeling. I was the first time I've had anything hand poked. Not to mention, hand poked on my upper sternum slightly above the soft sweet spot in between my collarbones. Ouch!
I don't even know what to say. You don't choose what you get, as all of the tattoos are prayers and blessings for a variety of things. Certain images convey certain meanings. Dragons depict strength and wisdom, wild boars fierceness. A lion signifies dignity and strength. A tiger on the chest is for protection from injury. Invisible tattoos written in sesame oil instead of ink are also common for Thai Women who don't really get tattooed at all or people who want the protection but not the permanent visible marks. The ink is derived from charcoal, lampblack or Indian sepia and then mixed with herbs, sap, lizard skins, buffalo bile and all sorts of things to make it more powerful or magical. Some tattoos have poems, ancient symbols and spells written into them.
I got a 5 buddha/stuppha design on my sterum . As far as what the tattoos mean, I've been looking online trying to figure that out. I do know I have certain precepts I have to follow for the magic to be retained within the tattoo.
The precepts are:
Do not eat star fruit, pumpkin, or any other 'gourd' type vegetable.
Do not be anybody's lover who is already married
FORBIDDEN in extreme to slander anybody's mother (this means most women, if you think about it).
Do not eat food from a wedding or funeral banquet.
Do not eat leftovers.
Do not duck under a washing line or an overhanging building.
Do not duck under a banana tree of the type Thaanii (classed as important to avoid).
Do not cross a single head bridge; large or small bridges are not forbidden.
Do not sit on a ceramic urn (Common in Thailand,) especially a cracked or broken one.
Do not let a woman lie on top of you or sit on top either. (Going down on)
Do not permit a man to be brushed by the blouse or skirt of a woman or crossed in front of, especially during the menstruate period.
The whole process itself was fairly ritualistic. You buy a pre-regulated offering for getting tattooed; usually some incense, cigarettes, candles or flowers and an envelope that you are suppose to offer as well. Usually you fill the envelope with 108 baht (an auspicious number - 108 beads on the prayer necklaces), and he grabs what he wants off of the tray. In all cases I saw, he just took the envelope, and had the flowers, cigarettes, and candles taken right back to the lady to resell to the other people coming in to get tattooed.
The entire tattoo process is very ritualistic as well. For example, the way you approach him - feet never pointed at him, all in a line, praying and touching your hands to the floor 3 times, holding the offering above your head while bowing to the monk, no shoes, everyone on their knees all around him, massaging his arms and legs constantly. .
He is more than just a 'rock star,' he is almost a human god. He is so incredibly revered that he never gets up or has to do anything--it is all done for him. People bring him everything, and yet he just gives it away, needing nothing. He just sits there and tattoos people with his protection over them, day after day, month after month, and year after year. This can be seen by the mildew spot burned into the wall behind him in his EXACT form. In the pictures below it shows this. This shows his COMPLETE devotion to what he believes in, what he does and to his devotees.
A dear friend Rachel was up to get tattooed first. They don't allow women usually but for foreigners it's an exception. She got this 9 studdha/budha design at the top of her back, lower neck area. Then I was next. I got the upper sternum started with almost the same design as that given to John, except mine was a 5 buddhas/stuppha. John had more room, so he got a smaller design with 7 stupphas.
As we left, we overheard the next person start screaming as he became 'possessed' when the tattoo started. We walked away and then looked back. Luang Pee Pan waved and said 'see you again' in his heavily Thai accented English. I nodded in agreement and waved knowing it wouldn't be the last time I'd be there.
If you don't fully trust the power of the monk or the protection of the blessed special inks and prayers and still decide to get a Temple tattoo, going in the morning when the tools have been newly sterilized would be my suggestion. All for now..
See you on the road,