Aesthetics Exploration – Thai Tattoo Culture


The tattoo culture and unique aesthetic have a deep-rooted, religious history in Thailand. The practice of spiritual tattooing, as practiced by monks in Thailand, is a tradition that goes back to ancient times. Thailand is actually the only country to celebrate tattooing as an annual religious celebration. Each year, thousands of tattoo enthusiasts arrive in Bangkok and journey to the temple Wat Bang Phra, located 50 km outside Bangkok. Here dozens of heavily tattooed Buddhist monks are masters of the tattooing art, sharing art and experiences in the epicenter of this cultural and religious tradition.

Left: Wat Bang Phra.                                  Center: Buddhist monk showcasing religious tattoos

The Thai tattooing aesthetic is large comprised of religious imagery and mostly void of color. The black ink often depicts designs that are images surrounded densely by Thai characters and prayers.

Above: Beautiful example of a balanced aesthetic.

The traditional Thai tattooing practice uses a simple, sharpened bamboo stake to deliver the ink. During the process, the monk’s wrist as a blur as he taps away at the stake. During the process a specific prayer is repeated in accordance with the tattoo design being delivered. This is supposed to imbue the recipient with the spiritual power of the tattoo design.

Above: A master tattooing monk delivers a tattoo in

Often Thai soldiers will take on protective tattoos, called Sak Yant. These tattoos are said to have special powers as charms and it’s commonly believed that the correct tattoo by the best tattooing monks could even stop bullets.

Above: Muay Thai boxer with Sak Yant designs

Thai tattoos have found an especially unique aesthetic among fighters in the Muay Thai Boxing culture. Revered as warriors, the Thai boxers receive the Sak Yant tattoos to protect them in the ring.



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3 Comments. Leave new

  • Fantastic Tattoos! Very creative, detailed and informative.

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  • Sara Palandeng
    January 29, 2017 8:12 pm

    This was a really nice overview of the origins and meaning of the Sak Yant tattoo. Overall, the information was very concise and gave great insight to a rich cultural tradition. The pictures included were very representative of this aesthetic as well as the tattooing process. There could be improvements on the formatting and placement of the photos, but other than that, solid post! I saw a lot of these tattoos donned by backpackers in SE Asia and I always wondered if the majority of them knew the spiritual meaning and tradition behind these tattoos or if they purely got them as a souvenir.


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