Omar Havana

Photographer
    
Devotees of the Ink
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Nationality: Spanish
Biography: Omar Havana, 1975 Granada, Spain. Spanish Freelance Photojournalist. Based in Brussels, Belgium. Previously based in France 2017-2021, Nepal 2014-2015 and Cambodia 2008 - 2014 ; 2015-2017. Omar has worked as a professional photojournalist since... MORE
Public Story
Devotees of the Ink
Copyright Omar Havana 2022
Date of Work Mar 2014 - Mar 2014
Updated Jan 2020
Location Nakhom Pathom
Topics Arts, Asia, Belief, Believers, Black and White, Buddhism, Buddhist, Celebrations, Ceremony, Culture, devotee, devotion, Documentary, Editorial, Essays, Europe Photographer, Faith, Festival, France Photographer, Ink, Master, Media, Monks, mystical, Nakhon Pathom, On Assignment, Paris Photographer, People, Photography, Photojournalism, powers, Religion, Ritual, sacred, sacred tattoo, Sak Yant, shrine, South East Asia, spirit, Spirituality, Tattoo, Thailand, Trance, Travel, Wai Kru Festival, Wat Bang Phra, World Culture

Once a year, thousands of people from all over Thailand travel to the Wat Bang Phra temple, located about 70 kilometers outside of Bangkok in Nakhom Pathom province, to take part in the Wai Kru, a Thai ceremony and one of the country's most bizarre festival. The festival is attended by tattoo masters - some who are monks and some who are not (called "Ajans"), and by those who believe in the magical powers of the tattoos which are inked into their skin during the festival.

These tattoos - called Sak Yant in Thai - are believed to bring spiritual and physical protection to the person who wears them, especially those drawn by Wat Bang Phra's famous monks, which are thought to have mystical power. Many people choose tattoos that depict monkeys or tigers, as well as inscriptions in the ancient Khmer/Cambodian script.

During the festival, some men will go into trances, acting out the characteristics of the animals depicted in their newly-carved tattoos. These holy tattoos are believed to give the wearer protection of evil, as well as bring strength, good luck, and other magical features. The tattoos are blessed by the monks, who breathe life into them.

The practice is full of history and tradition. The word "sak" in Thai means "to tap" (i.e. "to tattoo") and the word "yant" refers to the Sanskrit word "yantra -a mystical diagram or amulet supposed to possess occult powers or magical benefits-.” Thousands of years ago, Hindus began painting and working with magic symbols, which were used for meditation. Today, this history is reflected not only in the drawings inked forever on the believers' bodies but also in the methods. Made in the traditional way - using a bamboo stick sharpened into a needle - and drawn entirely by hand, each tattoo is composed of more than a thousand stitches, giving the impression of a thin line.

Photography: ©Omar Havana / Getty Images. All Rights Reserved


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