Tattoos With Magical Powers
A Yantra tattoo is a form of magical tattoo. It was once widely practiced throughout Asia - most commonly in Cambodia where the tattoo's purpose is primarily for self-protection. Many Cambodians believe that yantras have magical powers to ward off evil spirits. It is believed to be one of the most powerful ways to ensure good fortune with these sacred tattoos. With the ever increasing modernization this practice is becoming less common. Despite Cambodia’s modernity, its culture is still pervaded by superstition and its religious traditions are quite tolerant of these older beliefs.
With yantra tattoos as practiced in Cambodia the relationship between the tattoo artist and person being tattooed is that of master and disciple, a relationship that continues throughout both their lives. The symbols the master uses, copied from his masters, are always close at hand for reference, and are specifically chosen to fit the disciple’s personality.
Yantras or symbols imbued with magical powers are usually obtained from a religious person or monk. The tattoo artist guarantees that the person cannot receive any physical harm as long as they follow certain conditions. A person is not supposed to talk to anyone for three days and three nights. There are usually two elements which make up these tattoos; one is a geometric pattern or yoan (yantra in Sanskrit) and Vedic chants known as muon (mantras in Sanskrit). The practice, rooted in pre-history, has gradually integrated elements of Hinduism and Buddhism.
Cambodian man with yantra tattoos © Frank in Asia
Once the yantra tattoo is finished it must be consecrated. The master and disciple light five candles and five incense sticks representing the five incarnations of the Buddha. The master places petals, incense, perfume and betel leaves inscribed with protective enchantments into a silver container with water.
Those with traditional tattoos may not show pride or arrogance, steal from others, take more than one wife, eat dog meat, or walk under houses (traditionally Cambodian houses are built on stilts). If these rules are broken, the tattoo’s power is lost, becoming "like a drawing on paper." Sometimes disobeying the rules can even result in madness.
Yantra tattoos are also popular in Thailand and is also written in ancient Khmer and Pali text. Most notably it is widely recognized that Hollywood star Angelina Jolie has had yantra tattoos done. Although many people believe that the underlying power and meaning of yantra tattoos will disappear and be replaced by empty aesthetics.