Wat Bang Phra Magic Tattoo Festival

The annual Wai Khru ceremony at Wat Bang Phra in Nakhon Chaisi district took place yesterday. For many foreigners this has become known as the Tattoo Festival. Thais from all over the country come to pay respect to their “teacher”, Luang Poh Pern, and also to have their magical tattoos recharged. I first went to this festival, held in March every year, back in 2006. I have already written a detailed report of this which you can read here. This year I was back again to bring a friend who was curious to see and experience this amazing festival.

The ceremony was scheduled to start at the auspicious time of 9.39 a.m. However, like last time, it is a good idea to come early. We were there just before 7 a.m. At that time it is easier to park and also to find a good place to sit or stand to watch the proceedings. Although we had arrived early, there was already close on a thousand people there. Many of them were sitting on the ground facing the shrine for Luang Poh Pern. Others were making offerings to this former revered abbot of the temple. He was famous for making magical tattoos that could protect their wearer. Now his monks continue this practice.

I was only there for a few minutes before the first howl of rage was heard. This was echoed at others areas of the parade ground. Some of the devotees, in a deep trance had been taken over by the animals tattooed onto their bodies. Sometimes a monkey. Sometimes a tiger. If they were a tiger they would roar and clench their fingers like claws. If they were a snake they would crawl on the ground. Some were calmed by their friends who stroked their head or rubbed their ears. Others gave a loud growl, startling everyone sitting quietly around them, and then go charging towards the shrine at the front of the parade ground. At the shrine there was a line of soldiers and volunteers waiting to catch hold of them.

By 9 a.m. there were literally thousands and thousands of people packed into every available space. Many more than previous years. There were also more foreigners than I had seen before. It is not really getting out of hand yet, but I am worried that we are turning this sacred ceremony into a kind of freak show. I tried my best to be respectful and stand quietly to one side. All of the pictures you see here were taken from afar with a zoom lens. However, there were quite a few foreigners, and Thai photographers too, who stood at the front between the praying devotees and the shrine. Others also walked around to take pictures of anyone that had turned into an animal. They quite often stuck their cameras into the face of these people in order to get a good shot. There were announcements in Thai several times for people not to stand at the front. One of the photographers was knocked off his feet by a charging “tiger”.

The next festival is in March next year. It always taken places on a Saturday. I will post in the www.ThailandQA.com forums as soon as I have the date. If you go next year then please try and be respectful. By all means take a few pictures at the front. But, once you have done that, go and sit at the side or the back. Please don’t walk around the crowd taking pictures while they are praying and meditating. In Thai culture this is really bad manners. It was good to see this time that there were many foreigners who were sitting quietly with the Thais. Click here to see some of my other pictures from this year. I have also marked this temple on Google Maps for Nakhon Pathom Province.

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