Yantra tattooing, also called sak yant (Thai: สักยันต์, Khmer: សាក់យ័ន្ត), is a form of tattooing practiced in Southeast Asian countries including Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand. The practice has also began to grow in popularity among Chinese Buddhists in Singapore. Sak means “to tap [tattoo]”, and yant, derived from the Sanskrit word yantra, means “sacred geometrical design.”
Sak yant designs are normally tattooed by wicha (magic) practitioners and Buddhist monks, traditionally with a long bamboo stick sharpened to a point (called a mai sak) or alternatively with a long metal spike (called a khem sak).
The script used for yantra designs varies according to cultural and geographic factors. In Cambodia and central Thailand, Khmer script is used, while in northern Thailand one sees yantra tattoos bearing Shan, Northern Thai or Tai Lu scripts, and in Laos the Lao Tham script is employed. The script spells out abbreviated syllables from Pali incantations. Chinese chronicles record that yantra tattooing in Southeast Asia dates back at least 2,000 years. Different masters have added to these designs over the centuries through visions received in their meditations. Some yantra designs have been adapted from pre-Buddhist Shamanism and the belief in animal spirits that was found in the Southeast-Asian sub-continent and incorporated into the Thai tradition and cultures.