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Thailand Tattoo Festival

Nothing can fully prepare you for the crazed and frenzied activity of the Thailand Tattoo Festival or Wai Khru (‘honour the teacher’) ceremony at Wat Bang Phra temple.

This extraordinary event takes place 50kms west of Bangkok and draws thousands of people each year, most notably those who make a living as policemen, soldiers or members of Thailand’s criminal underworld. The sak yant tattoos from this temple are considered to have magical powers that protect the bearer from knives and guns. People gather to receive new tattoos and recharge the potency of their existing ones. The tattoos are based on Buddhist texts, mythical creatures, and numerology charts.

The next few photographs are inside the temple where people wait patiently to receive tattoos from the monks.

Wat Bang Phra Tattoo Festival, needle to create tattoo

These are created by striking quickly and repeatedly with a long needle.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, creating tattoos

Each monk is assisted by volunteers who hold the skin taut while he works.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand

Another view from above.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, tattoo view from above

Tattoos are popular with laymen (left) and monks (right) alike.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, back tattoosWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, monk tattoos

More tattooing (left), while the man on the right, his tattoos complete, waits for the festival to begin.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, needle creating tattooWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, tattoos on man's back

‘Anyone for rice?’ Crowds stock up from great vats of curry and rice (below) before the festival begins at the auspicious hour of 9.39am.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, making rice

As the crowds grow, many people fall into a trance and become possessed by the spirit of their tattooed image. They charge through the crowd as enraged tigers, monkeys, snakes and other animals (below), letting out roars and cries as they attempt to charge the shrine where senior monks are praying.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man chargingWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man roaring

Tension mounts as people contort their faces and bodies into their animal spirit (below), erupting in all directions.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, contorted man in crowd

A man is caught near the stage (left). A mad charge through dense crowds (right).

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, caught by the stageWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, running through the crowds

People are oblivious to anything in their path (below).

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man running through crowd

Chanting follows and all is calm for some moments (below).

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, men chantingWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man chanting

The scene then mounts in intensity with a great surge towards the stage. Volunteers and plain clothes policemen seek to calm those who are overcome by the spirit of their tattoos by vigorously rubbing and pinching their ears.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, rubbing ear

The treatment starts to take effect.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, rubbing ear

Until finally the man is calmed.

Wat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, rubbing ear, calm now

The festival draws to a close as monks spray holy water from the stage, dispersing the crowd (below left). A man in prayer watches the final moments from a safe distance (below right).

Wat Bang Phra Temple, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, ThailandWat Bang Phra, Wai Khru Tattoo Festival, Thailand, man praying

March 24, 2011 - 10:00 am Polly - Amazing yet again ........ makes one feel like they are right there Jackie, so a big thank you! Absolutely fantastic photos, congratulations.

March 24, 2011 - 10:28 am Claire Crockart - Fantastic photos, You really captured the true spirit of the festival.

March 24, 2011 - 9:16 pm Sanna Viitamaa - Jackie - I completely got lost in your beautiful photos around the world! You are an amazing photographer and clearly doing what you love. Your commentaries were also beautifully descriptive and captivating. I could hear and smell Bangkok in your photos! Warm regards to you and friends who are still in Thailand - from the Sierra Madre mountains in Monterrey, Mexico

March 25, 2011 - 8:08 pm Emma Long - amazing photos Jackie...you could almost hear them roar through the lens.

March 26, 2011 - 2:54 pm Helen - Hi Action, amazing pictures and just reminds me how wonderful the world is with so many different ways and beliefs. So easy to get caught up in your own little world - thanks for pulling me out of it for a few mins. Love to all the family and let's talk soon! H x

March 26, 2011 - 8:41 pm Claussniazi@yahoo.com - wow!!!! that is just an amazing festival and to think you were in the thick of it all, what an experience you must have had and thanks to your amazing skill we all get a peek at it too. Amazing works of art Jackie! Love to all of you - hope to have a nice catch up soon! Clauss

March 26, 2011 - 8:41 pm Claussniazi@yahoo.com - wow!!!! that is just an amazing festival and to think you were in the thick of it all, what an experience you must have had and thanks to your amazing skill we all get a peek at it too. Amazing works of art Jackie! Love to all of you - hope to have a nice catch up soon! Clauss

March 28, 2011 - 8:35 pm Sven - Strewth Jackie - you are good at photography - absolutely brilliant. Amazing. I'll be looking back again soon to see what you've been up to.

March 29, 2011 - 6:23 pm Sam - Amazing pics like last time you went....you can FEEL the intensity of the occasion from your photos.Love it:)

March 30, 2011 - 8:09 am jackierado - Many thanks everyone for all the comments, glad you enjoyed the photos. Definitely an event to keep you on your toes!

April 2, 2011 - 9:31 am JJ Beattie - Wow. These are so impressive as always. Thanks for the link.

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