Yantra are most frequently drawn, on paper or cloth (often robe cloth), but may be inscribed on wood, stone or more often metal, or tattooed on the body. They are often also incorporated into the design of amulets.
Tattoos of yantra designs have been popular in Thailand and Cambodia in particular, but also Burma and Southeast Asian countries more generally, for centuries. They are closely linked to Buddhist practices, but are also used for folk magic purposes, as well as for protection as in the armed forces, and by Muay Thai boxers. Historically the most renowned tattoo masters have been Buddhist monks, although there are now very few remaining from the authentic lineages.
The examples below are by kind permission of a number of Buddhist monks, recorded in the late 1980s - early 1990s, who shared an interest in the older practices, and in mantra and syllables. We are grateful for being allowed to record these tattoos. Some of the Yantras and Na Yan already described can be identified. The traditional method of applying the tattoos requires a shared reverance between the tattoo master and the aspirant requesting the tattoo, not unlike a meditation student requesting a meditation subject from his teacher. The tattoo master establishes in himself a high degree of concentration to allow him to hold the meaning clearly in mind and “transmit” that essence into the form of the tattoo. The characters and scripts often have the appearance of flowing across the skin, sometimes rather erratically depending on the degree of concentration or “trance” of the tattoo master. Very different from the too-perfect imitations seen in the West.
Silver in the form of a thin sheet that can be easily engraved by a simple hand tool, is regarded as a highly auspicious material for inscribing yantra.The two examples below are approximately 35 cm x 60 cm, and include a wide range of designs related to those already described. The panel on the left shows the figure of Luang Por Sodh (1884-1959) in the centre, former Abbot of Wat Paknam in Bangkok who was widely renowned for his mastery of some forms of psychic power. There are many examples of yantra and amulets dedicated to his memory in Thailand.
Amulets are a subject in themselves, and are only mentioned briefly here. Historically, it was not unusual for a meditator monk to sometimes feel inspired to fashion amulets by hand to represent something that he had experienced in meditation. Sometimes a mould would be made and a limited number of copies made. Examples with provenance from a source such as this are highly prized, and may be very valuable. Clay with various “magical” additives is the most common material, but sometimes bronze and various alloys are also used. Sometimes the amulet is partly hollowed to enclose a “relic” or yantra drawn on cloth or paper, and then sealed. If the “relic” is solid, it can be heard when the amulet is shaken. Syllables such as those described are frequently enscribed on the surface of the amulet.
Nowadays thousands of amulets (mostly clay) are produced in small workshops around Bangkok, to be sold in amulet markets, mostly to tourists.
Below are a selection of amulets, mostly showing the form of the Buddha, or a revered monk. All of these are over 50 years old, some much older.
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