July 09, 2020.
One of the more bizarre events I have attended in Thailand a couple of years ago is the tattoo festival at Wat Bang Phra in Nakhon Chaisi, Nakhon Pathom. Once a year devotees travel to Wat Bang Phra, where a ceremony is held to recharge the magical tattoos of the participants.
Wat Bang Phra is what I would call an average-sized temple. At the festival there were several thousand people in attendance, so the Wat grounds were jam-packed, and the temperature was in the 90’s. We had to park about a half-mile from the temple. The festival started like many Thai events with a prayer session, which was pretty calm, but not for long. Monks chanted to activate the tattoos and re-empower them. During the prayer session, the effects of the tattoo rechargings were becoming evident on the participants. One or two people at a time would fall into a trance possessed by the spirits of the tattoos they have, and they begin to act and dance with similar movements to those of the animal in the tattoo and charge towards the front. At the front of the large gathering, there were attendants who would restrain the people possessed until they could be calmed down and regain their composure. This started out in ones and twos and then became near pandemonium as groups of people would become possessed and lose control of their actions, rushing towards the front of the gathering.
I would caution photographers to be aware of their surroundings, and even go as far as I did and have a friend or assistant with you to watch your back when things start happening. In the above photo it shows just how crazy it can get. My friend and assistant (in the center with the black camera strap) is almost run over by a possessed man, who is being restrained by other Thai people.
So is all this hype or real? I asked myself that question before I went to this event. I came to the conclusion that … the participants believe they are being possessed by their magical tattoos, and the Thai people believe it is real, then who am I to question if people are play-acting or possessed by the spirits of their tattoos and loose control, especially since I have no evidence that would prove either point of view. Either way, it doesn’t matter much to a documentary photographer. I was there and the event itself, that has been going on for years, does happen.
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