Men with jade skull shapes on their foreheads and women with gem-encrusted butterfly wings under their eyes were likely chosen to do the grunt work
People expect cutting shapes out of jade, banyan, granite and quartz from Buddhist temples to be left to monks. But one temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is transforming much of its well-used lotus, argentus and yin-yang figures into tattoos. Using gold ink and gemstones, a monk in a black robe fills a large open gap in the floor of its chapel with finely finished human bodies, with heads, chest and arms painted gold and jewels made of delicate gemstones.
“Anyone can enter and you can use your imagination. The more you imagine, the more you will realise,” said chef Wa-sathit Chanthongsudin, chief monk at Wat Chaing, who managed to complete 20 human figures in time for his grand return to Chiang Mai, where he grew up, in May. “I loved to paint when I was young and I wanted to use my talent to help the people of Wat Chaing.”
Tattoos are legal in Thailand, provided they are done without the urging of a religious leader or where the main purpose is “giving pleasure to the person”. They are usually on women, as body piercings are not typically done on males. People in Bangkok often push vendors to put up pink “Body art” signs but live in fear of arrest.
Ma Yamnachayk, 56, who runs a small tattoo shop inside Wat Chaing, said he has been selling the human forms for at least four years. They are a good source of business for men who regularly visit the Buddhist temple. “When I finish a body, it’s good to have it done to see it or write on it,” he said. “It’s really beautiful to look at.”