If Thailand’s Culture Minister, Niphit Intharasombat, gets his way, tattoo parlors will be off limits to the millions of foreigners who visit the Southeast Asian nation every year.
The Culture Ministry firmly believes that foreigners inking images of Buddha and other sacred images onto their non-Buddhist skins, is highly insensitive to a nation comprised mostly of Buddhists.
Tourists visiting Thailand are known as farangs and Thais are aware that belief systems are different. Still in all, they should be respected and in this vein, tattoos of religious images are cultural no-nos for those on the outside looking in.
A Buddha tattoo, which is known as Sak Yant, has special meaning and is written in the holy language of Sanskrit. Usually, a Buddhist monk or a Brahmin priest makes them. Thais believe these religious tattoos grant strength and power to the bearer. For this reason, they are very popular among Thai boxers.
“Foreigners see these tattoos as a fashion… They do not think of respecting religion, or they may not be aware that it can be offensive,” said Niphit, who has requested that all tattoo parlors throughout Thailand refrain from the practice of etching sacred images on foreigners.
Niphit has also attempted to thwart this controversial practice on local levels by ordering provincial governors to inspect these tattoo studios to make sure they cooperate with the demands of the ministry.
Although he is vigorously seeking to push a law to ban this practice, Niphit can go no further because tattooing religious images is not considered illegal under Thai law.
Cultural sensitivities run deep and even if they are not understood they should be respected.
One can only speculate what the great Buddha would have to say about all of this.