ROUND ONE: A devotee feels the zeitgeist of the Wat Bang Phra Tattoo Festival. Alexander Hotz

Just how far would you go for your faith?

Hours away from the bustling heart of Bangkok, thousands gather like packed sardines under the sweltering, scorching sun. Seated neatly one by one, they begin falling into a trance.

As in years past, the event takes a dramatic turn when many of the freshly tattooed men suddenly become possessed by the spirits of their tattoos and begin to yell, run and jump at invisible enemies. Bodies start slamming against each other unapologetically; people are diving into the ground and stacking on one another like building blocks. Everything blurs into a frenzy as screeches pierce through the chants of holy prayers.

These transformations are often violent with the possessed blindly charging into other people in the crowd. The possessions occur in waves, with dozens of men seemingly taken by their spirits within seconds of one another.

“…the biggest mosh pit of your life!”Jean-Pierre Mastanza, as he rubs shoulders with thousands at the Sak Yant Tattoo Festival 2014

What’s happening is a scene at the Wat Bang Phra Temple where thousands of devotees and curious observers gather to participate in the annual Sak Yant Festival.

Some come in hope to renew the spiritual energies of their Sak Yant tattoos, others merely to satisfy their curious appetites, witnessing the magical displays of said tattoos.

This festival goes on all through the night, where Buddhist monks sit on a large stage chanting various prayers and their devotees sit below waiting for their Sak Yants to “recharge” their magical qualities.

Alexander Hotz
POST-TRANCE: A devotee gets possessed by an animal spirit.
POST-TRANCE: A devotee gets possessed by an animal spirit.Alexander Hotz

Jean-Pierre Mestanza, from Coconuts Bangkok, got to personally experience the dramatic turn of events when he and his cameraman were separated by the throngs of people going berserk.

It seems ironic that security is placed there mostly for ensuring the safety of the possessed rather than crowd control.

A day prior to the festival, Jean-Pierre got his very own Sak Yant in the form of a tiger. “It could be infectious. You’ll never know, I might turn into a tiger!” he said, with a nervous laugh after.

At the end of the festival, Jean-Pierre’s cameraman jokingly hopes that all future spirits should take into consideration the high price of camera lenses before routinely slamming into them.

The next time you decide to visit Bangkok, the annual Sak Yant Festival could be one of the places on your itinerary. Because the cliché of shopping in Bangkok is so passé.

Coconuts TV joined the annual pilgrimage to this mystical and –as they learned – perilous festival, where their correspondent joined in the fervent fun. View their documentary below and see more of Hotz’s photos here.

GETTING INKED: A devotee gets his Sak Yant tattoo
GETTING INKED: A devotee gets his Sak Yant tattoo.Alexander Hotz
Sak Yant Tattoo
Alexander Hotz
RAINED UPON: Buddhist monks jet holy water onto devotees at the end of the festival.
RAINED UPON: Buddhist monks jet holy water onto devotees at the end of the festival.Alexander Hotz

Sak Yant Tattoo
Alexander Hotz

This is an edited version of a photo essay that originally appeared in Coconuts.

Coconuts Bangkok
Coconuts is a network of local news and lifestyle city websites that harnesses user-generated content and social media to enhance coverage of an urban area. We hope to channel the intensely local journalistic spirit of an alt-weekly or the metro section of a daily newspaper, but utilise the wealth of information and media available through modern technology to our advantage.