By Hannah Stevens @hannahshewans
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Every March, pilgrims gather at Wat Bang Phra - a large Buddhist temple near Thailand’s capital Bangkok for the tattoo festival.
In the days before the main event, monks tattoo hundreds, if not thousands, of Buddhists eager to reaffirm the magical protection infused into their intricate body art.
Nomadic photographer Claudio Sieber travelled to the temple to document the intense trances of the attendees and bask in the furious energy of the festival.
The 34-year-old said: “I have always been fascinated by the spiritual background of Thailand’s ancient tattoo techniques.
“My Bangkokian friends told me about the event when I asked them about the Sak Yant traditions. There is literally no English information available online about the event’s schedule. It took me a while to find out the exact date - every year is different.
“Furthermore after King Bhumibol’s death, a lot of festivities were cancelled throughout Thailand - even into 2017, but a friend called the Wat and confirmed the date for me.”
During the feverish three hour event pilgrims are possessed by the energy of their tattoos - sometimes echoing the maniacal laugh and crooked walk of the old man or embodying the rabid energy of the monkey god Hanuman.
Sieber said: “For some pilgrims, the power overcomes them. Sitting cross-legged under the glaring sun, one after the other they enter a trans called Khong Khuen - magical force rising - and get possessed by their tattoos.
“It usually starts with a howl or a deep moan, followed by a distorted facial expression. Those who get possessed by the old man act as if they walk with an invisible cane while laughing maniacally.
“Those possessed by the monkey god Hanuman leap up screaming, sprinting full-speed towards a statue of their former master Luan Por Phern. After they started I learned to be aware of these sudden mutations, since one chubby monkey god tripped and rolled over me on his way to the shrine.
“To stop the maniacs from reaching the shrine, around two dozen paramedics pull them out of the trance by rubbing their ears and hugging them back into the real world.
“Some scenes reminded me of zombie movies like Dawn of the Dead, especially when they start crawling on the ground or running towards you. As the believers start to get possessed their eyes start to see through you, the devilish laughs making it even more dramatic.”
When the festival comes to a close, the monks lead a prayer before the masses rush the stage to get a blast of holy water from a high-powered hose.
Satisfied that their tattoos have been sufficiently recharged with magic to protect them during the coming year, devotees leave soon after.