Rohit Arya_ Symbolism of the Sri Yantra

The Sri Chakra Yantra, to give it the correct name, is regarded as the Supreme Yantra. Any other Yantra is but a part or fraction of the Sri Yantra; it both includes and transcends all Yantras ever made, and no existing Yantra can not be found in the Sri Yantra. The benefits of all Yantras are, therefore, to be found individually and collectively in the Sri Yantra. It is also considered to be the greatest achievement in the abstract, symbolic representation of the Divine. The Sri Yantra is traditionally held to have been divinely revealed rather than invented, a concept that is easily understood when one realizes the immense complexity of the Yantra. Sri Chakra literally means the ‘Wheel of the Mother Goddess’ but, actually, it represents the symbolic Energy Form of the Goddess.

It is a mandala, a geometric abstract that symbolizes the cosmos which, in this case, is also the body of the goddess. The goddess is supposed to reside in her physical, visible form in the dot or bindu at the center of the Yantra while simultaneously permeating the entire universe. This ‘double presence’ concept is vital in grasping the Sri Yantra. Her seat has four ‘pillars’: Brahma – the creator, in the Northeast; Vishnu – the preserver, in the Southeast; Rudra – the dissolver, in the Southwest; and Sadasiva – the eternal Shiva, in the Northwest.

The bindu is the core of the Yantra and represents, at various times, the principles or activities known as the Pancha Kriya of:

  • Emanation of the cosmos from its primal source;
  • Projection of creation into the primal void;
  • Preservation of the created universe;
  • Withdrawal of the creative and preservative energies in cosmic dissolutions; and lastly,
  • Retention of the withdrawn energy-universe for the next cycle of re-creation.

These five activities are regarded as the five modes of expression of the Universal Mother.

The Significance Of Its Unique Design
The diagram of the Sri Chakra is primarily a Matrix (i.e. womb) of nine interlocking triangles. Four of these are upright and represent Shiva – the male principle, and the five inverted triangles represent Shakti – the dynamic female principle of the Universe. In another interpretation, the nine triangles stand for the Mula Prakritis or nine fundamental elements or Universal Root Stuff. This aspect of the macro-cosmos, the larger universe without, is faithfully reproduced in man, the micro-cosmos. The nine substances in the human body are skin (trak), blood (asrk), flesh (mamsa), fat (medher) and bone (asthi) which are given by Shakti; and the other four are from Shiva being semen (sukla), marrow (majja), vital breath (prana) and the individual soul (jivatman). As you can see, even at the very basic level, the symbolism of the Yantra is formidable. The nine interlocking triangles form a further set of 44 triangles, which include the central primary one.

Enclosing the 44 triangles are two concentric circles, each containing the symbol of the lotus. The outer lotus has 16 petals, while the inner lotus has eight petals. These two circles are then girdled or ‘netted’ (valaya) by three other concentric circles. Again, the matrix formation is obvious. The outer circles are enclosed in a square field called the courtyard. This outer enclosure is usually formed of triple lines and, on each side, there is a gateway or Dvara open to all four directions. These are liminal spots (they are thresholds of potential, of awareness, or transformations).

Every angle, or kona, produced by intersecting triangles in the Yantra, represents the union of male and female energies of Shiva and Shakti. The primary central triangle is called the Kama-kala – the seat of the Mother, and is the most creative spot in the universe.

The spots where the lines intersect (sangam) are also of great importance. If two lines intersect, they are called sandhi and their vagina-like shape symbolically indicates sandhana, the act of union. Where three lines intersect they are called marmas, and they are vital spots in the body where the life-energy resides as well as accumulates. The marma has thus been called the Seat of Life or Jiva-sthana. Indian and Chinese martial artists have known of these spots which when struck can cause disability, paralysis or even death. There is a dense accumulation of Prana or Ki at those spots that renders them vulnerable to those in the know. Healers can, paradoxically, use precisely these spots to channel healing energy into the body with far greater efficacy than is normal, which is why every good martial artist is also a healer. In the Sri Yantra, all the important marmas found in the human body are represented and, by meditating upon them, a martial artist or healer can access the location of every vital spot in the human body.

The Sri Yantra Symbolically Represents Man And The Cosmos
Thus, we see that the Sri Yantra is a highly intricate lattice or matrix of geometric forms that simultaneously represent man and the universe. To sum up, the Yantra begins with the dot or bindu surrounded by the primary triangle; then an eight-cornered figure with the eight-petalled lotus; the ten-angled figure with a net or girdle of the 16-petalled lotus; then comes a 14-petalled lotus figure with the enclosing square.

Let us now move to a deeper level of understanding the Yantra. The nine enclosures or chakras represent the Emanation, Preservation and Withdrawal of the universe. Three chakras constituting:

  • The square, the 16-petalled lotus and eight-petalled lotus on the periphery form the center of Emanation
  • The 14-cornered figure and the two 10-angled figures in the middle, form the center for Preservation
  • The eight-angled figure, the primary central triangle and the central point or bindu make the center of Re-absorption and Retention

The first three circles or chakras are presided over by the Moon (Chandra), which is the head of the Mother, while the second three circles are presided over by the Sun (Surya), and the third group of three circles are presided over by Fire (Agni), the friend of gods and men. These three fields are fundamentally inseparable even though they are classified as separate – which only means that they cannot function independently of one another. If one is active, then the other two are also energized. The Primary Triangle also stands for three aspects of the Mother: Bala – the Young One; Tripura-Sundari – the Thrice Beautiful; and Tripura-Bhairavi – the Thrice Terrible. Terrible here refers to ‘terribilatia’ – the sense of awe manifest before the power of God. This classification is analogous to the western mystical Triad of Maiden, Mother and Crone and indeed, at an archetypal level, there is no difference.

Now, we come to the significance of the Nine Enclosures or chakras of the ‘Fortress’. We shall assume that the Sri Yantra is a fort, and it does indeed look like the plan of one when viewed carefully. Traveling from the outer periphery wall to the inner bindu is an ascent through various levels of consciousness and mystical significance, overcoming myriad obstacles of conditioning and fears along the way.

The First Enclosure
This is technically named Bhupur and is called ‘Deluder of the Realms’ or Trailokya Mohana Chakra. It has petals in four directions, which contain esoteric knowledge to be transmitted. There are actually six gateways to this enclosure if we take a three-dimensional view of it, the four obvious dvaras and those ‘above’ and ‘below’. The Eastern gate is the way of the mantras. The Southern gate is the way of devotion or bhakti. The Western gate is for the performance of rites and rituals, or karma-kanda. The Northern gate is the way of wisdom, or Jnana. The gate ‘below’ is the ‘path of words’ while the gate ‘above’ is the way or ‘road of liberation’. These are located at the Southern and Northern gate, respectively, i.e. ‘above’ is north, ‘below’ is south. Each of these gates also stands for one of the six primary chakras in the body. ‘Below’ is the root or Muladhara Chakra; the Eastern gate to the sacral or Svadhishthana Chakra; the Southern to the navel or Manipura Chakra; the Western corresponds to heart or Anahata Chakra; the Northern to the throat or Visuddha Chakra, and the ‘above’ to the brow or Ajna Chakra. The devotee or seeker is still operating at the level of desire here.

The Second Enclosure
This is technically named Shodashal and is called the ‘Fulfiller of all Hopes’ or Sarva Ashapurak Chakra. Since frustrated desire is the strongest obstacle to spiritual progress, the next stage is wisely concerned with satisfying them. Only he who has experienced can renounce. The values of virtue, wealth and pleasure are granted at this stage. The petals are representations of 16 sacred vowels, each one starting from the east in an anti-clockwise direction. Each of the 16 vowels corresponds to the divine Feminine Energy or Shakti. The Shaktis manifest their powers in the Five Elements, the 10 senses of perception or Indriyas (being further divided into five organs of action and five sense organs) and the Mind. This stage, too, corresponds to the Muladhara Chakra and is the second part of Emanation. Progress towards long-term objectives is achieved here.

The Third Enclosure
This is technically named Ashtadal and is called ‘Agitator of All’ or Sarva Sankshobhan Chakra. The eight large petals here represent a state of psychophysical dynamic equilibrium. Each petal has a consonant inscribed within it that begins with ‘Ka‘ – the name of the Unknown God. Symbolically the petals exemplify dynamic quality. In the East, the petal stands for speech and expression; in the South, apprehension and reception; in the West, locomotion; in the North, bodily urges and excretion; in the Southeast, pleasure; in the Southwest, rejections and reactions; in the Northwest, conscious attention; and in the Northeast, detachment and dispassion.

Alternative perspectives see the eight petals as the seats of eight goddesses who are responsible for: Speech (Vachana), Transaction (Adana), Departure (Gamana), Transcendence (Visarg), Bliss (Ananda), Absence/Detachment (Hana), Giving (Upadana) and, last of all, Neglect (Upeksha).

In yet another interpretation, the eight petals symbolize: Form (Rupa), Taste (Rasa), Smell (Gandha), Touch (Sparsha), Sound (Shabdha), Primordial Sound (Nada), Primordial Nature (Prakriti), and The Self (Purusha).

The third enclosure corresponds to the Manipura Chakra and is a transition stage between Emanation-Preservation symbolically representing both of them. This stage sees the aspirant succeed even further towards reaching the ultimate goal.

The Fourth Enclosure
This is technically named Chaturdashar and is called the ‘Provider of Prosperity’ or Sarva Saubhagya Dayak Chakra. It is a 14-cornered figure. It represents the first 14 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, regarded as a sacred revelation of words of power. As always, they are also supposed to be the seat of Shaktis who represent: the Mind (Manas), the Intellect (Buddhi), Being (Chitta), the Conscious Ego (Ahamkara) and the 10 Indriyas. The chakra associated with it is the Anahata and it is the first stage of Preservation-Emanation. Hope of spiritual success is firmly established at this stage in the aspirant.

The Fifth Enclosure
This is technically named the Bahiradashar and is called ‘Achiever of all Objects’ or Sarva Artha Sadhak Chakra. It is a 10-cornered figure. It corresponds to the Visuddha chakra and is the stage called Preservation-Preservation, meaning a very strong Vishnu energy. The 10-cornered figure represents the 10 types of Vital Breaths (Prana or Ki). This is inevitable as Vishnu (He Who Pervades) is the Support of the Universe, i.e. Vishnu is the visibilization of the Prana which is the support of all life. The possibility, not the actual experience, of inner spiritual realization is firmly established here.

The Sixth Enclosure
This is technically named the Antardashar and is called ‘Protector of All’ or Sarva Rakshakar Chakra. It is also a 10-cornered figure. There is some ambivalence about it as it corresponds to the Manipura Chakra, but is apparently experienced by mystics who have internalized the Sri Yantra as being between the eyebrows, which is where you would expect the Ajna Chakra to be. Its nature is that of fire (Agni), the 10 specific ‘fires within the body’ being the fire of purgation (Rechak), digestion (Pachak), absorption (Shoshak), burning (Dahak), the secretion of enzymes (Plavak), acidification (Ksharak), to take out or excrete (Uddharak), the fires of pessimism and frustration (Kshobhak), the fire of assimilation (Jrambhak) and creating luster (Mohak).

This enclosure symbolizes the third stage of Preservation called Preservation-Absorption. The advent of inner realization begins here.

The Seventh Enclosure
This is technically named Ashtar, an eight-cornered figure, and is called ‘Remover of all Diseases’ or Sarva Roga Hara Chakra. It is represented by five letters of the ‘pa‘ group as also the letters ‘sa‘, ‘sha‘ and ‘sa‘ again. The eight letters are also supposed to represent the eight weapons held by the Kameshwara – Kameshwari (Shiva-Durga) dyad which destroy disease. Shiva as Rudra was specifically a healer, thus this enclosure merely adds the feminine healing energy to the mix.

Paradoxically, it corresponds to two chakras of the human body, both the forehead Ajna as well as the Svadhisthana Chakras. It may have something to do with the sort of energy required to bring about healing. Energy workers are aware that it sometimes begins to flow from the womb or genitals, where the Svadhisthana is located. This enclosure symbolizes the first stage of Absorption, namely Absorption-Emanation. At this level the aspirant is free of all earthly bondage and is, literally, on the threshold of the inner circle of realization.

The Eighth Enclosure
This is the Primary Triangle technically named the Kama-kala and more typically is called ‘The Bestower of all Attainments’ or Sarva Siddhiprada Chakra. The Kama-kala is the first outcome or effect of the central bindu’s energy outflow. Since it is an inverted triangle, it is also described as ‘the wandering between horns’, the two lines meeting at a point below being the horns.

The three lines of the triangle are also held to represent the three qualities or Gunas: Purity and Calm (Sattva), Activity (Rajas), and Inertia (Tamas). Alternatively, the three lines are held to symbolize three goddesses – Kameshwari, Brijeshwari and Agamalini. They also represent the three stages of consciousness: Conscious Awareness (Jagriti), Dreaming (Swapna), and Deep Slumber (Sushupti). The fourth stage of Consciousness is literally Turiya – the Fourth! This is a transcendent state found only in the ultimate realization of the final enclosure.

The Kama-kala represents the head (and womb!) of the Mother and symbolizes also the three fundamental tendencies of existence – desire, knowledge, activity – which also have to be transcended for the final liberation. This is the penultimate stage before complete realization of the Self. The primary triangle represents the second stage of Absorption, namely Absorption-Preservation, and it is white in color denoting purity or sattva.

The Ninth Enclosure
This is the central point or Bindu and is aptly called ‘Filled with all Bliss’ or Sarva Anandamayai Chakra. Since it is too minute to be clearly seen, the Primary Triangle exists as a manifestation of this bindu. This point is the actual spot where the Mother resides though, to make matters interesting, this point is supposed to pervade all creation too! This, in a temple, would be the sanctum sanctorum, with all the other circles or enclosures representing various parts of the temple as you move inwards. Every classic temple has this nine-enclosure design to enable the mind to be successively purified and focused, by the time it gets the actual vision of the deity. By this point, the seeker should be in mystical union with the God-field. The point is also called the ‘Field of Deliberation’, the spot wherein takes place the indissoluble union of the individual soul with the divine.

Some Sri Yantras have a further division within the bindu space, three dots arranged in a triangle and standing for the three creative fires: the Fire of the Moon, i.e. the dot representing it is red in color and it also stands for the ida channel for the prana on the left (lunar) side of the body; the Fire of the Sun is a white dot, and represents the pingala channel for the prana on the right side of the body; the Fire of Agni, sacred flame, is of mixed colors and stands for the central channel, the sushumna. In such cases, of course, the actual bindu will be infinitely small and enclosed within the triangular space formed by these three dots.

The Ninth Enclosure is the ultimate gathering up of Emanation and represents Absorption-Absorption, ‘filled with all bliss’ as bliss – Ananda – is defined as ‘Resting in Oneself’. This point corresponds to the Sahasrara Chakra, the aperture on the crown of the head.

It is the culmination of the inner journey, a return to Godhead. The reverse process is the unfolding of the Universe. These two processes alternate eternally in the process known as Vyapta-Vyapta, Manifest-Unmanifest, creation by emanation, dissolution, absorption and then emanation again.

Benefits Of Worshipping The Sri Yantra
In the worship of Sri Yantra, one proceeds from the outer square to the innermost bindu. This process almost invariably involves the awakening of the Kundalini power within. However, the Sri Yantra need not be used that way. It can be simply worshipped and allowed to radiate its energy outwards to create prosperity and harmony for the worshipper. The immense complexity of the Sri Yantra makes it a veritable unified Pantheon of the Gods. Worshipping the Sri Yantra ensures you have worshipped all forms of divinity. It is an immense intellectual discipline, as well as a towering achievement of Indian spiritual thought

Rohit Arya is an Author, Yogi and Polymath. He has written the first book on Vaastu to be published in the West, {translated into five languages} the first book on tarot to be published in India, co-authored a book on fire sacrifice, and is the creator of The Sacred India Tarot {82 card deck and book}. He has also written A Gathering of Gods. He is  a corporate trainer, a mythologist and vibrant speaker as well as an arts critic and cultural commentator. Rohit is also a Lineage Master in the Eight Spiritual Breaths system of Yoga

6 thoughts on “Rohit Arya_ Symbolism of the Sri Yantra

  1. Amazing post – many thanks, this will give me something to think on for quite some time……do you have any advice for worship of the Sri Chakra Yantra (as an expression of all the gods and goddesses)?

    • Much appreciated your comment
      worship as you like… the formal yogic method can be practiced only under a guru… very tedious process also! lighting a lamp daily to it is a good idea

  2. I came to this post while searching for design of sri yantra.Its a great post indeed.However the image in top varies with rest of images.which one is exact.Please see fouth enclosure of northwest side in 1st image and other images.The first horizontal line from top.does it touch the circle or not?
    Please clear my doubt

  3. which is the right way to meditate on this yantra? From outwards to bindu or fro centre to outwards? please clarify benefits of each method

  4. Hi Rohit, thankyou for the article, very inspiring! I’ve been attracted to the Sri Yantra for a while now and want to make an art piece on it. Is there a book or something you can direct me to that explains each element in more detail i.e.. each triangle and petal aspect, name of the deity and element it represents etc , that would help me a lot with my art piece.. thanks!

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