Chakra, as an expression of infinity and ultimate truth, is intimately connected with the spiritual and cultural life of India from time immemorial. This is the symbol that has found an important place in the mythologies of many nations. In our ancient religious literature, particularly Vedic, Tantric, Buddhist and to some extent, Yogic the wheel constitutes a mystic symbol of esoteric and secret doctrines. As the sun, time and life ever continue to move on without stop, they were allegorically termed ‘wheels’ by the ancient people.
The Rig Veda treats the wheel primarily as a symbol of the sun and of time and in a few references, as a sign of sovereign authority. The origin of the later symbolic representations and allegorical expressions of the wheel can be traced back to Rig Vedic concepts. The word ‘Chakra’ means turning or revolving and is derived from the roots car, cak or kram, all meaning ‘to move’. Thus it means that whichever moves forward or rolls on unchecked or a thing that pervades. Chakra is allegorically applied to time which never stops and the sun with its never-ceasing movement.
The wheel of the sun is described in the Vedas as golden which Indra steals and throws against the demons of darkness at the decline of day or night. (RV. 1.130.9.). Besides the Sun, Soma, Pusana, Marutas and Asvins are said to possess wheels in the Rig Veda.
The nervous centres in our body which are the potential sources of vitality for development of energy and spiritual power are termed as wheels by the mystics and these wheels or centres are concealed in the different parts of our body. For them, the body is only a vehicle driven by the Atman mounted on these wheels and constitutes only a medium or a means to achieve or attain their ultimate goal.
The Svetasvatara Upanishad describes in detail what it calls a revolving Brahmachakra or Samsarachakra which is being caused to revolve by the greatness of God. The Upanishad further says that the Hamsa (Jivatman) flutters about in the Brahmachakra which vitalises all things and also appears in all things. This merry-go-round Jivatman, we are told, attains immortality by escaping from this ever revolving Brahmachakra and attains Moksha when he realizes that Jivatman and Isvara are one and not different and when the supreme soul favours him with his blessings.
The Yoga Upanishads generally speak of the six mystic Chakras such as Muladhara, Swadhistana, Manipura, Anahata, Visuddha and Ajna besides the Sahasrara which is thousand-spoked.
The Mahabharat advises one to be aware of the Kalachakra and try to understand it properly and then throw it away, that is, escape from its rotation, the unending chain of repeated existence, also mentions another wheel from which it does not ask one to run away but turn it and then through it reach the ultimate goal from where one never returns.
In Buddhist literature we find the concept of the wheel of Dharma which is found in Buddha’s sermons in Varanasi. ‘The spokes of the wheel are the rules of pure conduct; justice is the uniformity of their length; wisdom is the time; modesty and thoughtfulness are the hub in which the immovable axle of truth is fixed.’ Buddhism, later, gave wider currency to symbolism of the wheel by incorporating all the above ideas and making it a household word for Buddhists. There is the Bhavchakra with twelve nidanas, such as jaramarana, jati, bhava, upadana, trisna, vedana, sparsa, sadayatana, namarupa, vijnana, samskara and avidya described in the Buddhist canons. These twelve nidanas are believed to be the main causes for the transmigration of the soul or the repetition of birth and death. One who wants to escape from this wheel should destroy there nidanas and, ultimately the bhavachakra as well.
Chakra as a circle has neither beginning nor end, and in value it is infinite. It is, in plain, a sign of eternity, completeness (purnata), continuity and incessant progress, and above all, in Buddhism particularly, it is a divine symbol of eternal Doctrine, the Dharma of the “Middle Path” which leads to insight, supreme wisdom and Nirvana.
Sudarshan Chakra, the King of Wheels
Origin of Sudarshan Chakra – The Vishnu Purana contains the following story about the origin of Chakra:
Suryadev (The Sun God) married Samjna, daughter of Visvakarma. But, due to the insufferable heat of her husband the marital life of Samjna became miserable, and so she requested her father to lessen the heat of Surya. And accordingly Visvakarma ground Surya on a grinding machine and thus diminished only 1/8 of that effulgence, which glowing red-hot dropped on the earth, and with that Visvakarma made the Sudarshana Chakra, the Trishula, the Puspakavimana and the weapon called Sakti. Out of those four things the Trishula came to be possessed by Siva, the Puspakavimana by Kubera and Shakti by Brahma. The Sudarshan Chakra which was glowing like anything was deposited in the sea. (Visnu Puran, Part-3 Chapter-2). There is a story in the Mahabharata as to how the Chakra thrown into the sea came into possession of MahaVishnu.
While Srikrishna and Arjuna were in a picnic on the shores of the Yamuna, Agnideva went to them and requested them to give Khandava forest to him for food. As Taksaka, friend of Indra, was living in the forest the latter was causing heavy rains to fall there. Krishna and Arjuna realized the fact that Agni would be able to consume the forest only after subjugating Indra. But, how to manage it ? Then Agni said that he would supply the weapon to fight Indra with, and accordingly he meditated on Varuna, who presented to him (Agni) a chariot and flag with monkey as symbol, a quiver which would never become empty of arrows (Akshaya Tunira), a bow called Gandiva and the Sudarshan Chakra. Agnidev gave the Chakra to Srikrishna and the other things to Arjuna. (M.B. Adiparva, Chapter 297.)
Regarding the creation of Sudarshan Chakra it is stated in the Brahmapurana that in order to get rid of the cruel and wicked demons all gods prayed Vishnu. He asked all gods to combine all their energies. God Shankar shaped this combined energy into a wheel. He handed over this wheel to Mahavishnu to kill demons.
Sudarshan Chakra as a weapon or Ayudha signs in the right hand of Vishnu, therefore he is known as ‘Chakri’ and ‘Chakradharin’. Sudarshan Chakra is regarded as a deity in our scriptures. The four deities on the Ratnasinghasan of Srimandir, – Sri Jagannath, Sri Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Sri Sudarshana are known as Chaturddhamurthi in general. Here the shape of Sri Sudarshan is like a pole. Both the wheel and pole shapes of Sri Sudarshana have different mythological back-grounds. The-Chakraudha of Sri Jagannath is made of Gold.
Sri Sudarshana is worshipped as the deity of energy and power. He gets the Ajnamala from Sri Jagannath and as the representative arrives at Gamhabedi on the full moon day of Shravana to perform birth rites of Sri Balabhadra in the Markandeswar temple premises.
Sudarshana, the king of wheels stands at the top of Sreemandira is known as Neelachakra. The magnificent temple of Sri Jagannath presents an imposing sight and can be seen from miles away through its Neelachakra and Patitapabana is 11ft. 8″ and which is an amalgamation of eight different metals. Neelachakra has circles, one is at the centre and the other is the outer. There are eight bars which connect the inner and the outer circle both. Srimad Bhagavadgeeta reveals the mystery of the eight bars. The eight bars represent eight factors of the nature. God Srikrishna says that earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, reason and also the ego- these constitute his nature eightfold divided.
Neelachakra is the supporter of the Patitapaban Banner. Those who are unable to come and not allowed to enter into the temple they witness it from outside to get the benefit of seeing Sri Jagannath. Neelachakra attracts pilgrims, saints, sages over the ages.
~ Dr. Srinivas Acharya