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Chakrasamvara - Tantric Practice Support

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Chakrasamvara: Iconography Print E-mail

Main Deity

Although there is quite a diversity in the Chakrasamvara lineages and practices the iconographical differences of the main deity are minor. Essentially there is (1) the 2-armed (Sanskrit: sahaja, meaning 'natural', 'easy' ) form and (2) the 12-armed full form of Chakrasamvara; each with two major variants. The two variants are: (a) In the Gelug tradition the mother consort has both her legs tightly wrapped around Heruka's body; (b) in almost all other traditions the consort has only one leg (usually the right one) wrapped around her consort's body and with the other one stands on the ground (usually on red Kalarati).


Two-Arm Chakrasamvara

In the 2-armed version Heruka is embracing his consort Vajrayogini/Vajravarahi. He is dark blue in color with one face and two hands embracing the consort and at the same time holding a vajra in his right and a bell in his left hand. He is adorned with a crown of five dry skulls, gold and bone ornaments, a necklace of freshly severed heads and a skirt of tiger skin. With both feet he stands on red Kalaratri and blue Bhairava both lying on the ground. The consort Vajrayogini/Vajravarahi is red in color, holding a curved knife (Tibetan: kartr or dri gug; Sanskrit: kartika) in her upraised right hand.In her left hand (not visible from the front) she is holding a blood-filled skullcup. For the leg positions, see 'Main Deity' above.



Twelve-Arm Chakrasamvara

In the 12-armed version the blue or black colored Heruka Chakrasamvara has 4 faces, 12 arms and 2 legs. In the Luipa and Ghantapa lineages the four faces are blue (front), yellow (sometimes: white; left), green (right), and red (back). In the Krishnacharya version the main face is blue, the left red, the back yellow and the right white. Each face has three eyes and four bared fangs. On his forehead he wears a garland of five-spoked vajras. He wears a tiger-skin as lower garment and around his neck hangs a garland of fifty dripping human heads.

With his outstretched right leg he treads on the head of  blue/black Bhairava who has four arms, the first two of which having palms pressed together, the other right holding a damaru and the other left a sword. With his bent left leg Heruka treads on the breasts of red Kalaratri who has four arms, the first two of which having palms pressed together, the other right holding a skullcup and the other left a khatvanga. Both of these (deities who are his) cushions have one face, three eyes and are adorned with the five mudra-ornaments.

With the first two of his twelve arms Heruka is embracing his consort Vajrayogini/Vajravarahi, with the right one holding a five-spoked vajra and with the the the left a bell. With his next lower two he holds, stretched out, a white elephants blood-stained hide as a cloak, his right hand holding its left front foot and his left hand its left back foot and its hide hanging down his back. These hands also are in the threatening mudra, with the two pointing fingers of this mudra held at the height of his eyebrows. In his third right hand is a damaru, in fourth an axe, in the fifth a cleaver and in the sixth a trident held pointing upwards. In Heruka's third left hand is a khatvanga marked with a vajra, in his fourth is a skullcup filled with blood, in the fifth a vajra lasso and in the sixth he holds a four-faced Brahmas head.

The consort Vajrayogini/Vajravarahi is essentially the same as in the 2-armed version having a body red in color, one face, two hands and three eyes. The left holds a blood filled skullcup and embraces Heruka, and the right, in a threatening gesture, holds a curved knife. For the leg positions, see 'Main Deity' above.

The Retinue

The difference between the various lineages shows most in the iconography of the retinue. In the Luipa and most other traditions the four directional dakinis have four arms whereas in the Ghantapa [only in the Body Mandala not in the 5-Deity version!] and in the Krishnacharchya tradition they only have two. There are also differences of the four offering godesses of the intermediate directions, the four doorkeepers (having animal-faces), and how the heros and heroines embrace each other (following essentially the two variants described above in 'Main Deity'). Some forms only have a retinue of five deities (including the main couple), others 13, 37, and the 62 we know from the main lineages.


  • Lokesh Chandra, Dictionary of Buddhist Iconography, New Delhi, 2001, vol. 3, pp. 648 - 724.
  • John C. Huntington, et al.: The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art, Chicago, 2003.

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