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The dharmachakra (IAST: dharmacakra; Pali dhammacakka; "Wheel of the Dharma"), is one of the Ashtamangala[1] of Indian religions such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. It has represented the Buddhist dharma, Gautama Buddha's teaching of the path to Nirvana, since the time of early Buddhism.[2][note 1]


The Sanskrit noun dharma is a derivation from the root dhṛ, which has a meaning of "to hold, maintain, keep",[note 2] and takes a meaning of "what is established or firm", and hence "law". It is derived from the Vedic Sanskrit n-stem dharman- with the meaning "bearer, supporter" in the historical Vedic religion conceived of as an aspect of Ṛta.[4]

The word chakra "wheel" derives from Proto-Indo-European *kʷekʷlos, and its cognates include Greek kyklos, Lithuanian kaklas, Tocharian B kokale, Slavic koleso and English "wheel," as well as "circle" and "cycle."[5][6] *kʷekʷlos is derived from the root *kʷel-, a verb that meant "to turn.".[6] Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, first Vice President of India has stated that the Ashoka Chakra of India represents the Dharmachakra.[7]


Old style Dharma Wheel. Spiti Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India

The wheel is also the main attribute of Vishnu, the Vedic god of preservation.[8]

A dharma wheel has three basic parts—the hub, the rim, and the spokes. Over the centuries various teachers and traditions have proposed diverse meanings for these parts, and explaining all of them possibly would take a book. Here are some common understandings of the wheel's symbolism:

  • The circle, the round shape of the wheel, represents the perfection of the dharma, the Buddha's teachings.
  • The rim of the wheel represents meditative concentration and mindfulness, which hold practice together.
  • The hub represents moral discipline.

The wheel often has spokes protruding beyond the wheel, which we might imagine are spikes, although usually they don't look very sharp. The spikes represent various penetrating insights.


Hindu usage

According to the Puranas of the Hinduism, only "24 Rishis or Sages", managed the whole power of the Gayatri Mantra 24 letters of the Gayatri Mantra depicts these 24 Rishis. These Rishis, represents all the Rishis of the Himalayas, of which Maharshi Vishvamitra is the first and Rishi Yajnavalkya is the last, who wrote Yājñavalkya Smṛti which is a Hindu text of the Dharmaśāstra tradition."Ashoka Chakra" which is the symbol of "Dharmachakra", is also known as "Samay Chakra" or the "Wheel of Time". Since, its 24 spokes represent the 24 hours of the day. The 24 spokes of the Ashoka Chakra represent:[citation needed]

  1. Love
  2. Courage
  3. Patience
  4. Peacefulness
  5. Magnanimity
  6. Goodness
  7. Faithfulness
  8. Gentleness
  9. Selflessness
  10. Self-Control
  11. Self Sacrifice
  12. Truthfulness
  13. Righteousness
  14. Justice
  15. Mercy
  16. Gracefulness
  17. Humility
  18. Empathy
  19. Sympathy
  20. Spiritual Knowledge
  21. Moral Values
  22. Spiritual Wisdom
  23. The Fear of God
  24. Faith or Belief or Hope

Also an integral part of the emblem is the motto inscribed below the abacus in Devanagari script: Satyameva Jayate (English: Truth Alone Triumphs).[9] This is a quote from the Mundaka Upanishad,[10] the concluding part of the sacred Hindu Vedas. In the Bhagavad Gita too, verses 14, 15 and 16, of Chapter 3 speak about the revolving wheel thus: "From food, the beings are born; from rain, food is produced; rain proceeds from sacrifice (yagnya); yagnya arises out of action; know that from Brahma, action proceeds; Brahma is born of Brahman, the eternal Paramatman. The one who does not follow the wheel thus revolving, leads a sinful, vain life, rejoicing in the senses." [11]

Buddhist usage

The Dharmachakra is one of the ashtamangala of Buddhism.[12][note 3] It is one of the oldest known Buddhist symbols found in Indian art, appearing with the first surviving post-Indus Valley Civilization Indian iconography in the time of the Buddhist king Ashoka.[2][2][note 1]

The Buddha is said to have set the dhammacakka in motion when he delivered his first sermon,[13] which is described in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. The wheel itself depicts ideas about the cycle of saṃsāra.[citation needed]

Buddhism adopted the wheel as the main symbol of the cakravartin "wheel-turner", the ideal king[13] or "universal monarch",[8][13] symbolising the ability to cut through all obstacles and illusions.[8]

According to Harrison, the symbolism of "the wheel of the law" and the order of Nature is also visible in the Tibetan prayer wheels.The moving wheels symbolizes the movement of cosmic order (ṛta).[14]

Beyond Buddhism


  1. 1.0 1.1 Grünwedel e.a.:"The wheel (dharmachakra) as already mentioned, was adopted by Buddha's disciples as the symbol of his doctrine, and combined with other symbols—a trident placed above it, etc.—stands for him on the sculptures of the Asoka period."[2]
  2. Monier Williams, A Sanskrit Dictionary (1899): "to hold , bear (also bring forth) , carry , maintain , preserve, keep , possess , have , use , employ , practise , undergo"[3]
  3. Goetz: "dharmachakra, symbol of the Buddhist faith".[12]


  1. ancient-symbols.com, Buddhist symbols
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Grünwedel 1901, p. 67.
  3. Monier Willams
  4. Day 1982, p. 42-45.
  5. Mallory 1997, p. 640.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Anthony 2007, p. 34.
  7. See the national flag code at http://www.mahapolice.gov.in/mahapolice/jsp/temp/html/flag_code_of_india.pdf and also the national symbols page of the National Portal of India at http://india.gov.in/india-glance/national-symbols
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Beer 2003, p. 14.
  9. Kamal Dey v. Union of India and State of West Bengal (Calcutta High Court 2011-07-14). Text
  10. "Rajya Sabha Parliamentary Standing Committee On Home Affairs: 116th Report on The State Emblem Of India (Prohibition Of Improper Use) Bill, 2004" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>[dead link]
  11. http://www.vivekananda.net/PDFBooks/bhagavadgitawith00londiala.pdf
  12. 12.0 12.1 Goetz 1964, p. 52.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Pal 1986, p. 42.
  14. Harrison 2010 (1912), p. 526.
  15. Kurt Titze, Klaus Bruhn, Jainism: A Pictorial Guide to the Religion of Non-violence
  16. "Framing the Jina: Narratives of Icons and Idols in Jain History", p. 314, by John Cort, publisher = Oxford University
  17. See the national flag code at http://www.mahapolice.gov.in/mahapolice/jsp/temp/html/flag_code_of_india.pdf and also the national symbols page of the National Portal of India at http://india.gov.in/india-glance/national-symbols


Further reading

  • Dorothy C. Donath (1971). Buddhism for the West: Theravāda, Mahāyāna and Vajrayāna; a comprehensive review of Buddhist history, philosophy, and teachings from the time of the Buddha to the present day. Julian Press. ISBN 0-07-017533-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links