The dharmacakra, usually written dharmachakra in English (Sanskrit: धर्मचक्र; Pāli: धम्मचक्क dhammachakka; Burmese: ဓမ္မစကြာ (); Chinese: 法輪; pinyin: fălún; Standard Tibetan: འཁོར་ལོ། (chos kyi 'khor lo); lit. "Wheel of Dharma" or "Wheel of Law"), is one of the Ashtamangala symbols[1] that has represented dharma, the Buddha's teaching of the path to Nirvana, since the early period of Indian Buddhism.[2][note 1]


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
  • Usage 3
    • Buddhist usage 3.1
    • Beyond Buddhism 3.2
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • Sources 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


The Classical 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 an older Vedic Sanskrit n-stem dharman-, with a literal meaning of "bearer, supporter", in a religious sense conceived as an aspect of Rta.[4]

The word chakra derives from Proto-Indo-European *kʷekʷlos, and its cognates include Greek kiklos, Lithuanian kaklas, Tocharian B kokale and English "wheel," as well as "circle."[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, H.P., India. 2004

According to Buddha, the wheel is an early Indian solar symbol of sovereignty, protection and creation.[8] As a solar symbol it first appears on clay seals from c.2500 BCE from the Indus Valley Civilization.[8] According to Beer, the wheel is also the main attribute of Vishnu, the Vedic god of preservation.[8]


Buddhist usage

The Dharmachakra is one of the Ashtamangala symbols[9] of Buddhism.[10][note 3] It is one of the oldest known Buddhist symbols found in Indian art, appearing with the first surviving post-Harappan Indian iconography in the time of the Buddhist king Aśoka.[2][2][note 1]

The Buddha is said to have set the "wheel of dhamma" (dhammachakra) in motion when he delivered his first sermon,[11] which is described in the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta. The wheel itself depicts the idea about the cycle of rebirth of a human.

Buddhism adopted the wheel as the main symbol of the "wheel-turning" chakravartin, the ideal king[11] or "universal monarch",[8] who turns the wheel (of a chariot) when he conquers the world,[11] 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 praying wheels.The moving wheel symbolizes the movement of Rta, the cosmic order.[12]

Beyond Buddhism


  1. ^ a b 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".[10]


  1. ^ Buddhist symbolsancient-symbols.com,
  2. ^ a b c d Grünwedel 1901, p. 67.
  3. ^ Monier Willams
  4. ^ Day 1982, p. 42-45.
  5. ^ Mallory 1997, p. 640.
  6. ^ a b 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. ^ a b c d e Beer 2003, p. 14.
  9. ^ Buddhist symbolsancient-symbols.com,
  10. ^ a b Goetz 1964, p. 52.
  11. ^ a b c Pal 1986, p. 42.
  12. ^ Harrison 2010 (1912), p. 526.
  13. ^ Jainism: A Pictorial Guide to the Religion of Non-violenceKurt Titze, Klaus Bruhn,
  14. ^ "Framing the Jina: Narratives of Icons and Idols in Jain History", p. 314, by John Cort, publisher = Oxford University
  15. ^ 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


  • Anthony, David W. (2007), The Horse The Wheel and Language. How Bronze-Age Riders From The Eurasian Steppes Shaped The Modern World, Princeton University Press 
  • Beer, Robert (2003), The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols, Serindia Publications, Inc.,  
  • Day, Terence P. (1982), The Conception of Punishment in Early Indian Literature, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press,  
  • Goetz, Hermann (1964), The art of India: five thousand years of Indian art., Crown 
  • Grünwedel, Albert; Gibson, Agnes C.; Burgess, James (1901), Buddhist art in India, Bernard Quaritch 
  • Harrison, Jane Ellen (2010 (1912)), Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion, Cambridge University Press 
  • Hiltebeitel, Alf (2007), Hinduism. In: Joseph Kitagawa, "The Religious Traditions of Asia: Religion, History, and Culture". Digital printing 2007, Routledge 
  • Inden, Ronald (1998), Ritual, Authority, And Cycle Time in Hindu Kingship. In: JF Richards, ed., "Kingship and Authority in South Asia", New Delhi: Oxford University Press 
  • Mallory, J.P. (1997), Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers,  
  • Nath, Vijay (2001), "From 'Brahmanism' to 'Hinduism': Negotiating the Myth of the Great Tradition", Social Scientist 2001, pp. 19-50 
  • Pal, Pratapaditya (1986), Indian Sculpture: Circa 500 B.C.-A.D. 700, University of California Press 
  • Queen; King, Sallie B. (1996), Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist liberation movements in Asia., SUNY Press 
  • Samuel, Geoffrey (2010), The Origins of Yoga and Tantra. Indic Religions to the Thirteenth Century, Cambridge University Press 
  • Yan, Xiaojing (2009), Hidden Treasures and Intercultural Encounters: Studies on East Syriac Christianity in China and Central AsiaThe confluence of East and West in Nestorian Arts in China. In: Dietmar W. Winkler, Li Tang (eds.),, LIT Verlag Münster 

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.  

External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
  • Buddhist Wheel Symbol (Dharmachakra)