The Concept of Chakras or Energy Centers Of The Human Body


by Jayaram V

The Sanskrit word chakra or cakra has multiple meanings. It is most commonly used to denote a wheel such as that of a carriage, a potter, any sharp, disc shaped weapon such as that of Vishnu (chakradhara), a circle or a ring, the shape of the sun and the moon, realm of an emperor (chakravarti), a province or district, military formation (Chakravyuha), a whirlpool or a whirlwind (chakravaatam) and the name of a bird (chakravakam). It is pronounced as chuck+rah (cha as in church and kra as in crust).

In the ritual and spiritual traditions of Hinduism, chakra is used to denote any phenomenon which has a cyclical or circular motion or aspect to it. For example, it is used to describe the wheel of Time (kala chakra), the wheel of Dharma (dharma chakra), the wheel of life (jivana chakra) and the wheel of creation (srishti chakra). All these are cyclical in nature.

In the Svetasvatara Upanishad, the highest God, Brahman himself is described as a wheel (Brahma chakram) because he is the source of order and regularity or the rhythm of things (rta). Kram means order. Chakram denotes the orderly progression of a thing or phenomenon. Therefore, very aptly it symbolizes the idea of Rta or the order and regularity of creation, which is enforced by a set of divine and moral duties, which are collectively known as Dharma.

The significance of Kundalini Chakras

Chakra is also used to denote the energy centers in the spinal region of the body and the mystic diagrams (yantras) which are used in ritual worship. Some traditional sources describe five or seven such chakras, and some eight. The Kundalini chakras are described as being aligned in an ascending column from the base of the spine to the top of the head. In some new age practices, each chakra is associated with a certain color. In various traditions chakras are associated with multiple physiological functions, aspects or levels of consciousness, classical elements and other distinguishing characteristics. They are visualized as lotuses, with a different number of petals in every chakra.

It is believed that the chakras vitalize the physical body and influence the physical, emotional and mental movements of the mind and body. They are considered to be the loci of life-energy (known as prana, shakti or chi), which also flow through them along the pathways called nadis. The main function of the chakras is to draw in the prana by spinning around their own axes and hold it in their respective spheres to maintain and balance the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical wellbeing of the mind and body. The idea of energy centers in the body has parallels in other culture. For example, the traditional Chinese medicine also relies on a similar model of the human body as an energy system containing the life force called chi.

The sources of knowledge

The New Age movement and the popularity of yoga led to an increased interest in the West regarding chakras. Many in this movement point to a correlation between the position and role of the chakras and those of the glands in the endocrine system. Some people in the New Age also claim that other chakras, besides the above, exist — for instance, ear chakras — and have described many more chakras than the ones mentioned in the traditional texts. Frequently, references are made to the chakras in the New Age "sacred sexuality" or neotantra movement.

The chakras are described in the tantric texts, the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancaka, in which they are described as emanations of consciousness from Brahman, an energy emanating from the spiritual which gradually turns concrete, creating these distinct levels of chakras, and which eventually finds its rest in the Muladhara chakra. They are therefore part of Emanation theories (that the material universe originated from a transcendental first principle), like that of the kabbalah in the west, Lataif-e-sitta in Sufism or Neo-Platonism. The energy that was unleashed in creation, called the Kundalini, lies coiled and asleep at the base of the spine. The tantric or kundalini forms of yoga aim to arouse this energy, and cause it to rise back up through the increasingly subtler chakras, until union with God is achieved in the Sahasrara chakra at the crown of the head. With the return of the energy to the transcendental from the physical, the cycle is complete.

Apart from the descriptions found in these primary texts from India, different Western authors have tried to describe the chakras, most notably the Theosophists. Many New Age writers, such as the Danish author and musician, Peter Kjaerulff in his book, The Ringbearer's Diary, or Anodea Judith in her book Wheels of Life, have written their opinions about the chakras in great detail, including the reasons for their appearance and functions.

The seven chakras are said by some to reflect how the unified consciousness of humanity (the immortal human being or the soul), is divided to manage different aspects of earthly life (body/instinct/vital energy/deeper emotions/communication/having an overview of life/contact to God). The chakras are placed at differing levels of spiritual subtlety, with Sahasrara at the top, representing pure consciousness, and Muladhara at the bottom representing matter, which is seen simply as crude consciousness.

Origins and development of the concept of chakras

The earliest known mention of chakras is found in the later Upanishads, including specifically the Brahma Upanishad and the Yogatattva Upanishad. These Vedic models were adapted in Tibetan Buddhism as Vajrayana theory, and in the Tantric Shakta theory of chakras.

It is the Shakta theory of 7 main chakras that most people in the West adhere to, either knowingly or unknowingly, largely thanks to a translation of two Indian texts, the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancaka, by Sir John Woodroffe, alias Arthur Avalon, in a book entitled The Serpent Power.

This book is extremely detailed and complex, and later the ideas were developed into what is predominantly western view of the Chakras by the Theosophists, and largely the controversial (in theosophical circles) views of C. W. Leadbeater in his book The Chakras, which were mostly formulated from his own meditations and insights on the matter.

That said, many present-day Indian gurus who incorporate the knowledge of chakras within their systems of philosophy do not seem to radically disagree with the western view of chakras, at least on the key points. Thus, both the eastern and western views have developed in large part from the Shakta Tantra school.

There are various other models of chakras in other traditions, notably in the Chinese medicine, and also in Tibetan Buddhism. Even in the Jewish kabbalah, the different Sephiroth are sometimes associated with parts of the body. In Islamic Sufism, Lataif-e-Sitta ( Six Subtleties ) are considered psycho-spiritual "organs" or faculties of sensory and suprasensory perception, the activation of which makes a man complete. Attempts are made to try and reconcile these systems with each other, and with some notable success. Common ground was found even between such diverged traditions as Shakta Tantra, Sufism and Kabbalism, where Chakras, Lataif (psychic organs) and Sefirot or Sephiroth (emanations) can seemingly represent the same archetypal spiritual concepts. In Surat Shabda Yoga, initiation by a living Satguru (true teacher) is required, which involves reconnecting a soul to the Shabda (mystic sound) and stationing the Inner Shabda Master (the Radiant Form of the Master) at the third eye chakra.

The seven basic chakras

The traditional model as described by Sir Arthur Avalon in his book, the Serpent Power, presents a seven-chakra system along the spinal column, from the anus to the head region. The following is a description of each chakra, its associated psycho-spiritual importance and presiding deities.

Sahasrara, the Crown Chakra

Sahasrara or the crown chakra is the source of the highest intelligence (prajnanam). Located at the tip or crown of the head, it is the chakra of pure consciousness, the master chakra that controls all the others, and the destination of the rising Kundalini where upon one enters the state of Samadhi or unified consciousness without the distinction of subject and object. Its role is very similar to that of the pituitary gland, which secretes hormones that control the rest of the endocrine system and connects to the central nervous system via the hypothalamus. The thalamus (which is mainly responsible for sensory and motor activities of humans and regulates wakeful consciousness) is thought to have a key role in the physical basis of consciousness. Sahasrara is symbolized by a lotus with a thousand petals.

Ajna, the Third Eye Chakra

Ajna or the third eye chakra is the source of intuitive or psychic knowledge and linked to the pineal gland. It represents, the syllable AUM and the dual state of Shiva as Shiva and Shakti. Hence, it is said to be presided over by Ardhanarisvara. Ajna is the chakra of time, awareness and light. The pineal gland is a light sensitive gland, which produces the hormone melatonin and which regulates the instincts of going to sleep and waking up. It is suspected that it may also produce trace amounts of the psychedelic chemical dimethyltryptamine. Ajna chakra is symbolized by a lotus with two petals. (Some argue that the pineal and pituitary glands should be exchanged in their relationship to the Crown and Brow chakras, based on the description in Arthur Avalon's book on kundalini called Serpent Power or empirical research).

Vishuddha, the Throat Chakra

Vishuddha or the throat chakra is the source of sacred speech and related to communication and growth, growth being a form of expression. It is presided over by the fivefold Shiva (Panchavaktra Shiva) who performs the fivefold functions of creation and is represented by the syllable HAM. Shakini is his associated Shakti. This chakra is paralleled to the thyroid, a gland that is also present in the throat, and which produces thyroid hormone, which is responsible for growth and maturation. It is symbolized by a lotus with sixteen turquoise petals encircling a triangle with a silver moon inside.

Anahata, the Heart Chakra

Anahata or the heart/emotions chakra is related to love, equilibrium, and well-being and acts as the source of emotional intelligence. It is related to the thymus, located in the chest. This organ is part of the immune system and the endocrine system. It produces T cells (which are responsible for fighting off disease) and is adversely affected by stress. Symbolized by a lotus with twelve green petals, it is called the heart-mind, which encircles a yantra of two intersecting triangles, forming a hexagram, symbolizing the union of the male and female. It is represented by syllable YAM and said to be the seat of emotions and passions.

Manipura, the Stomach Chakra

Manipura or the solar plexus chakra is related to metabolism, energy, assimilation and digestion, and is said to correspond to the roles played by the pancreas and the outer adrenal glands, the adrenal cortex. They play an important role in digestion and conversion of food into energy for the body. Symbolized by a lotus with ten petals with a downward triangle at the cente, it is presided over by Bradda Rudra, with Lakini as his Shakti, and represented by the seed syllable RAM. It is the source of physical and mental power, will and resolve.

Swadhisthana, the Sacral Chakra

Swadhisthana or the sacral chakra is located in the groin, and is related to emotion, sexuality and creativity. This chakra is said to correspond to the testicles or the ovaries, which produce the various sex hormones that are involved in the reproductive cycle, which can cause dramatic mood swings. It is symbolized by a white lotus with six petals and a crescent moon inside. With Brahma as its presiding deity and Rakini as his Shakti, it is represented by the syllable VAM. As the charka which empowers the reproductive organs, it is the source of creative and reproductive power.

Muladhara, the Base Chakra

Muladhara, the base or the root chakra is related to security, survival and the basic human potentiality. This center is located in the region between the genitals and the anus. Although no endocrine organ is placed here, it is said to relate to the inner adrenal glands, the adrenal medulla, and responsible for the fight and flight response when survival is under threat. In this region is located a muscle, which controls ejaculation in the sexual act. A parallel is drawn between the sperm cell and the ovum, where the genetic code lies coiled, and the kundalini. Symbolized by a lotus with four petals encircling a rectangle, with an inverted triangle in it. Ganesha is its presiding deity, with Dakini as his Shakti. LAM is the seed syllable.

The eight Tantric Chakras

The Tantric and Shakti traditions identify eight basic chakras instead of seven. The seven chakras are the same as mentioned above. In addition, they identify the Bindu chakra as the lowest, below the Muladhara. The eight chakras are listed below.

  1. Sahasrara
  2. Ajna
  3. Vishuddha
  4. Anahata
  5. Manipura
  6. Swadhisthana
  7. Muladhara Bindu

Are the chakras real?

There is a lot of speculation associated with the Chakras. What are they? Are they real and physical or imaginary? Just as the nadis, which are subtle channels that crisscross the whole body as a complex network, the chakras are subtle and cannot be really identified or located by any physical means. They may not even exist as fixed entities outside our imagination. However, they can be activated during meditation and brought to life to facilitate the upward movement of the Kundalini. Just as the internet comes into existence when you switch on a computer or a digital device, the chakras come into existence when you practice meditation and visualize the chakras in your body at specific locations. The practice facilitates the flow of pranic energy through the three main energy channels namely the central Sushumna, the left Ida and the right Pingala. The three nadis meet in the Muladhara region. The opposite energies of the right and left nadis meet in the central Sushumna, which then activates the Kundalini and rises up to activate the other six chakras, as the Kundalini keeps rising up through each chakra.

Suggestions for Further Reading


1. The Wikipedia article "Chakras"

2. Woodroffe, John (1919–1964). The Serpent Power. Madras, India: Ganesh & Co.

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