Chakra symbols are found in Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which have their roots in the Indian subcontinent. These traditions are sometimes grouped together as Tantra.
Chakra is a Sanskrit word which translates to ‘wheel’ or disk’ (sometimes ‘circle’). These meanings relate chakras to the concept of energy – particularly energy and motion – but also to religious and spiritual rituals, in which participants typically stand in a circular formation.
Ancient Hindu thought holds that there are two planes of existence: the physical, material plane and the non-physical realm. The non-physical realm might be thought to be where thoughts, spirits, emotions and energy are found.
In Buddhism, the word chakra – meaning ‘circle’ or ‘wheel’ – can be thought to represent the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.
In the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana, and the Padaka-Pancaka, both influential tantric texts, chakras are described as “emanations of consciousness” that come from the spiritual plane into the material world. Chakras are thought to be wheels of energy, spinning within and, at the same time, outside the body. This energy is called prana, and it is the life-force energy. Prana also translates as ‘breath’.
In the Western world, chakras and their associated symbols are most commonly associated with the practices of yoga and meditation. It is believed, particularly in the New Age movement, that chakras can become blocked or otherwise misaligned, stifling creativity or causing ill health.
Over time, a model of 7 chakras, each corresponding with a location on the human body, has developed. This is the most visible depiction of chakras in the modern age, though it is not the only one. Ancient Hindu and Buddhist texts present many alternate systems and doctrines.