Yantra is the Sanskrit word for a mystical diagram, especially diagrams from the Tantric traditions of the Indian religions. They are used for worship of deities in temples or at home; as an aid in meditation; used for the benefits given by their supposed occult powers based on Hindu astrology and tantric texts.
In Classical Sanskrit, the generic meaning of yantra is “instrument, contrivance, apparatus”. In Rigvedic Sanskrit, it meant an instrument for restaining or fastening, a prop, support or barrier, etymologically from the root yam “to sustain, support” and the -tra suffix expressing instruments. The literal meaning is still evident in the medical terminology of Sushruta, where the term refers to blunt surgical instruments such as tweezers or a vice. The meaning of “mystical or occult diagram” arises in the medieval period (Kathasaritsagara, Pancharatra).
Madhu Khanna in linking mantra, yantra, deva, and thought forms states:
Mantras, the Sanskrit syllables inscribed on yantras, are essentially “thought forms” representing divinities or cosmic powers, which exert their influence by means of sound-vibrations.
Usage and meaning
Yantras are usually associated with a particular deity and are used for specific benefits, such as: for meditation; protection from harmful influences; development of particular powers; attraction of wealth or success, etc. They are often used in daily ritual worship at home or in temples, and sometimes worn as a talisman.
As an aid to meditation, yantras represent the deity that is the object of meditation. These yantras emanate from the central point, the bindu. The yantra typically has several geometric shapes radiating concentrically from the center, including triangles, circles, hexagons, octagons, and symbolic lotus petals. The outside often includes a square representing the four cardinal directions, with doors to each of them. A popular form is the Sri Chakra, orSri Yantra, which represents the goddess in her form as Tripura Sundari. Sri Chakra also includes a representation of Shiva, and is designed to show the totality of creation and existence, along with the user’s own unity with the cosmos.
Yantras can be on a flat surface or three dimensional. Yantras can be drawn or painted on paper, engraved on metal, or any flat surface. They tend to be smaller in size than the similar mandala, and traditionally use less color than mandalas.
Occult yantras are used as good luck charms, to ward off evil, as preventative medicine, in exorcism, etc., by using their magical power. When used as a talisman, the yantra is seen to represent a deity who can be called on at will by the user. They are traditionally consecrated and energized by a priest, including the use of mantras which are closely associated to the specific deity and yantra. Practitioners believe that a yantra that is not energized with mantra is lifeless.
Gudrun Bühneman classifies three general types of yantras based on their usage:
- Yantras that are used as foundation for ritual implements such as lamps, vessels, etc. These are typically simple geometric shapes upon which the implements are placed.
- Yantras used in regular worship, such as the Sri Yantra. These include geometric diagrams and are energized with mantras to the deity, and sometimes include written mantras in the design.
- Yantras used in specific desire-oriented rites. These yantras are often made on birch bark or paper, and can include special materials such as flowers, rice paste, ashes, etc.