Yantra is the Sanskrit word for "instrument" or "machine". The meaning is contextual. Much like the word 'instrument' itself, it can stand for symbols, processes, machinery or anything that has structure and organisation. In the West, it is in popular use as symbols or geometric figures. Traditionally, such symbols are used in Eastern mysticism to balance the mind or focus it on spiritual concepts.

Etymology and Meanings

Yantra is a Sanskrit word that is derived from the root yam meaning to control or subdue or "to restrain, curb, check". Meanings for the noun derived from this root include:

  • "any instrument or machine" (i.e. that which is controlled or controls. For instance the body is said to be a yantra)
  • "any instrument for holding, restraining, or fastening" (for instance a symbol which 'holds' the essence of a concept, or helps the mind to 'fasten' on a particular idea)
  • "a mystical or astronomical diagram" (usually a symbol, often inscribed on an amulet) sometimes said to possess mystical or magical powers.

The other half of yantra is ‘-tra’ which is derived from the root word trayoti which means "liberation" (as in tantra and mantra). A yantra depicts both macrocosmic and microcosmic forces acting together the movement towards and away from the centre - "control" and "liberation" within one device. Mantra plus yantra creates tantra. In some disciplines of Tantra it is said that a focused, controlled gaze upon a particular yantra may lead to liberation.

Yantra as an astrological device

Yantra may be used to represent the astronomical position of the planets over a given date and time. It is considered auspicious in Hindu mythology. These yantras are made up on various objects i.e. Paper, Precious stones, Metal Plates and alloys. It is believed that constantly concentrating on the representation helps to build fortunes, as planets have their peculiar gravity which governs basic emotions and karma. These yantras are often made on a particular date and time according to procedures defined in the vedas.

Symbols employed in Yantras

Shapes and patterns commonly employed in yantra include squares, triangles, circles and floral patterns but may also include more complex and detailed symbols, for instance:

  • The lotus flower typically represent chakras, with each petal representing a psychic propensity (or vritti) associated with that chakra.
  • A dot, or bindu, represents the starting point of creation or the infinite, unexpressed cosmos.
  • The shatkona (Sanskrit name for a symbol identical to the star of David) composed of a balance between:
    • An upwards triangle denoting action (or service), extroversion, masculinity or Shiva
    • A downwards triangle denoting introversion, meditativeness, goddess energy or Shakti
  • A swastika represents good luck, welfare, prosperity or spiritual victory.
  • Bija mantras (usually represented as characters of Devanagari that correspond to the acoustic roots of a particular chakra or vritti)

The Shri Yantra is one of the most famous and ancient yantra