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This diagram of the six principal chakras of the Hindu Kundalini-Yoga system was drawn by Robert Beer and rendered into colour at the studio of Marc Baudin in Jaipur, India. The composition shows a naked yogin seated upon a triangular vajra-rock formation, with the faint outline of Mount Kailas appearing in the background. The yogin sits in vajra-posture with his hands behind his thighs, his long black locks of matted hair hang freely about his shoulders and back, and his eyes are focused in a concentrated gaze on the ajna-chakra between his eyebrows.
Ascending from the tip of his penis and through the axial centre of his body is the central channel or median psychic nerve, which is known in Sanskrit as the sushumna-nadi or 'most refined nerve-channel'. The central channel is traditionally described as ascending from the base of the spine to the crown aperture of the head, and on either side of it are the two subsidiary 'lunar and solar' channels. The white lunar channel, known as the ida-nadi or 'channel of comfort', ascends to the left of the central channel, and carries the white cooling male essences (semen) of the moon. And the red solar channel, known as the pingala-nadi or 'tawny channel', ascends to the right of the central channel, and carries the red heating female essences (uterine blood) of the sun. In certain Indian yogini or Shakti-Tantra traditions the polarities of these two subsidiary channels may sometimes be reversed. In this painting the two subsidiary channels are shown to arise from the small white crescent moon and golden sun in the yogin's left and right testicles. They then ascend on either side of the spine or central channel until they finally curve below the crown of the head and descend to the left and right nostrils. The terminations of these two channels are shown here extending twelve finger-widths beyond the yogin's nostrils, with the tip of the white lunar channel touching the centre of the white crescent moon that adorns his left earring, and the tip of the red solar channel touching the golden-red sun at the centre of his right earring. Yogins and Mahasiddhas are often described as wearing the sun and moon as ear ornaments, and the Sanskrit term for earring is kundala, which has the same root as kundalini, meaning 'coiled or circling'.
At various points along their ascent the lunar and solar channels cross over the central channel, creating constricting 'knots' or nerve-plexuses, which are known as nadi-chakra or 'channel wheels'. These constricting knots restrict the flow of the vital energies or 'winds' into the central channel, upon which the 'mind' travels as 'breath' or prana. In both the Hindu and Buddhist chakra systems there are said to be 72,000 psychic nerves or channels that permeate the 'subtle body'. Numerically these are derived from the eight main directional channels of the heart chakra, which divide into three (24), then into three again (72), and finally into a thousand refined branches (72,000). Purification of these 72,000 nadis is attained through the yogic practices of pranayama or breath-control, and hatha-yoga. The term 'Hatha Yoga', meaning 'forceful or violent union', is composed of the two bija syllables HA and THA of the sun and moon, symbolizing the red solar energy of the pingala-nadi and the white lunar energy of the ida-nadi, being 'forced' (hatha) into union (yoga) in the sushumna-nadi or central channel.
At the base of the central channel in the perineum is the muladhara-chakra, or 'root-bearing wheel', in which the serpent-goddess Kundalini Shakti lies coiled and dormant. She is traditionally described as having three-and-a-half coils, which is symbolically associated with the three-and-a-half days of her menstrual cycle. But when she is awakened her head enters the base aperture of the central channel and she ascends like a thread passing through a hollow reed as she seeks to unite with Shiva, her white lord and counterpart, who resides at the crown of the head. The muladhara-chakra has four red petals and bears the yellow square of the earth element on its central dais. Within this square are the symbols of a downward-pointing triangle enclosing the LAM syllable of the earth element, and a golden Shiva lingam around which the serpent Kundalini is coiled. The muladhara's presiding deity is Ganesha, its goddess is Dakini, its animal is an elephant, its elemental deity is the earth-goddess Prithvi, and is four petals are inscribed with the Sanskrit syllables: vam, sam, sham, sam.
Above this, and located at the pubic region, is the svadhisthana-chakra, or wheel of the 'abode or seat of the self', which has six red petals and bears a white crescent and the seed syllable VAM of the water element on its central dais. The svadisthana's presiding male deity is Brahma, its goddess is Rakini, its animal is the makara or crocodile of the water-god Varuna, and its six petals are inscribed with the Sanskrit syllables: bam, bham, mam, yam, ram, lam.
Above this, and located at the solar plexus, is the manipura-chakra, or wheel of the 'jewel-city', which has ten blue-gray petals and bears a downward-pointing red triangle and the seed syllable RAM of the fire element on its central dais. The manipura's presiding male deity is Vishnu, its goddess is Lakshmi, its animal is the ram of the fire-god Agni, and its ten petals are inscribed with the Sanskrit syllables: dam, dham, nam, tam, tham, dam, dham, nam, pam, pham.
Above this, and located at the heart, is the anahata-chakra, or wheel of the 'boundless', which has twelve pink petals and bears an intersecting six-pointed, blue-black star that is sealed with the seed syllable YAM of the wind element on its central dais. The anahata's presiding male deity is Rudra-Shiva, its goddess is Kakini, its animal vehicle is the deer of the wind-god Vayu, and its twelve petals are inscribed with the Sanskrit syllables: kam, kham, gam, gham, ngam, cam, cham, jam, jham, jnam, tam, tham.
Above this, and located at the throat, is the vishuddha-chakra, or wheel of 'poison-purifying', which has sixteen purple petals and bears a white circle that is sealed with the seed syllable HAM of the space element on its central dais. The vishuddha's presiding male deity is Sadashiva, its goddess is Shakini, its animal is a white elephant, and its sixteen petals are inscribed with the sixteen Sanskrit vowels: a, aa, i, ii, u, uu, ri, rii, lri, lrii, e, ai, o, au, am, ah.
Above this, and located at the 'third-eye' between the eyebrows, is the ajna-chakra, or wheel of 'wisdom', which has two gray or white petals and a white central dais that is sealed with the syllable OM inside a downward-pointing triangle. The ajna's presiding male deity is Paramashiva, its goddess is Hakini, its animal is a white swan, and its two petals bear the Sanskrit syllables: ham and ksham. Sometimes the presiding deity of the ajna-chakra is identified with Ardanarishvara, the androgynous form of Shiva and Shakti who are united together in the right and left halves of the same body.
Above the ajna-chakra are two 'secret chakras' that are utilized in an esoteric yogic practice known as khechari-mudra, where the frenum under the tongue is first severed so that the tongue can gradually be lengthened before being turned back into the throat to forcibly churn a cavity in the soft upper palate. The purpose of this inner-yoga practice is to churn the vital 'white lunar nectar'(soma) of Shiva that is preserved inside the skull, which causes the soma to melt and flood the yogin's body with great bliss. These secret chakras are known as golata and lalata, and they are respectively located on the uvula at the back of the throat, and within the pineal gland at the centre of the brain.
Above the pink petals of the lalata is the crowning syllable OM, with a white crescent moon, a golden sun, and a dissolving flame above it; and appearing above the crown of the yogin's head is the sahasrara-padma, or 'thousand-petal lotus'. On the central dais of this lotus is an upward-pointing white triangle with a red dot or bindu at its centre, which represents the red goddess Kundalini Shakti merging in non-dual union with her white lord, Shiva. The thousand-petal lotus appears as a halo of rainbow-colored light, which consists of twenty concentric rings of fifty lotus petals, with each ring of fifty petals bearing the sixteen vowels and the thirty-four consonants of the Sanskrit alphabet. As a 'rosary of sound', these fifty syllables also collectively occupy the fifty petals of the six chakras described above, which consist of 4 + 6 + 10 + 12 + 16 + 2 = 50 lotus petals.
© text by Robert Beer