A phurpa has a three-sided triangular blade. This triple blade issues from the jaws of a makara (mythical crocodile). Also issuing from the makara mouth are a couple of snakes (nagas), clinging to the uppermost blade. Above the makara head is a five-pronged vajra. Above the vajra are three heads of Hayagriva. Each head has three eyes, bushy eyebrows and an emblem of four skulls. The upswept hair of the three heads comes together at the top with a horse's head emerging at the apex. The horse is the distinguishing symbol of Hayagriva.
The three faces of Hayagriva signify that he is the deity invoked to dwell within the phurpa. These three faces destroy the afflictions of ignorance, desire and hatred. The binding of the hair into a single topknot symbolizes the binding of all extremes and contentions into the single nature of reality. Their nine eyes symbolize the nine vehicles of the Buddha's teachings. The twelve projecting skulls, which encircle their combined crown, represent the twelve deeds of the Buddha. These are:
1. His descent from the Tushita heaven.
2. His entry into his mother's womb.
3. His birth.
4. His mastery of arts and skills.
5. His marriage and fathering of a child.
6. His renunciation.
7. His practicing of austerities.
8. His resolve to meditate under the bodhi tree.
9. His conquest of Mara.
10. His enlightenment.
11. His turning of the wheel of dharma.
12. His death and parinirvana.
This description by Nitin Kumar, Executive Editor, Exotic India.
Beer, Robert. The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs: Massachusetts, Shambhala Publications, 1999.
Lipton, Barbara, and Nima Dorjee Ragnubs. Treasures of Tibetan Art: Collections of the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art: New York, Oxford University Press, 1996.
Of Related Interest :
Hayagriva - The Protector of Horses
Ritual Implements in Tibetan Buddhism: A Symbolic Appraisal