The Vajra is the quintessential symbol of Vajrayana Buddhism, which derives its name from the vajra itself. The Sanskrit term vajra means 'the hard or mighty one', and its Tibetan equivalent dorje means an indestructible hardness and brilliance like the diamond, which cannot be cut or broken. The vajra essentially symbolizes the impenetrable, immovable, immutable, indivisible, and indestructible state of enlightenment or Buddhahood.
The form of the vajra as a scepter or a weapon appears to have its origin in
the single or double trident, which arose as a symbol of the thunderbolt or
lightning in many ancient civilizations of the Near and Middle East.
Parallels are postulated with the meteoric hammer of the Teutonic sky-god
Thor, the thunderbolt and scepter of the Greek sky-god Zeus, and the three
thunderbolts of the Roman god Jupiter. As a hurled weapon the indestructible
thunderbolt blazed like a meteoric fireball across the heavens, in a
maelstrom of thunder, fire and lightning.
In ancient India, the vajra, as a thunderbolt, became the chief weapon of
the Vedic sky-god Indra. It controlled the forces of thunder and lightning,
breaking open the monsoon storm clouds, bringing the welcome rains to the
parched plains of an Indian summer. According to legend, Indra's thunderbolt
was fashioned from the bones of the great Rishi Dadhichi, who was
decapitated by Indra in sacrifice. Dadhichi's 'indestructible' skull-bones
gave Indra the most powerful of weapons. By its energy he slew innumerable
of his enemy demons. In mythological descriptions, Indra's thunderbolt or
vajra is shaped either like a circular discus with a hole at its center, or
in the form of a cross with transverse bladed bars. The Rigveda, the most
ancient text in the world, identifies the vajra as a notched metal club with
a thousand prongs. What is significant is that all these descriptions
identify the vajra as having open prongs, unlike the Buddhist one, which has
closed prongs. According to a Buddhist legend, Shakyamuni took the vajra
weapon from Indra and forced its wrathful open prongs together, thus forming
a peaceful Buddhist scepter with closed prongs. The Buddhist vajra hence
absorbed the unbreakable and indestructible power of the thunderbolt.
The vajra is indeed the most important ritual implement and symbol of
Vajrayana Buddhism. It is so important that many of the Vajrayana deities
have the word vajra prefixed to their names, two of them being Vajradhara
This description by Nitin Kumar, Executive Editor, Exotic India.
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