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A Chakravati, possibly Ashoka, 1st century BCE/CE. Andhra Pradesh, Amaravati. Preserved at Musee Guimet

Chakravarti (Sanskrit: चक्रवर्ति; Pali: cakkavatti) is an ancient Indian term used to refer to an ideal universal ruler,[1] who rules ethically and benevolently over the entire world. Such a ruler's reign is called sarvabhauma. It is a bahuvrīhi, figuratively meaning "whose wheels are moving", in the sense of "whose chariot is rolling everywhere without obstruction". It can also be analyzed as an 'instrumental bahuvrīhi: "through whom the wheel is moving" in the meaning of "through whom the Dharmachakra ("Wheel of the Dharma) is turning" (most commonly used in Buddhism and Hinduism).

In Buddhism and Jainism, three types of Chakravartis are distinguished:[2]

  • Chakravala chakravarti, a ruler over all four continents postulated in ancient Indian cosmography
  • Dvipa chakravarti, a ruler over only one of four continents
  • Pradesa chakravarti, a ruler over only part of a continent.

The first references to a cakravala cakravrtin appear in monuments from the time of the Maurya Empire (322–185 BCE), dedicated to Chandragupta Maurya and his grandson Ashoka. It has not been generally used for any other historic figure. In Buddhism, the chakravarti came to be considered the secular counterpart of a Buddha. In general, the term applies to temporal as well as spiritual kingship and leadership, particularly in Buddhism and Jainism. In Hinduism, the term generally denotes a powerful ruler whose dominion extended to the entire earth.

Maitrayaniya Upanishad[edit]

The Maitrayaniya Upanishad (1.5) uses the term for kings who had renounced their royal prerogatives in favour of asceticism.

अथ किमेतैर्वा परेऽन्ये महाधनुर्धराश्चक्रवर्ति:
श्वाश्वपतिः शशबिन्दुर्हारिश्चन्द्रोऽम्बरीषो
राजानो मिषतो बन्धुवर्गस्य महतीं श्रियं
त्यक्त्वास्माल्लोकादमुं लोकं प्रयान्ति .. ५.[3]


atha kim etair vā pare 'nye mahādhanurdharāś cakravartiḥ
kecit sudyumnabhūridyumnendradyumnakuvalayāśvayauvanāśvavaddhiyā
śvāśvapatiḥ śaśabindurhāriścandro'mbarīṣo
rājāno miṣato bandhuvargasya mahatīṁ śriyaṁ
tyaktvāsmāllokād amuṁ lokaṁ prayānti 5


In the Mahabharata, twelve princes beginning with Bharata are considered Chakravartis.

  • Ikshvaku, the son of Ila of the Suryavanshi lineage after whom India was named as Ilavarta and Eelam.[4] In Hindu mythology he is said to have conquered the world.
  • Bharat was the son of the Puru Dynasty. The official name of the Republic of India, Bhārat (भारत) in Hindi and Bhāratam (भारतम्) in Sanskrit is named after him. He was able to conquer the whole Indian subcontinent. Legend holds that he even conquered regions outside of the Subcontinent such as Afghanistan (then referred to as Gandhara) and Tibet (then referred to as Bhūta).
  • Shibi,[citation needed] famous in Hindu and Buddhist mythology. He sacrificed his flesh. There have been several dynasties which have claimed heritage from Emperor Shibi's line. The Cholas mentioned him to be of Chola lineage, and referred to him as Sembiyan.
  • Imayavaramban Neduncheralathan, a Sangam age Tamil king said in inscriptions to have conquered up to the Himalayas.[5]


During the each motion of the half-cycle of the wheel of time, 63 Śalākāpuruṣa or 63 illustrious men, consisting of the 24 Tīrthaṅkaras and their contemporaries regularly appear.[6] The Jain universal or legendary history is basically a compilation of the deeds of these illustrious men. As per Jain cosmology, out of these 63, twelve are Chakravartis, who are Universal Monarch or World Conquerors. The Jaina Puranas give a list of twelve such Cakravartis who flourished in this Avasarpini. Golden in complexion, they all belonged to the Kasyapa gotra. The mother of a Cakraborty sees some dreams at the time of conception. According to the Adipurana, Bharata's mother saw the sun and the moon, the mount Meru, the lake with swans, earth and the ocean. According to Acharya Hemachandra, Marudevi, mother of Adinath, sees fourteen great dreams.[7] A chakravarti is considered an ideal human being endowed with thirty-two major signs of excellence and many minor signs of excellence.

The list of 12 chakravartis as per Jainism is as follows:[8]

  1. Bharata, son of Tirthankara Rishabha
  2. Sagara, ancestor of Bhagiratha as in the Puranas
  3. Maghavan
  4. Sanatkumara
  5. Tirthankara Shantinath
  6. Tirthankara Kunthunath
  7. Tirthankara Aranath
  8. Subhauma
  9. Padmanabha
  10. Harishena
  11. Jayasena
  12. Brahmadatt

In Jainism, a chakravarti was characterized by possession of saptaratna, or "seven jewels":

  1. chakram
  2. queen
  3. chariot
  4. jewel
  5. wealth
  6. horse
  7. elephant

Some lists cite navaratna or "nine jewels" instead, adding "prime minister" and "son".

The Boddhisattva-Cakravarti in Buddhism[edit]

The concept of the cakravarti existed in Buddhism as well as in Jainism. The Buddhist Mahāvastu (1.259f) and the Divyāvadāna, as well as the Theravadin Milindapañha, describe the marks of the cakravarti as ruler: uṣṇīṣa , chhatra "parasol", "horn jewel" or vajra, whisk and sandals. These were the marks of the kshatriya. Plastic art of early Mahayana Buddhism illustrates bodhisattvas in a form called uṣṇīṣin "wearing a turban/hair binding", wielding the mudras for "nonviolent cakravarti rule".[9]

Important quotes[edit]

Tibetan mandala of the six chakravartis

from External Links.

from Buddhist Wisdom Books, The Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra, translated and explained by Edward Conze.

from The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion,[10] commentaries on the Prajñaparamita Diamond Sutra, Thich Nhat Hanh

from Cakkavatti Sutta.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gopal, Madan (1990). K.S. Gautam, ed. India through the ages. Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 81. 
  2. ^ TheFreeDictionary
  3. ^ Source: Maitrayaniya Upanishad @ Wikisource in Unicode (accessed: Saturday March 6, 2010)
  4. ^ Charles Somasundrum: The continent of Ilamuridesam (Lemuria)
  5. ^ The Great Chronicle of Lanka
  6. ^ Jaini, Padmanabh (1998)
  7. ^ Umakant Premanand Shah (1987) Jaina-Rupa Mandana: Jaina Iconography:, Volume 1 Abhinav Publications ISBN 978-81-7017-208-6 p.72
  8. ^ Jagmanderlal Jaini Outlines of Jainism edited by F.W. Thomas. Appendix III
  9. ^ Falk, Harry, "Small-Scale Buddhism" in Voegeli, François; Eltschinger, Vincent; Candotti, Maria Piera; Diaconescu, Bogdan; Kulkarni, Malhar, eds. (2012). Devadattīyam : Johannes Bronkhorst felicitation volume. Bern: Peter Lang. ISBN 9783034306829. , p. 495
  10. ^ The Vajracchedika Prajnaparamita Sutra
  11. ^ Translator's note:4. This is the refrain repeated with each stage in the account of how human life will improve in the aftermath of the sword-interval. Here, "merit" seems to have the meaning it has in Iti 22: "Don't be afraid of acts of merit." This is another way of saying what is blissful, desirable, pleasing, endearing, charming — i.e., acts of merit."


External links[edit]