Himalayan Art Resources

Subject: Svastika - Yungdrung Page

Abstract Concepts Glossary

Subjects, Topics & Types:
- Buddhist Svastika
- Bon Svastika
- Masterworks
- Confusions: Bliss Whorl
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- Video: A Question on the Use of Svastika in Himalayan Art

Svastika (Sanskrit Language, sva + asti, auspicious)
Yungdrung (Tibetan/Zhangzhung Language, ever-lasting)

In the Buddhism of the Himalayas, Tibet and Mongolia the svastika is used essentially as a decorative element. In China it is common to find a svastika outlined over the heart of a Buddha figure, painting or sculpture.

The images of figures in the gallery below are only a few examples of Bon teachers and deities that hold a yungdrung (svastika): Kunzang Gyalwa Dupa, Kunzang Akor, Satrig Ersang, Gyalwa Kagying Karpo and Tonpa Shenrab. The yungdrung is the principal symbol of the Bon Religion, also known as the Yungdrung Bon, Ever-lasting Truth. Letters are sometimes added to the legs of the yungdrung which can represent the elements of nature or mental states. The most basic and iconic Bon yungdrung always depicts the legs turning to the left. There are other types of Bon yungdrung such as the yungdrung scepter sometimes held in the hand of Tonpa Shenrab. It has the appearance of a weight lifter's 'dumb bell' with a central cylindrical handle with a yungdrung attached at both ends. Complex yungdrung designs with multiple forms woven together are more commonly found as calligraphy or relief sculpture in architecture.

The svastika is also a common symbol used in Indian magic in general and in many of the various Hindu and Tantric Buddhist traditions. In these traditions letters or words are also added to the legs, or between the legs, of the svastika and often indicate the use of the particular magical device. The svastika is generally drawn on paper or cloth, sometimes directly onto the ground, or at the entrance to a building. Magical devices such as this are often known as 'yantra diagrams.'

A common confusion that can arise when identifying the yungdrung is mistaking the bliss whorl used in Tantric imagery. The bliss whorl is a spiral shaped circle or disc that typically has four or three legs, envisioned as a flat disc-like shape. It can also be found with two legs but in that configuration it is unlikely to be confused with a yungdrung.

Jeff Watt 3-2007 [updated 5-2013, 5-2017, 2-2020]