Himalayan Art Resources

Ritual Object: Vajra & Bell Symbolism

Vajra & Bell Main Page

Vajra & Bell Symbolism:

The vajra scepter and the bell with a vajra handle are two of the three principal religious objects of Vajrayana Buddhism. The third ritual object is the mala, prayer beads. Another name for Vajrayana is Mantrayana. Mantras are verbal formulas or prayers recited and counted using a mala of varying and specific numbers of beads.

- Vajra & Bell: Part 1
- Vajra & Bell: Part 2

As a ritual object there are two common types of vajra and bell: five pronged and nine pronged. The prongs are sometimes referred to as tines. The Sarma schools emphasize the five pronged and the Nyingma school uses both the five and nine pronged vajra. The two types are not interchangeable in that a five pronged vajra is used with a bell that also has five prongs.

There are many different explanations of the symbolic meanings of the vajra and bell. The meanings can vary depending on the different tantra literature or cycle of Tantric practice. A general explanation describes the five pronged vajra scepter as representing twenty-eight (28) deities and the bell representing twenty-three deities (23).

The Vajra with five prongs represents: (1) the Five Symbolic Buddhas, (2) Eight Bodhisattvas, (3) Vajrasattva and consort, (4) Eight Goddesses, and (5) Five Dakinis. The five prongs are the buddhas. Below that are eight lotus petals representing the bodhisattvas. The round center represents Vajrasattva and consort. The second set of lotus petals are the Eight Goddesses. The remaining five prongs are the Five Dakinis.

The symbolism of the bell with a vajra handle represents: (1) the Five Symbolic Buddhas, (2) Eight Bodhisattvas, (3) Prajnaparamita and consort, and (4) Eight Goddesses. The five prongs are the buddhas. The lotus petals below (which are not always represented) are the Eight Bodhisattvas. The peaceful face is that of Prajnaparamita. The ring of Tibetan or Sanskrit letters at the top of the bell shape are the Eight Goddesses.

Jeff Watt 7-2021

(The images below are only a selection of examples from the links above).