Sudarshana Chakra - The Divine Discus of Damodara - Vishwas Govindrajan

Sphurad sahasrara Shikhadhi theevram,

Sudarshanam Bhaskara koti thulyam,
Suradvisham prana vinasi vishno,
Chakram Sadaham saranam prapadhye.,

This is the first stanza of the very famous and powerful “Panchayudha stotram”. It is a prayer to the foremost weapon of Lord Mahavishnu. Loosely translated it says:

I perennially surrender to Vishnu’s discus,
Which has extreme sharpened tips that are sharper than thousands of flames,
Sudarshana, which is equal to billion suns,
And which takes out the life of Rakshasas.

This discus of Vishnu is the celestial ‘Sudarshana Chakra’. It is a devastra, a divine weapon wielded by the Great Sustainer, the blue hued Paramatma, Jaggannatha, Lord Mahavishnu.  The name Sudarshana is a combination of two words; “Su” and “Darshanam” which means auspicious vision. The Sudarshana Chakra has many names like Hetiraja or Aayudeshwar  (the King of weapons), Chakratazhwar or Chakra Perumal.

Sudarshana Chakra is  called out as symbol of Mahavishnu. It is unquestionably the Lord’s weapon of choice. Let’s look at this divine disc’s claim to fame. The Vedas, Puranas and our rich and colorful Itihaasa tell us various means and methods to recognize Lord Mahavishnu. Our Jagadguru, Bhagavad Pada, Shri Adi Shankara composed a beautiful ode called Krishnashtakam, which is eight verses in praise of Lord Krishna in which in the final verse he says:

Shrivatsankam Mahoraskam Vanamala Virajitam
Shankhachakradharam Devham Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum||

It means, “On whose broad chest, the Srivatsam and the Vanamala are seated (reside), the God who wields the conch and the discus, I praise Krishna, the Guru of the universe.” Adi Shankara tells us that Lord Krishna has the conch and the disc. Bhagavad Pada uses the conch and the discus as identifications of Lord Mahavishnu. So, the God who wields the disc is none other than THE Chakradhari or Chakrapani or the Parama Purusha; Lord Mahavishnu.  It’s eternally bound to the Lord in His service.     

Among all the celestial weapons of the Devas, the Sudarshana Chakra is the only devastra that is mobile. Typically, any weapon, be it mortal or divine, needs a physical impetus to be activated or coerced into action. The Vajra, Indra Deva’s weapon, needs to be hurled or an arrow needs to be fired or a mace also needs to be wielded by a warrior. The Sudarshana Charka needs only to “be willed” by the Lord. Yes, popular folklore and pictorial history show the disc spinning round the finger of the Lord but it does not have to be flung or thrown like a disc and therein lies its existential reason and its uniqueness. The Sudarshana Chakra is attuned to the will of God and it executes that Divine Will in extreme efficiency and ruthlessness. It takes but a moment for this discus to perform its action and reappear in the Lord hand. Legends and stories state that this weapon traverses a path of zero stress or friction as it passes through air and can travel at astonishing speeds.

There are various versions that have sprouted in the pages of our Puranas and history on the origin  of this celestial weapon. Pauranic legends fill our imagination with a kaleidoscope of stories, each more fantastic than the other and all of them hyperbolic. Some say that this disc was created by combining the energies of Brahma, Mahavishnu and Shiva.

Pauranic Legends:
One recurring story in the Vishnu Purana and the Markandeya Purana is about the creation of the discus by the celestial architect Vishwakarma. The story talks about how Sanjana, the wife of Surya Deva and daughter of Vishwakarma complains to her father about being unable to approach the Sun God due to his effulgence and heat. Vishwakarma asked Surya Deva to reduce both so that Sanjana may approach him. The Vishnu Purana states that Vishwakarma uses a lathe to grind off one eighth of the effulgence of the Sun (because the rest was inseparable). The divine architect used the filed off brilliance of the Sun to forge the weapons for the Gods. The discus of Vishnu, the trident of Śiva, pushpaka vimana for Kunbera, the spear of Kártikeya, and the weapons of the other gods. 

The Markandeya Purana offers a more elaborate commentary on what was created from the Sun dust. It states that the Sun’s effulgence was split into 16 divisions. The Divine Architect, from the first fifteen divisions of the divine effulgence of the Surya Deva crafted the trident of Shiva, the discus of Vishnu, the dreadful maces of the Vasus, Sankara and the fire god, the pushpaka vimana of  Kubera, and other shining weapons of Yakshas, Vidyadharas and other celestials. After that, the Sun has only one sixteenth of its effulgence as Vishwakarma had distributed the other 15 parts.

The Shiva Purana states that Lord Shiva gave the chakra to Lord Mahavishnu when the latter worshipped him to procure a weapon to counter the menace of the Asuras against the Devas.

Epic lore:
The Sudarshana Chakra finds mention in both the epics of Bharata Varsha. Valmiki’s Ramayana and the Mahabharata discuss the possession of the weapon but not its origin. The Adi Parva of the Mahabharata talks about how Lord Krishna got the discus from Agni by assisting him to wipe out the forest of Khandava. While the Anushasana Parva talks about how Lord Shiva named the discus Sudarshana and gave it to Mahavishnu to counter the daityas. Valmiki’s Ramayana has a passing reference to the Sudarshana Chakra in the Kishkinda Kandam.

Scholars tend to quote the Valmiki Ramayana to point out the origins of the Sudarshana Chakra. In the 42nd chapter of the Kishkinda Kandam, there is a reference to a “thousand spoked” discus, in the Chakravaan mountain in the 27th shloka, but it is not the celestial disc of Lord Mahavishnu. Vishwakarma was adept at building complex objects for the devas and the daityas. The 28th shloka provides more indicators of the mountain where Goddess Sita would be searched by the vanara army and it describes it as the place where Purushottama slew two danavas, Hayagrivasura and Panchajanya. This episode happened in the Matsya Avatara, Hayagrivasura, the horse faced demon, stole the celestial weapons from Mahavishnu and the Lord slew him on the Chakravaan mountain and “retook” his conch and discus from the asura.

Understanding this Divine Discus:

The Vishishthadvaita school of thought has an interesting take on this divine discus. It states that the Sudarshana Chakra is Lord Mahavishnu’s “Sankalpa”. It is His Will personified. It is a manifestation of Lord Mahavishnu himself. This personification of a celestial weapon in Vishishthadvaitam lends credence to the various acts and legends of this celestial weapon. It’s manifestation as the “Sankalpa” of the Shripati is simultaneously allegorical and literal. It gives a physical shape and form to the divine Will of Lord Mahavishnu and it also carries out the task accorded by that Sankalpa. 

In the Pancharatra Agama, the Ahirbudhnya Samhita offers a very definitive and clear understanding of the Sudarshana Chakra. It states that the Kriya Shakti of Sriman Narayana is the Sudarshana Tattva. In the 36th chapter, the 56th shloka help us understand the nature and the essence of this celestial weapon.

kriyarupayah sakteh sudarsanarupatvam

tattvavidbhiridaṃ proktaṃ dvitiyeha sudarsanam |

tabhyam saktibhyam vina bhagavato'pyakiṃcitkaratvam

tasmallaksmya vina devah samkalpe na prabhurharih || 36-56 ||


Interesting side note to our readers: The Ahirbudhnya Samhita is considered to be among the more important works in the Vishishthadvaita school of thought. It is found in the Pancharatra Agama & it is perhaps the most defining work that gives us a near complete perspective on Sudarshana. It provides comprehensive details on worship of the personified deity form of Sudarshana and provides mantras for Shakti. Like many other works, this text too is a dialogue between two great sages, Bharadwaja and Durvasa. Bharadwaja requests Durvasa to talk about the wondrous Divine Discus of Sriman Narayana.    

The Chakra Chronicles:

In the myriad history of Bharata Varsha, the Sudarshana Chakra is the remorseless golden discus of justice that punctuates itself at the end of every tale to vanquish evil. This Divine Discus has sliced through the ages annihilating the villains of yore. It is the full stop after the story of evil. To state that Lord Mahavishnu metes out justice to evil only through the Sudarshana Chakra would not be far from fact. Since it is the Sankalpa or the Kriya Shakti of the God, it’s manifestations too are in accordance with the Avataras of Lord Mahavishnu.

Here are some of the interesting incidents that have been chronicled about this celestial circle. In the tale of Samudhra Matahnam  the Discus was used to cut the Mandarachala Mount to be used for the churning of the ocean of milk. In the Kritha Yuga, When Prithvi was abducted by  demon Hiranyaksha and hidden in the ‘pralaya sagara’ (the deluge waters). Mahavishnu took the form as a wild boar, the Varaha Avatara and rescued Prithvi by fighting and slaying the demon. In this avatara to assist in the killing of Hiranyaksha, the Sudarshana Chakra is believed to have manifested in the tusks of the boar as they sliced through the demon.

In the Narasimha Avatara, there are two instances when the Sudarshana Charka was used. The Vishnu Purana states that Bhakta Prahlada was subjected to the wiles of a demoness Sambara who was employed by an asura King, Hiranyakasipu, to beguile Prahlada and kill him. But the Sudarshana Chakra destroyed the demoness the thousand devices of the evil demoness. It is also supposed to have manifested in the nails of Narasimha Bhagwan, as he tore through the innards of Hiranyakasipu.   

The Sudarshana Chakra emerges in all its glory and true form in the Krishna Avatara in the Dwapara Yuga. Muralidhara uses it to behead Sishupala after the latter insulted him 100 times. It is also displayed when Krishna assumes his ‘Vishwaroopa’. The association of the discus with Damodara in his manifestation as Krishna is chronicled with varied stories and instances and accomplishments like lifting of the Govardhana mountain, killing of Jayatratha, etc…

The destruction of Kashi (present day Varanasi) is a tale that is oft repeated and can be found in the Vishnu Purana, the Mahabharata and in Srimad Bhagavatam. Lord Krishna used the Sudarshana Chakra to slay Paundraka and his ally, the King of Kashi when Paundraka claimed to be the real incarnation of Mahavishnu on earth. Later, when Sudakshina, the Kashi King’s son sent a dark spirit ‘Kritya’ to kill Krishna to avenge his father’s death, the Lord used the Sudarshana Chakra again to overpower ‘Kritya’ and then burnt down the city of Kashi.

When the great God Neelakantha destroyed Tripura, it is believed that the Sudarshana Chakra was the tip of the arrow that was used. Legend also has it that the Chakra protected the King Ambarisha against the anger and curse of the great sage Durvasa and in fact chased the Sage till he apologized to the King.      

The story of Gajendra, the elephant devotee of Lord Mahavishnu is arguably among the more popular tales that scholars, philosophers, seers and elders love to expound. Folklore goes that an elephant was an ardent devotee of Lord Mahavishnu and used to place a lotus flower every day at the shrine of the Lord. One day when it was plucking the lotus flower, a crocodile caught its leg and trapped it. After a prolonged struggle, the elephant realized the futility and called out to God for help.  The Lord instantly appeared and killed the crocodile using the Sudarshana Chakra.

Philosophical exposition of the Divine Will:

I’ve heard many interesting perspectives of this tale but there is one thought that struck a powerful chord in me. When Gajendra called for help, the Lord immediately responded and came on his celestial vehicle Garuda to rescue him. Apparently, if one noticed God’s appearance closely, one would’ve realized that his ensemble was haphazard signifying that he was in a great hurry to respond to plea of a bhakta but even at that moment, the Sudarshana Chakra (His Divine Will) was EVEREADY! It was spinning ceaselessly already singing the tune of death for the crocodile and it took but a moment for the discus to slay the crocodile.

Earlier, I used adjectives like “remorseless” and “ruthless” to describe the qualities of this Divine Discus. There is a reason for it. The Lord is a “Karuna Moorthy”, he is infinitely compassionate. His consort, Lokamata Mahalakshmi, is the epitome of Matrutva. She, is forever, asking the Lord to forgive her children (all of us) of their sins and grant them Moksha.  So, all slights or sins we commit against the Lord is forgiven by the Divine Couple, but if we offend a Bhakta there is no forgiveness. This act of offending a devotee angers God and His Will is to punish the wrong doer immediately. In Krishna Avatara, Sishupala offended Lord Krishna 100 times before he was killed but with Gajendra, he had to call out to God just once and the crocodile was killed.

That Divine Will which metes out instant justice is the Sudarshana Chakra which punishes the offender ruthlessly, remorselessly and instantaneously. Vedantis make a stellar point here to state that even if the Lord takes a moment to get ready his weapon the Sudarshana Chakra never delays in responding to a bhakta’s call. It is always ready, always spinning, always resplendent and forever bound to Sriman Narayana.   

The word Sudarshana means auspicious vision. In Sanskrit, there is an adage, “Shobanam darshanam asyeti  Sudarshanaha”. It means - That which is beautiful to look at is called Sudarshana. The personified Deity form of Sudarshana Chakra is an auspicious sight. His resplendent form fills the devotees with hope and faith that all obstacles will be removed. If our hearts are filed with malice and sin, his aspect is fearsome, radiating an aura that sounds a warning of swift and instant retribution and justice for our sins.

Scholars also offer another relevant explanation to the name Sudarshana. They collude that this deity also shows us the path to attain the Lord. He’s a guide, mentoring and directing us towards ‘Moksha’ and along the way he also destroys our negative karmas.

Form of the formless:

There is a beautiful shloka called the “Sudarshana Shatakam” which is a composition of 100 shlokas on the Sudarshana Chakra written by a scholar Sri Koora Narayana Jeeyar. It details out all the aspects and characteristics of this divine discus. In this tribute, the author describes the form of the chakra.

There are five parts of the Sudarshana Chakra.

Jwala: The outer circular part consists of flames.

Nemi: This is the rim of the disc just on the inside of the Jwala.

Aram: From the circumference, Nemi, there are spokes which are called as the ‘Aram’.

Nabhi: The spokes from the Nemi connect the circumference to a centre point called the Nabhi.

Aksham: The Aksham is the  axle of the Chakra. 

In  the Narasimha Tapani Upanishad, Lord Brahma instructs the Devas on the Sudarshana Chakra. The Devas, having heard snippets of information from sages are eager to know about a Chakra called the ‘Maha Chakra’ that is known to fulfill all the wishes and is also supposed to be the pathway to Moksha. Brahma Deva goes on to expound the concept of the Sudarshana Chakra. He says, “The great Maha Chakra is Sudarshana Chakra (the divine discus of Lord Mahavishnu). In the centre, ‘OM’ the Tara mantra and ‘KSHROUM’ the single word of Lord Narasimha are etched. The words ‘SAHASRARA  HUM  PHAT’ are etched on six petals. On eight petals, the words OM NAMO NARAYANA and on twelve petals, the words OM NAMO BHAGAVATE VASUDEVAYA are etched. On sixteen petals, the sixteen vowels with anusvara  (AM, AAM, IM, EEM…… AHA) are etched and on 32 petals are etched the powerful Narasimha Anushtup Mantra Raja. That is the Sudarshana Chakra which fulfils ones wishes and is the gateway to Moksha.

Earlier in the article we read about the Sudarshana Chakra being the Divine Will of the Lord Mahavishnu. Here, we discuss a physical form of the Chakra. A deity that people can see and associate with and it makes for easy comprehension. It may appear paradoxical but there is a sense of logic to this. This anthropomorphic form of the Sudarshana Chakra is a personified symbol that people can see and worship. The personified deitification of the Divine Will enables devotees to easily identify with the symbol, offer their oblations and pray to it. There is almost always a deity of Sudarshana in most Mahavishnu temples.

Worship of the Sudarshana Deity:

The Sudarshana Chakra is worshipped by devotees in many ways. Some revelers worship the discus by chanting mantras, some others use yantras, a few use tantras as well. The most popular method that people follow is to conduct a ‘Sudarshana Homam’ i.e. Sudarshana Yajna or Havan. This Yagna is conducted for the well-being of the household, peace, prosperity, health, wealth and fame. Many people also conduct this Yajna when they build or buy new homes or change their residences. Businessmen also conduct this Yagna for the business to flourish. Even kings and emperors have prayed to the Sudarshana deity to achieve victory in war and attain sovereignty over their land and empires. 

Reciting the shlokas of the Sudarshana Deity is also considered to be highly beneficial and scores of devotees can be seen reciting the shlokas every Saturday and lighting ghee lamps at the temple. There are three very prominent shlokas that people chant to propitiate the Sudarshana Chakra -

1. Sudarshana Ashtakam by the Sri Vedanta Desika, which is a composition of eight shlokas in praise of the Sudarshana Chakra. This composition is a literary masterpiece of Sanskrit literature. It is believed that when a town was afflicted with poisonous fever and it spread like an epidemic, Sri Vedanta Desika wrote this poem and prayed to the Sudarshana Chakra. It helped the town rid of the fever. This is the most popular shloka for Sudarshana worship and many devotees recite this. You can listen to an amazing recitation of this shloka here:

2. Sudarshana Shatakam by Sri Koora Narayana Jeeyar is a more comprehensive composition of 100 shlokas which is equally fascinating and is recited by many devotees. Legend has it that when one of the priests of the Srirangam temple fell seriously ill and could not attend to the temple duties, the author recited this composition and helped the priest regain his health. Listen to the recitation of this shloka at:  

3. Hetiraja Stavam by Sri Nadadoor Ammal is a rare but exemplary piece of literature written during the Bhakti Era. It is also in the shloka form and praises the deitified form of the Sudarshana Chakra.

 As a deity, Sudarshana Chakra is present in many Mahavishnu temples but predominantly there are few temples that devotees throng to:

Temples in Tamil Nadu

The Chakrapani temple in Kumbakonam is of special significance because the presiding deity of the temple is Sudarshana as Chakrapani.

The Chakratazhwar Sannidhi at the Kalameghaperumal temple, Thirumohoor, Madurai.

The Chakratazhwar Sannidhi at the Sri Ranganatha Swamy temple Srirangam, Tiruchirapalli.

The Chakratazhwar Sannidhi at the Varadharaja Perumal temple, (Sri Devaraja Swamy temple), Kanchipuram.

Temples in Kerala

The Thuravoor temple where the presiding deity is Ugra Narasimha moorthy and Maha Sudarsananam in the district of Allapuzha.

Sri Mahavishnu Sudarshana Temple, Pallikkara

Ayyarvattom Maha Sudarshana Temple, Eravannur

The Anjumoorthy (Five Deities) Temple where Sudarshana is considered to be self-manifested or ‘Swayambhu’ and is one of the five main deities. Vadakkencherry, Palakkad.

Sri Narayanathu Kavu Sudarshana Temple, Tirur Kerala.

Temples in Karnataka

Sri Sudarshana Sannidhi at Sri Ranganatha temple, Srirangapattana.

Temple in Orissa:

The famed Jaggannath Temple, Puri, where Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are the three main deities but the Sudarshana Chakra along with other deities of Madanmohan, Sridevi and Vishwadhatri are also placed alongside. The uniqueness of this temple is that the statues or icons of three main deities and the Sudarshana Chakra are made from the logs of a neem tree.

There is an anecdote that comes to mind that I would like to share. In my hometown, Srirangam, there is a ‘Chakratazhwar Sannidhi’ (mini temple of the Sudarshana deity) within the huge Sri Ranganatha Swamy Temple. It attracts throngs of devotees. Locals are always quick to point out that the crowds at this mini temple sometimes exceed those of the main deity Sri Ranganatha! Folklore states that devotees nowadays are very smart and impatient even in their worship. They want immediate results. They know that the Sudarshana Chakra or the Divine Will of the Lord is known for its instant munificence. So, even if the Lord slightly delays in providing succor to his devotee, there is no delay whatsoever from The Divine Discus of Damodara.

Hey ! Damodara, rid us of our negative karmas and bless us with health, wealth, wit, wisdom and wonder.


Jaya Jaya Sri Sudarshana  Jaya Jaya Sri Sudarshana

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