Who discovered the chakras?

Q:

Who discovered the chakras?

A:

The chakras come from ancient tradition. In fact, they are referenced in the oldest written Indian tradition we know of, the Vedas, which date from 1500B.C. - 500B.C. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these don’t tell us who discovered the chakras (or cakras, the correct spelling of “wheel” as written in the Vedas) - we just know that they already existed as part of the tradition. It is worth noting though that the references to cakras in this context bear little relation to the seven rainbow-coloured spinning wheels that we’re more familiar with today.

But, assuming these are the same chakras we’re interested in, let’s stay with the line of inquiry...

The origins of The Vedas themselves give us a few more clues. They are thought to come from an even older oral tradition of the Brahmincaste of India. So it’s possible that the chakras were originally discovered by the ancient Brahmins. Or maybe the Brahmins learnt about the chakras from someone else. What the records don’t show, we really have no way of knowing.

The chakras are later mentioned as psychic centers of energy in the Yoga Upanishads (around 600B.C.) and the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (around 200B.C.), which goes some way to explaining their enduring popularity in many yogic teachings. In the West though, many of the teachings about chakras have reached us via Englishman Arthur Avalon’s 1919 book “The Serpent Power,” which translates older Indian texts the Padaka-Pancaka and the Sat-Cakra-Nirupana. The rainbow colours of the chakras are thought to have been described as late as the early 1970s, by Christopher Hills, in his own personal version of the chakra system published in his book “Nuclear Evolution.” These texts combined form the basis of our present day understanding of the chakra system.

Given the somewhat patchwork origins of the chakra system as we know it, perhaps a more enlightening question would be to ask “how” the chakras were discovered, rather than “who” discovered them. On this, a very interesting theory is that the the main function of the chakra system was to be used as a template for nyasa, or the Hindu practice of touching part of the body while chanting mantras in order to instill particular energies in those areas. In other words, the chakra system was intended to be prescriptive rather than descriptive. The chakras don’t literally describe what’s in the subtle body, but rather give instructions as to how to work with it.

To return then to our original question, the most honest answer perhaps is: anyone and everyone who has experienced the effects of working with chakras. Although we may not know who originally came up with the chakras, or even exactly what they were, the discovery in a sense happens anew for every person who finds them useful.

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Jade is a yoga teacher, blogger and health and wellness geek. Her mission is to share the happiness that yoga has brought into her life.

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