The Phurba (Tib., pronunciation between 'pur-ba' & 'fur-pu', alt. transliterations: phurpa, phurbu or phurpu) is a three-sided dagger, peg, stake or nail like ritual implement traditionally associated with Tibetan Buddhism or Bön. The Sanskrit term for phurba is kilaya. The phurba or kilaya is one of many iconographic representations of divine attributes of Vajrayana [1] or Hindu deities, respectively. When consecrated and bound for usage [2], the phurba are a nirmanakaya manifestation of Dorje Phurba or Vajrakilaya. One of the principal methods of working with the phurba and to actualize its essence-quality is to pierce the earth with it; sheath it; or as is common with shaman, to penetrate it vertically, point down into a basket, bowl or cache of rice (or other soft grain if the phurba is wooden). [3] The terms employed for the deity and the tool are interchangable in Western scholarship. In the Himalayan shamanic tradition the phurba may be considered as axis mundi. Müller-Ebelling, et. al. (2002) affirm that for the majority of Nepalese shaman, the phurba is cognate with the 'world tree', either in their visualisations or in initiatory rites or other rituals.

The phurba is used as a ritual implement to signify stability on a prayer grounds during ceremonies, and only those initiated in its use, or otherwise empowered, may wield it. The energetic of the phurba is fierce, wrathful, piercing, affixing, transfixing. The phurba affixes the Elemental Process of Space to the Earth, thereby establishing an energetic continuüm. The Phurba, particularly those that are wooden are for shamanic healing, harmonizing and energy work and often have two nāgas [4] (Sanskrit for snake, serpent and/or dragon, also refers to a class of supernatural entities or deities) entwined on the blade, reminiscent of the Staff of Asclepius and the Caduceus of Hermes. Phurba often also bear the ashtamangala, swastika, sauwastika and/or other Himalayan, Tantric or Hindu iconography or motifs.

The phurba as peg or nail is of the energetic of affixation: uniting all that which is disparate or disassociated.

Fabrication & components: pommel, handle, blade

The fabrication of phurba is quite diverse. Phurba are often segmented into suites of triunes [5] on both the horizontal and vertical axes, though there are notable exceptions. This compositional algorithm highlights the numerological importance and energetic of three and nine in this potent instrument. Phurba may be constituted and constructed of different materials and material components, such as wood, metal, clay, bone, gems, horn or crystal. Wooden phurba are favoured by shamans for healing and energetic work.

Like the majority of traditional Tibetan metal instruments, the phurba is often made from brass and iron (terrestrial and/or meteoric iron [6]), as well as copper in some cases.


The pommel of the phurba often bears three faces of Vajrakilaya or Dorje Phurba, one joyful, one peaceful, one wrathful, but may bear the umbrella of the ashtamangala or mushroom cap, yidam (like Hayagriva), Snow Lion, or chorten, among other possibilities.


The handle is often constituted by a vajra (or dorje), weaving or knotwork design. The handle generally sports a triune motif as is common to the pommel and blade.


The blade is usually comprised of three triangular facets or faces, meeting at the tip; representing, respectively, the blade's power to transform the negative energies of attachment/craving, delusion/ignorance, and aversion/fear.

Energetic & ritual usage

As a tool of exorcism, the phurba may be employed to hold demons or thoughtforms in place (once they have been expelled from their human hosts, for example) in order that their mindstream may be re-directed and their inherent obscurations transmuted. More esoterically, the phurba may serve to bind and pin down negative energies or obscurations from the mindstream of a person or thoughtform (or tulpa) of a group, project etc., in order for purification to be administered.

The phurba as an iconographical implement is also directly related to Dorje Phurba or Vajrakilaya, a wrathful deity of Tibetan Buddhism who is often seen with his consort Dorje Phagmo or Vajravarahi. He is embodied in the phurba as a means of destroying (in the sense of finalising and then freeing) violence, hatred, and aggression by tying them to the blade of the phurba and then transmuting them with its tip. The pommel may be employed in blessings. It is therefore that the phurba is not a physical weapon, but a spiritual implement, and should be regarded as such. The Phurba often bears the epithet Diamantine Dagger of Emptiness (see Shunyata, Void, Space, Æther and 0 (number)).

As Müller-Ebelling, et. al. (2002: p. 55) states:
The magic of the Magical Dagger comes from the effect that the material object has on the realm of the spirit. The art of tantric magicians or lamas lies in their visionary ability to comprehend the spiritual energy of the material object and to willfully focus it in a determined direction.

As Müller-Ebelling, et. al. (2002: p. 55) states:
The tantric use of the phurba encompasses the curing of disease, exorcism, killing demons, meditation, consecrations (puja), and weather-making. The blade of the phuba is used for the destruction of demonic powers. The top end of the phurba is used by the tantrikas for blessings.

As Beer (1999: p.277-278) states, transfixing phurba, scorpion and Padmasambhava:
The sting of the scorpion's whip-like tail transfixes and poisons its prey, and in this respect it is identified with the wrathful activity of the ritual dagger or phurba. Padmasambhava's biography relates how he received the siddhi of the phurba transmission at the great charnel ground of Rajgriha from a gigantic scorpion with nine heads, eighteen pincers and twenty-seven eyes. This scorpion reveals the phurba texts from a triangular stone box hidden beneath a rock in the cemetery. As Padmasambhava reads this terma text spontaneous understanding arises, and the heads, pincers, and eyes of the scorpion are 'revealed' as different vehicles or yanas of spiritual attainment. Here, at Rajgriha, Padmasambhava is given the title of 'the scorpion guru', and in one of his eight forms as Guru Dragpo or Pema Drago ('wrathful lotus'), he is depicted with a scorpion in his left hand. As an emblem of the wrathful phurba transmission the image of the scorpion took on a strong symbolic meaning in the early development of the Nyingma or 'ancient school' of Tibetan Buddhism...".

Cultural context

To work with the spirits and deities of the earth, land and place, indigenous people of the Himalaya and the Mongolian Steppe pegged, nailed and/or pinned down the land. Phurba is associated with the Vajrakilaya from India though may have arisen independently from the tent pegs of the nomadic peoples. The nailing of the phurba, is comparable to the idea of breaking the earth (turning the sod) in other traditions and the rite of laying the foundation stone. It is an ancient shamanic idea that has common currency throughout the region; it is prevalent in the Bön tradition and is also evident in the Vajrayana tradition. According to shamanic lore current throughout the region, "...the mountains were giant pegs that kept the Earth in place and prevented it from moving." (Kerrigan, et. al., 1998: p27) Mountains such as Amnye Machen, according to folklore were held to have been brought from other lands just for this purpose. Chorten (compare cairn) are a development of this tradition and akin to phurba.

(Kerrigan, et. al., 1998: p27) states that:
"Prayer flags and stone pillars throughout the country also pierce the land. Even the pegs of the nomads’ yak wool tents are thought of as sanctifying the ground that lies beneath...".

Traditions such as that of the phurba may be considered a human cultural universal in light of foundation stone rites and other comparable rites documented in the disciplines of Anthropology and Ethnography; eg., turning of the soil as a placation and votive offering to spirits of place and to preparation of the land as a rite to ensure fertility and bountiful yield.

Traditional lineage usage: anthology of case studies

In the Kathmandu Valley, sacred for its unabashed fertility and its wealth of temples and sacred sites, the phurba is still in usage by shamans, magicians, tantrikas and lamas of different ethnic backgrounds. The phurba is used particularly intensively by the Tamang, Gurung and Newari Tibeto-Burmese tribes. The phurba is also employed by the Tibetans native to Nepal (the Bhotyas), the Sherpas, and the Tibetans living in Dharamasala.

Müller-Ebelling, et. al. (2002: p. 29) chart the difference of the phurba traditions between the jhankris [7] and the gubajus [8]:
The phurbas of the gubajus are different from those of the jhankris. As a rule, they have only one head on which there is a double vajra as shown here. Gubajus focus on the head as a mirror image of themselves in order to meditatively connect with the power of the phuba. The three or more heads of the upper area of the phurba indicate the collection of energies that the jhankris use.

A 'Bhairab phurba' is an important healing tool of the tantric Newari gubajus. As Müller-Ebelling, et. al. (2002: p. 55) state:
Tantric priests (guruju) use Bhairab phurbas for the curing of disease and especially for curing children's diseases. For these cases the point of the phurba blade is dipped into a glass or a bowl of water, turned and stirred. The sick child is then given the magically charged water as medicine to drink.

Müller-Ebelling, et. al. (2002: p. ?) interviewed Mohan Rai [9] who in an interview is directly quoted as saying:
'Without the phurba inside himself [sic], the shaman has no consciousness'...'The shaman himself [sic] is the phurba; he [sic] assumes its form in order to fly into other worlds and realities.'
Therefore to extrapolate, the phurba is cognate with consciousness.

Müller-Ebelling et. al. (2002) affirm that some Kukri may be considered phurba, as ultimately, everything that approximates a vertical form. The phurba then is a phallic polysemy and cognate with lingam ~ the generative instrument of Shiva that is metonymic of the primordial energy of the Universe. The phurba as lingam, actualizes the yoni essence-quality of whatever it penetrates.

Cultural references

  • Quincy uses a phurba as a weapon in the videogame Suikoden.
  • The Ajanti Dagger from the film The Golden Child is a stylized phurba.
  • A phurba also appears in the 1994 movie The Shadow (1994).


1. ^ Embodied Nirmanakaya buddhas and sambhogakaya deities are attributed with Phurba.
2. ^ A working Phurba has the face(s), pommel and hilt bound (depending on the nature of the phurba) with fabric [often green according to Müller-Ebelling, et. al (2002)] and in this binding rite Dorje Phurba or Vajrakilaya is installed in the tool as a Nirmanakaya manifestation, by association the tool accessess all three realms of the Trikaya.
3. ^ Herein resides the rationale why the centrality of the phurba has often been overlooked by the observer and the scholar, as the phurba may not be a tool ostensibly engaged in a particular rite but is actualized on the principal altar away from all the 'action'.
4. ^ These naga are often considered to be Nagaraja and Nagarani: the divine Nāga couple who rule the underworld or underwater world.
5. ^ Triunes that are metonymic of the Gankyil; the Trishula; Triratna; the heavenly, earthly and hellish realms; three eyes, third eye; Trimurti; Trikaya; the directionality of left, middle, right and forward, stationary, backwards; past, present, future; polarities and their synthesis; upperworld or akash, middleworld or dharti and underworld or patal, etc.
6. ^ Thogcha means 'sky-iron' in Tibetan. Meteoric iron was highly prized throughout the Himalaya where it was included in sophisticated pollymetallic alloys for ritual implements.
7. ^ Jhankris may be understood as individuals who have a 'calling' to work with the phurba and are mostly of non-hereditary lineages of phurba workers.
8. ^ Gubajus may be understood as the priests, astrologers and healers amongst the Newari people of the Kathmandu Valley. Their purba traditions are of hereditary lineages which may be considered castes.
9. ^ Mohan Rai is a shaman from the border area of Nepal and Bhutan and belongs to the Mongolian people of the Rai and/or Kirati. Mohan Rai is the founder of the Shamanistic Studies and Research Centre, Baniya Goun, Naikap, Kathmandu, Nepal: [1] (accessed: Monday, February 26, 2007).

See also


  • Müller-Ebeling, Claudia and Christian Rätsch and Surendra Bahadur Shahi (2002). Shamanism and Tantra in the Himalayas. Transl. by Annabel Lee. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions.
  • Kerrigan, Michael, Clifford Bishop & James Chambers (1998). The Diamond Path: Tibetan and Mongolian Myth. Amsterdam, Time-Life Books. ISBN 0 7954 3563 6
  • Beer, Robert (1999). The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs (Hardcover). Shambhala. ISBN-10: 157062416X, ISBN-13: 978-1570624162
  • Shamanistic Studies and Research Centre. Source: (accessed: Monday, February 26, 2007)
  • Cleland, Elizabeth (2001). The Vajrakilaya Sadhana: An Euro-American Experience Of A Nyingma Ritual. Ottawa, Ontario: Carleton University. Source: (accessed: Monday, 26 February 2007)

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The Phurba (Tib., pronunciation between 'pur-ba' & 'fur-pu', alt. transliterations: phurpa, phurbu or phurpu) is a three-sided dagger, peg, stake or nail like ritual implement traditionally associated with Tibetan Buddhism or Bön.
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The Phurba (Tib., pronunciation between 'pur-ba' & 'fur-pu', alt. transliterations: phurpa, phurbu or phurpu) is a three-sided dagger, peg, stake or nail like ritual implement traditionally associated with Tibetan Buddhism or Bön.
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The wrathful heruka Vajrakilaya is a yidam deity (or godform, refer thoughtform) who embodies the energetic activity of all the buddhas, manifesting in an intensly wrathful yet compassionate form in order to subjugate the delusion and negativity that can arise as obstacles to the
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The wrathful heruka Vajrakilaya is a yidam deity (or godform, refer thoughtform) who embodies the energetic activity of all the buddhas, manifesting in an intensly wrathful yet compassionate form in order to subjugate the delusion and negativity that can arise as obstacles to the
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