In Sanskrit the phurba is called the kilaya or the kila, and in Tibetan it is called the phurba, phurpa. The phurba is also called ‘the magic dagger’ and it is a ritual dagger used in ceremonies. ‘Phur’ is translated from the Sanskrit ‘kila’ and it means peg or nail. Padmasambhava is thought to have invented the phurba. Padmasambhava used the phurpa to consecrate the ground when he established the Samye monastery in the 8th century. The phurba is a three-sided stake used in Buddhist rituals. Because Tibet has always been a nomadic culture, the tent is an important part of Tibetan lives, and placing the tent pegs into the ground is always seen as making the ground into a sacrifice. The shape of the phurpa may have come from shape of the stake used to hold down tents.
The three-sided style of the phurba may also come from an ancient vedic tool used to pin down sacrifices. The phurba has three segments on its blade. These energies are known as the ‘three poisons.’ The three poisons are attachment, ignorance, and aversion or fear. The three sides of the phurba also represent the three spirit worlds, and the phurba itself represents the axis of the three spirit worlds. The center of the phurba brings the three spirit worlds together. The handle of the phurba represents ‘wisdom’, while the blade represents ‘method’.
The phurba is often stabbed down into a bowl of rice or other types of grains in Tibetan rituals. Phurbas can be made from wood, bone, or metals such as copper and brass. If more than one metal is used to make a phurba, it is done in a combination of three or nine metals. The numbers three and nine are both important numbers in Tibetan Buddhist ritual, three because it refers to the three worlds or the three realms of existence, the desire realm, the form realm, and the formless realm.
There are usually designs carved on the top of phurpas. Some popular images are skull heads or Buddha heads. Sometimes the Buddha heads come in threes to mirror the blade, so that each way the blade is turned, there is always a Buddha’s head facing you. Ganesh is also popular on phurbas, though mainly in Hinduism.
The phurba is a symbol of stability, and it is often used during ceremonies. The phurba is often used by Tantric practitioners. The phurba also holds demons in place. Only those who are empowered to use the phurpa may use it in these rituals. The phurba can be used to tether negative energies during ceremonies, or as a stabilizer. The blade on a phurba is never sharp, it is only used as a ritual dagger, never as an actual weapon.
The phurpa is also used by Dorje Phurba a.k.a. Vajrakilaya, the wrathful form of Vajrapani (one of the wrathful deities). Vajrakilaya is often seen holding the phurba on Buddhist statues and thangkas (Buddhist paintings). Vajrakilaya is a wrathful deity and a remover of obstacles. Vajrakilaya’s consort is Khorlo Gyedunma, a manifestation of the Green Tara.
Phurpas are only to be used ritualistically by Shamans or those who have been taught how to correctly use a phurba in ceremonies. To use the phurba, practitioners first meditate, then they recite the sadhana of the phurba, and invite the deity to enter the phurba. They then stab the phurba into the ground, or into a bowl of rice or grain, and imagine that the evil spirits or negative energies are caught beneath the blade. Phurpas can also be used as decoration in temples, meditation rooms, or as decoration in homes.