Within the Hindu Shaivite and Shakta Tantra traditions a deity may be worshipped in three different ways: on a gross or outer level as a figurative statue or painting; on a subtle or inner level as the abstract form of a yantra or ‘device’; or on a most subtle or secret level as the mantra of the deity. A yantra is much like a mandala in its two-dimensional geometrical construction, yet unlike a mandala it is usually inscribed with a metal stylus on materials such as birch-bark, and gold, silver or copper plates. Some yantras, particularly the Shri Yantra, may also be three-dimensionally sculpted from precious materials such as gold, rock crystal or lapis lazuli, and a yantra is traditionally placed upon a flat surface and worshipped in a specific direction.
The Shri Yantra, Shri Vidya, or Shri Chakra is the most well known of all yantras and is a symbolic representation of the auspicious Mahayidya goddess Shri, who is also known as Sodashi, the ‘sixteen-year-old’; or as Tripura Sundari, the ’beautiful lady of the three cities’; or as Lalita, the ‘playful one’. Tripura Sundari is one of the ten Mahavidya or ‘great knowledge-holding’ goddesses of the Shakta Tantra traditions, which represent ten principal aspects of the great goddess, Devi or Durga. She is red in colour, beautiful and youthful like a sixteen-year-old (sodashi), and she sits upon a red lotus that usually arises from the navel of the prone form of Lord Shiva, or from the ‘corpse’ of Shiva that is supported by the four Vedic gods, Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, and Indra. In her four hands she holds the subjugating attributes of a bow made from sugarcane, five arrows made from different flowers, a hook, and a noose. In this aspect she is similar to the red subjugating Buddhist goddess, Kurukulla, whose name and form is also closely connected to that of Lalita Tripura Sundari.