The prayer wheel is of a hollow metal cylinder, often beautifully embossed, mounted on a rod handle and containing a tightly wound scroll printed with a mantra. Attached to the cylinder is a lead weight with a chain, which facilitates the rotation. The Buddhist prayers (mantras) are printed or etched on the cylinder.
Prayer Wheel of Diskit Gompa, Nubra Valley, Ladakh
The prayer wheel combines a mantra, "Ohm Mani Pradme" [Om the Jewel in the Lotus Hum] numbering six syllables in the mantra of Avalokitesvara with a movement. The syllables are carved outside the wheel as well as kept inside the wheel printed in the paper in numerous numbers.
The correct way of meditative movement (mudra) is attained by spinning the wheel clockwise (click picture below) with a certain wrist movement. Inside the prayer wheel is a scroll with the mantra Ohm Mani Pradme repeated 50 times.
There are also hand held prayer wheels, called Chokhor in certain places, which are normally hollow wooden or metal cylinder attached to a handle.
According to myth, spinning the wheel by one revolution will evoke 50 blessing. One can easily attain 1000 blessing per minute by appropriate spinning of the wheel. It is interesting to watch the little children moving the Manis with the correct wrist movement and the right amount of force.
Prayer wheels vary in size and type. In Ladakh, it is common for bucket-sized prayer wheels to be lined up on wooden racks along walking paths circling monasteries and other sacred sites, for the benefit of visiting pilgrims.
The Buddhist believe that the prayer wheel is also useful for illiterate members of their lay community, since they believe they can "read" the prayers by turning the wheel.