The large wheel is divided into six parts, each representing one of the Six Realms of Existence, also called the Six Realms of Rebirth. These are:
- Devas (gods)
- Asuras (titans or demons)
- Pretas (hungry ghosts)
- Narakas (hell beings)
- Tiryakas (animals)
- Manushyas (humans)
Sometimes the realms of gods and titans are merged into one, and the wheel is shown with five sections.
The wheel is meant to illustrate the workings of karma. Beings in each of these realms, including the Deva Realm, are subject to birth and death. The realms most often are not thought of as physical places. They are more like psychological states, or the situations beings find themselves living in because of karma.
The causes of the cycle are represented by three animals pictured in the very center of the wheel are a cock, a pig and a snake, representing desire, ignorance and hate. The large being holding the wheel is Yama, the dharmapala of the Underworld, who represents death.