Ayurveda > Ayurvedic Panchmahabhoota (Thought)
By Dr. Satish Kulkarni
Ayurveda is the ancient science of health
developed through the age-old research of the rishies
(sages). It is the tradition of health care developed and followed by
Indians through the centuries and it thrives even in the present times.
Ayurveda uses a
system of analysis and physical
examination done almost entirely by
macroscopic observation (with the
exception of pulse examination) to
Prakruti (nature) and
current imbalances. A diet and health
suggestions are given to the
individual according to the needs of
his/her constitution and present
imbalance. The basis for all this is
Panchmaha bhootas (Five
basic elements). (panch =
five, maha = supreme and bhootas
= powers). We can say these five
elements are foundation of our life.
Ayurveda believes in panchmahabhoota
philosophy. According to this
philosophy, every living object, in
the plant as well as in the animal
kingdom (including human beings), is
made up of a living material which
has five basic constituents. Every
living object is thus a unique
creation manifested through these
five basic elements Earth (pruthvi),
Water (aap), Divine Fire (tej),
Air (vayu) and Universal Space
(aakash). These five basic
elements are called the panchmahabhootas
ultimately create treedoshas (tree
= three, doshas = basic
components or organizations) which
constitute our body. Each human being
is either of vaat prakruti (prakruti
dominated by vaat dosh) or of pitta
dominated by pitta dosh) or of
kafa prakruti (prakruti
dominated by kafa dosh). It is
said that vaat dosh is created
by aakash (Universal Space)
and vayu (air), pitta dosh
is created by tej (Divine
Fire) and kafa dosh is created
by aap (Water) and pruthvi (Earth).
constitution is determined by these
three doshas at the time of garbhdharana
(fertilization). When the embryo is
formed, the constitution is
determined for life; the percentage
of these three doshas is
determined at this time and this
remains unchanged throughout life.
Thus, this is the time when the
dominance of a particular dosha
and the recessive nature of the other
two doshas on the constitution
of ones body is permanently
individual is a balanced mixture of vaat, pitta and kafa. This ideal balance
gives a healthy status to the
individual. When this is imbalanced,
it initiates disease. Our attitude
and our behavior help in maintaining
health or conversely, bring on a
calamity of diseases. If we have
proper food intake, regular exercise
and timely medication (which changes
according to the dominant dosh)
we will have no health problems.
the human body is a perfect blend of
three organizations (treedoshas)
vaat, pitta and kafa, which evolve through panchmahabhootas.
These come together in the
mothers womb when life starts
and get separated and go back to
their own places in nature when life
ends. We can say that this is the Ayurvedic
explanation of the origin of life and
Do You Know Your Prakruti?
Above are described how Panchmahabhootas
(the five supreme powers) come
together and create three doshas
(basic components of the body). These
are vaat, pitta and kafa.
These doshas decide our prakruti
individual is a mixture of vaat,
pitta and kafa doshas.
The percentage of these doshas
and the dominant and recessive part
of them changes from person to
person. This is the reason why every
individual is different and unique.
are a few common features, which
describe the prakruti of an
individual. Knowing these features
will help us in deciding our prakruti
and accordingly we can change our
lifestyle and maintain good health in
all seasons and under all
Features of vaat prakruti:
people are usually tall and thin.
They are low in weight with prominent
bones and noisy joints. Their skin is
thin and dry with prominent, darkish
veins on it. It is cold to touch. Vaat
people have curly, coarse, dry and
darkish colored hair. Large, crooked,
protruding teeth are also vaat
markers. The head is relatively small
and eyes are black, lusterless and
dull. Constant movement of eyes is
again a marker of vaat prakruti.
Their appetite is low though they
like sweet, salty and sour foods.
They prefer hot beverages to keep
them warm. They face problems of
digestion because their bowels are
dry. Most vaat prakruti
people have tendency towards
constipation. They are hyperactive
and restless but creative and
artistic in nature. They love music.
Their moods are extreme and range
from extreme joy to extreme fear.
Anxiety and insecurity is very common
among them. They are erratic in
nature and unpredictable. Their
memory is good but short term. They
run, jump or fly in their dreams.
Their have very light sleep that
tends to be repeatedly interrupted by
the smallest noise. Their voice is
high pitched and they speak fast,
intermingling words at times. They
fantasize a lot about sex but are
poor on the level of performance.
They think a lot and plan
meticulously but it is physically
beyond their capacity to achieve all
that they plan. Their pulse is thin,
feeble and blood travels like a snake
through the blood vessels.
In the next
article we will see the features of pitta
prakruti and kafa prakruti.
show a mixture of features and this
helps in deciding their prakruti.
If this logic is stretched a bit we
can say that there are seven types of
prakrutis in all. Vaat
dominant, pitta dominant, kafa
dominant, vaat-pitta, pitta-kafa,
kafa-vaat and lastly vaat-pitta-kafa (a
state of equilibrium). Few features
of vaat prakruti with a
few of pitta demonstrate vaat-pitta
category, few features of pitta
prakruti with a few of kafa
and so on.
knowledge helps in deciding
ones prakruti, making
seasonal changes in ones daily
routine and this further helps in
maintaining good health and
prescribing medication in case of prakop
(imbalance of doshas which
leads to a state of disease).
Features of pitta and prakruti:
These people are medium in build
and average in weight and height with
a bony structure. Their skin is soft
and oily with a reddish yellow tinge.
Skin temperature is slightly higher
than normal with a tendency towards
flushing. Pitta people are
fair with a good complexion. Their
hair is soft and oily and they have a
tendency towards baldness. They have
medium sized yellowish teeth and soft
gums which show tendency to bleed.
Eyes are sharp and penetrating with a
glittering look. Forehead is large
and face is pleasant.
They have a
strong appetite and eat a lot. They
become restless if they do not get
food in time. They like sweet, bitter
and astringent food. They get
frequent natural calls with an urgent
need to relieve themselves. They are
moderately active and assertive; at
times they may be aggressive. They
are very intelligent and methodical
in their work. Sharp memory is a
natures gift to pitta
people. Very often, they go into
irritable phases and jealousy is one
of their prominent characteristics.
Sleep is short but sound. Dreams are
related with fights, battles and
talkative and sharp in nature, thus
they always conquer their opponent in
debate. They love having a luxurious
life and are ready to spend for it
but only after conscious saving. They
like things which boost their egos.
They live an organized life. They are
passionate and sexual performance is
good. Pulse is moderate and blood
jumps like a frog through the blood
Features of kafa prakruti:
These people are strong with big
and thick bones. Their presence is
always marked in a group. They have a
tendency to put on weight and most of
these people are heavy in build. Skin
is oily and cool with good texture.
Hair is thick, wavy, oily and darkish
in color. They have strong, pearl
coloured attractive teeth. Eyes are
large and beautiful with thick, long
eyelashes. They have deep blue irises
on noticeably good sclera. These
people have a small appetite; they
eat slowly but digest very well. They
require rich and energy giving food
in order to satisfy their hunger.
They like pungent, bitter and
astringent food. They drink less
fluids but have no bowel problems.
They are not
very active. They are studious and
have a very good memory. They are
slow but steady and thus naturally
win the race in their respective
fields. They have an impressive
personality and are generally
reliable and faithful. They make good
money and have a tendency to save.
They are compassionate, forgiving,
loving and have the patience to do
tedious jobs. They sleep deep and
long and have poetic dreams. They
speak slowly in a husky voice. They
are not aroused easily but perform
extremely well. Their pulse is slow
but strong and blood travels like a
swan through the blood vessels.
Dosh, Dhatu and Mala
We saw that Ayurveda
is an ancient Indian system of
medicine, which stresses principally
on prevention of body ailments than
simply curing pathological problems. Ayurveda
believes in the treatment of an
individual as a whole. Giving cone
down attention to the treatment of
the affected system of the body
doesnt fit into the principles
of Ayurveda. Instead Ayurveda
says, Nature works on the
principle of balance. This balance
should be maintained. There should be
balance inside and outside the body.
If we eliminate all toxic imbalances
from the body, we can re-establish a
state of health. To achieve
this balance Ayurveda gives
more importance to the functions of
the body than to the structure of the
Dosh, Dhatu and Mala:
Dhatus are a supporting part
of the body, limited by the skin.
Skin is the boundary between the dhatus
and the external world. Dhatus
are generated in the mothers
womb and are then maintained by
nutrition (ahar) during the
rest of ones life.
essence of nutrition develops a sap (ahar
rasa) which helps in survival,
growth and protection. This ahar
rasa further develops life sap (jeevan
rasa) which is the starting point
of the creation of dhatus.
There are seven dhatus in all
(we can say that the dhatus
are body tissues): rasa, rakta,
mansa, med, asthi, majja and shukra.
So from rasa (life sap) the
body develops rakta (blood),
from rakta it develops mansa
(muscles), from mansa is
developed med (fat), from
med is developed asthi (bones),
from asthi the body develops majja
(nervous system) and from majja
is generated shukra (semen).
evolved around 600 BC. At that time Ayurvedic
scholars did not have microscopes;
nevertheless, they knew that life
starts in the mothers womb in
liquid form and becomes
solid at the time of
birth. Thus this hypothesis of
developing rasa to rakta
rakta to mansa must
have arrived from that finding. This
hypothesis cannot be accepted as it
is today considering the advances
made in science since the early Ayurvedic
times. We can only say that at the
time of Ayurveda, since the
microscope was not invented, Ayurvedic
scholars must have explained body
tissues in this way.
pitta and kafa rule the
body kingdom, i.e. the kingdom of rasa,
rakta, mansa, med, asthi, majja
and shukra and hence the body
continues to function. Our daily life
activities are a result of this
functioning. Waste products, which
are byproducts of our daily
activities, are called malas. Mala
(faeces), akshimala (dirt
coming from the eyes), mutra
(urine) and sweda (sweat) are the malas
mentioned by Ayurveda.
To summarize, Ayurveda
explains the body functions using the
Dosh-Dhatu-Mala concept. Doshas
are body constituents which are
responsible for the way the body
functions. This body is made up of
seven dhatus. Malas are waste
products of the body. If this chain
works well, we can maintain good
health. If anything goes wrong in
this chain of activity then we are
affected by disease.
have discussed above how the three basic constituents of
the body (treedoshas i.e. vaat-pitta-kafa)
are created by five supreme powers
i.e. Earth (pruthvi), Water (aap),
Divine Fire (tej), Air (vayu)
and Universal Space (aakash).
Amongst these powers, Divine Fire (tej)
is the precursor of pitta and
body fire (agni) is the
successor of pitta.
plays a vital role in the creation
and maintenance of body tissues (dhatus).
The human body is made up of seven
basic tissues or vital substances
called dhatus. The meaning of
the sanskrit word dhatu is
that which binds
together. Dhatu is the
element which constructs our body. Dhatu
is the base of growth and survival. Dhatus
take different forms in our body to
maintain life. Different organs (sharir
avayavas) and different body
systems (strotasas) are made
out of dhatus. Our nourishment
and development is fully dependent on
believes that there are seven dhatus
in all. They are: life sap (rasa),
blood (rakta), muscles (mansa),
fatty tissue (med), bones (asthi),
bone marrow and nervous tissue (majja)
and semen and reproductive system (shukra).
Each dhatu has its own agni
i.e. dhatu-agni. Our food
intake is converted into life sap by agni
of rasa dhatu and rasa
dhatu is produced. Likewise, agni
of rakta dhatu prepares rakta
out of rasa and so on. Every dhatu
is a precursor of the next dhatu.
Rasa is transformed into rakta,
rakta prepares mansa, mansa
is further transformed into meda,
meda is used to make asthi,
asthi forms majja and majja
produces the ultimate dhatu
researchers must have observed that
food is the starting point of life.
Food enters the body from the
inlet the mouth and the end
products come out of body through the
outlet the genitalia and anus.
The second important observation must
have been that any living creature
(including human beings) survives and
grows with food and dies without it.
They must have seen that starvation
retards growth of the body and
destroys the body in the end. Thus,
this theory of dhatus must
have arrived from these observations.
protect our body from external
encounters. They are responsible for
our immune mechanism. If there is
wasting (kshaya) of dhatus
then the body construction collapses
and ultimately life ends.
recognises shukra as the most
important dhatu. It states
that one needs a hundred drops of
blood (rakta) to produce one
drop of semen (shukra). Shukra
is the essence of all the body
tissues and is that creation of
mother nature which has the capacity
to produce new life. In any case, it
should not be wasted without
substantial reason (i.e.
in doshas (vaat-pitta-kafa)
affects dhatus. These affected
or defective dhatus hamper the
quality of life. Proper diet (ahar)
and proper life style (vihar)
help in maintaining the balance of doshas
and in producing healthy dhatus.
summarize, dhatus account for
the ayurvedic explanation of
the anatomy and physiology of the
human body. Our body processes
consumed food and transforms it into
life sap, which in turn creates a
chain of further body tissues i.e. dhatus.
Their gain gives quality to our life
and their loss destroys life.
the fire inside our body. Agni
is the body which governs living
beings physically and mentally. We
can describe it as an element related
to our general body metabolism. We
have seen in the last article that Agni
is the successor of pitta (one
of the tridoshas i.e. the
basic body constituents) and pitta
is the successor of Divine Fire (tej)
(one of the five supreme powers). Agni
plays a vital role in the creation
and maintenance of dhatus (body
tissues). There are seven types of agnis
for seven different dhatus.
related to both the body and the
mind. It initiates digestive
activities in the digestive tract and
generates thoughts, emotions and
decisions in our psyche. Agni
contains heat which helps in the
digestion of external elements that
enter our body. The food which enters
our digestive tract is converted into
life sap with the help of agni.
This then goes on to ensure our
survival, growth and recovery from
of the external environment which
enters our body through our special
senses is transformed into memories
with the help of agni which
further initiates thoughts, generates
emotions and helps in taking
function of agni is the break
down of external stuff and its
conversion into body stuff. Agni works
with and for every body tissue. Agni
gears the dosha-dhatu-mala
cycle and thus life goes on.
also helps in destroying ama (toxins).
These are produced if there is an
imbalance of doshas. In other
words agni helps in
maintaining the status of health and
in interrupting the disease process.
Thus agni is a statutory body
which governs our immune system.
us from both external as well as
internal problems. It saves us from
attack by external and internal
keeps a careful watch on the body
functions. A wide range of functions
(from digestion of food to giving
color to the skin) is taken care of
Impairment of agni
suggests that the basic balance of
the tridoshas has been
hampered. Affected metabolism,
compromised immunity and lowered
general body resistance are all
results of impaired agni. If agni
is impaired, food will not be
digested properly. It will not
initiate the chain of formation of
the seven dhatus (from rasa
to shukra) in a proper way.
Instead of creating a life sap, ama
(toxins) will be created and these
will accumulate in the body. The body
channels will choke and life will
enter a state of illness.
To summarize; ama
indicates a diseased body.
is produced when agni (body
fire) is retarded, which in turn is a
result of the imbalance of tridoshas
functioning depends on the food,
clothes and shelter we use. It also
depends on the things we see, hear,
smell, taste and touch. If these
things are pro-life then we will also
be healthy. If these things are
anti-life then we may acquire ill