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Five great elements - Panchamahabhutas

Pancha mahabhutas are the five prime elements of nature and ayurveda believes that everything in the universe is made up of these basic elements. They are

• Akasa- space/ ether
• Vayu- air
• Thejus- fire
• ap- water
• Prithvi- earth

There is no separation between nature and you. A key ayurvedic concept is that of the fundamental union between macrocosm (the whole universe) and the microcosm (the universe within you). We are all connected through the five great elements (panchamahabhutas). These elements comprise our individual bodies and minds and the whole world around us.

Three gunas

Prakriti is composed of three prime qualities, or gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. However they are more subtle than the five elements that arise through their activity and they also precede the tanmatras. From satva, arises the five sense organs, from rajas, five organs of action and from tamas, arise the five elements.
Everything in the universe is a different combination of the three gunas.

• Sattva is the highest quality of light, harmony, virtue, happiness, clarity and intelligence.
• Rajas is the quality of movement, distraction, turbulence and activity.
• Tamas is the quality of dullness, darkness, decay, inertia and rest to enable regeneration.

They represent the potential for differentiation in the prakriti,the causal factors of creation, while the five senses (tanmatras) are the subtle factors and the five elements are the gross effects. Under the predominance of tamas, the five elements avolve with diversification according to the three gunas.
• Ether comes from sattva
• Fire comes from rajas
• Earth comes from tamas
• Air is composed of sattva and rajas (lightness and movement)
• Water has both rajas and tamas (movement and heaviness)
• Earth is pure tamas
The right balance of the three gunas is called pure sattva, as it occurs through a predominance and refinement of sattva.

Three Doshas- Vital forces of body

Doshas are the principles which are symbolic expressions of physiological activities and pathological derangements. In Ayurveda, the five great elements combine in different ways to form three mind body types called doshas. They are vata, pitta and kapha. The growth of the body depends upon the food consumed (ingested and digested), containing significant elements which are combined together so that various or particular tissues are built up. The building up of tissues is represented and denoted by ‘kapha principle’. There is transformation of various elements found in the body is represented by ‘pitta principle’. The absorption, separation and elimination of materials are taking place in the cells, tissues or the body on account of energy principle, symbolically expressed as ‘vata’. The body is said to be ‘healthy’ when these three operate in harmony and it is said to be ‘diseased’ when these factors get corrupted or vitiated.

Three doshas vata, pitta and kapha sustain the body just as air, sun and moon support the whole world by visarga(giving away strength), adana(absorbing the energy) and vikshepa(disintegration or distribution or separation) in their various dispositions. This signifies the combining forces to build up, the energy to transform and the driving force to discharge(or eliminate unwanted things) operate in equilibrium to promote the growth and support the body. If this equilibrium is disturbed it leads to destruction of the body by diseases.

Vata dosha

Ether and air form Vata dosha. This bioforce is connected with all movements in the body and is responsible for mobility, driving energy, pulsating movement, continuous or intermittent, wavy or vibrating movement. Eg: ingestion of food, swallowing, engulfing, deglutition, respiring, all voluntary and involuntary movements of the body, excretion of stool-urine-flatus, blood circulation and discharge of nerve impulses. In general vata occupies lower part of the body and stimulates actions all over the body. The colon, pelvis, thighs, ears, bones, skin are the general locations of vata but colon serves as the major functional site. A balanced vata dosha gives you visionary and creative qualities along with flexibility. When imbalanced, it manifests as anxiety, pain, emaciation and more. There are 80 diseases connected with vata.

Pitta dosha

Fire and water combine to create pitta dosha, which is all about transformation. The chief location of pitta is believed to be the periumbilical region ie. duodenum. It operates at different levels having its abodes in stomach(lower segment), sweat glands, serous exudate, blood rasa dhatu, eyes and the skin. Pitta when normal brings about proper digestion, production of body temperature is due to metabolic activity, preservation of eye sight, the cause for thirst and hunger, appreciation of normal taste, normal complexion. A balanced pitta gives you the ability to be an excellent leader, making tough decisions and perform critical analyses. Imbalanced pitta creates burning sensation and 40 different diseases, including heartburn, hot flashes and inflammation.

Kapha dosha

Kapha is constituted from earth and water. It is responsible for growth and stability. The major role of kapha is observed in chest. It’s important seats of operation are throat, head, kloma, all major and minor articulatory joints, upper part of stomach,nose and tongue. The functions of kapha in normalcy includes the maintenance of fluids, integrity of joints, stability of the body, weight gaining, vigour and strength, physical endurance and mental endurance(confidence and courage). Balanced kapha makes for perseverance, nurturing and stamina. Imbalanced kapha leads to 20 diseases including obesity and diabetes.

Seven Dhatus

Dhatu is that which composes the body and supports. According to ayurveda, the human body is made up of doshas, dhatus and malas. Dhatus constitute major physical components of the body. Eg: cells, tissues, organs, sheaths, bones, membranes, fats, skin and so on. It gives a definite shape to the body. The characteristic features of dhatus are determines shape of the body, undergo continuous transformation during their functions, to enter or exit only through their channels.
Dhatus may be normal form (prasanna rupa) or impure form (mala rupa). The normal form of dhatus affords to growth, but on the contrary, if impure forms are retained it behaves like toxins that irritate and damage the system. There are seven dhatus, enumerated as follows.

• Rasa- plasma and lymph, intra and extracellular fluids
• Rakta- blood cells
• Mamsa- muscular tissue
• Meda- adipose tissue
• Asthi- osseous tissue
• Majja- bone marrow
• Shukra- reproductive tissue

Three Malas

It deals with major excretory system of the body. It includes purisha(feces), mutra(urine) and sweda(sweat). That which contaminates the body with its presence is called mala(excreta or weaste) and hence to be eliminated. If it is retained, it causes irritation, contamination, and vitiation of doshas and dhatus. The body naturally excretes these malas to maintain the balance. The body constitute dosha, dhatu and mala simultaneously.

Six Rasas

Ayurvedic pharmacology does not consider ‘rasa’ as mere ‘taste’. However it is regarded as the comprehensive expression of the direct local action on the nerve endings distributed in buccal mucosa. It stimulates the nerves by their chemical constitution. Though there are innumerable combination of ‘Mahabhutas’ in various proportions, that can result in different rasas, ayurveda acknowledges only 6 rasas principally. The rasas are the tastes recognised by the tongue and those unrecognised or experienced at the end are termed ‘anurasas’. But they are appreciated by their action on the constitution. Principally six rasas mentioned are

1. Madhura(sweet)- bhumi + water- increases Kapha and decreases vata and pitta
2. Amla(sour)- bhumi+fire- Increases pitta and decreases vata
3. Lavana(salt)- water+fire- Increases kapha and pitta and decreases vata
4. Katu(pungent)- air+fire- Increases vata and pitta and decreases kapha
5. Tikta(bitter)- air+akasa- Increases vata and decreases pitta and kapha
6. Kashaya(astringent)- bhumi+air- Increases vata and decreases kapha and pitta
Similarly, in the above all cases, the basic elements mentioned are dominant.

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