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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 ascertain one’s ‘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.

Panchmahabhoota Thought:
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 These 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 prakruti (prakruti 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).

Our 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 one’s body is permanently determined.

Every 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.

To summarize, the human body is a perfect blend of three organizations (treedoshas)— vaat, pitta and kafa, which evolve through panchmahabhootas. These come together in the mother’s 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 death.

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 (body system).

Every 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.

However there 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 circumstances.

Features of vaat prakruti:

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.

Most people 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 demonstrate pitta-kafa and so on.

Thus, this knowledge helps in deciding one’s prakruti, making seasonal changes in one’s 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 nature’s 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 monetary transactions.

They are 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 vessels.

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 doesn’t 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 body.

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 mother’s womb and are then maintained by nutrition (ahar) during the rest of one’s life.

The finest 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).

Ayurveda evolved around 600 BC. At that time Ayurvedic scholars did not have microscopes; nevertheless, they knew that life starts in the mother’s 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.

Thus, vaat, 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.

Dhatus:

We 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.

Agni 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 dhatus.

Ayurveda 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 i.e. shukra.

Ayurveda 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.

Dhatus 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.

Ayurveda 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. reproduction).

Disorder 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.

To 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.

Agni

Agni is 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.

Agni is 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 illness.

The knowledge 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 decisions.

The main 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.

Agni 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.

Agni protects us from both external as well as internal problems. It saves us from attack by external and internal ‘terrorists’. Agni 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 by agni.
 
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. Ama is produced when agni (body fire) is retarded, which in turn is a result of the imbalance of tridoshas (vaat-pitta-kafa). Agni’s 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 health.





 

Index
Introduction
Medicines
Ayurvedic Milestones
Ayurvedic Thought
 Vaat, Pitta, Kafa, Dosh
 Dhatu, Mala, Fire
Pathology - Ama
Treatments
 Shaman
 Ashtang Ayurved
 Agad Tantra
 Bhut-vidya
 Kayachikitsa
 Kaumar Bhrutya Tantra
 Purva-karma
 Panch-karma
 Vaman
 Virechan
 Basti
 Nasya
 Rakta-moksha
 Shaman
 Shalya Tantra
 Shalakya tantra
 Rasayana-Chikitsa
 Vajikaran-Chikitsa

Actual Case Notes
 Asthmatic Bronchitis
 Bleeding per anum
 Constipation
 Diarrhea
 Hair Loss
 Infections
 Libido
 Osteoarthritis
 Psychiatry
 Pregnancy Care
 Senile Debility
 Solution To Baldness
 Vaat Related Fever

Academic References
Ayurvedic Herbs
NCCAM

 
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