Since centuries man is striving to find out about its existence and the creation of the world. Many kinds of research have been done, and many theories have been proposed, and every day, discoveries are being made to calm down our curiosity.
In this direction, Ayurveda, the science of life also has deeply thought of human life, its surrounding universe, and the essential elements responsible for their formation. Ayurveda regards that man is the epitome of the, and it is carved out of the universal elements which carefully knit both together.
Theory of Panchamahabhuta
This theory in Ayurveda is called as ‘Pancamahabhuta Siddhanta’ or ‘Principle of Five Basic Elements.’ This principle is the foundation of Ayurvedic philosophy and believes that five elements make everything in this universe & universe itself.
The five essential elements namely Prithvi (earth), Jala (water), Agni (fire), Vayu (air) and Aakash (space) take an active part in the creation of all inanimate objects. These elements, together with soul and mind, create all animate objects from microbes to the man.
On this line, the human body is considered to be pancabhautic, as it is the miniature form of the universe and all that exists in the world exists in the body in fine form too.
Principle of Panchamahabhuta is not merely a theory. It finds several applications and has an essential utility in Ayurveda as a medical system. It forms the base of the Ayurvedic fundamentals such as Tridoshas, body constituents, action, and properties of substances, human development, etc.
Let’s find out how Pancamahabhuta plays a vital role in keeping our life to go on.
Origin of Pancamahabhuta
Man has five senses, and through them, he perceives the external world in five different ways. Through ears, skin, eyes, tongue, and nose foreign objects are recognized in the form of energy.
These five types of senses are the basis on which the entire universe is divided into five different elements known as five mahabhutas.
The combination of bhutas forms Pancamahabhuta. The word ‘bhuta’ means that which have existence. Bhuta is very minute and can’t be perceived by senses.
These bhutas combine and form larger pancamahbhutas which can be sensed. The mahabhutas again mix in varying proportions to create material objects or physical bodies of the universe.
The combination makes every object of all five elements, but there is a predominance of one element over the other four elements. Based on dominance, worldly objects are classified into five categories:
- Parthiva – objects with the dominant earth element
- Apya – objects with the dominant water element
- Agneya – objects with the dominant fire element
- Vayaviya – objects with the dominant air element
- Akashiya – objects with the dominant space element
So if we call bones Parthiva, it means it is composed of all five elements but is predominantly made up of earth element.
These five elements are not formed altogether. They emerge in a specific sequence, one after another. Each of the five elements has a particular exclusive property.
Space, air, fire, water, and earth have qualities of sound, touch, color, taste, and smell, respectively. Each element, according to its sequence of emergence, also contains its predecessor element in a definite ratio.
Therefore, in addition to natural quality, element possesses the quality of their preceding element as well as due to the mixture of other elements. So, space only has one quality, while earth possesses qualities of all other elements.
This increase of qualities shows that elements get intermixed with one another in successive order of their origin.
Physical characteristics of panchabhautic objects
The earth element contributes to the weight of an object due to its quality of hardness while integrity and adherence of particles of objects are due to the liquidity of water element.
Fire element decides the temperature and degree of heat of the material, Vayu brings about the quality of movement and space within each, and every particle is due to friction-free nature of Space element.
Thus, the objects dominant in each element has the following characteristics:
- Slow & dense
- The tendency to go downwards
- Smell sensation
Parthiva objects if consumed, then they nourish tissues, provides heaviness, stability, and compactness to the body.
- Cold & smooth
- Heavy & dense
- Taste sensation
Apya objects provide moistness, lubrication, smoothness, and a sense of well-being in the body. It binds cells and tissues with each other, produces discharges and transports nutrients.
- Intense & sharp
- Hot & dry
- Sight sensation
Agneya objects produce heat, burning sensation, and helps in digestion. It provides color and complexion to the skin.
- Minute & spreads quickly
- Touch sensation
They render the body with dryness and lightness. They stimulate and promote activities & thoughts.
- Sound sensation
These substances provide smoothness, hollowness, and lightness to the body.
Where is Pancamahabhuta in our body?
Our body is a tiny replica of this vast nature. Pancamahabhutas are involved in every aspect of body and mind. They make up our body in the following different forms:
Pancamahabhutas form the body not only physically but also functionally. Three biological energies called Dosha renders all body functions. Doshas are nothing but Panchamahabhutas in the form of energy. Tridosha theory is established on the philosophy of Pancamahabhutas
Composition of Tridoshas,
- Vata – air & space
- Pitta – fire & water
- Kapha – earth & water
These doshas have the qualities and functions of their above mentioned dominant mahabhutas, which can be observed in our body.
Now we know that pancamahbhutas make up the anatomy of our body. The basic body structures are dominant in one dosha and hence show features of that specific mahabhutas.
- Prithvi (Earth) dominant – Nails, bones, teeth, muscle, stool, hair, ligaments
- Jala (Water) – tissue fluid, blood, fatty tissues, urine, lymph, sweat, semen
- Agni (Fire) – bile, digestive juices, eyes
- Vayu (Air) – skin, hollow structures
- Aakash (Space) – body channels, body cavities, pores in the body
As per Indian philosophy, nature (Prakriti) has three inherent characters viz. Sattva, Rajas & Tamas. These three gunas (character) known as Triguna are essential for the creation of the universe.
So, it is evident that each mahabhutas also has Triguna, but one or either two gunas is dominant in them. This predominance is what makes mahabhutas different in action and qualities.
Ayurveda says that the human mind is also attributed by these three factors which prove that pancamahabhuta is present in the body not only physically but also psychologically.
Sattva quality is the sign of consciousness & healthy mind, while Rajas & Tamas indicates the disordered state of mind. Thus, mahabhutas have following attributes
- Aakash – Sattva
- Vayu – Rajas
- Agni – Sattva & Rajas
- Jala – Sattva & Tamas
- Prithvi – Tamas
Thus, by various methods mentioned in Ayurvedic text, we can assess the quality of mind as well as mahabhutas dominance, which could be useful in selecting medications for psychiatric disorders.
Actions of mahabhutas in body
The body is composed of panchamahbhutas. In the development of the embryo, after the combination of sperm and ovum, the cells are divided to form organs due to Vayu (air), while Agni (fire) does biotransformation.
Jala (water) provides moisture, Prithvi (earth) provides strength by solidity and Aakash helps in overall embryonic growth by its property of expansion.
After the embryo develops it performs following functions essential for a smooth living,
- Earth – It plays a vital role in information, growth, and development of the body. The earth element imparts qualities like hardness, covering of the body, intelligence, dark color, stability, resistance, and strength to work.
- Water – It nourishes all the watery & oily elements of the body and has an essential role in complexion, smoothness, cooling nature, and binding of tissues & cells.
- Fire – It is responsible for digestion, metabolism, body heat, luster & complexion of the skin.
- Air – It prompts for all physical and mental actions, stimulates digestive fire, speech, causes joy & courage, expels excreta, molds the shape of the embryo and indicates the span of life.
- Space – It helps in the development of body, develops hollowness in body structures & channels, sound and sense of hearing.
What is the use of Pancamahabhuta in Ayurveda?
Ayurveda regards that as the same five essential elements are present within the body & also in all the universal substances outside the body, so they both affect each other according to the variation of the body.
Now that we know all the qualities and actions of pancamahabhuta let’s understand how they are applied in Ayurveda. Ayurvedic treatment, Ayurveda diagnosis, and Ayurveda prevention modalities can be explained based on Pancamahabhuta theory.
The Basic Elements theory is the necessary foundation on which the whole structure of Ayurvedic therapy is constructed. Pancamahabhuta is present in otherworldly elements used as diet & medicine in the form of rasa (taste), virya (potency), vipaka (Post-digestive taste) and guna (attributes).
Each of the rasas dominates two elements, which brings the diversity in taste of all substances. These rasas are solely responsible for aggravating as well as alleviating doshas. Their elemental composition could explain this,
Earth & Water
Earth & Fire
Water & Fire
Air & Space
Air & Fire
Air & Earth
Accordingly, the intake of a specified food material or a drug dominating a particular element affects the body in a specific way.
E.g., If a lean person wants to build muscle, then he should take diet having the same elemental composition as the muscle i.e., earth element dominated substances will nourish muscles.
Hence the general Ayurvedic principle of treatment is ‘Equal things increase equal factors in the body and vice-versa.’ By this dictum doshas and body, tissues could be balanced or imbalanced.
In a healthy body, dosha and dhatus remain in particular balanced proportion. So, the intake of rasa having mahabhutas same and opposite to that which is dominant in dosha can increase and decrease dosha and dhatu respectively to bring them back to a healthy state.
Why should you know about Panchamahabhuta?
The concept of pancamahabhuta is the peculiarity of Ayurveda. It explains the integrity of all living and non-living beings in this universe. This theory is probably the most ancient tool to analyze this universe.
Pancamahbhutas play an essential role in physiologic functions as well as disease formation. The dietetic imbalance is the leading cause in the occurrence of disease. Many diseases can be cured only by the proper utilization of the dietetic regimen. Hence, it is crucial to have a basic knowledge of five elements.
Now we know that humans and nature have the same composition. Our body houses the environment in a microform. Nature and man are not separate.
So we should take care of macro nature i.e., our environment so that it, in turn, takes care of our micro nature i.e., body. Pancamahabhuta theory indeed teaches us to strike a balance between nature and us.