Analysis of the Panchamahabhutha Theory in Ayurveda

" There should be some factors in the surroundings that make substances audible, tactile, visible, tastable and smelled. These factors are considered to be the Five Elements or Five Mahabhuthas, responsible for the above properties of substances. "

The focus of this article will be to give an idea on the working principle of Ayurveda and make the reader understand what are Panchamahabhutas (Five great elements) and how we apply this theory in Ayurveda.

Knowledge and means to attain knowledge:

The obtained information analyzed and applied skillfully for a purpose is called Knowledge. Information is the collection of data from our surroundings or environment, and how do we get information? Or what is the way to understand the environment? What are the tools needed to collect information from the environment.

The tools for understanding the environment or gathering of information from the environment are the 5 senses. We see, hear, touch, taste, and smell, to get information from the environment. Do we have another choice? No, we have our 5 senses as our tools to gather information. These five senses are known as the 5 Indriyas .

  1. Shravana Indriya (Ears) to perceive information by hearing
  2. Sparshana Indriya(Skin) to perceive information by touching
  3. Darshana Indriya(Eyes) to perceive information by seeing
  4. Rasana Indriya(Tongue) to perceive information by taste
  5. Ghrana Indriya(Nose) to perceive information by smell

The information that we receive through this 5 indriyas, we can call direct information . This way of achieving information is known as prathyaksha (Through senses) . This information that we receive from prathyaksha is further analyzed , with the help of manas or mind . This method of analysis and inference is anumana . So the 5 indriyas are the means to achieve prathyaksha knowledge, and Manas is responsible to achieve anumana knowledge. Therefore manas is considered the sixth indriya .

In summary, I say that the information is available in the environment in the form of sound, touch, sight, taste and smell. And means to achieve these information are prathyaksha with 5 indriyas and anumana with the 6th indriya manas .

Now the question arises:

What are the factors that are responsible for Sound,Touch, Sight, Taste and Smell in this area?

There should be some factors in the surroundings that make substances audible, tactile, visible, tastable and smelled. These factors are considered to be the Five elements or Five mahabhuthas, responsible for the above properties of substances.

  1. Akasha is the factor that makes a matter audible
  2. Vayu is the factor that makes a matter tactile
  3. Agni is the factor that makes a matter visible
  4. Jala is the factor that makes a matter tastable
  5. Prithvi is the factor makes a matter smelled

The emergence of these panchamahabhuthas during the formation of the Universe, as we know from an unknown source (avyaktha ) . The formation of the universe is a very vast topic and out of scope for this discussion.1

I would not call these pnachamahabhuthas as Space, Air, Fire, Water and Earth because of the following reason. These mahabhuthas in their subtle form are not visible for the naked eyes and this subtle form is called as nithya rupa and which undergoes different permutation and combinations to form the macroscopic matter called anithya rupa . Anithya rupa can be destroyed and brought back to nithya rupa while nithya rupa is indestructible . Out of the Five mahabhuthas all exist in both forms except akasha. Akasha has only one form and its is nithya rupa. These different mahabhuthas combine together and give rise to different matters. Earth is formed of all elements with dominance in prithvi mahabhutha (it can be considered as anithya rupa of prithvi mahabhutha) , Water is the anithya rupa of jala mahabhutha and so on. Nithya rupa of panchamahabhuthas are in paramanu (atomic) state .

Each paramanu state of mahabhutha contains all the other, they exist in the form of combinations that are known as pancheekarana . Each of the five elements is divided into two halves and each half is further split into four parts. The four parts are now filled with other four elements. Akasha paramanu has ½ Akasha+ 1/8 prithvi . Likewise, it goes to the other elements. This process is referred to as the pancheekarana of subtle elements. Several permutations and combinations of these Mahabhuthas lead to the formation of all living and non-living things that we perceive around us in this world. This means that all the things around us are made from panchamahabhuthas .

As we know that neurons are the structural and functional unit of the nervous system, these Panchamahabhutas are the structural and functional unit of all living and non-living things we touch, see, taste, smell and hear.

In short: According to the theory of panchamahabhutha all living and non-living, natural and artificial things in this world are formed from the five elements. Hence the human body is also made up of panchamahabhuthas .

Panchamahabhutha and Ayurveda:

Now we know that our body is made like all other substances from panchamahabhutha. Anything made of Panchamahabhutha is called bhouthika – that is, physical. This means that our bhouthika body is nourished by the bhouthika food. Our body as well as the food or drugs that we take are made of panchamahabhuthas. Improper intake of food or improper behaviors can cause disturbances in mahabhuthas and cause disease in bhouthika body. Then we use the corresponding bhouthika drugs to compensate for the bhouthika body.

When a person is sick, then we should analyze what the problem is in his panchamahabhuthas , then we should give him the medicine that contains the right amount of panchamahabhuthas for his present condition.

The next question that should be considered:

How can we know that there is an imbalance of mahabhuthas in the body?

Moreover, how can we analyze the mahabhuthas in a drug or a plant?

Five bhuthas (elements) can be categorized in to 3, in order to study and analyze the function of the body.

Akasha + Vayu = Vata

Agni = Pitta

Jala + Prithvi = Kapha

These three are considered the physiological aspect of the human body and are known as doshas , which means three doshas. The Vata dosha is : akasha and vayu are predominant. If there is a quantitative and qualitative increase in the akasha and vayu – mahabhuthas in a specific body , then Vata dosha is aggravated in this body, which in turn shows the signs of increased Vata. And decrease in the same mahabhuthas tends to reduce Vata . The same principle is valid for Pitta and Kapha.

Therefore, it’s our goal to find the right medicine or treatment that can bring this into balance. For example, in the increase of Vata we should find a drug with the dominance of jala , prithvi or agni or their combination. We should not take those drugs with predominance in akasha and vayu , because Vata is aggravated by the increase in akasha and vayu .

How can we know the existence of bhuthas in a particular plant? To get to know the effect of a plant or a medicine, In Ayurveda we analyze the 4 main characteristics of plants.

Drugs are analyzed by the following properties.

Rasa——- taste

Veerya——- potency

Vipaka ——– property after digestion

Prabhava——- Special property

There are six types of Rasas , and each has its predominant mahabhutha .

Madhura —–sweet——– Prithvi + Jala

Amla———– sour———- Agni+ Prithvi

Lavana——– salty———- Jala + Agni

Tiktha——— bitter——— Akasha + Vayu

Katu———– pungent——— Agni+ Vayu

Kashaya—— astringent —Prithvi + Vayu

From the above table we see that the first three rasa are formed from the dominance of two bhuthas of Prithvi , Jala or Agni . Therefore, these rasas have the ability to reduce the enhanced Vata . There are plants with madhura , amla or lavana rasa , which are good medicines for Vata problems. This is just the basic idea of the principle of treatment in Ayurveda. Treatment relies on a lot more other factors.

Basic principle in therapy :

Disharmony in mahabhuthas can be understood by the imbalance in tridoshas and the appropriate drug for therapy (to attain the equilibrium) is selected according to the properties like rasa.

Example :

Madhura rasa made of prithvi and jala bhutha
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1. Decreases the aggravated Vata ( Akasha and Vayu predominant)

2. Decreases the aggravated Pitta (Agni predominant)

3. Aggravates Kapha (Prithvi and Jala predominant)

The above mentioned is only one aspect of Ayurveda Treatment principles. Lots of other things like dhathus, malas, agni, srothas etc are to be considered to decide the shodhana or shamana Treatment.

To conclude:

According to Aurveda, equilibrium of doshas, dhathus, mala and agni along with intact soul, sense organs and mind is said to be health.

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity……..WHO

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