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Concept of Panchmahabhuta ( Five Elements )

Ayurveda is the science, which takes into account the holistic approach of naturally occurring alternative herbal formulations. It depends on the concept of Panchmahabhuta (five elements). The Panchmahabhuta revolves around the normal functioning of the body (physiology), occurrence of diseases (pathology) and action of drugs in the various parts of the body (pharmacokinetics). According to Ayurveda, this holistic approach comprises five important elements of nature.

These are the following:

  1. Prithvi (earth)
  2. Jal (water)
  3. Agni (fire)
  4. Vayu (air)
  5. Akash (space)

These five basic elements are together known as the Panchmahabhuta. These are the elements, which comprise the non-living and living materials as well.

According to the concept of Panchmahabhut, each and every component of this world is made of these 5 basic elements of nature. On the basis of the predominance of these various components in the nature, they are distinguished as Apya, Parthiva, Vayaviya, Akashiya and Taijasa. Ayurvedic science understands the concept of the body, spirit and mind in similar manner. Based on the Panchmahabhut concept, people are distinguished into three categories with unique characteristics. These are Kapha, Pitta amd Vata. People with Kapha characteristics have water and earth as their predominant components. The ones with Pitta characteristics have fire and those with Vata characteristics have air and ether as their dominating components. And thus, the various functioning and structures of the body and the existence as well are very well governed by the Panchmahabuta.

panchmahabhuta, five elements

Mahabhuta is the smallest part of matter, which is divisible. The various types of mahabhutas are Akashmahabhuta, Vayumahabhuta, Agnimahabhuta, Aapamahabhuta and Prithwimahabhuta.

These are explained below:-

  1. Ether - This is similar to the space. All the pores, empty spaces symbolize space or ether.
  2. Air - This gaseous form is highly dynamic and mobile. In living organisms, this mahabhuta forms the major ingredient of Vata dosha. And, this is highly responsible for any type of movements. These include passing the food through the gastro intestinal tract, joint movement, movement through of the nerve impulses and many others.
  3. Fire - This component of mahabhuta can change the state of a substance. Agni forms the major component of the Pitta dosha. It is responsible for any biotransformation. This component provides energy, which is essential for carrying out the various activities of the body. The energy in the food containing carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins is transformed to such an energy, which is utilized by the body, right from the basic cellular level. The various activities are carried out very smoothly if this component of Panchmahabuta is completely under balance. Any unbalance causes disturbances in homeostasis and the entire body functioning is affected. Ayurveda mainly concentrates on the maintenance of the biological Agni.
  4. Water - This symbolizes liquid form. The lymph, blood and all other fluids, which carry waste products, regulate the body temperature and transport hormones from one part of the body to the other make use of this component of Panchmahabhut. It is also known as Aapamahabhuta. This component is the major constituent of the Kapha dosha. According to the Panchmahabhut concept, the various biological and chemical reactions are possible because of this component.
  5. Earth – This component represents the solid form. It characterizes rigidity, permanence, stability. The various strong parts of the body include teeth, bones, tissues and cells. It is known as Prithvimahabhuta. Roughness is the major characteristic of this component of mahabhuta.

Thus, these five components of Panchmahabhuta comprise the building blocks. The combination of the various components in different proportions gives rise to unique matters. Every element has different attributes and it gives rise to unique objects.

A single cell of a living organism has combination of the five components. The earth or the prithvimahabhut forms the major structure of the cell. The aapamahabhut or the water forms the cytoplasm of the cell. The various metabolism of the body cells are governed by the agnimahabhuta. The space inside the cell is governed by the ether element. And, finally the channel through which the waste materials and nutrients get transported in various parts of the body is given by the space component.

Thus, these five components of Panchmahabhuta form the structure of the living organisms. These are basic blocks of life. They are present in every sphere of life. Thus, the concept of Panchmahabhut applies to everyday life to a huge extent.

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