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Disha (dik) is one among nine fundamental substances (dravya). The place and existence of a subject are stated with space or direction. Cognition (jnana) of placement of a particular thing, its relative reality is done only through knowing the direction (disha). Knowledge of ‘disha’ is an integral part of life. Both living and non-living matters from a single electron in an atom to the ever-expanding universe, follow the concept of disha. Dik is everywhere, all around us.

Philosophy of space and time is the branch of philosophy concerned with the issues surrounding the ontology, epistemology, and character of space and time. While such ideas have been central to philosophy from its inception, the philosophy of space and time was both an inspiration for and a central aspect of early analytic philosophy. The subject focuses on a number of basic issues, including whether time and space exist independently of the mind, whether they exist independently of one another and questions about the nature of identity.

Cardinal directions are a derived idea from how the earth rotates. The sun rises on one side, sets on the other, and at right angles to both of those is the north star, which never moves, or an equivalent stellar constellation (the north star has changed over time, and is different in the southern hemisphere.) From these, you can infer a fourth direction, and you have cardinal directions.

Section/Chapter Concepts/ Disha (directions)
Authors Bhojani M. K. 1, Arun Lal1
Reviewer Basisht G.2
Editors Deole Y.S.3, Basisht G.2

1 Department of Sharira Kriya, All India Institute of Ayurveda, New Delhi

2 Charak Samhita Research, Training and Development Centre, I.T.R.A., Jamnagar, India

3 Department of Kayachikitsa, G.J.Patel Institute of Ayurvedic Studies and Research, New Vallabh Vidyanagar, Gujarat, India
Correspondence emails,
Date of first publication: April 08, 2022
DOI under process

The names we are familiar with (north, south, east, west) are Germanic and replaced the Latin names (borealis, australis, orientalis, occidentalis) during the migration period (400-800 A.D.).

During the migration period, the Germanic names for the cardinal directions entered the Roman languages, where they replaced the Latin names borealis (or septentrionalis) with north, australis (or meridionalis) with south, occidentalis with west and orientalis with east. It is possible that some northern people used the Germanic names for the intermediate directions. Medieval Scandinavian orientation would thus have involved a 45 degree rotation of cardinal directions.

  • North (Proto-Germanic *norþ-) derived from the proto-Indo-European *nórto-s 'submerged' from the root *ner- 'left, below, to the left of the rising sun' whence comes the Ancient Greek name Nereus.
  • East (*aus-t-) from the word for dawn. The proto-Indo-European form is *austo-s from the root *aues- 'shine (red)'. See Ēostre.
  • South (*sunþ-), derived from proto-Indo-European *sú-n-to-s from the root *seu- 'seethe, boil'. Cognate with this root is the word Sun, thus "the region of the Sun".
  • West (*wes-t-) derived from a word for "evening". The proto-Indo-European form is *uestos from the root *ues- 'shine (red)', itself a form of *aues-. Cognate with the root are the Latin words vesper and vesta and the Ancient Greek Hestia, Hesperus and Hesperides.

Sanskrit literature use the names of the Gods associated with each direction: east (Indra), southeast (Agni), south (Yama/Dharma), southwest (Nirrti), west (Varuna), northwest (Vayu), north (Kubera/Heaven) and northeast (Ishana/Shiva). North is associated with the Himalayas and heaven, while the south is associated with the underworld or land of the fathers (Pitruloka). These Gods are called as Dikpalas. The Dikpalas (also called Lokapalas) are known in Hinduism as the guardians of the directions. Each God or Goddess represents a specific cardinal direction and are used in ritual for various purposes. There are two other Gods included in the dikpalas (protectors of direction). Brahma is a God that is associated with the zenith, the upward direction. He is commonly understood as having a significant impact in the Hindu creation story. Vishnu is the God that is associated with the nadir, or downward direction. The concept of ashtadikpalas symbolically denotes that God is every where and in every direction. In whatever direction you proceed or offer your worship, you will ultimately find the God.

The concept of ashtadikpalas was a post Vedic development. It is the basis of all the Vastu shastra and the theory of navigation is the much later phenomenon which dwelled into the theory of four cardinal directions.

Thus, Hindus seems to be the oldest tradition practicing this unique concept at macro level, in terms of dikpala – vastu shastra etc. but also at the micro-level like quantum theory, theory of relativity etc.

Etymology and derivation

The Sanskrit word ‘disha’ or ‘dik’ means direction. The fundamental substance responsible for cognition of directions like east, west etc. is known as dik or disha. Dik is omnipresent, all pervasive, and eternal (nitya). [Tarka Sangraha][1] Disha is a quarter or region pointed at, direction, cardinal point.[Monier-Williams][2]

Even though various directions are used in daily practices, the fundamental substance disha is only one and is omnipresent. For example, suppose a person goes mile after mile in a single direction. In that case, he cannot see the end of that particular direction or dik. Hence the ‘disha’ is only one and eternal.[3]

Synonyms used in Ayurveda Samhita

Disha, kakubha, kashtha, asha, harita are the synonyms of dik.[Amarakosha][4]


The direction comes to be regarded as the east, from the sun's past, future or present conjunction. The east direction is termed as ‘prachi’, because the sun first (prak) moves (anchati) there. The east is a direction of the first conjunction of the Sun occurred, or will take place, or is taking place in the course of its circulation around mount Meru in the Indian subcontinent. The south, west and north are also similarly distinguished. [Kanadarahasyam][5]

The earliest navigation methods involved observing landmarks or watching the direction of the sun and stars. Few ancient sailors ventured out into the open sea. Instead, they sailed within sight of land in order to navigate. When that was impossible, ancient sailors watched constellations to mark their position. Celestial navigation, Global Positioning System and map & compass are the three main types of navigation.[6]

Rightness and leftness have their technical or recognized meanings.

Ten directions

Though dik is unitary, it is divided into ten types for the convenience of expressions. They are particular conjunctions in relation to the region of the rising sun.

1. Prachi (East)

The direction with the conjunction of the sun in the present, past and future times is prachi or east. The direction in which the sun rises or the sun is visualized foremost is called prachi. The direction nearer to the rising mountain (udayachala) is called prachi or purva.

2. Pratichi or pashchima (West)

The direction in which the sun sets is called pratici. The direction of the vicinity of the setting mountain (astachala) or nearer to sunset is pratichi or pashchima.

3. Udichi or uttara (North)

The direction in which the sun moves upward. On facing towards the east, the direction on the left side is called udichi or uttara. The direction which is nearer to the mountain Meru is called north.

4. Avachi or Dakshina (South)

The direction where the sun moves downward direction is avachi or dakshina. The direction opposite to the mountain Meru and lying to the right hand of a man facing east is Avachi. It is very nearer to the Vindhya mountain ranges.

5. Agneya

The direction between the east and south (dakshinapurva).

6. Nairuti

The direction between the south and west (dakshinapashchima).

7. Vayavya

The direction between the west and north (uttarapashchima).

8. Eshanya

The direction between the north and east (uttarapurva).

These four are called sub directions (upadishi).

9. Brahmi

It is the upper direction (urdhwadik).

10. Nagi

It is the downward direction (adhadik).

Dik is eternal and all-pervading. It is an instrumental cause of all effects.

Qualities of Dik

  1. Numerics (sankhya)
  2. Measurement (parimana)
  3. Distinctness (prithaktwa)
  4. Conjunction (samyoga)
  5. Disjunction (vibhaga)

How can directions be a substance? (Dikdravyatwasiddhi)

The substance having qualities (guna) and actions (karma) is called a ‘dravya’. Disha possesses a set of qualities, as mentioned above. It gives the knowledge of different directions (east-west etc.) Therefore, it is termed as ‘dravya’.

Importance of direction in Ayurveda and medical science

1. The concepts of uttarayana and dakshinayana are assessed based on the movement (gati) of the sun. [Monier Williams]

2. Many technical terms in Ayurveda are connected with dik.


  • Anuloma -Masssage or application in the direction of body hairs
  • Pratiloma -Masssage or application opposite to the direction of body hairs
  • Urdhwaga raktapitta -Bleeding from upper orifices like mouth, nose etc.
  • Adhoga raktapitta -Bleeding from lower orifices like rectum, vagina, urethra etc.
  • Utkshepana -Raising up
  • Apakshepana -Pulling down
  • Akunchana -Adduction or flexion or contraction
  • Prasarana -Abduction or extension or relaxation
  • Gamana -Locomotion
  • Tiryaka -Cross directions or oblique movement

3. Sleeping by facing east or south is healthy.[7]

4. Kutikagara [Cha.Sa.Chikitsa Sthana 1/1/18], sutikagara [Su.Sa. Shareera Sthana 10/5][8], place for jentaka sweda [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 14/46] etc. are constructed in specific directions to fix different requirements.

5. Jyotishashastra explains concepts of Ayurveda in relation to graha in many contexts like tridoshas, dhatu, mahabhuta, ritu, rasa, guna, anga-avayava etc.[9]

6. Seeing someone from Andhra, southern part of the country (dravida desha) is a bad omen. [Cha.Sa. Indriya Sthana 5/29]

7. Naming of diseases like raktapitta as urdhwaga and adhoga [A.Hr. Nidana Sthana 3][10]

8. Management of certain diseases – Eg. Elimination of vitiated dosha from the opposite direction of manifestation (pratimargasodhana) in the management of raktapitta. [Cha.Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 4/54-61]

9. Predictions made by seeing factors of jyotisha. [Cha.Sa. Vimana Sthana 3/4]

The winds

Qualities of winds from four cardinal directions are explained in detail by Acharya Susruta.

a) Easterly winds

The easterly wind is pleasant, moist and contains salts also. It is heavy, produces a burning sensation and increases blood (rakta) and pitta. It always aggravates disease, especially in those who are afflicted with ulcers, wounds and poisons and who are of sleshmika constitution. It is good for persons of vatika constitution, those who are exhausted and who are emaciated due to vitiation of kapha; but even in them it specifically increases the discharge from ulcers.

b) Southern winds

The southern wind is pleasant, does not produce a burning sensation, is slightly astringent, light and is the best (amongst all the winds) and is beneficial for the eyes; it increases strength, cause the subsidence of (disorders) of blood (rakta) and pitta and does not vitiate the vata.

c) Westerly winds

The westerly wind is pure, dry, harsh, rough and destroys the moisture and strength. It is sharp and gets the kapha and fat dried up. It causes depletion of vitality very quickly and makes the body lean and thin.

d) Northern winds

The northern wind is moist, soft, pleasant, cold, and slightly astringent and it does not vitiate the doshas. Therefore it increases the strength and water content of those who are normal. It should especially be welcome for those who are afflicted by emaciation, tuberculosis and poisons. [Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 20/23-30][8]

Application of knowledge of directions in anatomy (sharira rachana) and physiology (sharira kriya)

Directions are used to know the position of different structural entities like abdominal organs (koshtanga), channels of transportation and transformation (srotas), organ cavities (ashaya), vital structures (marma) etc.

The location of body components like dosha, dhatu, agni, etc. is described in relative directions. Movement and vitiation of dosha (dosha gati) in specific directions are important in pathogenesis and purification therapies.

Surface anatomy (also known as superficial anatomy and visual anatomy) is the study of the external features of the body. It deals with anatomical features that can be studied by sight, without dissection. It is a branch of gross anatomy with endoscopic and radiological studies. In particular, in the case of human surface anatomy, these are the form and proportions of the human body. The surface landmarks corresponding to deeper structures, both static pose, and motion, are studied. This descriptive anatomy also makes use of directions.

Specific anatomical directions are used to describe the position and relation between various anatomical structures. Main directional terms used are: anterior, posterior, ventral, dorsal, proximal, distal, median, medial, lateral, superior, inferior, cranial, caudal, external, internal, superficial, deep, palmar, dorsal, plantar are standard.

Specific anatomical movements are known according to the changing position of a body part around a fixed body axis and in one of the anatomical planes. The main types of movements are flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, lateral rotation, medial rotation, circumduction, pronation, supination, inversion, eversion. This also includes knowledge of directions.

Application in pharmacology

Dravyaguna is the science that deals with the properties and actions of drugs, including pharmacognosy, pharmacology and pharmacotherapeutics of substances. The concept of disha is applied in the source, naming, collection, preservation etc., of various medicinal plants.

a) Nomenclature (namajnana): The direction of growth of a plant is known. Viruddha is named according to the property of climbing in opposite direction to that of gravity. (The plant Apamarga got the name Adhashalya, because of the downward direction of sharp ends of its seed) The drug Piper longum (Pippali) is also referred to as Magadhi, based on the place where it is found in abundance. [Cha.Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 22/53]

b) Collection of herbs (aushadha grahana): The collection method of many herbs is explained in detail. The direction and geographic location of herbs influence the qualities of the drug in various regions and seasons. The one who collect the plant should face north or east direction.[Cha.Sa. Kalpa Sthana 1/14] The northen part of plant have more quality compared to the other parts of the plant. [Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 36/3][8] The part of the plant (eg.root) developed in the northern direction has better therapeutic properties. [Cha.Sa. Kalpa Sthana 1/10]

c) Specific activity (visheshakarma): In order to attain the best therapeutic qualities for ingredients used in important procedures like pumsavana, specific collection procedures are explained in detail. Tender shoots of banyan tree (vatashringa) developed in northern or east direction shall be taken for this procedure.

The potency of active principles in herbs is influenced by direction of movement of the sun in different seasons. Herbs with cold potency (souamya or sheeta) or mild actions shall be collected in cold seasons. Those with hot potency (agneya) shall be collected in the hot season. [Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 36/6][8]

d) Storage of medicines (dravyasamgrahana): Guidelines for processing and storing the collected items are described based on directions. The construction of storehouses in the eastern or northern direction with relation to the city area is advised. [Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 36/17][8] Body part or geographical location (desha): The body parts affected in pathogenesis of disease is examined and treated based on direction. The geographical habitat of the person is important for knowing the status of health and prevalent diseases in that region.[Cha. Sa. Vimana Sthana 8/84] The place of collection of best quality drugs are explained. For example, the drug Hydnocarpus laurifolia (dennst.) Sleumer (Tuvaraka) from the western seashore is the best quality.[Su.Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 13/34][8] Phyllanthus fraternus Webster (Tamalaka), Musa x paradisiaca L. (Kadali), Holostemmaada-kodien Schult. (Jivanti) etc. collected from the western part of the country possess better quality. Haimavata and Dakshina Patha are the names given to the drugs found in northern region and southern region of India respectively. The tree Dipterocarpus turbinatus C.F.Gaertn (Aswakarna) is found over western part of the country. [Su. Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 2/56-65][8], [Su.Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 19/33-35][8] The fruit Salvadora persica L. (Pilu) is found in north India. [Cha.Sa. Siddhi Sthana 7/63] In the context of rasayana, west direction (pashchima) is the best. [Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 5/7][8]

Application of direction in pharmacy

The construction of pharmacy (rasashala) is planned based on the knowledge of application of directions. [Rasaratna Samucchaya][11] The pharmacy should be built outside the town in the north or east or north-east directions. The architectural plan of directions to be followed within the pharmacy is as below:

Table 1: Architectural plan of directions within the pharmacy
Disha Karma
East (purva) Lord Shiva (Rasa bhairava, rasalinga sthapana)
West (paschima) Washing, cleaning (kshalana karma)
North (uttara) Raw drugs, equipments (vedha karma)
South (dakshina) Grinding, pounding (pashana karma)
South-east (agneya) Furnaces for boiling, drying etc. (vahni karma)
North-west (vayavya) Hot air oven / Disintegration drying (soshana karma)
South-west (nairutya) Cutting and chopping (sastra karma)
North-east (ishanya) The prepared items to be stored here (siddhavastusthapana)

Application for diagnostic purpose

Oil drop examination of urine (tailabindupariksha of mutra) is used to know the prognosis of disease. [Yogaratnakara] The disease progression prediction depends on the method or direction of spread of an oil drop in the morning sample of urine collected in a vessel. The following tables shows direction of spread and prediction of prognosis.[12]

Table 2: Oil drop examination of urine (tailabindupariksha)
Direction of oil drop spread Prediction
East (purva) Immediate recovery
West (pashchim) Health with prosperity
North (uttara) Definite cure
South (dakshina) Jwara, gradual recovery
South east (agneya) Definite death
South west (nairutya) Definite death
North west (vayavya) Definite death
North east (ishanya) Death within a month

Application in preservation of health

Guidelines of passing natural urges based on direction are given. One should face north during daytime and face south at night while passing natural urges.[13] According to vastu sastra, one should lie down with his/her head pointed south.[14] The study conducted by Hekmatmanesh A found out that that bed orientation influences sleep electroencephalography signals and sleeping toward the earth’s electromagnetic field (North-South) can have some positive effects on the sleep EEG.[15]

One should face east or south while taking meals. [Yogaratnakara 10/16] Directions for serving various food items are specific. Khanda, thin vegetable soup (yusha) etc. should be placed at the left side of the individual. [Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 46/456][8] Study shall be done facing east. [Cha. Sa. Vimana Sthana 8/11]

Application in shalya tantra (surgery)

The concept of disha is applied in many surgical procedures. During the surgical procedure, the patient should face east (pragmukha) and the physician (vaidya) should face west (pratyangmukha). [Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 5/7][8]

The movement of instruments (shastra) (eg. anuloma) follows specific direction in surgery. The patient shall sleep keeping the head towards east (purvadisha) for worshipping the deities. [Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 19/5-6][8] In procedures like thermal cauterization (agnikarma) and cauterization with alkalies (ksharakarma), for getting the desired effect, the patient is advised to keep his head towards east. [Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 6/4][8]

Contemporary approach

In chapter 10 of ‘On Airs, Waters, and Places’, Hippocrates wrote that ‘‘if the winter proves dry and northerly, the spring rainy and southerly, the summer will necessarily bring fever, causing opthalmia (eye disorders) and dysenteries. Because whenever heat comes suddenly, while earth is still soaked from the spring rains and the south winds, heat is doubled from the rain-soaked earth and the burning sun while men’s bowels are not being braced nor their mind dried by dysenteries are more likely to come upon women and the most humid constitutions.’’[16] In chapter 1 of 'On Airs, Waters, and Places', Hippocrates suggested that all doctors should be familiar with the position of the town they are practicing in, with respect to the winds that affect the town. He believed that people living in cities with differing orientations against the winds experience different diseases (Chapters 3–6).[17]

According to ancient knowledge of vastushastra, each direction has a dominating deity. Construction in that direction is good, auspicious, bad or inauspicious as suggested in vastu shastra. These are perfectly tuned to nature, surroundings and environment without any kind of trouble. The primary objective of vastushastra is to bring perfect balance and harmony between nature, people, their place of living and working, thereby paving the way for peace, prosperity, health and happiness to everyone.[18]

Fengshui is based on a number of complex connected ideas from cosmology, the philosophy of nature, astrology and astronomy concerning the general organization of the universe and the possibility that organization has of influencing human lives. It is mainly concerned with finding the best possible arrangement in space and somehow in time to position a grave – the residence of the dead – or a habitation – the residence of the living – in such a way that human beings who have a link with that place (descendants of the buried ancestors or those living in the house) might have success and happiness.[19]

Fengshui is a philosophy of setting and placing buildings and elements in an environment. It aims to realize physical environment that encourages well-being through the utilization of flowing energy. Environmental psychology is a scientific discipline that studies how to design environments that can meet the needs of their occupants and facilitate their activities in order to promote their well-being. The first and most important purpose of fengshui is the creation of physical environments that encourage well-being through the utilization of natural energies. This outcome is similar to what environmental psychology aims to achieve with its tradition of scientific studies, helping to design environments that promote well-being among their occupant.[20]

In the traditional Chinese Medicine component - Acupuncture, to achieve the well known analgesic effects, direction, angle and depth of needle insertion is of utmost importance.[21]

Magnetic therapy is a developing field in alternative medicine which is being used in rehabilitation medicine in terms of static magnetic fields and time varying magnetic fields (electromagnetic), to control pain and other biologic problems.[22]

The concept of directions and its applications are developed in modern times. Many theories are postulated on this concept. Laws of motion by Sir Issac Newton, theory of relativity, the effect of magnetic field of earth and planets[23], the effect of gravity[24] and all navigation techniques depend on the concept of directions or geographical regions.

Biogeographical shifts are a ubiquitous global response to climate change. However, observed shifts across taxa and geographical locations are highly variable and only partially attributable to climatic conditions. Such variable outcomes result from the interaction between local climatic changes and other abiotic and biotic factors operating across species ranges. Among them, external directional forces such as ocean and air currents influence the dispersal of nearly all marine and many terrestrial organisms.[25]

Where there is light, there is a flow of energy. From simple imaging techniques like photography to advanced techniques like microscopy, ultrasound, CT (Computed Tomography), MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), PET (Positron Emission Tomography), and molecular probes such as quantum dots and nanoshells - everything is based on the direction and capture of the flow of energy.[26] Conversion of one form of energy to another form is called transduction. Plants utilize several families of photoreceptors to fine-tune growth and development over a large range of environmental conditions. The UV-A/blue light sensing phototropins mediate several light responses enabling optimization of photosynthetic yields.[27] It all depend on the intensity and direction of the light captured by the leaves of a plant. From leptons and quarks to an ever-expanding universe from big bang, direction (dik) is applied everywhere.[28]

Current researches

Less research work is conducted on the concept of disha in Ayurveda. The research on oil drop examination (taila-bindupariksha) under the examination of urine (mutra parisksha) is done upto some extent.[29]

The work by Sood T. summarizes that the concept of disha is applied in one or another way in all streams of ancient sciences and current sciences. Ancient sciences like Ayurveda, Darshana Shastra (philosophy), Jyotisha Shastra (astrology), Vastushastra (architecture) have particular understanding and explanation regarding directions (disha) based on their objectives and applications. All the modern imaging techniques apply the concept of directions (dik). The use of the concept is not just restricted to philosophy or medical sciences. Dik is omnipresent, like gravity, and it is an integral part of our lives.

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