The word panchamahabhuta is made up of three words: ‘pancha’, ‘maha’ and ‘bhuta’. ‘Pancha’ means five, ‘maha’ means great and ‘bhuta’ means that which exists. All the living and non-living objects in the universe are made up of panchamahabhuta.[Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 26/10].Therefore, panchamahabhuta are the five fundamental elements responsible for creation of the universe, including humans. Each individual has a unique panchabhautik constitution. This constitution remains in state of equilibrium in health and any imbalance results in disease. It is crucial for healthcare provider to identify panchabhautik imbalance and should have the capability to restore equilibrium.
|Section/Chapter/topic||Sharira / Pachamahabhuta|
|Authors||Aneesh E.G., Deole Y.S.|
|Reviewed by||Basisht G.|
|Affiliations||Charak Samhita Research, Training and Development Centre, I.P.G.T.& R.A., Jamnagar|
|Date of first publication:||March 25, 2020|
Etymology and derivation
The word ‘bhuta’ is derived from “Bhu” dhatu(Sanskrit root) and “Kta”pratyaya(suffix). It means existence in the universe. That which can be perceived through the external sense organs is called Bhuta.
Five fundamental elements
The five fundamental elements are [Cha.Sa.Sharira Sthana 1/27]
Each of these elements possesses inherent physical properties.
Importance of panchamahabhuta
- Panchamahabhuta are important factors in the creation of the universe. They evolve from the union of tejas (sattva dominant) and bhutadi (tamas dominant) ahamkara. The following diagram shows the evolution and development of the universe.
Evolution of panchamahabhuta
The mahabhuta are evolved from dominance of these specific fundamental constituents of universe as below.
- Akasha: Sattva dominant
- Vayu: Rajas dominant
- Agni: Sattva and Rajas dominant
- Aap: Sattva and Tamas dominant
- Prithvi: Tamas dominant
Relation with human being
Properties of panchamahabhuta
Each mahabhuta has dominant inherent functions related to the sense organs. The mahabhuta can perceive enhanced other senses due to addition of subtle elements of other mahabhuta as given below. [Cha.Sa.Sharira Sthana 1/26-28]
|Mahabhuta||Dominant inherent function||Additional general functions due to fundamental composition|
|Jala||Taste (rasa)||Sound(shabda),Touch (sparsa),Vision(rupa)|
|Prithvi||Smell (Gandha)||Sound(shabda),Touch (sparsa),Vision(rupa),Taste (rasa)|
The mahabhuta provide abode for corresponding sense organs to perform their sensory functions.[Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana.8/14]. These sense organs are tools to know panchabhautik matter in the universe. 
Characteristics of panchamahabhuta
Each mahabhuta can be assessed by following characteristic feature
|Akasha||Free flow/unobstructability (Apratighatata)|
Above mentioned criteria are applied to assess fundamental composition of any element. The signs of increase or decrease of these features in body is observed and applied in diagnosis and therapeutics. For example, if the roughness is increased, then increase in prithvi mahabhuta is known.
Influence of panchamahabhuta in embryogenesis
Mahabhuta play basic functions during embryogenesis. After formation of foetus(garbha), vayu performs function of cell division/multiplication (vibhajana); agni carries function of metabolism(pachana); jala carries function of moisture or fluid(kledana); prithvi carries function of compactness or formation of mass(samhanana); and akasha carries function of enlargement of size(vivardhana). If these functions are carried out in normal proportion, the normal structure of body (shareera) is formed [Su.Sa.Sha.5/3]. In the third month of pregnancy, following body constituents are formed and relative functions begin from mahabhuta.[Cha.Sa.Sharira Sthana.04/12]
|Mahabhuta||Body constituents and functions|
|Akasha||Sound, auditory sensation, lightness, fineness and space|
|Vayu||Tangibility, sense of touch, roughness, impulsion, structuring of body tissues and maintaining of movements of the body and dosha|
|Agni||Visible form, vision, brightness, digestion and heat|
|Jala||Taste, sense of taste, coldness, softness, unctuousness and moisture|
|Prithvi||Odor, sensation of smell, heaviness, steadiness and material form|
Role of bhutagni in digestion and metabolism
In the process of digestion and metabolism, the food passes through three levels of action of agni. At first it is acted upon by jatharagni for gross digestion. Then it is acted upon by bhutagni. At this level the agni component of each mahabhuta carries out selective digestion process of their respective component of food. The parthiva agni digests and metabolizes the prithvi component of ingested food. Further the body constituents are formed by selective process of dhatvagni. [Cha.Sa.Chikitsa Sthana 15/12-14] Body is formed of panchamahabhuta and so is food. When food is ingested, the relevant mahabhuta and body component is increased [Su.Sa.Su.46/526].
Fundamental composition of dosha
Doshas are constituted by specific mahabhuta [AS.Su.20/2] as below:
Based on this composition, mahabhuta play vital role in determining basic constitution (prakriti) of human being. [Cha.Sa.Vimana Sthana.8/95] This principle is applied in therapeutics. In case of decrease in vatadosha in body, the regimen which increases vayu and akasha mahahuta is prescribed. Accordingly the regimens which increase corresponding doshas are prescribed.
Classification of marma (vital points) based on panchamahabhuta predominance
The marma or vital points/organs in body are classified in five categories on the basis of their harmful effect on body. The harmful effect depends upon their fundamental composition of mahabhuta [Su.Sa.Sha. 6/16] as below.
|Type of marma||Panchamahabhuta constitution|
|Sadyapranahara (that which cause immediate death)||Agni|
|Kaalantarapranahara (that which cause death after some time)||Jala, agni|
|Vishalyaghna (that which cause death by removal of foreign body)||Vayu|
|Vaikalyakara (that which cause disability or deformities)||Jala|
|Rujakara (that which cause pain)||Agni, vayu|
Thus,mahabhuta have impact on vital force.
Taste (rasa) and its panchamahabhuta predominance
Panchamahabhuta composition determine specific taste of a substance. Accordingly the rasa or tastes perform relevant biological activities and effects [Su.Sa.Su 42/03], [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 26/40]. These are applied for therapeutic purpose.
|Rasa||Mahabhuta||Physiological effect on dosha|
|Sweet (madhura)||Prithvi, jala||Pacification of Vata, Pitta|
|Sour (amla)||Prithvi, agni||Pacification of Vata|
|Salty (lavana)||Jala, agni||Pacification of Vata|
|Spicy (katu)||Vayu, agni||Pacification of Kapha|
|Bitter (tikta)||Vayu, akasha||Pacification of Kapha,Pitta|
|Astringent (kashaya)||Prithvi, vayu||Pacification of Kapha,Pitta|
Application of panchamahabhuta in therapeutics
Apart from the therapeutic uses mentioned above, the medicines having dominance of specific mahabhuta are administered in therapeutic procedures. This corresponds to relevant properties and effect of mahabhuta [Su.Sa.Su.41/6-9].
In Purification therapy(shodhana chikitsa)
|Emesis (Vamana)drug||Agni and vayu|
|Purgation (Virechana)drug||Prithvi and jala|
In pacification therapy (shamana chikitsa)
|Constipative (Grahi) drug||Vayu|
|Digestive stimulant (Deepana) drug||Agni|
|Scarifiying (Lekhana) drug||Vayu and agni|
|Nurishing (Brihmana) drug||Prithvi and jala|
Application of panchamahabhuta in diagnostic views
The characteristics of panchamahabhuta are applied in diagnosis as below:
|Akasha||Free flow of body constituents in hollow cavities, various sounds produced inside body|
|Vayu||Various conduction and transmission activities, transportation processes|
|Agni||Digestive, transformation and metabolism processes, heat production|
|Aap||Fluid balance, maintaining moisture and coldness|
|Prithvi||Body mass, odour|
The abnormalities in physiological functions are observed to assess proportion of mahabhuta.
Application of panchmahabhuta in disease management
Panchamahabhuta theory is applied in the management of diseases. The panchabhautik constitution of basic causative factors and pathogenesis of disease is observed. Then the medicines having opposite panchabhautik constitutions are administered to restore equilibrium in the body.
For example, in Jwara, undigested food (ama) leads to vitiation of nutrient fluids (rasa dhatu). The digestion and metabolism are slowed down. Thus, prithvi and jala mahabhuta are increased and cause the disease state. The treatment of jwara includes langhana, swedana, pachana and medicines with bitter taste (tikta). The treatment has agni, vayu and akasha dominancy. The herbs like Cyperus rotundus(musta), Zingiber officinale(shunthi) having dominancy of the same mahabhuta are administered in the management. This can be applied in various other diseases too. Thus panchamahabhuta theory is important in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
The current understanding of panchamahabhuta can be categorized under two parts:
- Panchamahabhuta as important factors for biological processes
- Panchamahabhuta involved in the creation of universe i.e. subtle forms of tanmatra
Panchamahabhuta, quantum mechanics and biological processes
Modern physicist, Dr.John Hagelin pointed out that quantum physics derives everything in creation from basic ‘force’ and matter fields. These fields belong to one of five fundamental spin types-most basic concept in particle physics. He correlated the panchamahabhuta with five spin types of modern physics. Extending further, the corroboration of possibility of relation of dosha with corresponding superfield is as shown in table below:
|Five mahabhuta||Five spin types||Dosha||Super field||Dosha||Super field|
|Akasha||Spin 2 = Graviton (gravity)||Vata||Gravity|
|Vayu||Spin 3/2 = Gravitino||Vata||Gravity|
|Tejas||Spin 1 =Force fields (electromagnetism)||Pitta||Gauge|
|Jala||Spin 1/2-= Matter fields||Pitta||Gauge||Kapha||Matter|
|Prithvi||Spin 0 = Higgs fields||Kapha||Matter|
This analogy is helpful in current understanding of health. The mahabhutas are further present in body constituents like akasha (space in body, channels); vayu (air in the body gaseous exchange, Oxygen, carbon di oxide etc., breathing); agni (chemical reactions, enzymatic activity, digestion);jala(water, fluids, ionic constituents); and prithvi(earth, solid structures). Body constituents like dosha, dhatu, mala, agni etc. are nothing but biological derivatives of panchamahabhuta and nothing is different than that. Therefore the panchamahabhuta are highly important causal factors that influence biological processes.
Role of panchamahabhuta in creation of universe
In addition to the correlation with five spins in quantum mechanics as mentioned above, the panchamahabhuta are important links in creation of universe. As per the science, the universe is evolved from unmanifest(avyakta) through cosmic inltelligence(mahat) and ego(ahamkara). Then the panchatanmatra (subtle forms of panchamahabhuta) are evolved from rajas dominant taijas and tamas dominant bhutadi ahamkara. The panchatanmatras are important links for knowledge that allows scientists a more detailed and quantifiable understanding of how consciousness gives rise to matter. In this regard, the transformation process in the universe becomes a flow of energy.
List of theses
I.P.G.T. &R.A. Jamnagar:
- Rao T. Srinivas(1970). Panchbhutik guna (A study w.s.r. to guru & laghu).
- Upendra D. Dixit (1995). Concept of Panchmahabhuta & it’s utility in Chikitsa .
- Dr. Bishnupriya Mohanty (2004 Ph.D.) Biotransformation of Panchmahabhuta& it’s interpretation in terms of cell injury.
- NalageDilip H (2004).A study of Samskara & its role in alteration of Panch-bhutic composition of Dravya .
- Gautam Khandeparkar (2007).Critical study of “Bhutebhyohi paramyasmatnastichintachikitsite” w.s.r. to Santarpanotthaprameha& it’s management.
- AnuruchiJadoun (2012). Concept of PanchabhautikaArabdhata of Dravyas (conjugation and configuration of mahabhutas) and applied aspect of Samana and Vichitrapratyayarabdhata.
- Harshal S Sabale (2013). Applied concept of Panchavidhavata in relation to their Panchabhautika conjugation and configuration .
- KamlaMoond(2018). A study on PanchamahabhutaSiddhanta to develop objective parameters for assessment of Prithvi Mahabhuta
Faculty of Ayurveda, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi:
- Dwivedi L.D. (1969-M.D. and 1975-PhD).A study of concept of Panchmahabhutas
- Srivastav L. P. (1988).Concept of Panchmahabhutas in the light of Samkhya, Yoga & Ayurveda.
Government Ayurved college Nagpur:
- Bawisakar Geeta (1989). SharirmeinPanchmahabhutonkivyapakata.
- Mana S. (2000) Vibhinna Panchmahabhuta sanghatanatmaka dravyon ka pranishreeravriddhi par tulanatmaka adhyayana
List of references
The list of references for Panchamahabhuta in Charak Samhita can be seen here References_for_panchamahabhuta.pdf
- Dingarilakshmanachary.Acharya’sAyurvedeeyapadarthavigyana. Delhi: Chaukhamba Sanskrit pratisthan;2012.Chapter 12,Pancha mahabhuta;page 66
- BK Dwivedi.Padarthavijnana. Varanasi: Chowkhambakrishnadas academy;2003.Chapter 2,Dravya vigyana;page49
- Gokhale B.V. Ayrvedache Shastra Ayurveda Bhaskar.Marathi book.Mama Gokhale Janma mahotsava samilti. 2003. Pg.128-9.
- Bhardwaj Vikas, Sharma Pankaj, and C. Sahana. Panchamahabhuta Siddhanta and Chikitsa-A Bird’s Eye View. Ejbps, 2016; 3(11), 154-159.
- Sharma Hari,Christopher Clark. Contemporary Ayurveda: Medicine and Research in Maharishi Ayur-Veda.Churchill Livingstone; 1 edition;1997,36-37.
- Singh R.H.Exploring Quantum Logic in Ayurveda with special reference to Srotovijnana of Ayurveda.2009;30(4).360-8
- Wallace Kieth, The Structure of Matter. Available from https://doshaguru.com/the-fundamental-structure-of-matter/ accessed on March 24, 2020.