From Charak Samhita
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Sanskrit word ‘tanmatra’ literally means subtle elements. It reflects the knowledge of atoms in ancient classics. Ayurveda being the life science has focused on the genesis of life along with the fulfillment of long healthy life. This concept of genesis of life in Ayurveda find its roots in Sankhya philosophy and Vedant Philosophy. This concept of tanmatras is reflected as the influence of Sankhya and Vedant philosophy on Ayurved.

Section/Chapter Concepts/Tanmatra
Authors Nawkar Madhumati S.1
Reviewer Basisht G.2,
Editor Deole Y.S.3
Affiliations 1Department of Sanskrit Samhita Siddhanta, R. T. Ayurved Mahavidyalaya, Akola, Maharashtra, India
2 Rheumatologist, Orlando, Florida, U.S.A.
3Department of Kayachikitsa, G.J.Patel Institute of Ayurvedic Studies and Research, New Vallabh Vidyanagar, Gujarat, India
Correspondence emails madhumati.nawkar@gmail.com,
Publisher Charak Samhita Research, Training and Development Centre, I.T.R.A., Jamnagar, India
Date of publication: November 28, 2022
DOI 10.47468/CSNE.2022.e01.s09.118


The word Tanmatra is made up of two words Tat+ Matra. Literary meaning ‘only that’. The term matra indicates the subtleness (Suksmatva)[1]


Tanmatras are trifled, rudimentary or subtle elements from which the grosser elements (mahabhoota) are produced.[2] The shabdadi (subject of senses / quality of Mahabhootas) which are anudbhuta (In evolutionary stage) and can not be sensed by external sense organs are ‘tanmatras’. Only a person with highly developed senses like yogi can experience it.[3]

Types of tanmatras

There are five sense perceptions -hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell and there are five tanmatras corresponding to the five-sense perception [4]
These are five in number

  1. Shabda tanmatra or sukshma akasha mahabhuta
  2. Sparsha tanmatra or sukshma vayu mahabhuta
  3. Rupa tanmatra or sukshma teja/agni mahabhuta
  4. Rasa tanmatra or sukshma jala/aap mahabhuta
  5. Gandha tanmatra or sukshma prithvi mahabhuta


Sukshma bhoota[5], avishesha[6], paramanu[7].

Concept of Tanmatra as per Sankhya philosophy

While describing the surge of Universe the Sankhya explains the role of tanmatra. Sankhya enlisted 25 principles behind creation of universe. These principles are classified into 4 categories according to their role in the surge.[8]
Sr no. Category Name Number
1 Mula prakriti (origin/ creator) prakriti 01
2 Prakriti-vikriti (creator & creation dual nature) Mahat
3 Vikar (creation) Panchamahabhoota (five fundamental elements)
Panchajnanendriya (five sense organs)
Panchakarmendriya (five motor organs)
Mind (mana)
4 Na prakriti navikar (neither creator nor creation) Purusha 01

According to Sankhyas at the initial stage the two original eternal principles are mula prakriti or avyakta (principal origin) and purusha.
Prakriti is the original state with balanced state of triguna, everything is in a mass and one thing cannot be distinguished from one another. Prakriti with the help of purusha causes the creation. [9]
The next principle mahat (cosmic intellect) gets originated from avyakta, and this further originates ahankara (ego/ self sense of cosmos). The ahankara is of three types.

  1. Sattvika: Ahankara with dominance of sattva, also known as vaikarika.
  2. Rajasika: Ahankara with dominance of rajas, also known as tejas.
  3. Tamasika: Ahankara with dominance of tamas, also known as bhutadi.
The tanmatras originate from tamas ahankara with the help of rajas ahankara. These tanmatras are subtle structures considered as ‘avishesha’ and are the sources of panchamahabhuta (five basic elements). The panchamahabhuta are macroscopic structures and categorized as vikara (creations). Eleven indriyas originate from sattvika ahankara with help of rajasika ahankara. Tanmatras are principles/ elements with dual nature (i.e. creator and creations) originated from tamas and rajas ahankara. These tanmatras create gross elements.

Vedant philosophy

In the text ‘Vedant Sara’, in context of explaining the surge of universe, it is mentioned that Chaitanya (consciousness), when covered by tamas dominance, creates akasha. Thereafter, vayu is originates from akasha; teja originates from vayu and further jala originates from teja. Lastly prithvi originates from jala. At this time, these subtle elements (sukshmabhuta) or tanmatras are apanchikruta[10] (singular and not quintupled)..
Panchikarana (quintiplication) is the process explained by Vedanta for the formation of gross elements from tanmatras.

Vaisheshika philosophy

According to Vaisheshika philosophy, at the initial stage, there are parmanus (atoms) of four mahabhuta (namely vayu, agni, jala, prithvi). The gross mahabhutas are created from those paramanu.[11]


Twenty four principles (chaturvinshati tatvatmak purusha) are listed in Charak Samhita. Instead of 25 principles mentioned by Samkhya, here only 24 principles are counted. The purusha and prakriti considered as one principle that is avyakta.[12] These principles are classified into two categories – 8 prakriti (creators) and 16 vikara (creations) [Cha.Sa. ShariraSthana1/63]. Tanmatras are considered as prakriti tattva and para (supreme). [Cha.Sa. ShariraSthana 1/35] Sushruta explained the surge in universe, counted 24 principles (tattva). He has mentioned the creation of tanmatras from tamasa and rajasa ahankara. [Su.Sa. ShariraSthana 1]

Theories of origination of mahabhutas from tanmatras

There are various opinions about origination of gross elements (mahabhutas) from subtle elements (tanmatras)
  1. Each mahabhuta originates from its own tanmatra. As commented by Shri Gaudapad on Sankhyakarika, akasha originated from shabda tanmatra, vayu from sparsha tanmatra, agni from rupa tanmatra, jala from rasa tanmatra and prithvi from gandha tanmatra respectively.[13]
  2. Quintiplication (panchikarana):
    In Vedant philosophy, it is believed that for formation of each gross element all tanmatras take part in specific proportion. The dominance of concerned tanmatra gives rise to the concerned mahabhoota. That is in each sthulabhuta 50% or ½ portion will show dominance of its own tanmatra and rest four tanmatras will occupy 1/8th portion (12.50%) each. This is known as panchikarana.[14]
  3. For example, akasha mahabhoota is formed by combination of - 50% of shabda tanmatra, 12.5% of sparsha tanmatra, 12.5% of rupa tanmatra, 12.5% of rasa tanmatra and 12.5% of gandha tanmatra.
  4. Addition of properties (kramotpatti[15]/ bhutantaraanupravesha[16]/ ekottarparivriddhi[17])
    When the gross elements originate from its own tanmatra, the previous element’s tanmatra also plays role in its creation. That means first akash originates from shabdatanmatra. Thereafter, vayu mahabhoota originates from sparsha tanmatra along with shabda tanmatra. So vayu shows two qualities shabda and sparsha, and so on/ The properties of each mahabhuta in sequential formation are shown in table below.
Table: Sequential formation of mahabhuta, their properties with tanmatra:
No Tanmatra Mahabhuta Guna
1 Shabda Akash Shabda
2 Shabda + Sparsha Vayu Shabda, Sparsha
3 Shabda + Sparsha + Rupa Agni Shabda, Sparsha, Rupa
4 Shabda + Sparsha + Rupa + Rasa Jala Shabda, Sparsha, Rupa, Rasa
5 Shabda + Sparsha + Rupa + Rasa + Gandha Prithvi Shabda, Sparsha, Rupa, Rasa, Gandha

Vaisheshika theory of creation of mahabhuta

Vaisheshika considers paramanu as the subtle element responsible for production of gross elements. As akash is omnipresent, does not exist in the form of paramanu, so in the initial stage the paramanus of 4 elements (vayu, agni, jala, prithvi) are in the balanced state. At surge, they start moving, they combine in specific way, two atoms of same category combine to form a binary molecule (dvyanuka), combination of three dvayanuka forming tryanuka, furthermore combine into grosser molecules of chaturunuka, and so on. The other view is that atoms form diads and triads directly to form molecules of different substances. Atoms possess an incessant vibratory motion. The activity of the atoms and their combinations are not arbitrary but according to laws that are expressed as the adrushta.[18]

Contemporary theories

Many physicists have studied the theories of evolution from Indian philosophies and have shown corelation of it in contemporary science mainly quantum physics.

Tanmatra and quantum spins

John S. Hagelin, the physicist in his book ‘Is Consciousness the Unified Field? A Field Theorist's Perspective; (Maharishi International University Fairfield, Iowa) states the similarity between quantum mechanical spins and tanmatras. It is stated that ‘A very similar structure is observed within the framework of quantum field theory, where there are also five fundamental categories of quantum field or "spin types" consistent with relativistic causality and renormalizability, which are responsible for the entire material universe. These are the spin-2 graviton (responsible for space-time curvature and the force of gravity), the spin - 3/2 gravitino (appearing only in the context of a supersymmetric field theory), spin-1 force fields, spin -1/ 2 matter fields, and the spin-0 Higgs fields responsible for symmetry breaking.’ [19].
There appears to be a striking correspondence between the five tanmatras and these quantum-mechanical spin types: between the space tanmatra and the gravitational field; between the air tanmatra, which stands as a link between space and the other elements, and the gravitino field; between the fire tanmatra, responsible for chemical transformations and the sense of sight, and the spin-1 forces; and between the water and earth tanmatras and the spin-% and spin-0 matter fields, respectively.[20]

Tanmatra, paramanu and wave particle duality

In the book ‘Indian Physics outline of early History.’ it is stated that ‘The tanmatras are an abstract potential whereas bhutadi are the elementary atoms which is somewhat like the quantum wavefunction and material particles. Samkhya, where the observer is central, considers tanmatras to emerge first. On the other hand, Vaisheshika. with its focus on atoms and their combinations, does not speak of tanmatras although some of the gunas are like the tanmatras. In other words, we have something akin to the concept of wave-particle duality of quantum physics.[21]

Tanmatra and elementary particles

Modern science supports the proposition that five tanmatra are the progenitors of their visible counterparts by describing basic formative particles (electron, proton and neutron- which could be the tanmatras) combining in different proportions and forming atoms, elements and compounds.[22]


The study of tanmatra is important in order to understand our origin, as they are the connectors between subtle (avyakta) and gross (vyakta). Also, in order to describe the link between the sense organs and the elements, the Sankhya school developed the concept of tanmatra. The properties of elements are specified with particular qualities which share something in common.[23]
Tanmatra is an important concept to understand and build base for Ayurved biology.[24]

Application of tanmatra in health and prevention of diseases

Tanmatras are subtle forms of fundamental elements (sukshma mahabhuta). The meditation on tanmatra helps a yogi to control the senses and desire. On the same parlance the meditation on tanmatras help to prevent intellectual errors (prajnaparadha) and improper union of senses with objects (asatmya indriyartha samyoga). Knowledge of subtler form can help to achieve positive health in terms of physical, mental and spiritual aspects.

Application of tanmatra in clinical practices

The tanmatra is the basic platform for panchabhautika siddhanta, which is widely used in ayurveda clinical practices. Some of the applications are as below:
  1. Formation of foetus: Five elements and soul/conscious (atma) conjugates to form foetus.[Cha.Sa. Sharira Sthana 4/6]
  2. Prakriti nirmana:Panchabhautiki prakriti is formed. [Su. Sa. Sharira Sthana 4]
  3. Body elements and panchamahabhutas:
    1. Shabda(sound), sense of hearing, porous structures in the body are showing dominance of akasha mahabhuta. Touch, skin, pulsations, lightness, and all movements are due to vayu mahabhuta. Vison, eyes, colour, temperature, digestion ,bravery are due to teja mahabhuta. Taste, tongue, coldness, unctuousness, semen and all liquid components of body show dominance of Jala mahabhuta. Sense of smell, nose, and all solid structures are due to prithvi mahabhuta dominance. [Su. Sa.Sharira Sthana 1/19]
    2. Dosha with specific dominance of panchamahabhuta:
    3. Digestive capacity (agni):
      Bhutagni which are responsible for metabolism of the diet have dominance of relatedmahabhuta .[ Cha. Sa. ShariraSthana 15/13]
  4. Dravya and panchamahabhuta:
    1. Among six rasa (taste), each rasa is associated with 2 mahabhuta. [A.Hr. Sutra Sthana10/1]
    2. Ahara, the foodis also panchabhautika. [Su. Sa. Sutra Sthana 46/ 526]
    3. All dravya are panchabhautika [A.Hr. Sutra Sthana9/5-10]
    4. Shodhanadravya(drugs used for elimination of dosha) have predominance of specific mahabhuta. The drugs useful for vamana(therapeutic emesis) have dominance of agni and vayu mahabhuta. Virechana( therapeutic purgation) dravya have dominance of prithvi and jala mahabhuta. [Cha. Sa. KalpaSthana1/5]
Thus, as the panchamahabhuta are key elements of purusha and prakriti, their subtle forms, tanmatra play important role in designing the fundamental constitution.

Future scope of research

The relationship of tanmatra with elements in modern physics needs to be investigated for better understanding.

Related chapters

Send us your suggestions and feedback on this page.


  1. Gaudpadabhashya on ShriIshvarkrishnavirachitaSankhyakarika, Verse22 Chaukhamba Sanskrit SerieseOffice,Varanasi, 1953, P.20.
  2. Sir Monnier Williams, Sanskrit English Dictionary, Southern Publication, Madras, 1987, P. 434.
  3. Dalhan, NibandhSangraha commentary on SushrutSamhita,SharirSthana Chapter1,Verse 4,Chaukhamba Orientallia, Varanasi 1997,p. 339.
  4. Gaudpadabhashya on ShriIshvarkrishnavirachitaSankhyakarika,Verse22 Chaukhamba Sanskrit SerieseOffice,Varanasi, 1953. P.4,5.
  5. Chakrapani, Ayurved Dipika Vyakhya on CharakaSamhitaSharirSthan Chapter 1, verse 63, ChaukhambaSurbharati Publication, 1992, P.293.
  6. ShriIshvarkrishna ,Sankhyakarika, verse 38 Chaukhamba Sanskrit SerieseOffice,Varanasi, 1953. P.33.
  7. Dr.V.J. Thakar, AyurvediyaMaulik Siddhant, Gujrat Ayurved University, Jamnagar,1985 P.135.
  8. ShriIshvarkrishna ,Sankhyakarika verse 3 Chaukhamba Sanskrit SerieseOffice,Varanasi, 1953.P4.
  9. Dr.D.L. Chary, A Textbook of Padartha Vijnana Evum Ayurved Itihasa, Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan,Delhi,2017, P.74.
  10. ShrimatsadanandYogeendra, Vedantsar, Verse 18, Chaukhambha Publishers, Varanasi,1998, P28
  11. Vd. A. Bhatkar, Padarthvidnyan, Rajni Publisher, Nagpur,2008, P. 44.
  12. Chakrapani, Ayurved Dipika Vyakhya on CharakaSamhitaSharirSthan, Chapter 1 verse 60 ChaukhambaSurbharati Publication, 1992, P.293.
  13. Gaudpadabhashya on ShriIshvarkrishnavirachitaSankhyakarika,Verse3 Chaukhamba Sanskrit SerieseOffice,Varanasi, 1953. P4.
  14. ShrimatsadanandYogeendra, Vedantsar, Verse 28, Chaukhambha Publishers, Varanasi.1998,P.36.
  15. Dr. V.J. Thakar, AyurvediyaMaulik Siddhant, Gujrat Ayurved University, Jamnagar,1985, P.136.
  16. Chakrapani, Ayurved Dipika Vyakhya on CharakaSamhitaSharirSthan 1 verse28 ChaukhambaSurbharati Publication, 1992, P.289.
  17. Dalhan ,NibandhSangrahacommentary on SushrutSamhita,Sharir Sthana,Chapter1,Verse 4,Chaukhamba Orientallia, Varanasi 1997,p 339.
  18. Subhash Kak, Indian Physics Outline of Early history, P.14. https://doi.org/10.48550/arXiv.physics/0310001[Accessed on 15 Sept 2022.]
  19. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= [Accessed on 15 sep2022]
  20. ibid
  21. Subhash Kak, Indian Physics Outline of Early history, P.30. https://doi.org/10.48550/arXiv.physics/0310001[Accessed on 15 sep2022]
  22. Sanjeev Rastogi, Building bridges between Ayurveda and Modern Science, Indian journal of Ayurveda Research, Jan-March2010, Vol.I, Issue I, p.43.
  23. R.K Mishra, Before the Beginning and after the Death, New Delhi,2000, P.299.
  24. Exploring Quantum Logic in Ayurveda with special reference to Srotovijnanaof Ayurveda, R.H.Singh Ayu Vol30 No.4 2009