Tamas means darkness, illusion, ignorance, inertia, inactivity, dullness etc. It is one of the three fundamental qualities along with sattva and rajas. Tamas has two significant characters i.e. resistance and heaviness. These are responsible for restraining or controlling thoughts. It induces lethargy, fatigue, sleep etc. As per Bhagavad Gita, tamas is responsible for ignorance and sleep. It is the leading cause of darkness in the mind, negligence & delusion, illusion & hallucinations.[1]The excessive lazy and sleepy person has a tamas dominant psychic constitution (Tamasika manas prakriti). [Cha. Sa. Sharira Sthana 4/36] This article describes the concept and applications of tamas.

Section/Chapter/topic Concepts/Tamas
Authors Bhojani M. K. 1,
Kabadwal Dipti2
Reviewer Basisht G.3,
Editor Deole Y.S.4
Affiliations 1 Department of Sharir Kriya, All India Institute of Ayurveda, New Delhi, India
2Department of Samhita Siddhant, A.I.I.A., New Delhi, India
3 Rheumatologist, Orlando, Florida, U.S.A.
4Department of Kayachikitsa, G.J.Patel Institute of Ayurvedic Studies and Research, New Vallabh Vidyanagar, Gujarat, India
Correspondence emails,
Publisher Charak Samhita Research, Training and Development Centre, I.T.R.A., Jamnagar, India
Date of publication: November 21, 2022
DOI 10.47468/CSNE.2022.e01.s09.117

Etymology and derivation

Tamas is the Sanskrit word that means darkness, inert, dullness or inactivity.[2] It is derived from the word ‘tama’ meaning darkness.

Classical interpretations

Sattva, rajas, and tamas are connected with three doshas (Vata, pitta, kapha) [Su. Sa. Sharira Sthana 4/23] Therefore, all neurophysiological functions of the body are coordinated by them. Tamas has been described in the context of three types of mental strengths (trividha sattva), psychological constitutions (prakriti), & psychological characteristics (manasa guna). [Cha. Sa. Sharira Sthana 4/36]

  • It is mentioned in the context of three fundamental universal qualities (mahaguna) [As Sa. Sutra Sthana 1/41].
  • Tama is described under mahaprakriti [Su. Sa. ShariraSthana 4/97] & twelve pranas. [Su. Sa. Sharira Sthana 4/3]
  • Tamas is described as karana dravya. (Acharya Prabhakara)

Properties of tamas: Pungent (katu) & astringent (kashaya) [As. Sa. Sutra Sthana 12/91] a]. It increases the desire for pleasure (kamavardhaka), reduces fatigue in the body and mind (klamahara), responsible for darkness. It leads to confusion (mohajanak), hallucination (drikabhramaka), heaviness (guru), and forgetfulness (avaraka). [Bhava Prakash Nighantu 1: 4: 273]

Characteristics of tamasika person

Overthinker or depressed (vishada), atheist (naastika), does not follow proper rules & regulations (adharmasheela), lethargy (akarmasheela), fond of excessive sleep (nidaralu), senseless (durmedhastvam). [Su. Sa. Sharira Sthana 1/18]

Interrelationship of tamas with five basic elements (panchamahubhuta) and dosha

During the evolutionary process, the five basic elements are created by the combination of triguna.12) [Su. Sa. Sharira Sthana 1/3-4] The earth element (prithvi mahabhuta) is created by tamas. [Su. Sa. Sharira Sthana 1/20]. Sattva entity is cause for reflection of a person's purity, essence, and intelligence. Rajas is responsible for all the movements of body or mind. Tamas is responsible for the equilibrium of the quality of sattva and rajas. [3] Kapha dosha is made up of water (jala), earth (prithvi).[As. Sa. Sutra Stana20/3] Kapha dosha maintains the equilibrium of vata and pitta dosha and also reduces adverse effects of vata & pitta dosha. Rajas is connected with vata dosha, sattva with pitta dosha, and tamas with kapha dosha as per similarity in creation and functions.[3] he diet and regimen that increases physical entities also enhance psychological entities.

Diet and regimen that increases the quality of tamas

The food that makes the mind sluggish and promotes diseases increases tamas.

As per Bhagavad Gita, tamasika food requires a lot of energy and time to digest. It has a grounding effect, usually creating passivity and reducing body and mind activity. Characters of the food liked by tamasika person are as follow:

  1. Yatayamam: The food which has passed a three and half hours time (one yama) after its preparation.
  2. Gatarasa (tasteless): The food which has lost its original taste and quality because of over or under-cooking, without adding all ingredients that are required for preparation.
  3. Pooti (putrid): Food that has a putrid odor. Ex. garlic, onion, mushroom, frozen etc.
  4. Paryushita (stale food): Packed bread, bottled or canned food, preserved food etc.
  5. Amedhya: Food that reduces intelligence, concentration, and coordination of body & mind. It deprives mental health. Junk foods like cakes, biscuits, chocolate, sweets, sugary drink, energy & soft drink, snacks such as chips, excessive alcohol, processed meat etc.
Food preparation and processing methods play a significant role in determining the post-digestive effects of nutrition on health. Fresh seasonal fruits, vegetables, and other nutrient rich components are usually sattvika in nature. It becomes rajasika after mixing extra spices into food. Over or under-cooking of food leads to tamasika food. [1]

Effect of tamas on body & mind

In its normal limits, tamas regulates the functions of mind and senses. Excess of tamas causes avoidance, crudeness, laziness, poor memory, restlessness, and fatigue, reducing physiological and mental activity by suppressing the function of rajas. [Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana 24/25-43]


The tamas dominant manas prakriti (psychic constitution) is broadly classified into three types:
  1. Pashava (animal trait): The person who can’t deal with the tricky situation (nirakarishnum), is senseless (amedhyam), has less amount of food & exercise (jugupsitacharahara), has pleasure towards excess coitus (maithunam) & excess sleepy (param swapnsheelam) shows pashava trait in tamas constitution.
  2. Maatsya (fish trait): Coward (bheeru), unintellectual (abudham), fond of food (aaharalubdha), frail body & mind (anavasthita), always having anger & desires (anushakatakamakrodham), mobile (saranasheelam), likes water (toyakaamam) are characteristic features of fish trait in tamas constitution.
  3. Vanaspatya (tree trait): Excessive laziness (aalasyam), always fond of food (kevalambhininivishtam aahare), void of external and internal wisdom (sarvabudhyangaheenam), who does not follow rules and regulations, lack of wealth and dignity (sattvadharmarthakamavarjitam) are characteristic features of tree trait in tamas constitution. [Cha. Sa. Sharira Sthana 4/39]

Applied aspect

Tamas is involved as an essential pathogenic factor in some diseases given below.

  1. Intoxication, psychoneurosis (mada)
  2. Unconsciousness (murccha)
  3. Extreme alcoholism (madatayaya)
  4. Coma (sanyasa)
  5. Insanity (unmada)
  6. Epilepsy (apasmara)
  7. Intellectual defects (prajnaparadha)
  8. Hallucination, delusion, obsession, illusion (attatvabhinivesha)
  9. Lust (kama)
  10. Confusion (moha)
  11. Grief (shoka)
  12. Depression (vishada)
  13. Drowsiness (tandra)[4]

Psychiatric features related to tamas

  1. Delusion: It is a false belief based on incorrect inferences. This symptom is usually seen in schizophrenia.
  2. Hallucinations: It is a false perception by special senses without any external stimulus. Hallucination may be seen in insanity, high-grade fever, & in drug poisoning.
  3. Illusion: It is the false perception by the special senses of external stimuli.
  4. Impulse: A sudden desire to do something without external stimuli or thinking about the result. usually this character is seen in dementia, epilepsy etc
  5. Obsession: Excessive thoughts, ideas, or emotions that cannot be eliminated logically
  6. Lucid internal: It is the period at which all signs and symptoms of insanity are not visible, and the person's behavior looks healthy.[5]

General principles of treatment

Maintaining nutritional status, prevention & cure of mental illness needs proper living conditions & environment that promotes mental health. Following are principles for the prevention and treatment of pacifying tamas relating disorders.

  • Intake of a balanced diet
  • Following rules and regulations for the preparation & intake of food (ashtha aharavidhi visheshayatana) and dietary guidelines (ahara vidhi)
  • Daily regimen (dinacharya)
  • Night regimen (ratricharya)
  • Seasonal regimen (ritucharya)

Specific treatments of tamas dominant disorders

  1. Restraining psychological urges (manasika vega dharana): Psychological urges like greed (lobha), grief (shoka), fear (bhaya), jealousy (irshya), dislike (dwesha), infatuation (raga), arrogance (ahankara), shameless (nirlajja) etc. shall be controlled. [Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana 7/25-29]
  2. Spiritual therapy (daivavyapashraya chikitsa): It includes chanting & listening to mantras, homa , fasting (upavasa), aushadhi, wearing of mani, auspicious ceremony (mangala), gifts (upahara) following of auspicious & spiritual rules (niyama), respect of almighty (pranipata) are an integral part of daivayapashraya chikitsa. This leads to activating the normal functioning of sattva and removes excessive tamas & rajas.[6]
  3. Rational therapy (yuktivyapashraya chikitsa): Aimed at rational use of medicines (internal & external or both) and food (Ahara). Which are further classified into two types:[7]
    1. Pacification therapies (Shamana): This normalizes the dosha in the body. Some medicines indicated in mental illness are described below:
    2. Single drugs Centella asiatica Linn. (Mandukaparni), Convolvulas pleuricaulis (Shankhapushpi), Tinospora cordifolia Miers. (Guduchi), Glycyrrhiza glabra Linn. (Madhuyashthi) 24) [Cha. Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 1/30-31]
      Ghee Kalyanakaghrita, mahakalyanaka ghrita, panchagavya ghrita, purana ghrita, prapurana ghrita [Cha. Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 9/35-61]

      Mahapaishachika ghrita, Brahmi ghrita, Lashunadi ghrita, Shatadhauta ghrita,) [Cha. Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 10/17-25] etc.

      Syrup Shankhapushpi[8]
      Oil Shadapidutailam [Bhaisajya ratnavali, Shirorogadhikara 65/81-83]
      Rasa aushadhi Smritisagara rasa, [Yogaratnakar Apasamara Chikitsa]
      Unmadagajankusha rasa[3][Bhaishajyaratnavali Unmada Rogadhikara]
    3. Purification procedures (shodhana) : Elimination of excessively aggravated dosha leads to equilibrium in body. Panchakarma treatment like vamana, virechana, nasya, niruha, anuvasana are described in mental illness. [Ch. Sa. Chikitsa Sthana 10/61]
  4. Psychotherapy (sattvavajaya): Psychotherapy aims at regulating the mind. Assurance, diversion of emotions, control of thought process, proper guidance, proper regulation of patience, shock therapy etc. are applied for the regulation of tamas. [Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana 11/54]
  5. Naisthiki chikitsa : Elimination of desires, and ambitions (upadha), which are the prime causes of mental illness is an important measure. Eliminating cravings leads to eradicating all diseases associated with the mind, especially tamas.[4]
  6. Yoga: By the practice of ashtanga yoga (yama, niyama, asana, prayanama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi), one can attain the state of salvation (moksha). This increases sattva and decreases rajas & tamas.[4]

Current researches

  1. Tri-gunas (Sattva, rajas and tamas) and risk-taking behavior among undergraduate students: A study was conducted to evaluate the relation between tri-gunas factors in personality and risk- taking behavior among undergraduate students. Total 192 under graduate students (94 male & 98 female) were selected by adopting random sampling method. The tools used for the study were personality assessment. The conclusion of this study is that there is no significant co-relation between personalities (mental constitution) and risk taking behaviour.[9]
  2. Transformational Leadership & Triguna Theory: The research suggests techniques aimed on inward growth of self-management. Techniques suggested for the promotion of sattva could be applied for the development of transformation leadership. Concept of triguna provides a useful system to understand leadership. The type of attribute dominant in the leader at a particular set of time is responsible for the way he reacts to the challenges at work. Therefore, no similarities between the two concepts exist, these two theories need not be compartmentalized as Indian and Western approaches to individual development.[10]
  3. Demographic correlated of triguna (2013)[11]: The study was performed to evaluate relationship of triguna with eight demographic variables namely management level, type of organization, years in service, mode of recruitment, age, level of education, wife's working position and family structure. Two hundred managers of level II and level III from service and manufacturing sector organization in Lucknow were administered the Vedic Personality Inventory and the questionnaire for biographical information. On an average, the managers had to devote 20 minutes to fill the questionnaire. Conclusion of the study depict that joint and nuclear families provide different social environment. The obtained results show that managers from joint families are higher on sattva guna than managers from nuclear families. The managers from nuclear families are higher on tamas guna than managers from joint families. Another important point observed in the results was that rajas and tamas both were dominant in managers. Since not much research is done in this area, this trend needs further probing in the form of researches on triguna as theoretically rajas and tamas are very opposite to each other.

Research theses

  1. Srivatsa (2000): Concept of Manasa Prakriti and its role in Psychopathology w.s.r to Anavasthita Chittatva (General Anxiety Disorders) and its Management. Department of Basic Principles. I.P.G.T.& R.A., Jamnagar.
    This research showed that manasa prakriti plays main role in vulnerability (hetu skandha), severity, prognosis (linga skandha), bioavailability of drugs, dose, mode of administration, route of administration (chikitsa skandha). Anavasthita chittatva (unstable mind), a vata nanatmaja vikara can be considered as minor psychic disorders. There is reduced quality of tamas, and excess sattva and rajas. Tamas cause sleep and calmness, while rajas is responsible for alertness, activity etc.
  2. Kavita M. Vyas (2011): Interrelationship of Shareera- Doshas and Manasa- Doshas and their influence on physio-psychopathology. Department of Basic Principles, I.P.G.T. & R.A., Jamnagar.
    In this study, interrelationship between both kinds of dosha has been established at different levels like origin, functioning, health, diseases and salvation was studied. Conjugation & configuration (amshamsha kalpana) of mahabhuta was applied. On the basis of clinical observations and results, it was concluded that sharira dosha, kapha and vata have affinity with manasa attributes sattva and rajas, respectively. When vata gets provoked due to obstruction, it shows resemblance with tamas. Though qualities of vata & tamas are quite opposite, the functions of tamas is observed to be similar to that of vata. This appear mainly due to kshaya of vata instead of vruddhi of tamas. The logic behind such interrelationship is that the activities carried out due to the qualities of tamas are inversely proportionate to functions of vata. This concept supports the theory of disease production due to decline of dosha, which actually causes comparative increase of the opposite dosha. The second reason behind the phenomenon mentioned above is avarana of vata as 'avaranam’ is the function of tamas. Sattvavajaya is a group of remedies that are targeted to conquest mind. The clinical study was oriented to support the classical as well as practical relationship of both kinds of dosha.
  3. Dr Hetal D. Amin (2012): Philosophical and applied ayurvedic aspects of manas with special reference to smriti. Department of Basic Principles I.P.G.T. & R.A., Jamnagar.
    Mental factors (manas hetu) play an important role keeping healthy status as well as disease production. Vitiation of rajas and tamas causes many diseases. Tamas causes obstruction of vata dosha leading to psychosomatic disorders. As sattvavajaya chikitsa stands first in the management of mental disorders (manas vyadhi), hence it is better to adopt sattvavajaya chikitsa for managing mental diseases.

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