Basic Principles of Ayurveda: 5 Elements (Mahabhuta) that help in Identifying Dosha

Pancha mahabhuta Siddhanta
Panch means five. Mahabhuta means basic elements. Siddhanta means principles. The five basic elements principle is the most important principle and the basic of all other concepts of Ayurveda. There are five basic elements or Mahabhutas :
Akasha – space or Ether
Vayu – air
Agni – fire
Apa or jala – water
Prithivi – earth
The term akasha does not mean only sky or space. Vayu does not mean only air, agni only fire, apa only water, or prithivi only earth or stone. Ayurveda says that every substance of this universe consists of a combination of the five mahabhutas. All matter has its own weight, shape, lightness, coarseness, liquidity, etc. In this way it is a combination of Pancha Mahabhuta. Moreover, we can prove it by clinical application of substances similar or dissimilar as required which are predominant in that bhuta which will treat the abnormal condition of the body. In short the world is Panchamahabhutika (five basic elements) and nothing else. Some Mahabhutas predominate in some substances and others are predominant in other sabstances. Their names and indentification are given according to the predominant Mahabhuta. For example, if Prithivi or earth is predominant in some substance we call that substance a Parthiva substance (earth matter). Stones and metals are Parthiva substances. If water is predominant in another substance we will call it Apya substance (watery matter). Milk, oil, clarified butter, etc. are Apya substances.
All matter is grouped by predominant property into the 5 basic elements.
1. Akasha or space : The substance which are Akasheeya are soft, light, subtle, smooth, in quality; sound predominates. They produce softness, lightness, subtleness, space. They are unmanifest in taste. Examples of Akashya substaces are cotton, cereals, (fried and popped corn), the pores of the cell membrane, lumen in arteries and veins etc.
2. Vayu or Air : The substances which are predominant in Vayu are-light, cold, dry, rough, clean, subtle in properties and the sense of touch predominates. They produce dryness, lightness, cleanness, tiredness, They are a little bitter and astringent. All air constituents, all gasses, respiratory gases in body, lentils, beans, and grams are examples of Vayu substances. (Further detailed lists are given in the chapter on diet.)
3. Agni or Fire : The substances which are predominate in Agni are hot, sharp, subtle,light, dry, clean and rough in properties and they are dominant in colour and the sense of sight predominates. They produce fire, digestion, conversion, light, luster and complexion. They are a little sour, sally, and Their nature is to go upward, meaning particularly pungent. Their nature is to go upwards, meaning that they tend to act in the upper part of the body, like heart, lungs, and brain. They also may cause vomiting. Examples of fiery substances are fire, light, electricity, black pepper, red pepper, some pungent spices, digestive enzymes, digestive juices, blood, etc.
4. Apa-Jala or Water : The substances which are predominant in Apa are liquid, heavy, unctuous, cold, dull, soft, slimy and dense in properties and the sense of taste predominates. They produce unctuosness, pleasantness, moisture/dampness, binding, oozing. They taste predominantly sweet, for example water, sweet juices, oil, milk, ghee, all liquids, and unctuous substances; in the body, plasma, protoplasm, cytoplasm.
5. Prithvi or Earth : The substances which are predominant in Prithvi are gross, dense, dull, stable, heavy, hard, clean, rough, in properties. The sense of smell predominates. They produce stability, strength, nutrition, bulk, heaviness, and their natural tendency is to go downwards, meaning they tend to act in the lower part of the body. For example, in the intestine they act as a purgative , in kidneys as a diuretic. They are a little astringent and particularly sweet in taste. Stones, metals, minerals, muscles, bones, etc., are the examples of Parthiva substances.
These are the five basic elements, their properties, their effects, and their means of indentification. Ayurveda states that the universe (Bramhanda) is constituted by) Panchamahabhutas and the body (Pinda) is also constituted by Panchamahabhutas. We take all the mahabhutas from the universe, maintain them in the body and release them again into the universe and our body is balanced. When The balance of the Mahabhutas in the body is disturbed a “Purusha” falls ill. It is our objective to maintain the balance and keep health in proper condition.
No Name of Basic Elements Properties Functions in The Body
 1 Prithvi – Earth Gross, dense, dull, stable, predominant in smell, slight astringent and more sweet taste. Stability, strength, heaviness, nutrition
Apa-Jala-Water Cold, moist, dull, heavy, constable, dense, soft, smiley, predominant in taste, produce slight astringent sour and salt taste pleasantness, moisture
Agni-Tejas-Fire Hot, sharp, subtle, dry, rough, light, non slimy, predominant in colour, produces slight sour-salt, and more pungent taste digestion, assimilation, warm , complexion
Vayu-Air Subtle, dry, rough, cold, light, non slimy, predominant in touch, produces slight bitter and more astringent taste Cleanliness, lightness, weakness, dryness, movements
Akasha-Space smooth, subtle, soft, clean, porous, unmanifested in taste, predominant in sound. Softness, porousness, lightness


Excerpt: Concept of Ayurveda for Perfect Health & Longevity, Vaidya H.S. Kasture


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