Understanding Panchamahabhootas - The Five Great Elements of Nature

Understanding Panchamahabhootas - The Five Great Elements of Nature

Dr.Prashanth Shetty profile Authored by Dr.Prashanth Shetty on 21 Jan 2015 - 12:41.

Nature is made up of five great elements, viz., earth, water, fire, air and ether. Likewise, the creation of human body is also out of the components of these five great elements.

Balance between these five great elements is called harmony in nature and is supportive to all the living organisms in the universe. The human body is made up of these elements. Imbalance in any of these elements causes disease and balance brings back health. These five elements are the basic building blocks of matter. There is enough evidence in Vedic scriptures related to these elements. Here’s a brief of these elements:

Earth (Prithvi)

Earth represents the solid state of matter. It symbolizes stability, permanence, and rigidity. In our body, the parts such as bones, teeth, cells and tissue indicate the earth element. The last in the series to evolve is the prithvimahabhoota. Sense of smell (gandha) is its main sense attribute and roughness (kharatwa) is its basic property.

The earth is tangible, it can be smelt and touched too! However, there are two types of earth -  a) Eternal or (nitya) in the form of atom (Paramanu) and b) Perishable (anitya) which exists in the form of Karya or work at the animate and inanimate levels. Symbolically our body’s, sense organs are the earth form, which as a whole gets the shape of Jiva or life. The body and sense organs are perishable, but elements or atoms are eternal because though the body is buried or cremated after death, all the atoms get disintegrated to come back to its original eternal form. Therefore our body and its Karya or Work is perishable just as the mountain or rock forms, but the eternal atom continues to remain. The atom does not die.

Water (Aapa)

Water symbolizes the liquid state. Our blood, lymph, and other fluids bring energy, carry away wastes, regulate temperature, bring disease fighters, and carry hormones from one area to another. Water is tangible, can be touched, tasted and visible.

Evolution of the aapamahabhoota follows that of the agnimahabhoota. Sense of taste (rasa) is its chief sense attribute, and liquidity(dravatwa) is its main property.

Jal or water has two characters just as the Earth i.e. eternal in the shape of atom and Karya (work) in the form of river, pond that are perishable. The water evaporates from the water body like sea or river to form clouds which comes down to earth in the form of rain. So the eternal atom is only changing its karya or shape of work and what we see is the perishable form. 

Fire (Teja)

Fire possesses power to transform the state of any substance. In living beings, agni mahabhoota is the major constituent of biological humor pitta dosha. It is responsible for biotransformation.

Agni provides the energy required for all activities in our body. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed, but it can be converted from one form to another. We derive energy from the food we eat. Biological agni transforms the energy in the food to the energy that can be utilized by our cells. The vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, etc., that we consume are bio-transformed by agni into the substances that can be utilized by our body. All activities in the body are performed smoothly as long as agni is in balance.

According to Hindu Mythology, Agni is one of the eight guardians which guards our universe and is known as Asta- dik-palakas. Though the Hindu mythology mentions of various forms of fire are, the four important ones are fire of the earth, fire of the sky, fire of the stomach (appetite and digestive power) and the fire we see and use for cooking.

Air (Vayu)

Air is the gaseous form of matter, which is mobile and dynamic. Conceptually anything that moves or is transported does so because of this mahabhoota. In the mythology (Purana) there is a mention of 49 types of Maruts or winds. Seven of them are important which are, Pravaha, AvahaUdvahaSamvaha, Vivaha, Parvaha and Paravaha. The wind blowing from the ocean which carries water droplets with it, is called Udvaha.

In living beings, this mahabhoota is a major constituent of vatadosha and is responsible for movements like those of the motor or sensory nerve impulses, food through the gastrointestinal tract (GIT), movements of the joints, etc.

Ether (Akasha)

Akasha, or Ether, is not synonymous with sky. It can be understood as something similar to space. All the body channels, pores, or empty spaces symbolize ether or space.

Properties of panchamahabhootas (Five great elements)


*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.