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Brief Introduction of Pañca Māhabhūta

Posted in Basic Concept, and Introduction

In the learning of Āyurveda it is important to understand the concept of Pañca Māhabhūta. All the substance is made up of Pañca Māhabhūta. Pañca Māhabhūta is the 5 elements that constitute the universe and body (macrocosmos and microcosmos). The Pañca Māhabhūta which is present in universe also present in our body. These 5 elements are Ākāśa, Vāyu, Agni, Jala, and Pṛthvī. Pañca Māhabhūta also called as Pañca Bhūta, but Pañca Māhabhūta more common used.

Each of Māhabhūta has its main properties. It is in table below:

MāhabhūtaGuṇa (Properties)
Ākāśa (ether)Śabda (Sound)
Vāyu (air)Sparśa (Touch)
Agni (fire)Rūpa (Form)
Jala (water)Rasa (Taste)
Pṛthvī (earth)Gandha (Smell)

Now let see in brief each one of the Māha Bhūta.

Ākāśa (ether)

Ākāśa is considered as ether or space. In Tarkasaṅgraha it is defined as “śabda-guṇakam ākāṣam”, means that having sound as its distinct quality. Ākāśa considered as the primary substratum of everything.


Gagana, kha, vyoman, and nabhas are the synonyms of Ākāśa.

Vāyu (air)

Vāyu is considered as air. In Tarkasaṅgraha it is defined as “rūpa-rahita-sparśavān vāyuḥ”, means what has touch but no color. Vāyu is divided into two types—nitya (eternal) and anitya (non-eternal).

Nitya vāyuis paramāṇu-rūpa (atomic) and anitya vāyu is kārya-rūpa (form of an effect). Further, anitya vāyu is divided into three types:

  • Śarīra vāyu—aerial world
  • Indriya vāyu—skin that can apprehend touch
  • viṣaya vayu—the cause of the shaking of trees.


Maruta, pavana, and pavamāna are the synonyms of Vāyu.

Agni (fire)

Agni is considered as fire. It has been defined in Tarkasaṅgrahaas “uṣṇa-sparśavat tejaḥ”, means one having hot touch. Uṣṇa mean hot. It has two divisions—nitya (eternal) and anitya (temporary).

Nitya agni is paramāṇurūpam (atomic) and anitya agni is kāryarūpāḥ (form of an effect). Kāryarūpāḥ agni again divided into three:

  • Śarīra-vidham tejaḥ–in ādityaloka
  • Indriya-vidham tejaḥ–in the pupil of eye
  • viṣaya-vidham tejaḥ–four types of fire


Teja, and wahni are the synonyms of Agni.

Jala (water)

Jala is considered as water. In Tarkasaṅgraha has been defined as “śīta sparśavatyaḥ āpaḥ”, means having a cold touch. As well as pṛthivī, the types of jalaalso two—nitya (eternal) and anitya (temporary).

Nitya jala(eternal water) is paramāṇurūpāḥ (atomic) and anitya jala(non-eternal water) is kāryarūpāḥ (form of an effect). Anitya jalahas three types:

  • Śarīra-vidhaḥ āpaḥ—body as in varuṇaloka
  • Indriya-vidhaḥ āpaḥ—the tongue
  • viṣaya-vidhaḥ āpaḥ—rivers, ocean, etc.  


Āpah are the synonyms of Jala.

Pṛthvī (earth)

Pṛthvī is considered as earth. In Tarkasaṅgraha,pṛthivī has been defined as “tatra gandhavatī pṛthivī”, means the one having gandha (smell). There are two types of pṛthvinitya(eternal) and anitya (temporary).  

Nitya pṛthvīis paramāṇurūpā (atomic) and anitya pṛthvī is kāryarūpa (form of an effect). Nitya pṛthvī has no futher types. Anitya pṛthvīhas three types:

  • Śarīrendriya—as in our physical body,
  • viṣaya—as in the sense organ and
  • saṁjñakam—as in the objects of the world.


Pṛthivī, bhūmi, and kṣiti are the synonyms of Pṛthvī.

Pañca Bhūtaare collectively referred in three ways such as:


pṛthvyādi (pṛthvi + adi)

khadi (kha + adi)

The Inheritance Relation of Bhūta

Let see again the Guṇa of bhūta that is:

MāhabhūtaGuṇa (Properties)
Ākāśa (ether)Śabda (Sound)
Vāyu (air)Sparśa (Touch)
Agni (fire)Rūpa (Form)
Jala (water)Rasa (Taste)
Pṛthvī (earth)Gandha (Smell)

As mentioned in Taittirīya upaniṣad 2.1.1:

Ākāśād vāyuh vāyur agnih agner āpah adbhyah pṛthvī |


From ether originates air, from air originates fire, from fire originates water, from water originates the earth. So-

The ākāśa (ether) has only śabda(sound) as its attribute.

The vāyu (air) has not only sparśa (touch) as its attribute, but also has the attribute of ether that is śabda (sound), as its origin is from ākāśa (ether).

The agni (fire) has not only rūpa(form) as its attribute, but also has the attribute of ether and air—śabda(sound) and sparśa (touch), as its origin is from vāyu (air).

Jala (water) has not only rasa (taste) as its attribute, but also has the attribute of ether, air, and fire—śabda (sound), sparśa (touch) and rūpa(form), as its origin is from agni (fire).

As well as pṛthvī (earth) not only has gandha(smell) as its attribute, but also has the attribute of ether, air, fire, and water– śabda (sound), sparśa (touch), rūpa (form) and rasa(taste), as its origin from jala (water).

VāyuŚabda + Sparśa
Agni Śabda + Sparśa + Rūpa
Jala Śabda + Sparśa + Rūpa + Rasa
PṛthvīŚabda + Sparśa + Rūpa + Rasa + Gandha

Pañca Māhabhūta and Āyurveda

In Āyurveda the concept of Pañca māhabhūta plays important rule. As we know that sarvam dravyam pañcabhautikam”—all the substance in this universe as well as in human body is formed from Pañcamāha Bhūta.

In the relation between pañca māhabhūta and doṣas, it is said by acarya that the tridoṣa are made up of the combination of each element of pañca mahabhūta. The tridoṣa are vāta, pitta and kapha. All these three body humors are combination of two elements of pañca māhabhūta respectively. In detail about this relation will be discussed in different article.

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