Panchamahabhuta: The 5 basic elements of Universe


Ayurveda believes that the constituents and behavior of nature are similar to that of our body. This universe is made up of five vital elements (macrocosm), so is this body (microcosm). All things in this universe are composed of 5 basic elements, except that the living things have been blessed with an eternal soul too. These 5 basic elements of the Universe are called Panchamahabhuta. These are:

• Prithvi or Earth 

• Jala or Water

• Agni or Fire 

• Vayu or Air 

• Aakasha or Space/Ether 

The balance of these elements fluctuates in different environments and one element can be transformed into another. 
For example, the water element can be changed into the earth element, ice, at a very low temperature, and the same water when heated turns into steam and on evaporation becomes space.

The upper element is corrupted by the lower one. For example, if the soil (earth) is mixed with water, the water becomes mud, if the water is added to the fire, then smoke is produced. 

On the contrary, the lower element is purified by the upper element. On boiling, the dirty water is purified by fire. Whereas Fire is purified with Air, that means fire does not burn without air.  In the same way, there is the purity of air from the sky–signifying that the air of closed space is polluted and the air in the open sky is pure.

Thus each of these five elements is there in one another in a restrained manner. Interestingly all these five elements also govern the mind initiating distinct sorts of vibes and consciousness at times in the mind. 

Origin of Panchmahabhuta

Making of Panchmahabhuta is a journey from the state of consciousness to the state of physicality. According to old Vedic texts, this Universe originated from The Avyakta, the Unmanifest (hidden). The Avyakta possesses 3 eternal qualities – Triguna, namely Satva guna, Rajas guna, and Tamas guna.

Then in sequential order, Mahat (intelligence) and Ahamkara (Ego) are formed.

Taijasa and Bhutadi Ahamkara unite to become 5 Tanmatra (shabda, sparsha, roop, rasa, gandha)- i.e. the 5 senses (sound, touch, vision, taste, smell).
Tanmatra then evolve into their respective Panchmahabhuta (Akash, Vayu, Agni, Jala, Prithvi).


origin of panchamahabhuta

Properties of Panchmahabhutas:

Panchmahabhuta and Triguna:

Each of the five bhutas has all the 3 Gunas – Satva, Rajas, and Tamas but one or two are predominant. 


Satva dominant 


Rajas dominant


Satva + Rajas dominant


Satva + Tamas dominant 


Tamas dominant

The ego along with Rajas and Tamas guna causes identification with the body and makes us forget our true self. 

Akash tatva is Satva dominant. That is why for the physical well-being of a person it is enough to be concerned about balancing and cleansing the other four bhutas. 

When a person wants to seek the unmanifest, the mystic nature of the Universe, then he should start paying heed to Akash tatva too.

Panchmahabhuta and  5 Senses (Tanmatra)

Each great element is a combination of all 5 Tanmatras (senses) but shows the predominance of one tanmatra.


Akash tatva is on the highest level. Its chief sense attribute is sound. 
The sensory organ related to the ether or Akash element is the ear as it is hollow and transmits the sound waves.


The chief sense attribute of Vayu tatva is touch. Since Vayu is evolved from Akash, it also inherits the attribute of sound. 
The sensory organ related to Air element is the skin. Skin is very sensitive for detecting any movement, change in pressure, or vibration in subtle form. Any movement against the skin can be easily registered.


Its chief sense attribute is vision. Since Agni is evolved from Vayu, it also inherits the attribute of sound and touch. 
The sensory organ related to fire is the eyes.


The chief sense attribute of Jala tatva is taste. Since Jala is evolved from Agni, it also inherits the attribute of sound, touch, and vision. 
The sensory organ related to water is the tongue. 


Its main sense attribute is the smell. Since Prithvi is evolved from Jala, it also inherits the attribute of sound, touch, vision, and taste. 
The sensory organ related to Earth is the nose.

Panchamahabhuta and perception of 6 tastes

A total of 6 types of tastes are perceived by tongue. Each taste comprises panchmahabhuta in certain proportions.


  Earth + Water

Example: natural sugar, banana


  Earth + Fire

Example: yogurt, apple


  Fire + Air

Example: neem, coffee, bitter gourd


  Fire + Water

Example: salts


  Fire + Ether

Example: spices (ginger, black pepper)


  Earth + Air

Example: amla, Jamun

Characteristics of Panchmahabhuta, the 5 Great Elements:


Earth does not mean soil here, but something which gives a heaviness to the body. It is related to all the solid and hard structures in the Universe as well as the body. It is solid, dense, heavy, hard, stable, dull, and slow. 12% of our body is Earth.

Predominant characteristic: roughness (kharatva)

Location Example: bone, nail, teeth, muscles, the flesh will be considered as Earth dominant.

Chief function:

• The weight or mass of any substance in this universe is due to the presence of Earth elements in it.

• Earth element also provides shape and rigidity.


• From birth till death we unceasingly live in the lap of mother Earth. Our last rites are performed & mixed up on the earth.

• Plants & herbs, vegetables & many edible foods which are beneficial for maintaining a healthy body, are grown & developed out of the earth.

• Various types of healthy & valuable minerals, chemicals, liquids, etc are hidden in the womb of mother earth.

• Children and elder who are fond of playing or eating or sleeping on earth are found to be much healthy & active than others.

• We perceive that the animals regain their lost energy and thereby cure themselves by side-splitting on the soil of the earth.

• It has scientifically tested & observed that the earth embraces the distinctive nature of vitamins, minerals, metals, chemicals, alkalis & salt, gemstones, herbal & other medicated plants most beneficial to a human being.

Associated Feelings: the feeling of consolidation, love, discomfort, or comfort. Any diet, food or herbs, exercise with similar properties will provide nutrition, support, strength, and stability to the body.


The water element is also called Jala or Apa. It shows qualities such as cool, liquid, dull, and sliminess. It constitutes 72% of the body.

Predominant characteristic: fluidity or liquidity(drawatva).
Location Example: blood, lymph, secretive juices, enzymes. The different excretory products - Urine, sweat, feces are also forms of water.

Chief function:

• Its most important function is binding or cohesiveness. It binds the two cells together.


• All living creatures, be it human, animal, or plants as well as the Earth itself can’t survive without water. The greenery in the plants is maintained only by water.

• Bathing by water is the process to purify the body. ( There are various types of bathing –Hipbath, Spinal- Cord Bath, Steam Bath, Sijbath, general bath)

• Among the seven dhatus -Rasa ( plasma),Blood , mamsa( muscle), meda( adipose tissue),majja(bone marrow) , Shukra( reproductive fluid) – water is proportionately present .

• Water intake is useful in diseases caused by ‘fire’ or ‘pitta’ and ‘air’ or ‘vata’ like acidity, skin problem, constipation, dryness, etc.

Associated Feelings: Feeling of togetherness, oneness, floating feeling


The temperature of every material is due to the presence of Fire elements in it. Fire emits light and heat at the same time. Any diet, food, or herbs with similar properties will increase this element within the body. For example- chilies, ginger, garlic, peppers will increase the ‘pitta’ or fire element in the body.

Predominant characteristic: Heat ( Ushnata)

Location Example: temperature of the body, heat energy of Sun, Earth.

Chief function:

• Its chief function is transformation. Any process in which transformation is involved, such as digestion of food or respiration, Fire element is involved.

• It performs various other functions such as penetration and transformation of thoughts, intelligence, and perception of light.


• Our life is the product of Agni. Destruction of body heat connotes the end of life. Without heat, no human being or animal or plan could be survived.

• The plant & organism grows only due to the heat generated by Sun and Fire.

• human being or animal or plant that receives sufficient sunlight are healthy and fit in comparison to those receiving fewer or no sunlight.

• The diseases make a home where there is no heat or light. 

Associated Feelings: Fiery feeling, feverishness, warm & heated, piercing & Severe, intense, dry & light, hungriness, digestion, thirstiness, laziness, etc


It is light, dry, subtle, supple, movable, transparent & rough. It constitutes 4% of the body. Any diet, exercise, medicine which has such properties will increase the ‘Vata’ or ‘air’ element in the body.

Predominant characteristic: mobility (Chalatwa)

Location Example: pulsation, expansion or relaxation of heart chambers and lungs, movement of the stomach, movement of impulses in the nerves.

Chief function: Responsible for movement, dryness in the body.


• Air supplies oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen, and other gases which are essential for the living of humans, animals & plants.

• Just like a fish wriggle & die without water, in the same way, a living creature on earth can’t live even for a moment without air. A person consumes air constantly for 24 hours. 

• It is a saying that when medicine does not work, the patient is advised for a changeover of Air to recover lost health.

Associated Feelings: Sensitivity, tangibility.


It is also called Akash tatva. Ether is frictionless, subtle, soft, abundant. It signifies the Spirit, Mind & Body. Any diet, food, or herbs with similar properties will increase space element within the body

Predominant characteristic: non-resistance (Apratighatatwa)

Location Example: hollow cavities within the body and empty areas of the cosmos. Present in the nasal passage, windpipe.

Chief function: The space between the particles is caused by Ether.


Amongst all the elements, space or akasha is full of energy, action, and power. Some say it is air, some cloud, some vacuum. It is such a subtle element that remains in every fluid and solid substance.

Associated Feelings: positivity, peace, calmness

Panchamahabhuta and Tridosha: 

Ayurveda defines the combination of the great five elements into Tridosha (three forces) namely Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. The combination of these five elements determines individual Prakriti or constitution. For optimum functioning of the body, these five elements must be held together and work in harmony. This is ensured by Tridoshas.  









 Ojas or Oj

The seven chakras and panchamahabhuta:

There is a very crucial role played by the 7 chakras as all the creations which are manifest by the Panchamahabhuta are only accessible through these chakras. Each chakra is associated with one bhuta and provides certain powerful features.




Muladhara/root chakra


support and stability

Swadishthan/Sacral chakra


joy and a general sense of well being

Manipura/Solar plexus chakra 


power and wisdom

Anahata/Heart chakra


love, forgiveness, compassion

Vishuddha/Throat chakra 


faith, trust, creativity

Ajna/brow chakra 


knowledge, dignity, intuition

Sahasrara/crown chakra


balance and oneness


Hastamudras and Panchamahabhutas


Our fingers represent the 5 mahabhutas.

Kanishtha/little finger


Anamika/ring finger  


Madhyama/middle finger


Tarjani/index finger 





Diseases due to fluctuation in The Panchamahabhuta: 

According to Ayurveda, diseases are caused due to disharmony between the three doshas – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, which are also made up of five elements.

• Earth element: Elephantiasis, Lymphedema, Spleen, Liver, Neoplasm, Obesity, etc.

• Water element: Ascites, Hydropsy, Dysentery, excessive urination, Dysmenorrhea, nightmare, common –cold, Cough, etc.

• Agni element: Eruption of Boils & Pimples, Cholera, Blood-bile, Diarrhea, Decay, etc.

• Air element: Arthritis, Paralysis, Pain, Shivering, Pulse deflection, etc.

• Aakash: fainting, Epilepsy, frenzy, madness, fad, insomnia, misconception, nervousness, nightmare, muteness, deafness, oblivion ( forgetfulness), etc.

Cleansing and Balancing of the Five Elements

Within a body when these elements are in a stipulated or set relationship with each other, it stays healthy & robust. But in case of any deficiency therein, it becomes fragile, lethargic, and sick. Hence to maintain a healthy body and to achieve long happy life, one must endeavor to eliminate the deficiency.

Element-wise, we proceed in the following manner:

How to do Balancing and Cleansing of Earth Element?

It has been observed that a particular type of gas beneficial to the body is emitted uninterruptedly by the earth. One must take a morning walk on the earth barefooted. The body absorbs the air radiating from the earth while the earth takes in the toxins through the feet. Please take note that this only happens during the early morning hours. At other times, some harmful air comes from the earth, and hence one should cover the feet when walking on the earth.

The barefooted morning walk on the green grass in a garden, park, etc. is more useful. The tiny dewdrops on the grass cool the feet, thereby the brain and improve the eye-sight as well.

• Naturopathy: Since ancient times, the naturopathy treatment facilitating the 5 elements is prevalent for curing the disease. The soil has an astonishing potency to drag poisonous toxins from the body. The Earth - soil wetted with water is applied on the affected body part (mud therapy) to draw out of the toxins from the affected part of the body.

How to do Balancing and Cleansing of Water Element

There is liveliness in the water. It is formed with the combination of oxygen & hydrogen gases widespread in the air.

Water irrigates the body. Hence to keep proper balance, one should drink sufficient water so that the body remains hydrated, strong, and fit.

A human body contains70% water elements. Lesser than that instigates dryness in the body, stiffness of pulses, bone mass, thickening of blood, thirst, inflammation, etc. Remember, only by consuming water you cannot balance the water element in your body. Your food must contain water.

Bathing by water is the process to purify the body. ( There are various types of bathing –Hipbath, Spinal- Cord Bath, Steam Bath, Sitzbath, general bath)

Our body is more than 70% water and so is our planet. Therefore to maintain good health and the proportion of water intact in our body, we should take only those foods which contain more than 70% of water. Vegetables contain more than 70% water, fruits have more than 90% water.

How to do Balancing and Cleansing of Fire Element

Our food is digested by the Jatharagni or Digestive fire in the stomach.

Expose your body to the sun for a while to increase the fire element. The best time to be in the Sun is just after sunrise for around 15 minutes. The period just before the sunset is also good.

Sitting in front of a lit ghee Diya, or any organic lamp also cleanses the fire element in the body and enhances the aura.

The seven-colored ultraviolet rays of the sun are very beneficial for delightful health. Even the doctors believe that sunlight is the most powerful medicine. Hence Sunbath is a wonderful process of health recuperation.

First, sit facing the lamp, then turn around and sit so that the fire element within you gets rekindled.

How to do Balancing and Cleansing of Air Element

• Through Pranayamas, such as Kapal Bhati, anulom vilom, ujjayi kriya, some vital elements are pulled from the air widespread in the sky. Pranayamas purify the blood and thereby make the lungs strong.

How to do Balancing and Cleansing of Akash/Ether Element

It is infinite, unending. Just as the sky is everywhere outside us, so is the sky inside our body. That is why there are innumerable moving life cells or bacteria within a body.
It is also known as Shunya ( Sanskrit) or a zero – as Shabd or Sound

The words, thoughts, beliefs are spread around in the sky as waves and broadcasted & heard in their original form.

Meditation in the blue sky brings great peace to the mind and happiness all around. The more concentration and reverence, the more will be benefit.

The time after pranayama is beneficial for attracting ideas & awareness out of the sky element.

Due to positive or negative thoughts in our minds, health is greatly affected. People can become ill or healthy by invoking the sky through the thought force.

People who keep visualizing decent health, long life, and golden future are generally found to be nourished & wholesome. And even if some of the people do fall ill they get well soon. Those who want to get rid of illness and become healthy, should not let the mind fall, but keep it elevated.

The practice of cleansing and balancing these five elements are very easy to perform but its physical & mental benefits are enormous for those who practice regularly.

Witness the presence of 5 Elements

Whatever objects we witness and whatever impressions we get via our senses, are generated by these 5 elements. Every transformation therein is created when there is any variation in the customary proportion of the 5 elements. All types of actions and reactions in this materialistic world are driven by the movement of these 5 elements.

Few illustrations:

(i) General :

• The diversity in parts of the universe is due to dissimilarity in the composition of 5 elements in those segments. The North Pole is extremely icy & glacial, having no agriculture, very few icy- animals like the polar bear, penguins, fox, etc, are noticed there. This is because of the dearth of the Fire element there.

• Similarly, South Africa or South America are extremely warm, the earth becomes roasted like a burning pan and fiery flames move from all directions. This is due to the excessive presence of Heat or Fire elements.

• The numerous thunderstorms & cyclones in the Middle- East- countries signify the charisma of too much Air element.

• The excessive rains in Assam & Eastern Islands denote the intense existence of the Water element.

• We notice the disparity in the quantity and taste of grains & cereals, vegetables, milk, fish, tea, etc, in different territories or regions owing to deviation in the composition of the 5 elements there.

(ii) Human being

• It has been spotted that certain weather or an entity is friendly to someone but hostile to others – signifying that 5 elements in different people vary.

• The birth of a daughter or a son is established on the amount of the 5 elements existing in men and women.

• Sickness or wellness too depends upon the 5 elements. Due to negligence or awareness during eating, the proportion of 5 elements in a body fluctuate resulting in the two situations of the body.


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