Ayurveda and yoga are based on the principle of the five cardinal elements. These five elements are referred to as Panchmahabhuts in Ayurveda or the tatvas in Yoga. ‘Panch’ means five and ‘Mahabhuts’ and ‘Tatvas’ are Sanskrit words which means ‘element’ or ‘reality’.
Introduction to Panch Tatvas
Panch means five and tatvas mean elements. Panchtatva connotes the five elements i.e. Ether (Akash), Wind (Vayu), Fire (Agni), Water (Jal) and Earth (Prithvi). These five elements form the warp and woof of the entire cosmos.
They are the bedrock or underpinning of the mundane material world. All the animate and non animate entities are composed of the five cardinal elements.
Every single object and being in the cosmos embodies a diverse spectrum and fusion of five elements giving it an unparalleled entity. The five cardinal/principal elements are present in varying proportions and different composition. They are not detected in pure form. All the substances of versatile and kaleidoscopic nature possess variegated admixture of different elements.
The panchtatvas symbolizes the physical qualities, energetic properties and biological functions related to the given element. The density of the fire cardinal elements is in the following order-
Earth> Water> Fire> Air> sky> Space
The five cardinal elements are a part and parcel of the all encompassing cosmic consciousness. Ether/Sky/Space is the most subtle element amongst all the five elements and has its inception from the consciousness itself, even though less etherent than consciousness or spirit.
Akin to it, air has its roots in ether and is less subtle and pervasive than it. Fire originates from air and is denser than air. Water has its inception from fire and is denser than fire. Earth has its origin from water and is the densest of the five elements.
Every animate and inanimate being is made up of atoms and the five tatvas can be explained with the example of an atom.
Akash (space component) is the space which the elementary particles like protons occupy as well as the space in which the electrons revolve.
Vayu (air component) represents the force of movement of the electrons around the nucleus.
Agni (fire component) represents the latent (hidden) energy in an atom as well as the release energy when the atom is broken down.
Jal (water component) gives the force of cohesion that allows the protons, neutrons and electrons to remain attracted towards each other.
Prithvi (Earth component) contributes the solid portion of the atom (i.e. the electrons, protons and neutrons).
THE FIVE CARDINAL ELEMENTS IN CONTEXT OF HEALTH
Our body is made up of the five cardinal elements and so is everything that we consume. All the natural substances like foods, herbs, minerals, sunlight, air and water are of the same constitution as our own framework. Consequently our body can avail them in a harmonious manner. The panchtatva concept can be applied to sustain health and augment healing. In a sound body, the five cardinal elements are maintained in a particular proportion. When the state of the body is not in tune with the nature and natural surroundings, the body will try to maintain its balance by omitting redundant elements and impel others.
All the malfunctions of the body are revealed as a result of the disharmony in the equilibrium of the body’s components. Besides the five cardinal elements and humans consists of eleven indriyas. The indriyas comprises of the five sense organs (ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose) and the five organs of action (vocal cords, hands, feet, genitals and anus) and the mind. The senses are the subtle elements designated as tanmatras. The five cardinal elements become more evident in the functioning of the five senses (hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell). Each sense organ is unique and associated with a particular quality (e.g. our eyes see, ears hear, nose smell tongue tastes and skin senses). The five cardinal elements function with the five sense organs permitting us to comprehend the physical world through the senses. Since we perceive reality by these five sense organs they are referred to as jnanendriyas from the word jyana means ‘knowledge’ in Sanskrit. Each of the five cardinal elements is also related to a primary organ of action permitting the body to respond to the input of the five senses. These five organs are named as karmendriyas from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘Action’.
The five lower chakras- Muladhar, Svndhistana, Manipura, Anahata and Vishuddha are synchronized to the energy flow of the five elements and thus also have a relation with the tanmatra and indriyas associated with each other.
The first element or mahabhuta is space/ether (Akash).
Its role in existence is space-
It is related to the sense of hearing or sound (shabd). It corresponds to the ear as jnanendriya and vocals/ mouth as the karmendriya. It is associated with vishudda chakra. The second mahabhuta is Air/wind (pawan/vayu) its role in existence is movement. It is related to the sense of touch (sparsh). It corresponds to skin as jnanedriya and hands as karmendriya. It is related to Anahata Chakra.
The third mahabhuta is fire (Agni/Tejas). Its role in existence is energy. It is related to the sense of sight (Rupa). It corresponds to the eyes as jyanendriya and feet as karmendriya. It is related to Manipur chakra. The fourth mahabhuta is water (jal/apas). Its role in existence is the force of attraction. It is related with the sense of taste (rasa). It corresponds to the tongue as jnanendriya and grnitals as karmendriya. It is associated with Swadhisthana chakra. The fifth mahabhuta is Earth (prithvi/ bhumi). Its role in existence is solidity. It is related with the sense of smell (gandha). It corresponds to the nose as jnanendriya and anus as the karmendriya. It is associated with Muladhara chakra.