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Ayurvedic Principles



Dravyaguna - Basic Principles of Digestion


Ayurveda stands on the basic fundamentals of Pancha Mahabhoothas and Tridoshas. The five mahabhoothas (prithivi - earth, ap-water, tejas-fire, vaayu-wind and aakaasha-space) and three doshas (vaatha, pittha and kapha) are the basic group which are responsible for the existence of living being and their conditions of health and disease. mahabhoothas form the physical basis of the body, doshas are biological representatives responsible for prakruthi (physiological functions)- in the state of homeostasis and vikruthi (pathological disorders) - in the state of imbalance.

The composition of drugs, food and their properties are described on the basis of mahabhoothas while their action is described on the basis of tridoshas.


What are Panchamahabhoothas?
Panchamahabhoothas form the material basis of the universe and of the living body. The five mahabhoothas along with consciousness or Aatmaa are the six components of a Purusha (living person/individual) and so the Purusha is called a Shaddhaatwatmaka i.e. having six components. In combination with consciousness Panchamahabhoothas, some of their portions constitute the three doshas in order to perform and regulate the physiological processes. Tridoshas are found only in a living body whereas the panchamahabhoothas are seen in all objects both animate and inanimate. Each mahabhootha (except aakaasha) is not purely made of one “bhootha” which means that in the gross form of the components - that is mahabhoothas are purely their own self.

Vaayu mahabhootha have a combination of particles of aakaasha and vaayu and in tejo mahabhootha the particles of aakaasha, vaayu and tejas. The idea is that in mahabhoothas or drishya bhootha state (gross state), all the bhoot has are there but there is a higher percentage of the bhootha which it represents e.g. in prithivi mahabhootha all the five tanmaathras are present but there is an excess of “prithivi tanmaathra’.

Tridosha Siddhaantha

What is Tridosha Siddhaantha?

Parts of these mahabhoathas when in a living body (along with Aatmaa) manifest as doshas - Vaayuvaakaashadhaathubhyaam vaayuhu, aagneyam pittham ambaha prithiveebhyamrn sleshma (Ash. San., Sut.20/3)

Prithivi + Ap Kapha
Tejas Pittha

Defining the three doshas it is said ,

Slishu aalingathe utpadyathe ithi sleshma - that which causes the attachment or keeps together is sleshma (kapha), (Cha. Sam. Vim. 1/5)

Tap santhape ithi pittha - that which is hot and is responsible for any type of heat in our body is pittha (Sus. Sam.,Sut. 21/5) and Vaagathigandhanayoharithivaatha - that which causes all movement is vaatha, (Sus. Sam., Sut. 21/5).

To understand the existence and action of the tridoshas, ‘Take for e.g. a motor car in motion. The state of motion is possible because the car has a body to begin with. But the body and the motion cannot exist together without producing or loosing energy. In the case of the moving car the energy is produced in the form of heat. To control the heat thus produced, the machine has to be provided with an anti-heat factor. The combination of water in the radiator, the oil in the engine and the grease for lubrication of the various parts are some of the constituents of the car’s total anti-heat complex. In this extremely simple and crude example, we can compare the motion with vaayu, the heat with pittha and the lubricants with kapha of the human body”.

Various karma gunas are based on combination, properties of Panchabhoothas in the food taken and their action on the tridoshas. Charaka has fifty categories by which any substance (food or drug) can be classified like balya (tonic), krimighna (anti-helmenthic), jwarahara (anti-pyretic), etc. The characteristics provide great detail on effects of the material on various systems (such as the nervous system), sense organs, general metabolism, action on specific doshas, dhaathus, srothases etc.


What is Rasa?
The food or drug is called the dravya or the substratum for the rasa, guna, veerya etc. Rasa denotes different things in the context of Ayurveda itself. Rasa generally means taste. It also means the product of digestion and is one of the saptadhaathus. Rasa is taken as taste in the context of properties and actions of food.

There are six tastes - madhura, amla, lavana, katu, tiktha, and kashaaya. The study of these rasas is important because they determine the increase or decrease of doshas and have significant effect on dhaathus, malas, agni and srothases. The first three i.e. madhura, amla, lavana are vaathaghna and kaphakara. The next three katu, thiktha, kashaaya are vaathakara and kaphaghna. Kashaaya, thiktha, madhura decrease pittha and katu, amla, lavana increase it.

Paanchabhowthic composition of the six rasas are as follows-

1. Madhura Prithivi + Ap
2.Amla Prithivi + Tejas
3.Lavana Jala + Tejas
4.Katu Vaayu + Tejas
5. Thiktha Vaayu + Mkaasha
6. Kashaaya Vaayu + Prithivi

In the context of food and nutrition, rasa is given more importance and in treatment veerya is more important, Aaahaaram rasa pradhaanam and aushadham veerya pradhaanam. So one should choose a food according to its rasa and his medicine according to its veerya.

(a). Action on Dhaathus
Madhura is the only rasa which promotes the development of dhaathus and vitality in general. Though amla rasa helps in this process, it is not recommended as a tonic, as it has a decreasing effect on shukra dhaathu. Lavana rosa, increases the water content and thus causes laxity in the body. Katu, tiktha and kashaaya have an emaciating effect - especially thiktha rasa which depletes medas, vasaa, majja and lasika (which are the major components responsible for growth or bruhmanam (bulk - promotion)).

(b) Action on Malas (excretory products).
The rasas predominant in prithivi and ap mahabhootas viz. madhura, amla, lavana - are laxative, diuretic and carminative i.e. to say that they help formation and excretion of malas. The vaayavya or the vaayu predominant rasas viz. katu, thiktha and kashaaya are constipative, anti-diuretic and cause obstruction of flatus. Out of the three, kashaaya rasa is the best for sthambana and used as such in diarrhoea, polyuria, haemorrhages etc.

(c) Action on Agni
Aagneya rasas i.e. rasas containing agni mahabhoothas viz. amla, lavana and katu are deepana and paachana; thiktha though belongs to the sowmya groups stimulates agni by promoting samaana vaayu and by absorbing the kapha (which is responsible for mandaagni); madhura and kashaaya rasas have an adverse effect on agni.

(d) Action on Srothas (Body Channels)
Katu, thiktha and lavana are srotho shodana (channel cleaning) due to vaayu and aakaasha, which absorb the fluid and expel the obstructive material. This guna is called as pramaathi i.e. antogonistic to abhishyandi, which is channel obstructing. Thiktha rasa also acts as a pramaathi by absorbing the slimy material due to vaayu and making space due to aakaasha. Lavana rasa liquifies the obstruction and is able to move through minute channels due to gunas like vyavaayi and vikaasi. The other rasas madhura, amla and kashaaya are srothorodhaka (obstructing the channels).

(e) General Systemic Actions
Madhura rasa - pleasing, brain tonic, healing, anti- abortificant, galactogogue, antipoisonous, useful for daaha (burning sensations), thirst, heart, throat, skin, hairs.
Amla rosa - pleasing, sialogogue, appetiser, digestive, promotes bleeding (anti-coagulant).
Lavana rasa - Moistening, appetiser, digestive, sialogague, expectorant, diuretic, vitiates blood.
Katu rosa - Nervous stimulant, resuscitator, oral-cleansing, anti-helminthic, promotes bleeding (anticoagulant) useful in dyspepsia, cardiac and skin disorders.
Thiktha rosa - Anti-helminthic, blood purifier, antipyretic, removes pus, toxin, serous discharges, useful in anorexia, skin diseases, burning senstion.
Kashaaya rosa - Healing, astringent, absorbent, anti- diuretic, normalises skin pigmentation


The six rasas are to be digested, assimilated and metabolized before they show their final action on the body. Vipaaka is actually the resultant product, after the ingested food, has undergone the - avasthaapaaka, various stages of digestion and prapaaka (initial transformation). Vipaaka has been classified into two by Sushrutha viz. guru and laghu on the basis of the two final actions/effects on our body - bruhmana and langhana. The guru vipaaka can be compared to the anabolic metabolism and laghu vipaaka to the catabolic metabolism. But Charaka has grouped them into three (based on the doshas) - madhura, amla and katu. Here only madhura (kapha dosha) comes under the anabolic group and the other two - amla (pitthadosha) and katu (vaatha dosha) come under the catabolic group. While Sushrutha’s classification is according to the effect on dhaathus, the latter one by Charaka is based on the three doshas.

Effect of Vipaakas : According to Charaka

Vipaaka Guna Dosha Dhaathu Mala
1.Madhura Snigdha Guru Kapha increasing Shukra increasing Laxative and Diuretic
2.Amla Snigdha Laghu Pitt ha increasing Shukra decreasing Laxative and Diuretic
3.Katu Rooksha Laghu Vaatha increasing Shukra decreasing Constipative and Anti- Diuretic

Genesis of Vipaaka
Vipaaka is actually based on panchamahabhoothas. During the avasthaapaaka, if there is a predominance of prithivi and ap, then the vipaaka is madhura (guru) and if there is a predominance of the other three agni-vaayu-aakaasha, then the vipaaka is either katu or amla (laghu)


What is guna? The guna of a drug or diet speaks of its quality and property. Guna is the inherent/ inseparable quality of a dravya. These are totally forty one in number of which twenty are Gurvaadi gunas (Physio-pharmacological) ten are Paraadi (para-pharmacological) five are Vishishta (specific) and six are Aadhyaatimika (psychological). Guroaadi gunas are more widely used to describe the qualities of drug or diet and in this context it is more apt to restrict ourselves to these twenty gunas.

They are in ten pairs

 1.Guru (heavy)    Laghu (light)
 2. Manda (slow)    Tikshna (sharp)
 3. Sheetha (cold)    Ushna (hot)
 4. Snigdha (unctuous)    Rooksha (dry)
 5. Slakshana (smooth)    Khara (rough)
 6. Saandra (viscous)    Drava (liquid)
 7. Mrudu (soft)    Katina (hard)
 8. Sthira (stable)    Sara (unstable/moving)
 9. Sookshma (subtle)    Sthoola (gross)
 10. Vishada (clear/non slimy)    Picchila (slimy)

Guna becomes a very essential parameter to assess the food we take. It supercedes rasa and vipaaka, as the effect of guna overshadows that of rasa. Also vipaaka itself depends to a certain extent on guna. A few illustrations would explain this better. Water which is madhura in taste has a tendency to increase kapha, but when taken warm - ushna, it proves to be otherwise. Here the guna “ushna’ of the water has superseded the madhura rosa and its kaphakara quality.

Any food which is guru by guna is dominant in prithivi and ap and also has a bruhmana effect on the body; thus, the food would be of guru vipaaka or madhura vipaaka. In the context of food and nutrition, rasa, guna and vipaaka are important parameters. There is a great wealth of literature available regarding the gunas of various substances - food and medicines used by us in the form of Nighantus.


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