ayurveda, Blogs

The Five Great Elements

The Origin Of The Universe

The Indian Vedic scripture state that in the beginning, there was no existence nor non-existence. There was no time, no space, no-nothing. In this absolute void, an entity emerged through an inexplicable intent by means of energy and fire, Brahman was created. Awareness and consciousness emerged, and everything arose from it. The desire and intention of this consciousness led to vibration, existence and matter. Atoms vibrate and cause the divine sound AUM.

Brahman is truth, knowledge and infinity. Brahman is overflowing beauty, bliss and love. It is everywhere in the material and non-material realm. It permeates all of reality as the essence that provides everything with structure, meaning and existence. Brahman is the transcendent origin of all things. It is the ultimate cause and the ultimate goal of existence. Brahman is the sole reality that exists, the source of all. Everything else is a transformation and an attribute of Brahman called Maya, the illusory nature.

The sound AUM is a vibration originating in the universe’s manifestation. Creation and form arise from vibration. It is the sound of the higher self, the Atman. It reflects the manifested and the non-manifested Brahman and maintains the vibration of being, life and consciousness in all worlds and creatures. Each letter and tone corresponds to an aspect of the divine. A embodies Brahma, the Creator. U stands for Vishnu, the Keeper, and M represents the destructive form of God Shiva. AUM reminds us of the three aspects of the divine, without which nothing exists and everything is maintained, and ultimately is dissolved into the void.

Brahman embodies two manifestations, Purusha and Prakriti. The unmanifested Purusha implies creative awareness. It is the energy that sets in motion the entire process of Prakriti, the eternal reality, which in turn becomes Maya, ‘a physical universe we live in’.

The Hymn Of Creation in the Rigveda

Nasadiya Sukta

Nasadiya Sukta
There was neither non-existence nor existence then.
There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond. 
What stirred? Where? In whose protection?
Was there water, bottom-lessly deep?

There was neither death nor immortality then. 
There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day.
That One breathed, windless, by its own impulse. 
Other than that there was nothing beyond.

Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning, 
with no distinguishing sign, all this was water. 
The life force that was covered with emptiness, 
that One arose through the power of heat.

Desire came upon that One in the beginning, 
that was the first seed of mind.
Poets seeking in their heart with wisdom
 found the bond of existence and non-existence.

Their cord was extended across.
Was there below? Was there above?
There were seed-placers, there were powers.
There was impulse beneath, there was giving forth above.

Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? 
Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation?
The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe. 
Who then knows whence it has arisen?

Whence this creation has arisen
– perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not – 
the One who looks down on it,
in the highest heaven, only He knows
or perhaps He does not know.

The Five Great Elements

From the original state of Prakriti, subtle energy variations manifested themselves in 5 basic principles. These principles form the building blocks from which everything in the material universe is built. Each of the Five Great Elements is a combination of the five basic principles and shows the dominance of one essence. The 5 basic principles are sound (Shabda), touch (Sparsha), vision (Roopa), taste (Rasa), smell (Gnadha). Our sense organs are a reflection of these basic principles.

The five major elements rise from subtle to gross. As the elements manifest from less dense to impenetrable, each element contains the essence of those coming before it. Air is condensed space/ether. Fire is the friction of air and space. Water is the fluid state of space, air and fire, while earth is the solid state of all the primary energies. The balance of space, air, fire, water and earth in the body can be continuously regulated by food, the cultivation and management of prana (internal energy), and our interaction with the physical world.

Pancha Mahabhuta

  • Akasha – Space/Ether is the element from which everything manifests and into which everything returns. It has no physical nature and no dimensions. It is the space that enables all other elements to exist in relation to each other. It only consists of the distances that separate matter. For example, sound waves expand due to Space/Ether and vibrate in it. In our body, it is the element that allows everything to happen, it lets us breathe, it absorpts and assimilates nutrients, and so on. Space is associated with the Vishuddha Chakra in the throat. It guides our self-impression and communication. Its sound is HAM.
  • Vayu – Air is the gaseous state of matter. Its properties are mobility and dynamics. Air is existence without form. Vayu evolves from and contains the essence of space/ether. In this state, the particles move quickly and expand, making them low in density. It mobilizes the kinetic energy. Air stimulates important body processes such as breathing and gas exchange on the cellular level. It stimulates impulses from the central nervous system and the kinetic energy that pumps blood into the cells. The element Air is in the heart. The Anahata Chakra is love, compassion, and well-being. Its sound is YAM.
  • Agni – Fire is the force that can convert a substance from solid to liquid to gaseous, or vice versa, increasing or decreasing the substance. Fire is form without substance, its property is transformation. The fire element is the energy of change or dissolution. It contains the expansive essence of air and space and transforms matter from one state to another. Fire controls all transformations in the body, enzyme function, digestion, metabolism and also the thinking process. Agni is the Manipura Chakra, the solar plexus. It is in charge of complex emotions, fear, opinions, or introversion. Its sound is RAM.
  • Jal – Water is the liquid state of matter. Its attribute is substance without stability. The water element consists of ether, air, and fire. Water is dynamic and adapts to any environment. When water is faced with obstacles or resistances, it spontaneously changes shape and flows around the obstruction in the path of least resistance. Water is responsible for all body fluids and is found in all cell fluids, tissues, spine, and brain. It lubricates the joints and supplies the lungs with moisture. Water has its origin in the Svadhisthana Chakra and is the energy of our creativity, pleasure, and basic emotions. The sound of the water is VAM.
  • Pritvi – Earth is the solid state of matter, it is stability, fixity or rigidity. The element earth contains all other elements. Matter is stable and the particles move slowly. Thus, they offer the necessary structure and stability for all forms of the universe. It supports the skeleton and the body giving strength and stability. The earth element lives in the Muladhara Chakra and is located at the base of the spine. It is our connection to instinct and sexuality. Here we experience intuition, and its gentle vibrations ground us and support the practical implementation of our ideas. The sound for the earth is LAM.
The 7 Chakras

Micro & Makro Cosmos

Everyone has an individual existence, but none of us are actually free, and cannot live independently of the whole. Everything that exists in the outer universe has a counterpart in one’s own internal universe. Every cosmic force is represented internally in an altered form. “The flow of nutrients into and waste from body cells also characterizes the continuous flow of nutrients and waste into and from plants, animals, and humans.” (1)

Taking care of our food intake, our thoughts, and emotions are extremely important to maintain our balance, happiness, and health. It also gives us the power to explore our spiritual potentials. The physical body is the microcosm of the universe. This gives us the opportunity to explore the ultimate truth of existence, as an individual and the whole ultimate reality. Through mindfulness, discipline, and practice, we learn to understand our physical body and the astral and causal aspects of our nature.

  • (1): Dr Robert E. Svoboda – Prakriti – Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited, Dehli or on Amazon

Read more about the living ancient Science of Life – Ayurveda:

The Creation of the Five Great Elements
The Three Gifts for a Harmonious Life Part I
The Three Gifts for a Harmonious Life – Part II
The Three Gifts for a Harmonious Life – Part III

Stay Tuned!

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Thank You!

Thank you for your interest. Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts and questions.

8 thoughts on “The Five Great Elements”

  1. No prob at all. Finding these blogs is hard. So when found, I try to give and take as much as I can. 🙂

    1) Sounds grand now. Intuition follows smoothly now. Indeed doll is result of Maya. If I ask you is there clay or is there doll what would be the answer? Clay permeates doll while doll is projection of our mind via lens of Maya. The reality is it’s just clay and nothing else. But perception says it’s doll. This is Maya and is necessary for creation to exist. It’s like eggshell which helps chick to grow. But chick needs to break it to come out/ evolve.

    2) True again. I got the sense. I wanted to extend the horizons. Because saying air as Vayu or one of five elements brings the question of “Air is made of physical molecules and hence is matter which intact is Earth principle”. But Vayu is that which respires and pulsates. Thus, it eliminates such doubts in modern minds.

    3) yes that helps. Thorough evolution and intermixture of one in other helps one to understand the fabric of creation in Vedic terms. Will look forward to the article.



  2. Thank you to take so much time to think over my article. You have much greater knowledge than me. Your explanations go very deep and are full of beauty. Still, I would like to reply to corrections.

    1) I totally agree with you that Purusha and Prakriti evolved from Brahman. I will correct as follow:
    ‘Brahman embodies two entities, Purusha and Prakriti. The unmanifested Purusha implies creative awareness. It is the energy that sets in motion the entire process of Prakriti, the eternal indestructible reality’. Anyhow, this eternal indestructible reality, the doll created from the clay refers to Maya in my understanding.

    2) Talking about the 5 elements I only refer to it within the universe we live in, within the Maya. For most people, our day to day life implies a reality we live in. It is definitely not the ultimate truth, but a reality within Maya.
    The element Air actually has two words in Sanskrit, describing the pulsation, which you call Vayu and the effect, the movement AIR. (Can’t find the word right now).

    I probably should write another article about the connections of the elements and how one element is created out of its previous elements. Understanding that everything is vibration gives a clue on the statement, that the elements evolved is the above-mentioned way.


  3. Just finished reading. I hope you do not mind me adding/correcting where I feel necessary.

    1)correction: May be a typo, but I wanted to suggest: Brahma is creator capacity of GOD while Brahman is GOD. So, in one of your paraghs, you stated Brahma embodies two manifestations Purusha and Prakriti. It should have been Brahman. Also, Purusha is unmanifest while Prakriti is manifest. Imagine Clay. When clay is moulded into doll, the doll we see is Prakriti. CLay is purusha. The moulder who moulds is Brahma. All these three exist in one essence or TRUTh which is Brahman. From this example, it should be clear.

    2) Excellently stated about 5 tanmatras and 5 bhūtās. I want to add the following:
    — Most of the texts suggest 5 elements as you have suggested. But, there is a deeper insight which needs attention. That is, the following way of defining the 5 elements:

    a) Ākāśa (SPACE) — You said from space everything comes and into space everything goes. But this is true as long as Universe exists. When in Praḷaya, space too does not exist. When will it recede? That entity which pervades space and exists as space is what the actual Ākāśa. Physical space is but a demi-SPACE. If not for that ultra-SPACE which Vēda calls Paramē Vyōman, the space we experience does not come out.

    b) Vāyu (AIR) — In Āyurvēda, you find a principle of “pulsation/Vātam” — like Prāṇa-Apāna, etc. Vāyu is the cause of PULSATION. This pulsation causes eternal expansion and contraction. It is this principle that churns AIR principle from SPACE. So, physical AIR we see is effect while Vāyu is the cause. If AIR were Vāyu, then the region of space between two air molecules, which is empty (or occupied with Akasha) suggests that Vayu is not everwhere. But the 5 elements should exists everywhere — i.e., OMNIness is inherent. Therefore, Vayu should mean pulsation which exists in space than AIR. Then many of Ayruvedic principles will fall in line without paradoxes.

    c) Rest, I will give clues, as comment is exceeding too much. Agni (FIRE) — Gateway of transmutation. Converts higher elements to lower and lower to higher. Infact it is not SPACE that exists eternally, it is AGNI. That is why RIg Veda starts with Agni SUktam which suggetss that HE the bringer of the VEDA / all that is known (Jāta Vēda). JALA (WATER) and PRITHVI (EARTH) — follow similar lines of thoughts.

    The conclusion yo gave is excellent. What we take needs a check and body knows. Indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. One question I have which may be of interest. The Manipura chakra and swadhishthana chakra seems to having elements in reverse order in different sampradayas.
    1) if you see Shatchakra Nirupana, Swadhishthana is associated with water and manipuraka with fire.

    2) Saundarya Lahari (9th shloka of Sri sakaracharya) links Swadhishthana to fire and manipuraka with Water.

    Can you dig a bit and express your findings? Just curious.


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