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The five basic – or rather great – elements (Panchamahabhut) are not elements at all; in fact, they are even the minutiae forms of the elements that constitute this universe. Thus Panchamahabhut makes up the atoms, elements, molecules, and everything tangential or otherwise in the visible universe. The five elements are ether, air, fire, water, and earth. It is the combination of these five things that constitute the whole universe and everything it.

Imagine a rock; does it simply have a singular earth element? If your answer is “yes” then you’d be wrong. The rock despite constituting primarily of earth element also invariable contains all the other four elements but is substantially lesser amount than the earth element. Now similar idea can be applied to the air we breathe (not the elemental air but the combination of Oxygen, Nitrogen, Water vapors, etc.); it goes without saying that the air we breathe consists of elemental air in excess but it also incorporates the earth – as dust particles, water – as water vapor, fire – as incendiary force of air and ether – which holds everything in place.

Everything in the body from the Doshas to the Malas is composed of these basic elements (Panchamahabhut). The Vata consists primarily of air and ether, Pitta primarily is composed of fire and water while Kapha is primarily composed of water and earth.

Now it doesn’t take an exuberant amount of insight and details to know that the food materials you eat are composed of these five basic elements. Thus, what you eat primarily affects the physiological system of the body; in it, the food gets first constituted up into its elemental form by the Bhutagni and thus nourishes that portion of the body which is primarily composed of the respective element. Thus the ether portion of the food nourishes the ether portion of the body. Food rich in air nourishes the Vata and the food rich in earth element nourishes the Kapha. Deranged Doshas can be corrected, declined Doshas are increased and elevated Doshas are decreased based on the principles of these basic elements.

The Panchamahabhut are associated with the sense and the sense organs that perceive them. Here is a full list of five elements and their associated sense organs:

Element Associated sense Associated sense organ Perception mode Aakash (Ether) Sound Ear Heard Vayu (Air) Touch Skin Heard, Felt Agni (Fire) Sight Eye Heard, Felt, Seen Jal (Water) Taste Tongue Heard, Felt, Seen, Tasted Prthivi (Earth) Smell Nose Heard, Felt, Seen, Tasted, Smelt

Combination of these elements also is involved in formation of taste of food.

Taste Associated bhoota Sweet Earth and Water Sour Earth and Fire

Salty Water and Fire Pungent / Hot Air and Fire Bitter Air and Ether Astringent Air and Earth

The foods that taste sweet have earth and water in excess. This sweetness thus leads to an increase in the Kapha in the body. A similar approach may be taken to evaluate the constituting elements and what effects does this lead to on the body.

Ayurveda relies on the principle of Samanya (similarity) and Visesa (opposites). The food or drugs similar in property to degraded Doshas or Dhatus helps in increasing it, while for the condition where there is an excess of Doshas or Dhatus, the foods, and drugs that have opposite properties helps in decreasing it. An expert Ayurvedic physician by using this principle and his clever intuition can help heal aching body and soul.