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The 5 Elements in Nature

(extr. from: >Siddhar’s Science of Longevity and Kalpa Medicine of India< pg. 31-36, Dr. A. Shanmuga Velan, 1963)


According to Siddha medical science, the universe originally consisted of atoms which contributed to the five basic elements viz. Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether, which correspondend to the five senses of the human body and they were the fundamentals of all the corporal things in the world. A close relationship is found to exist between the external world and the internal system of man. Siddhars maintain that the structure of the human body is a miniature world in itself.

Man consumes water and food, breathes the air and thus maintains the heat in the body; he is alive on account of the life force given by ether. The earth is the first element which gives fine shape to the body including bones, tissues, muscles, skin, hair etc. Water is the second element representing blood, sectretions of the glands, vital fluid etc. Fire is the third element that gives emotion, vigour and vitality to the body. It also helps digestion, corculation and stimulation besides respiration and the nervous system. Above all, ether is the characteristic of man’s mental and spiritual faculties. A suitable proportion of these five elements in combination with each other works so well as to produce a healthy organic mechanism without which life would not have been possible.

A single element cannot be taken into account detached from the other elements. Where there is one element, the other four elements are as well present in the body. Every element will be found in combination with other elements. Elements are divided into two halves, namely physical and subtle. And this subtle part is further sub-divided into two equal parts of which one is retained as such and the other part is again subdivided into four equal parts.

This is what is known in Siddha system of Medicine as the Theory of Panchikarnam (Fivefold combination). It is in fact the functioning of the five elements in the human body.

The ideal of unification of energy and matter and the synthesis of the various phenomena of sound, light, heat et., which modern science has been endeavouring to establish were achieved by the ancient Siddhars at a very early period when modern equipments were not found out for research work. This is the foundation for cosmogenesis. Siddhars also held that he who knows th sectret doctrine of the five elements, could change a baser metal into gold. And Siddhar’s alchemy is based on this theory.


Humoral Pathology

The human body is based on the five physical elements of the external world. A detailed account of these fove elements as described in Siddha Medical Science is popularly known as Humoral Pathology.

Humoral Pathology explains that the three humors namely Vata, Pitta and Kapha maintain the upkeep of the human body. The normal order of Vata (Ether and Air), Pita (Heat) and Kapha (Water and earth) is in the proportion of 1 : ½ : ¼ respectively. The normal degree of the pulse is also to be maintained in the same ratio. The maintenance of their normal order ensures the preservation of health and harmonious functioning of the body. Any upset in the proportion of the three humors is sure to bring disease according to the derangement. The humors by themselves in their normal functioning do not produce diseases. Should these humors be vitiated by other factors, then that gives rise to diseases. Therefore it is maintained, that humors and diseases are alltogether different. Humors are the component parts of the human organisms and diseases are the outcome of certain external factors that put these organisms out of gear.

These three humors called in Tamil „Muppini“ based an the five elements in nature which form the connecting link between Microcosm (Man) and Macrocosm (World). In short the external five elements correspond to the internal Vata, Pitta and Kapha of the human body. Accordingly, man has five sense organs: ear to hear (Ether), nose to smell (Air), eye to see (Fire), tongue to taste (Water) and skin to touch (Earth) without it would not have been possible for man to perceive objects.

The three humors in the normal order rule the lower, middle and upper regions of the human body and maintain their integrity: The Vatam (Ether and Wind) in the regions of the rectum, pelvis, nervous system, metabolism and digestion etc., Pittam (the characteristic of external fire) burning and boiling etc. in the region of internal viscera; and Kapha (Water and earth) in the region of the respiratory system: throat, head and in the formation of fluids in the several glands. Any derangement in the three humors affects the normal health of body. The total number of diseases of man is estimated at 4448.

The five elements are found in all the corporeal bodies by the process of transmutation, the details of which are as follows:

  1. Earth: skin, hairs, flesh, tissues, bones etc.

  2. Water: saliva, sectretion, bile, blood, fluid, gastric juice etc.

  3. Fire: heat, sleep, hunger, thirst, beauty, emotion, passion etc.

  4. Wind: breathing, expansion and motion etc.

  5. Ether: mental and spiritual faculties


    The part played by each of these humors in the human system may be summed up as follows:


    VATAM: Air is the life force of all living beings. It passes through the whole nervous and respiratory systems. It is well known by ist two attributes, namely sound and touch. Its derangement causes symptoms of flatulance, colic and sour taste in the mouth etc.


    PITTAM: This is nothing but the characteristics of fire such as burning, boiling and heating etc. It corresponds to the functions of Thermogenesis production of heat necessary to maintain the integrity of the human body. It is essential for metabolism in digestive and circulatory systems. Its derangement causes indigestion, dropsy, acidity, jaundice, cirrhosis of liver, vomiting yellow fluid with bitter taste etc.


    KAPHAM: All that of vital fluids necessary to the up-keep of the body are attributed to this section. By way of supplying essential fluids from several glands for digestion of food, it plays an important role in the regulation of heat in the human system. Its derangement causes formation of phlegm, cough, cold, goitre, loss of appetite with sweet taste in the mouth etc.


    No disease is confined to a particular portion of the body and it cannot remain unconnected with other organisms.



    Microcosm and Macrocosm:


    Man is viewed as an epitome of the universe. He is regarded as the microcosm and the world, the macrocosm. What exists in the world, exists as well in the man. Natural forces working in the several organism of the human body are related to the corresponding forces acting through the five elements of the world. Paracelsus, in his book >The Hermetic and Alchemical writings< says that „man is now microcosm or a little world, because he is an extract from all stars and the elements; and so he is their quintessence. The four elements are the universal world and from these man is constitued. In number, therefore he is fifth, that is, the fifth or quintessence, beyond the four elements out of which he has been extracted as a neucleus. In man the earth is flesh, the water is blood, fire is the heat, thereof and air is the balsam.“ It is generally believed that in all probablity Paracelsus might have visited South India and Egypt and learnt the ancient art of Alchemy.



    Element:        Colour:           Ratio:             Senses and Action:


    Ether               Light Blue      ½                     Ears                Sound


    Air                  Black              ¾                     Nose               Smell


    Fire                 Red                 1                      Eyes                Sight


    Water              White              1 ¼                  Tongue           Taste


    Earth               Golden and

                            Light Green    1 ½                  Skin                Touch




    Element:        (Form):           (ancient symbols):                 mystic letters (Tamil):


    Ether               Circle              Celestial ambrosia                 Ya


    Air                  Hexagon         Six spots                                Va


    Fire                 Triangle          Swastika                                 Si


    Water              Crescent         Lotusflower                           Ma


    Earth               Square            Diamond Sword                     Na


Elementestern in 8- bzw.16-blättriger Blüte; Indien, Rajastan, 16. Jhdt.
Elementestern in 8- bzw.16-blättriger Blüte; Indien, Rajastan, 16. Jhdt.