Ayurvedic Orientation-I: SHAREER RACHANA (ANATOMY)

22 Mar

Our corporeal body is defined as Kaya, Shareer and Deha in Ayurveda.
It needs a special mention here that around twenty centuries B.C., the knowledge of anabolic and catabolic activities and their role in balancing health had come to the notice of ancient Indian physicians.   It is clear from the fact that, in different contexts, the physical body has been referred to in different terms such as Kaya, Shareer or Deha.   If we go deep into the etymological origin of these words, following facts come to our notice:







Chi / Chayane – Accumulating or multiplying continuously.

Anabolic activity



Shru / Himsane – getting destroyed or shedding out continuously.

Catabolic activity



Dhi / Vardhane – growing or developing continuously (A sign of life)

Harmony in Anabolism and Catabolism

Our body is said to be made up of six parts “Shadanga” (Shad = 6, anga = parts).  They are:  Head, extremities and the middle part consisting of chest and abdomen.  While the head is the controller of all our activities and thinking, the middle part plays an important role in performing vital functions such as respiration, digestion, metabolism and excretion, the extremities are meant to perform physical activities and take part in locomotion.The smaller parts of our body are referred to as Pratyangas.


Etymologically, the word Ayurveda is made up of two basic terms viz., ‘Ayu’ and ‘Veda’ wherein ‘Ayu’ stands for life and ‘Veda’ means science or knowledge: thus Ayurveda means  `the science of life’.

To elaborate further, `Ayu’ not only means an alive body system but it is an active assembly of corporeal body (Shareer), Sensomotor organs (Indriyas), Mind (Mana) and Soul (Aatma).  Ayu or the life is supposed to originate right at the time of fertilization of ovum (Shonit) by the sperm (Shukra) during which time soul (Aatma) gets attached to it. The life ends when this omnipotent Aatma departs from it.   The life span of an average human being is said to be of around hundred years which depends on many extrinsic and intrinsic factors governing health (Swasthya).

Ayurveda looks not only into the physical aspect of life but it also goes deep into its humane aspect also.   That is why, while defining the life (Ayu), Acharya Charak, mentions that the science, in which the parameters which are beneficial (Hita), harmful (Ahita),  pleasurable (Sukh), or unpleasurable (Dukha) for life are described, is ‘Ayurveda’.The life therefore is a fleeting, mortal congregation of physical body, mind and soul, i.e. the physical as well as metaphysical components. The fusion of physically indistinct non-material components such as mind (Mana) and soul (Aatma), initiates the process of living.

It is postulated that as long as the components of soul and mind (Jeevatma) are intact, the biological forms of the material elements present in our body keep on functioning actively and keep us alive; but no sooner the Jeevatma departs, the biological materials start disintegrating.  This state is known as Mrityu (death). That is the reason; the life is re-defined as the fusion of physical body, senso-motor organs, mind and soul.
The physical part of body is a combination of biological components such as Doshas (Omnipresent vital catalysts), Dhatus (Tissues / humoral components);  Agnis (Chemicals / Bio-transformers)  and Malas (Waste components);  whereas the metaphysical part consists of mind, soul and subtle elemental factors (Tanmatras) which are naturally implanted in the sensory organs so as to provide us the faculties of hearing, touch, vision, taste and smell.   When all the above factors act in harmony, it is defined as Swasthya (health).  Contrariwise, a state of disharmony / chaos is known as Roga (disease).

Ayurveda says that the forces we see predominating the external world predominate our internal milieu also.    The living body is nothing but a mini universe in itself.   According to the established theories mentioned in philosophies the whole material world is made up of five basic elements.  viz. Aakash, Vayu, Teja, Apa and Prithvi, comparable with ethereal, gaseous, energy, fluid and earthern masses respectively which are material in nature and also, Aatma (Soul), Mana (Mind), Kala (Time) and Disha (Space) which are non-material.   While different permutations and combinations of these elements without any life-force lead to the formation of inanimate materials / minerals or metals, their congregation, coupled with the life-force give birth to the animate world, which could be of higher level. Animal Kingdom known as Bahirantash chetana. This is a lower level. Plant Kingdom is known as Antashchetana.
The biological components mentioned above, viz., Doshas (vital catalysts),  Dhatus (tissue / humoral components), Agnis (biochemical transformers) and Malas (waste materials) are nothing but the biological  forms of the five basic elements only.

During embryological development and further on, the Doshas and Dhatus get amalgamated in genetically coded proportions and form / constitute various physical organs such as heart, liver, stomach, etc.
The science of Ayurveda has also elaborated on certain special Sanskrit terms for different structures in the body.   These terms are self explanatory in themselves.   A brief review of the important ones is mentioned here under:

  • Doshas (Vital Catalysts)
    The Doshas (vital catalysts) are the most important constituents as they catalyse and/or carry out all vital functions in their normalcy, and initiate the disease process in states of disequilibrium / vitiation.
  • Dhatus (Tissue Components)
    Dhatus are the tissue-humoral systems of the body. They are always formed in a fixed sequence. In different permutations and combinations the Dhatus form various physical organs of the body according to the genetically coded informations.   They are seven in number.  Their comparison with modern terminology may be as follows: Rasa ( Plasma and Lymph); Rakta (Blood cells); Mamsa (Muscle tissue); Meda (Adipose tissue);  Asthi (Bone tissue); Majja (Marrow tissue); Shukra (Tissue and humoral components related to reproductive / anabolic functions)

PRATYANGA  (Smaller Parts)

These parts of body are located in the larger Angas (parts).  This list includes brain and all parts of cranium, stomach, back, umbilicus, nose, chin, bladder, neck, ears, eyes, eye-brow, temporal bone, axilla, breasts, testis, knees and fingers.   Pratyanga also includes Kalas (various membranes), and internal parts like liver, spleen, lung, caecum, heart,  bones, joints, Siras and Dhamanis.   Strotosas are also included in these Pratyangas.

AASHAYAS (Pouchy Structures )

According to Acharya Sushrut *  there are eight Aashayas (pouchy structures) in our body.   These Aashayas are hollow pouches, meant for storage of specific material and have a surrounding outer covering.    They are named as Vatashaya, Pittashaya, Shleshmashaya, Raktashaya, Aamashaya, Pakvashaya, Mutrashaya and in female the eighth Aashaya is Garbhashaya. (* Author of Sushrut Samhita – The magnum opus on the principle and practice of surgery with ENT and Ophthalmology written in 1000 B.C.)

Vatashaya may be compared to colon.Pittashaya may be compared to gall-bladder, which stores bile. Shleshmashaya may be compared to lungs.Raktashaya may be compared to organs like liver, spleen  and heart.Aamashaya is compared to stomach.In Pakvashaya, organs like large and small intestine are included.Mutrashaya is compared to Urinary bladder.Garbhashaya is compared to Uterus.


These are the vital spots of the body where Prana (Life) resides. They are ten in number. They include Shankhapradesh ( tempora), three Marmas i.e. Hrudaya (heart), Shira (head) and Basti (bladder); Kantha (neck), Rakta (blood), Shukra (viatl fluid), Oja and Guda (anus and rectum). It is believed that injury to any of these organs or loss of blood and vital fluid leads to instant death.

UPADHATUS (Secondary products)

These are noted to be formed by seven Dhatus, mentioned earlier. They are formed as follows – Stanya (milk) and Aartav (menstrual blood flow) are formed by Rasa DhatuKandara (tendons) and Sira (blood vessels) are formed by Rakta DhatuVasa (fat) and Twak (skin) are formed by Mamsa DhatuSnayu (Ligaments) and Sandhi (joints) are formed by Meda DhatuDanta (teeth) are formed by AsthiDhatuKesha (Hair) are formed by Majja DhatuOja is formed by Shukra Dhatu.

TWACHA (Skin and Underlying Facia )

Twacha is Upadhatu of Mamsa Dhatu, which is formed during fertilization process itself. It is made up of seven layers. They are: 1) Avabhasini; 2) Lohita; 3) Shweta; 4) Tamra; 5) Vedini; 6) Rohini 7) Mamsadhara

PESHIS (Muscular Structures)

The Muscular structures of body carry veins, arteries and nerves in them.    There are five hundred Peshis  in our body, out of which four hundred Peshis are in upper and lower extremities,  sixty six  Peshis are in middle part of the body and  thirty four Peshis are  in head and neck.
It would be very difficult for us to compare the number and types of muscle tissues mentioned in Ayurveda with that of the description we get today in the books of modern anatomy.

KANDARA (Tendons)

These are tendons of the body, which are responsible for movements like extension, contraction etc. They are sixteen in number out of which eight are in extremities, four in the neck and remaining four in the back. The tendons of extremities cover the region of thighs and shoulders and get extended till the roots of the toes and fingers.  The tendons of neck cover the chest and reach upto the head on one side and to the joints on the other side. The tendons of back extend to the ball joints of the shoulders above and the buttocks below.

SNAYU (Ligaments)

These may be compared with ligament and bursae, which connect the joints and muscles together.  These Snayus are of four types Sushir (porous), Pruthal (broad), Pratanvarti  (stretched) and Vrutta (circular). Aamashaya, Pakvashaya have Sushir Snayus. Chest, back and brain have Pruthal  Snayus. Legs and hands have Pratanvarti and Vrutta Snayus.
There are nine hundred Snayus in our body, out of which six hundred are situated in the extremities, two hundred and thirty three in the trunk region and seventy in the neck region.

DHAMANI (Arteries)

There are different opinions about Siras and Dhamanis. It is considered that origin of both Siras and Dhamanis is from Umbilicus. There are twenty four Dhamanis in the human body. According to Sushrut, Dhamanis are different from Siras by virtue of continuous pulsatory  movement (Sanskrit : Dhmanath Dhamani ).   Some Dhamanis may also be compared with cerebro-Spinal nerves. According to another opinion, Dhamanis carry Rasa (lymph) and blood within it.

SIRA (Veins)

Siras are those vessels which tend to take Doshas (impurities) along with them. The movement of Doshas in them is like a smooth flow (Sanskrit : Saranath Sira). There are seven hundred Siras in the body and which  can be compared to blood vessels or lymph vessels.

SROTAS (Channels)

Channels of circulation or tracts within the body are called Srotas. They are named so because of their tendency of trickling or oozing (Sru : `to flow’) of secretions through them.   They are the pathways (Ayana) for the nutrient products; waste-products and Doshas during the process of metabolism.   Srotas enable their products to reach their destination (viz. assimilation of nutrient substances by different parts of the body, or elimination of waste products from the body). They transport the Dhatus which are undergoing transformation.  They are physical structures (murti-mantah), and specific in their functions.  While the basic sites of Srotas with different functions are fixed depending on the biological material they are carrying, their openings are innumerable.  The Srotas can be compared with the unicellular end structures like capillaries or alveoli of lungs.

The vitiation of any of these Srotas (channels) is caused by exaggeration or inhibition of normal functions; occurrence of tumours in different sites and the shifting of the effected components to different areas of operation, manifested in the form of metabolic disorders.

Date: 22nd March 2011

Author: Dr. Mahesh Sharma —M.D.(Ay. Medicine)

About: Dr.Mahesh Sharma is an expert of Ayurveda by profession. He is a practicing as a consulting Ayurvedic physician since 1977. Having practiced as a general practitioner for a short stint of 3 years, he opted to be a specialist and hence, pursued specialization in “Internal Medicine” and completed M.D. in the year 1983 from Osmania University. Besides his own consultancy clinic, he was invited on board by different institutes/organizations to render his services. Dr. Mahesh Sharma has a website from WebsiteForDoctors

Contact: http://ayursharma.com


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