The basic tissue elements of the body are known as dhatus in Ayurveda. The term dhatu etymologically means, one which assists the body or which enters into the formation of the basic structure of the body as a whole.
"Dadhati dharayati shareera samwardhanath iti dhatu:" Su/ Chi/ 3/ 21 Dalhana
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Primary Dhatus: There are seven types of dhatus called Sapta dhatus
- Rasa dhatu (Chyle, including lymph, Nutrient fluid)
- Rakta dhatu (Blood tissue- the haemoglobin fraction of blood)
- Mamsa dhatu (Muscle tissue)
- Medas dhatu (Adipose tissue)
- Asthi dhatu (Bony tissue)
- Majja dhatu (Bone marrow and nervous tissue)
- Shukra dhatu (Reproductive tissues including sperm and ovum)
The Mahabhutas and Saptha dhatus:
The Sapta Dhatus are composed of the five Mahabhutas. The following list mentions just the predominant dhatu in a particular set of tissues.
Here are the instances;
The fat and muscle tissues are composed of the Prithvi Mahabhuta.
The lymph and chyle are formed of the Jala Mahabhuta.
Haemoglobin (in blood) is made up of the Tejas Mahabhuta.
Bones are constituted of the Vayu mahabhuta where as the bone pores are built by the Akasha Mahabhuta.
Dhatu Transformation [Dhatu Paripachana]:
The most unique feature of Ayurvedic histology (concept of tissue formation) is that each human tissue is formed from the previous tissue in ascending order. The sequence goes somewhat like this:
- Food, after ingestion, forms Ahara rasa
- Ahara rasa forms Rasa dhatu
- Rasa dhatu forms Rakta dhatu
- Rakta dhatu forms Mamsa dhatu
- Mamsa dhatu forms Meda dhatu
- Medha dhatu forms Asthi dhatu
- Asthi dhatu forms Majja dhatu
- Majja dhatu forms Shukra dhatu
When food is consumed, it undergoes preliminary digestion in the stomach under the influence of the jatharagni, and is separated into kitta (waste) and ahara rasa (nutrient). Ahara rasa is that which enters into and nourishes the dhatu system, and is converted again, this time by the dhatvagni (a dhatu specific subset of the jatharagni) into the first dhatu, i.e. rasa dhatu.
Rasa literally means ‘taste,’ and in this sense, rasa dhatu is the essential nutrient quality of the food consumed. Rasa is then directed to the hridaya (heart) where it undergoes distribution throughout the body, by the actions of Vyana vayu. Rasa is responsible for the nourishment of all the tissues of the body, circulating as a fluid that bathes the cells with vitality. You can think of it as the internal manifestation of the primordial ‘soup’ from which all life arose, in humans the amniotic fluid, on Earth the ocean. A secondary manifestation of rasa [Upa dhatu] is breast milk and menstrual blood (artava).
Rasa dhatu is then converted by the rakta dhatvagni, into rakta dhatu, which is the blood essence. The upa dahtus of the rakta is Shira and kandara.
Rakta dhatu is then converted into mamsa dhatu by the mamsa dhatvagni, which gives rise to all connective tissues excluding blood and bone. The six layers of the skin and vasa are the upadhatus of mamsa dhatu.
Mamsa dhatu is converted into medas dhatu by the medo dhatvagni, and can be thought of as the principle of adipose tissue.
Asthi dhatu is the conversion of medas by the asthi dhatvagni, and is the principle of all osseous tissue in the body.
Majja dhatu is the transformation of asthi by the majja dhatvagni, and is the principle of marrow, or that which fills the bones.
Majja is converted by the shukra dhatvagni into the final dhatu of shukra in men, and artava in women.
The features Dhatus :
- Rasa dhatu- Rasa dhatu displays a strong resemblance to the qualities of kapha, and in mental terms, relates to feelings of compassion and happiness. When functioning optimally rasa is an important component of vitality. If food is consumed that increases kapha, If the jatharagni is impaired, rasa dhatu will become vitiated and display the symptoms of kapha increase, such as an increase of phlegm and mucus discharge. The symptoms of decreased [kapha kashaya] rasa dhatu are dryness, fatigue, emaciation, impotency, infertility and an increased sensitivity to sonic vibrationsetc.
- Rakta dhatu - The primary function of rakta along with rasa, is the maintenance and nutrition of all bodily tissues, and is more closely associated with pitta. Rakta dhatu also gives rise to the hematopoeitic system, including the liver and spleen, and connective tissue. In health rakta dhatu provides for a clear complexion and a deep passion for life. An increase in rakta dhatu, either inherited from a vitiated rasa dhatu or by direct influence, can manifest as skin diseases, hepatomegaly, splenomegaly, hepatitis, jaundice, abscess with infection and inflammation, arthritis, gout, hemorrhages of the mouth, nose or anus (Rakta pitta), and a reddish discolouration of the eyes, skin and urine. A decrease of rakta dhatu, transferred by a deficiency of rasa dhatu or other factors, manifests as a desire for sour and warming foods, anemia, hypotension, dryness of the body, and a sluggish and weak pulse. Thus, skin disorders are seen as a manifestation of impurities within the blood.
- Mamsa Dhatu- Mams means flesh, is most closely related to kapha. Mamsa is primarily responsible for “enveloping and covering” the bones, and includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, arteries, veins, lymphatic tissue and certain types of endocrine glands. In health mamsa dhatu provides for a strong musculature and endurance, and contributes to feelings of charisma and courageousness. An increase in mamsa dhatu can manifest as lymphadenitis, lymphadenopathy, goiter, malignant tumors, fibroids, abscesses and a general increase in body weight and musculature. A decrease in mamsa dhatu manifests emaciation, fatigue, a lack of coordination, and muscular atrophy
- Medas Dhatu- The primary function of the medas in the body is lubrication and the storage of energy. It also bears similarity to the qualities of kapha and its vitiation is probably concurrent with mamsa dhatu. An increase in medas dhatu may manifest as, in addition to those symptoms described under mamsa dhatu, fatigue, shortness of breath, sagging of breasts, buttocks and abdomen, and obesity. A decrease in medas dhatu may manifest as nervous irritability, weak eyesight, dryness, osteoarthritis, poor mineralization, and emaciation. In health medas dhatu provides for a melodious voice, a sense of joyfulness and a playful, humorous nature.
- Asthi Dhatu: The primary function of the Asthi dhatu is the structure and support of the body. Whe it increases, general overgrowth of bone tissue as in gigantism and acromegaly, including bone cancer and bone spurs results. A decrease of asthi dhatu may manifest as osteoporosis, brittle bones, splitting or cracking fingernails, alopecia, and tooth decay. In health asthi dhatu provides for a flexible nature, self-assurance, confidence, mental stability and a hard-working nature.
- Majja Dhatu: Majja is considered to generate the nervous system by some modern Ayurvedic commentators, and in the sense that it ‘fills’ the spinal column this interpretation may be correct. If we look at majja in this way, it can be thought of as neural pathways along which the electrical impulses flow, but not the impulses themselves, which would be governed by vata. An increase of majja usually manifests in kapha conditions, such as heaviness, lassitude and hypertrophy, swelling of joints, and can manifest as obstinate ulcerous conditions. A decrease of majja may manifest as a sensation of weakness or lightness in the bones, joint pain, rheumatism, giddiness and blindness. In health majja dhatu provides for a sensitive and receptive mind, a good memory and a compassionate nature.
- Shukra/Artava Dhatu: Shukra is responsible for the generation of semen within a male, while artava indicates ovulation. While the menstrual blood is not in fact a dhatu but rather a kind of elimination, the nature of its flow is the best indication of the health of the andanu, the ova contained in the ovaries. Thus in all Ayurvedic texts what is actually the andanu (ova) dhatu is referred to as artava (menstrual blood).
An increase of shukra can result in insatiable sexual urges, seminal calculi, odorous perspiration, greasy skin, greasy hair and acne. A decrease of shukra may result in impotency, premature ejaculation, prostatitis and urethritis. A metabolic increase of artava can result in excessive sexual desire, a consistently short estrus cycle, odorous perspiration, greasy skin, greasy hair and acne, while a metabolic decrease in artava may result in frigidity, infertility, amenorrhea, leucorrhea, dysmenorrhea, and menstrual blood which is malodorous. Shukra and artava also generate the ojas, the final refinement of ahara rasa by the body. In health shukra and artava dhatu provide for self-love and attractiveness.
Here you can see an interesting reinterpretation for the concept of dhatus; http://www.ingridnaiman.com/subscription_lists/ayurveda/dhatu_intro.htmlDr. Indunil Weerarathne