Substances, Qualities, Action – 9 Ashtanga Hrudaya Sutrasthana

The 9th chapter of Ashtanga Hrudaya Sutrasthana is called as Dravyadi Vijnaneeya Adhayaya. It explains about substances and its qualities, how a medicinal substance brings about action etc.  

Importance of the substance

Importance of the substance  – Dravya Pradhanya

Dravya – (substance / mass of the substance) is the most important factor among Rasa (tastes) and other qualities; because all of these qualities are residing in the substance only.

Mass is composed of five basic elements. It has Kshma – solidity as its substratum, it takes origin from Ambu (Ap Bhuta – water element), Agni (Tejas Bhuta – Fire element), Pavana (Vayu Bhuta – air element) and Nabhas (Akasha Bhuta – ether element), with their intimate and inseparable combination. Its identification/designation is decided by the predominance of particular element in the Dravya (mass / substance). 1-2.

Notes :- Panchabhuta refers to five basic elements – Earth (solid), Water, Fire, Air and Ether. As per a philosophy, called as Sankhya philosophy, every substance on earth is composed of these five basic elements, in different proportions. The dominant part of the basic element decides the nature of the substance.

Five basic elements

Prithvi – Earth – Gandha (smell) is the special quality, Guru (heaviness), Khara (roughness), Kathina (hard) etc are its general qualities.
Ap – Water –
Rasa (taste) is its special quality,
Tejas – Fire –
Rupa (appearance) is its special quality
Vayu – Air –
Sparsha (touch) is its special quality
Akasha – Ether –
Shabda (sound) is its special quality

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These elements combine together in an inseparable combination (Samavaya) to become gross objects and give rise to the formation of all the substances of this universe.
Hence the entire universe is Panchabhautik (composed of five elements, hence designated as Prapancha).
The proportion/quantity of each Bhuta (element) varies and hence the existence of variety of substances in this universe, each one very different and unique.
Whichever element is predominant in any substance bestows its name to that substance.
If Prithvi Bhuta (earth element) is more than the other four in a certain combination, then the substance the gets formed is called Parthiva – solid;
If Ap Bhuta (water element) is dominant – then Apya – liquid
If Tejas Bhuta (fire element) is more, it will be Taijasa (Agneya),
if Vayu Bhuta (air element) it will be Vayavya, and
if Akasabhuta (space element) is more, it will be Akasheeya (Nabhasa).

Thus all the substances of the universe are classified into five kinds.

Primary and secondary tastes

Rasa – Anurasa – (Primary and secondary tastes) :-

Taste in a substance also arises out of Pancha mahabhuta (5 element) combination.  Hence, because of the combination of the elements, there is no substance having only one taste. Similarly, there is no disease arising out of a single Dosha. Any disease will have involvement of more than one Dosha.

 Taste (rasa) is of two types.

Primary taste (Rasa) – the taste that is perceived clearly. The one that manifests clearly in a substance.
Secondary taste (Anurasa) – which are not clearly manifested or which are recognized at the end. 3.

Guru (heaviness) etc qualities present in the Prithvi (earth) etc substances are residing in the taste of the substance; Qualities of a substance are ascribed to the taste because of their intimate co-existence.

Qualities of substances based on elements

Qualities of solid substances

Qualities of solid substances – (Parthiva Dravya Laksana)

Earth has – Guru (heaviness, heavy to digest), Sthula (bulky), Sthira (stable) and Gandha (smell) qualities.

Hence, substances that have Earth as the predominant element (Parthiva Dravya) have Gaurava (heaviness), Sthairya (stability), Samghata (compactness) and well nourished qualities – 5

Qualities of liquid substances

Qualities of liquid substances (Apya Dravya Laksana) –

Liquid element has Drava (liquidity), Sheeta (cold), Guru (Heavy to digest), Snigdha (unctuous, oily, moisture), Manda (dull), Sandra (thickness, dense) and rasa (taste) qualities.

Substances containing liquid as predominant element (Apya Dravya) have Snehana (lubrication, moistness), Avishyanda (secretion, moisture, production), Kleda (wetness), Prahlada (satiation, contentment, satisfaction) and Bandhakrut (cohesion, binding, holding together) qualities. 6.

Qualities of fiery substances

Agneya Dravya Laksana – (qualities of Agneya substances) :-

Agni has qualities such as Ruksa (dry), Teekshna (penetrating, sharp), Ushna (hot), Vishada (non-slimy), Sookshma (minute) and Rupa (appearance, showing, form)

Substances that have fire as the main element causes Daha (burning sensation), Bha (luster), Varna (expression of colour) and Pachana (digestion, process of transformation, putrefaction etc.) 7.

Qualities of airy substances

Qualities of airy substances –  Vayaviya Dravya Laksana –

Air has Rooksha (dry), Visada (non-slimy, clear), Laghu (lightness) and Sparsha (touch tactile sensation) qualities.

Airy substances possess qualities such as Ruksa (dry), it produces dryness, Laghava (lightness), Vaishadya (transparency, clarity), Vichara (movements, different kinds of activities) and exhaustion 8.

Qualities of ether dominant substances

Qualities of ether dominant substances – Nabhasa Dravya Laksana:-

Ether has Sukshma (minuteness), Vishada (transparency, clarity), Laghu (lightness) and Shabda (sound, hearing) qualities.
Substances with ether dominance  produce cavitation (hollowness) and lightness (weightlessness) 9

 Nothing is non-medicinal

There is nothing in this universe, which cannot be used as medicine. Knowledge and purpose of each substance is required to use any substance as medicine. 10.

Fire (Agni) and Pavana (air) predominant substances generally have the property of moving upwards.

Bhumi (earth) and Toya (water) dominant substances generally have the property of moving downwards. – 11

Veerya (potency)

Some authors opine that there are 8 types of Veerya (potency of an herb).

Guru (Heaviness) and Laghu (light to digest)
Snigdha (unctuous, oily) and Rooksha (dryness)
Hima (cold) and Ushna (hot)
Mrdu (soft) and Teekshna (piercing, strong) 12.

Master Charaka says that Virya is that property, through which drug action is made possible. No drug action is possible without Veerya and all actions are possible only by the Virya 13.

Those who designated Guru (Heaviness) etc. eight qualities as Veerya, do so by direct implication.

Out of 20 qualities, these 8 qualities are predominantly seen in any substance. These 8 qualities are stronger than the remaining qualities. Hence, these 8 have been given importance.  14-15.

Some other authors consider Ushna (hot) and Sheeta (cold) – only these 2 qualities as Veerya (potency). Because, though substances are of many kinds and qualities, only fire and water (Agni and Soma) are the powerful ones. 17-18.

Hot potency

Action of Hot Potency (Ushna Veerya) –
Hot potency causes
Bhrama – Delusion, Dizziness
Trut – excessive thirst
Glani – exhaustion,
Sveda – perspiration,
Daha – burning sensation,
Ashupakita – quick cooking (transformation) and
Mitigation of Vata and Kapha;

Cold potency

Action of cold potency (Sheeta Veerya) –

Sheeta Virya causes
Hladana – satiation, happiness,
Jivana  – living, activities of life, enlivening
Sthambha – stoppage, withholding, restraining and
Rakta Pitta Prasada – purification of blood and calming of Pitta. 18-19.

Vipaka – taste after digestion

The change in the tastes that a substance undergoes at the end of digestion by the association of Jatharagni (fire in the stomach – digestion power, digestive juice in stomach), is called as Vipaka (taste conversion after digestion). 20.

There are three types of Vipaka (taste conversion after digestion).
Swadu (sweet) and Patu (salt) tastes undergo Madhura Vipaka (sweet).
Sour remains as sour itself – Amla undergoes Amla Vipaka (taste conversion after digestion).
Tikta (bitter), Ushna (pungent) and Kasaya (astringent) tastes will generally have Katu Vipaka (pungent). 21.

So, generally, sweet and salt tastes get converted into sweet taste
Sour remains as sour and
Bitter, pungent and astringent convert into pungent.

The effects of the tastes, which are felt in the mouth and of the Vipaka (taste conversion after digestion) are similar.  That means the effect of sweet taste and sweet Vipaka are similar. 21½.

Mechanism of action of substances – Karma Vidhana

Substances act by the action of taste or by Vipaka (taste conversion after digestion) or by the Guna (qualities) that they possess or by Veerya (potency) or by Prabhava (special effects). 22

Which ever the one that is powerful among them (Rasa, Guna, Vipaka, Virya and Prabhava) it suppresses all the other qualities to exhibit special influence and action.

In case of combination of two opposite qualities, the strong one vanquishes the weak. 23½ – 24.

Suppose two opposing qualities are present in equal strength, in that situation, Vipaka (taste conversion after digestion) wins over Rasa (taste);
Veerya (potency) wins over (Rasa (taste) and Vipaka and
Prabhava (special effect) wins over all of them (Rasa, Vipaka and Veerya)

This is the pattern of natural strength. 25.

Prabhava – special effect

Special action exhibited by a substance over-ruling Rasa (taste), Guna (qualities), Vipaka (taste conversion after digestion) and Veerya (potency) is Prabhava.

Though Rasa, Guna, Vipaka, and Veerya in a drug may be similar, sometimes the herb may exhibit entirely different action opposite to these qualities. That special effect of the drug over-ruling inherent qualities is called as Prabhava.


Danti and Chitraka – Though Danti – Baliospermum montanum  is identical to Chitraka (Plumbago zeylanica) in respect to Rasa (taste) etc, Danti is a purgative while Chitraka is not. Hence, purgation is the Prabhava of Danti.

Similarly, Madhuka – Licorice – Glycyrrhiza glabra and Mrdvika (grapes)
Madhuka and dry grapes – both have similar qualities. But dry grape has mild purgative action, but Madhuka does not.

Milk and ghee – both possess similar qualities. But ghee increases digestion strength but milk does not. Hence increasing digestion strength is the special effect of ghee.  26.

Vichitra Pratyarabdha Dravya – extraordinary substances

A special category, known as Vichitra Pratyarabda exists. It means – born out of peculiar combination of peculiar factors.


Both wheat and barley possess sweat and heaviness qualities yet wheat mitigates Vata but barley aggravates it.
Fish and milk are sweet and heavy but still milk is cool and fish is hot.
Meat of lion and meat of pig both are sweet in taste but still lion meat has Katu Vipaka (pungent taste conversion after digestion) and pig meat has sweet Vipaka (taste conversion after digestion).

Thus ends Dravyadi Vijnaniya chapter of Astanga Hrudaya Sutrastana.

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