Purusha: Definition, Types, Characteristic Features

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) and Dr Manasa, BAMS
Purusha in general terms means man, usually used to denote human being also (man and woman). But in Ayurveda Purusha is the term given to explain Chetana Dhatu or Atma, the soul or life elements which embeds us and make us live. It enters the human body and ignites the flame of life. The same Purusha leaves the human body at the time of death. 

Definition of Purusha

Pure shareere shayati nivasathi iti purushaha
Purusha has 2 root words, Pura means city and Shayana means to sleep or reside. In this context, Pura means body. The body is the city in which Purusha resides or sleeps. Thus Purusha is one who lives or resides or sleeps in the human body. It is obvious to understand that it is the soul, the life element which lives within the human body and is responsible for life and life activities. Purusha is also called as Chetana Dhatu (chetana=life, dhatu=element).

Types of Purusha

Actually Purusha has no types. It is the viewpoint of the authors who have seen Purusha in different perspectives, depending on the elements with which Purusha is composed of is that which paves way to enlist the different types of purusha.
Read related: Shareera: Formation Of Human Body, Ayurvedic Concept

Eka Dhatwatmaka Purusha

Ekadhatwatmaka Purusha – Purusha comprising of single element
Purusha described as chetana dhatu or life element is considered as ekadhatwatmaka purusha. Since it lies or lodges in the pura i.e. Shareera when the purusha is described in terms of chetana dhatu alone, he is called Ekadhatwatmaka purusha.

In simple terms, the chetana dhatu embedded or lodged in the shareera (body) is simply called as Purusha or Ekadhatwatmaka Purusha.

Shad Dhatwatmaka Purusha

Shad Dhatwatmaka Purusha – Purusha composed of 6 elements
Asmi shaastre panchamahabhoota shareeri samavayah purushaha iti uchyate (Ref – Sushruta Sutra 1)
Khaadayaha chetana shashta dhatavaha purushaha smrutaha

In Shad Dhatwatmaka Purusha, Purusha is said to be comprised of 6 elements. They are Panchamahabhutas and Jeevatma. Thus, the combination of Panchamahabhootas i.e. 5 basic elements of nature and Jeevatma i.e. soul is considered as Shad Dhatwatmaka Purusha. Ayurveda has accepted and emphasized on this combination of Purusha.

Below mentioned are the 6 dhatus which make up the Shad Dhatwatmaka Purusha –

  • Prithvi – Earth element
  • Ap or Jala – Water element
  • Teja or Agni – Fire element
  • Vayu – Air element
  • Akasha – Space (sky) / Ether element
  • Shareeri (Chetana) / Jeevatma – Soul

Among these, the first 5 are considered as Pancha Mahabhootas or 5 elements of nature. They constitute the 5 inert elements of the combination.
Atma or soul forms the motivational force (spirit) which brings life into the inert elements. 

Harana Chandra, the commentator of Sushruta Samhita interprets Purusha as only ‘human being’ but not any other living being, because all the treatment and other aspects of medicine deal only with that purusha related to human subject.
This indicates that the anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, therapeutics, hygiene etc of this medicine are described in the interest of human being only.

Chaturvimshatika Purusha

Chaturvimshatika Purusha or Raashi Purusha – Purusha composed of 24 elements
The purusha in terms of its composition of subtle principles (tatvas) is known as Raashi Purusha. Rashi purusha has 24 tatvas in the composition. Therefore Raashi Purusha is also called as Chaturvimshati (24) tatvatmaka (principles or elements) purusha or Chaturvimshatika Purusha.

Chaturvimshatika Purusha is composed of 24 elements or principles including Ashta Prakritis (8 primordial substances) and Shodasha Vikritis (16 derivatives of primordial substances). They are as enumerated below –

Prakriti – Primordial substance (substance used in the creation of an organism, in fact all organisms of the body)
Prakritis are 8 in number. They are primordial substances which amalgamate to form the preliminary creation of an organism. They are –

  • Avyakta – Microcosm or miniature universe (humankind is regarded as the representation in miniature of the universe), This factor signifies that we are representing the universe in a small form or miniature form and we have all the elements making it.
  • Mahan or Mahat (collective intelligence) – Cosmic intelligence, the ‘intelligence needed to create’ in the universe. This is represented in us in the form of intelligence.
  • Ahankara – Egoism, or the cosmic egoism, which claims that whatever created is ‘mine, my creation!’ We all carry the miniature part of this egoism in us.
  • Shabda tanmatra – Root of Sound (sensation)
  • Sparsha Tanmatra – Root of Touch (sensation)
  • Rupa Tanmatra – Root of Vision (sensation)
  • Rasa Tanmatra – Root of Taste (sensation)
  • Gandha Tanmatra – Root of Smell (sensation)

Note – Shabda to Gandha Tanmatra are represented in us in the form of subjects of sense organs. They are collectively called as Pancha Tanmatras.

Purusha – Human being PURUSHA- “ one consciousness that reside in the body” ( Charaka Shareera 1/16 )
Purusha – human being is also called – Chetana dhatu – pure consciousness Shat -dhatu purusha – five basic elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether) + consciousness
Composed of 24 elements.

Vikara / Vikriti – derivatives of primordial substance (including Pancha Maha Bhutas or 5 basic elements of nature)

The derivatives of the above said primordial substance (prakriti) are called Vikara or Vikritis. They are 16 in number. They are as mentioned below –

  • Shabda indriya or Shravana indriya – Sense Organ of hearing, ear
  • Sparshana Indriya – Sense Organ of touch, skin
  • Rupa indriya or Chakshu indriya – Sense organ of sight or vision, eye
  • Rasana indriya – Sense organ of taste, tongue
  • Gandha indriya or Ghrana indriya – Sense organ of smell, nose
  • Vak indriya – Motor organ of speech
  • Pani indriya or Hasta indriya – Motor organ of grip, hands
  • Pada indriya – Motor organ of locomotion, foot
  • Payu indriya – Motor organ of excretion, excretory system
  • Upastha indriya – Motor organ of sex, sexual organs or genitals
  • Ubhaya Indriya or Manas – The mind, which is both, sensory and motor organ
  • Prithvi Mahabhuta – Earth element
  • Ap or Jala Mahabhuta – Water element
  • Tejas or Agni Mahabhuta – Fire element
  • Vayu Mahabhuta – Wind element
  • Akasha Mahabhuta – Sky or Ether or Space element


  • Shabda indriya to Ghrana Indriya are called as Pancha Gnana indriyas or 5 sense organs.
  • Vak indriya to Upastha indriya are called Pancha Karma indriyas or 5 motor organs.
  • 5 Gnana indriyas and 5 karma indriyas together with Manas are called Ekadasha Indriyas or 11 indriyas
  • Prithvi Mahabhuta to Akasha Mahabhuta are called Pancha Mahabhuta or 5 elements of nature or creation
  • Prakritis are called Karanas (causative phenomenon) which create Vikritis. Vikritis are called Karyas or derivatives of Prakritis. Prakriti and Vikriti have Karana-Karya Smabandha i.e. Cause and effect relationship.

Sushruta and Sankhyakarika (followers of sankhya philosophy) do not accept this combination of 24 tatvas as purusha. According to them, Purusha is altogether a different entity, different from the above mentioned 24 tatvas which are only lifeless. Purusha represents life whereas the above mentioned combination of 24 tatvas is lifeless.

Sankhya karika says – Purusho na Prakrutihi, na vikritihi’. This means to tell that Purusha is neither Prakriti nor Vikriti (Vikara). It is totally different principle.

Thus the above said 24 Tatvas i.e. 8 Prakritis and 16 Vikritis are inert amalgamation of elements needed to create a life. When these are joined by or ignited by a life force called as Jeeva or Jeevatma or Purusha (soul, the life element), the Garbha with life is manifested, and starts’ living (life activities) in the womb until it is born. The 24 tatvas along with purusha denotes a human body embedded with life. This concept led to the description of Panchavimshatika Purusha or Purusha comprising of 25 tatvas.

Panchavimshatika Purusha

Panchavimshatika Purusha – Purusha comprising of 25 elements or principles
Purusha is the 25th tatva. Purusha is also called Jeeva or Atma. The above said 24 tatvas (explained in Chaturvimshati tatvatmaka purusha above) are inert and lifeless. When they are associated with Purusha, who is a sign of life, the body is said to have life. Sushruta has accepted the 24 tatvas but has considered them as jada or inert. He is of the opinion that the life activities are possible only if these 24 tatvas are associated with jeevatma or purusha.

Purusha expresses the chaitanya lakshanas or signs of life, like respiration, movements, response to stimulus etc. When the karanas (causes) i.e. 8 prakritis and karyas (effects) i.e. 16 vikaras come together along with purusha at the time of origin of life, the movements in the inert physical body which originally do not have any properties of life get endowed with movements and activities just like a calf becomes active after taking in the inactive milk.

The purusha has got all the properties of life. That is why he alone is called by different names (which define signs of life activities) like –

  • Srota – one who ‘hears’
  • Ganta – one who ‘walks’
  • Sparsha – one who touches or feels the touch
  • Gratha – one who smells or feels smell
  • Rasaita – one who tastes or feels taste
  • Manta – one who ‘thinks’
  • Kshetragna – one who knows ‘the body’
  • Chetaita – one who motivates life (motivating force of life) etc

Without this purusha, there is no meaning for this world at all.

According to Charaka, all experiences of the world are due to the presence of purusha.
Light and darkness, truth and untruth, knowledge and action, good and evil, doer and knower, body, pleasure and pain, movement and rest, speech and intelligence, sciences, birth and death, bondage and liberation none of these life experiences could be possible if there is no Purusha which is called soul.

Purusha as cause for creation

Purusha – the prime cause for this creation
For every effect there should be a cause. For an effect known as creation, the chief cause is Purusha. Purusha thus forms an unavoidable cause for creation.
Charaka explains this concept with few good examples (Ref – Charaka Shaareera).
A pot cannot be made merely by using clay, string, stick and pot making wheel without the pot maker who makes the pot using all these required materials and equipments skillfully.
A house cannot be constructed without a work man just by using bricks, cement and timber.
Therefore for the creation of the whole living kingdom, the spark of life or soul known as purusha is inevitably essential.
The Purusha is intimately present in every living cell of a body.

Purusha is only a Sakshi (silent spectator or witness of all activities of the body) in spite of being all pervading. He has nothing to do with the merits and demerits of the body, mind and senses under any circumstances. This philosophical truth assures every man that ‘there is an immortal flame in this mortal frame’. The soul when proves its existence in the body it is called Ayu or life.

In this context let me explain in brief two more terms which are related with the soul, Ayu and Prana.


Ehi ithi ayuhu
That which goes on continuously without any break, breach or gap throughout the existence of the body is called Ayu.

Shareera indriya satwa atma samyogo dhaari jeevitham
Nityagaha cha anubandhaha cha paryayaihi aayuhu uchyate

The term ayu stands for the combination of Shareera (body), indriyas (sense organs), satwa (mind) and atma (soul).
Its synonyms are:
Dhaari – one that prevents the body from decomposition and putrifation
Jeevitham – that which keeps the body alive
Nithyaga – that which serves as permanent substratum of this body
Anubandha – that which transmigrates from one body to the other


The properties of life put together (structural frame work of life) are known as prana.

Prakarshena ananti iti pranaha
That which keeps the body capable of discharging it life activities effectively and continuously is known as Prana.
Prana is formed by

‘Agni soma vayu satwam rajaha tamaha pancha indriyani bhootatma iti pranaha’

  • Agni – Agni or fire is the principle of transformation. It is represented in the body as different types of pitta i.e. Pachaka, ranjaka, bhrajaka, alochaka and sadhaka. It is also represented by all tissue fires (dhatwagnis). This agni is said to be the adhi devata (principle god) of speech and is in the name of Ushnashakti.
  • Soma – Soma is the principle of support and construction. This is the energy of all the supporting substances like shleshma, rasa, shukra etc and is said to be adi devata (principle god) of manas (mind). This is represented in the body in the form of different types of kapha or shleshma, namely, avalambaka, shleshaka, bodhaka, tarpaka and kledaka kapha.
  • Vayu – Vayu is the principle of motivating and activating force in the body. All activities are dependent on vayu. It is represented in the body in the form of different types of vata or vayu namely, Prana, apana, samana, udana and vyana vayus.
  • Satwa, Rajas and Tamas – These are the qualities of the manas (mind) and prakriti (nature or constitution)
  • Pancha indriyas – 5 sense organs
  • Bhootatma – the karma purusha endowed by subha (good) and ashubha (bad) karmas (deeds) of previous birth

All these components support the pranas through their properties and actions. Thus prana means the combination of tri-doshas of the body, tri-gunas of the mind, the indriyas and atma.

Prana Ayatanas

The vital points or areas of the body where the pranas are mainly lodged are called Prana Ayatanas or Pradhana Marmas. If any injury or loss happens to these structures, the consequences would be fatal.

The Pranayatanas are as below mentioned –

  • Shankha – 2 temples
  • Marmas – 3 vital organs i.e. heart (hridaya), brain (shira) and kidney (vasti)
  • Kantha – neck
  • Rakta – blood
  • Shukra – semen
  • Ojas – the immune system
  • Guda – anus

Just before finishing –
When something is operational or functional, our investigating and anxious mind tries to find out the mechanism behind it. The human body is a wonderful machine which keeps operating without our awareness. We live without knowing the mechanism behind what operates our living force!! The concept of Purusha clearly explains the force behind our life, the formula which runs the body mechanics and enables us to learn the the cause and effect relationship between the inert elements which make up the human body and the life force which makes it live and runs the show.
Click to Consult Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu)

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