Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) and Dr Manasa, BAMS
Shareera or human body and its formation is a beautiful concept explained in Ayurvedic embryology i.e. Garbha Shareera. The whole process including the ingredients needed to create a new life, the involvement and amalgamation of Prakriti, Vikiritis and Atma (life element or soul), the qualities adorned by atma, the factors invovled in the development of garbha (fetus) and the monthly growth, maturation and birth of the child (masanumasika garbha vriddhi) has been explained in an exemplary way.
Table of Contents
What is Shareera?
Word meaning of Shareera:
Sheeryate anena iti shareeram
That which constantly undergoes destruction is called shareeram.
This meaning looks so appropriate because our physical body is constantly getting destroyed and degenerated, in race and pace with time and ageing process. This definition points towards the wear and tear phenomenon taking place in our body at a constant pace. It also defines the body with a catabolic angle.
Shrayante trayaha agnayaha, Jgnaanaagnihi, Darshanaagnihi, Koshtaagnihi asmin iti shareeram.
Another definition of shareera defines it as an abode of 3 agnis or fires i.e. Jgnana agni (the fire of knowledge), Darshana agni (the fire of vision) and Koshta agni (the fire located in belly, the metabolic fire).
- Yashti etc
Dihyate vardhate iti deha
Deha is a synonym of shareera. It is defined as ‘that which is constantly growing’. This is also true, because the body is constantly in a process of growth and development supported by food and other life elements. This definition is an anabolic description of shareera and mainly explains the construction process.
Cheeyate annaadibhihi iti kaayaha
That which is constantly nourished by anna (food) etc factors is called kaya. Thus Kaya, being a synonym of Shareera, defines the body in an anabolic language, just like deha.
In short, Shareera or deha or kaya is one which is constantly undergoing construction and destruction in tandem.
Shareeram naama chetanaa adhishthaana bhootam pancha mahaabhoota vikaara samudaayaatmakam (Ref – Charaka Shaareera 6/4)
According to Charaka, the combination of chetana (soul or life element) and pancha mahabhuta vikara (derivatives of 5 basic elements of nature) is called Shareera.
Read related: Monthly Development Of Fetus – Ayurvedic perspective
According to Sushruta –
Garbha (embryo, fetus) is formed by the combination of sperm (shukra), ovum (shonita), atma (soul), prakriti (primordial substance) and vikritis (derivatives of primordial substance) in the garbhashaya (uterus, womb). Panchamahabhutas i.e. 5 elements of nature act upon the garbha, helps it to mature and develop. When this Garbha as a result of development process attains different body parts like hasta (hands), pada (lower limbs), jihwa (tongue), ghraana (nose), nitamba (butts) etc, it will acquire the name of ‘Shareera’.
The term Shareera is often used interchangeably with the term ‘Purusha’ explained in Ayurvedic texts. Though their meanings are proximal, they are entirely different terms. Below mentioned are definitions of Purusha.
Chetanaa dhaatuH api ekaha smritaha purushaha samgnakaha (Ref – Charaka Shaareera 1/16)
Asmin shaastre pancha mahaabhoota shareeri samavaayaha purusha iti ucyate, Tasmin kriyaa so adhishthaanam (Ref – Sushruta Sutra 1/22)
Khaadinyaha chetanaa shashthaa dhaatavaha purushaha smrutaha (Ref – Charaka Shaareera 1/16)
Charaka tells that the ‘Chetana Dhatu’ or the life element alone is called Purusha (whereas Shareera is a combination of different elements and is composed of different organs). He is also of the opinion that the combination of Akasha (ether, space), Vayu (air), Teja (fire), Jala (water) and Prithvi (Earth) in combination with chetana (atma, soul, life element) is called Purusha. Thus Purusha is composed of 6 elements, i.e. 5 elements of nature and soul.
Sushruta also opines the same concept.
Read related: Conception And Formation Of Fetus As Per Ayurveda
Formation of Shareera
Formation of Shareera, Ayurvedic concept
According to Ayurveda, the Shareera is formed based on the below said factors –
For the plant to come into existence 4 factors are essentially necessary. They are – Rutu (ideal climate for seeding and for the plant to grow), Kshetra (fertile land, ideal for the plant to grow), Ambu (water and other essential nutrients for the plant to grow) and Beeja (healthy seed). Similarly the below mentioned elements are very much essential for the formation of Garbha.
Stree Purusha Samyoga
Stree Purusha Samyoga (the sexual union of man and woman, the intercourse) & Shukra Shonita Samyoga (mixing of sperm and ovum)
Sexual intercourse or coitus is another essential element or event needed for formation of garbha.
The act of Sex is brilliantly explained by Sushruta. During stree purusha samyoga (mythuna, coitus), the heat generated by medhra and yoni (penis and vagina) leads to vata prakopa. This further melts the shukra (semen) present all over the body and brings it to the reproductive system. From there, the further act of coitus results in Shukraskalana (ejaculation of semen).
The shukra or semen thus melted by the virtue of ushma (heat generated by sex) and motivated and propelled (ejaculation) by vayu, the shukra enters the yoni (vagina) of the woman. Here the shukra and shonita (sperm and ovum) get amalgamated with the entry of sperm into the ovum) in the garbhashaya (uterus, womb). Later, the kshetragna or atma (soul) enters the zygote.
The relationship between a man and woman in the act of sex is compared to that of ‘ghee and fire’ equation. Immediately when the woman comes into physical contact with the male in the act of coitus, she pours down her aartava into the yoni (squirting of copious fluid with slimy mucous into the vagina from the uterus), so as to facilitate easy and painless coitus and to enable the sperms to move upwards.
Shukra Pravartana or ejaculation of semen is described in 3 steps –
Vileenam ghrutavat vyavaaya ooshmanaa
The shukra present in the entire body (sarva shareera gata shukra) gets oozed out like ghrita (ghee) that melts out through the pores of ‘Nava Kumbha’ (new earthen pot). According to Charaka, the shukra is chiefly present in the majja dhatu (marrow) which is enclosed in the hardest asthi dhatu or bone tissue. But still the Shukra comes out of it through the fine pores of the bone as the water oozes from an earthen pot. Jalam aardraat pataat iva
Shukra comes out of the body on ejaculation just as the water comes out of a wet cloth when it is squeezed. Sthalaat nimbi divodakam
Shukra comes out of the medhra or penis just as the water flows from a higher level to the lower level (gravity).
Chetana Dhatu Pravesham
Chetana Dhatu Pravesham (entry of life element)
After the shukra-shonita samyoga or amalgamation of sperm and ovum, the zygote, embryo and fetus are formed. The maturity and development of the fetus takes place only after it being impregnated with the spark of life called chetana dhatu or atma. The chetana dhatu or purusha enters the shukra-shonita (fertilized ovum) along with its purusha gunas (satva, raja and tama) or qualities, dyasura bhavaas (noble and evil qualities) and bhootatma (soul) carrying the vasana’s (impressions) of previous birth. This chetana dhatu (life spark) is the one who can know his field of operation, i.e. body endowed with knowledge of touch, smell, vision, hearing, taste etc. He can create his own requirements capable of movements, organization of speech etc.
Purva Janma Guna Bhava
Purva Janma Guna-Bhava (Inheritance of qualities of Purva Janma or previous incarnation)
All the ancient Indian schools of thought including Ayurveda have unanimously proclaimed that the life is a continuous stream of events on which the bodies appear like the waves on the ocean. The present body is accrued as a result of the previous birth.
Chetana Dhatu while leaving out the previous body carries along with him the ‘impressions’ in the form of 5 sense organs and manas (mind), which when combined together is called Purusha. Charaka also states that the ‘Jeevatma’ or individual soul carries this sukshma shareera (subtle microscopic body or blue-print of this body) and its movements.
This is why; we find certain extra-ordinary qualities in some persons which cannot be explained by any other physical means.
Pancha Mahabhuta Prakriya
Pancha Maha Bhuta Prakriya (Influence of five elements of nature in the development of garbha and shareera)
We are all made up of pancha mahabhutas i.e. 5 basic elements of nature. Thus, each and element or bhuta has a role in the formation of certain parts of garbha and shareera.
Garbha is formed by the combination of –
- Shukra – semen (sperm, male reproductive cell)
- Shonita – ovum (female reproductive cell)
- Aatma – soul (life element, the self consciousness)
- Prakriti – Primordial substance (substance used in the creation of an organism, in fact all organisms of the body)
- Vikara or Vikriti – derivatives of primordial substance (including Pancha Maha Bhutas or 5 basic elements of nature)
The union of all the above said factors in the Garbhashaya (healthy womb, uterus) is called Garbha.
This Panchamahabhuta (5 elements of nature) act upon Garbha and participate in its development.
- Vayu Mahabhuta is involved in Vibhajana Karya – It divides the Garbha into different fragments (cell division)
- Teja Mahabhuta is involved in Pachana Karya – It helps in processing and bringing about maturity of Garbha
- Apa Mahabhuta is involved in Kledana Karya – It helps in nourishing the Garbha and its components (foetal nourishment)
- Prithvi Mahabhuta is involved in Samhanana Karya – It helps in bringing about integrity and maintains the grouping and compactness of cells under division
- Akasha Mahabhuta is involved in Vivardhana Karya – It helps in coelomicity of foetus. This provides space or cavities for different organs, vessels, ducts, tubes etc.
Pitrujadi Bhava Agamana
Pitrujadi Bhava Agamana (Inheritance of Pitruja etc factors in the Garbha and Shareera)
The characters and inborn qualities of a man may be from different sources. These are –
- Pitruja Bhavas (from father) – hard and stable structures like scalp hair, moustache, skin hair, bones, nails etc
- Matruja Bhavas (from mother) – delicate and soft tissues like muscle, blood, fat, and soft organs like heart, liver etc
- Rasaja Bhavas (from mother’s food, foetal circulation) – like growth of all the tissues, complexion, life, decay, death etc
- Atmaja Bhavas (ones own) – sense organs and their perceptivity, spiritual knowledge, material knowledge, life, pressure, pain etc
- Satvaja Bhavas (from the mind of sookshma shareera) – constitutional qualities gained by the predominance of one or more mental qualities viz, Satva, Raja, Tama gunas
- Saatmyaja Bhavas (from acclimatization and habits) – stamina, health, strength, complexion, intelligence etc
The Shareera thus formed, will go through different phases of development during its stipulated stay period in the womb (masanumasika garbha vriddhi karma) until it is fully formed and matured enough, embedded with all the organs, limbs and organ systems, to get delivered and be born at the term.
Shareera, the physical body – Garbha gets the name of shareera (physical body) when when the amalgamation of shukra, shonita, atma, prakriti and vikriti in the garbhashaya (uterus or womb), after the action of panchamahabhutas and after acquiring (inheriting) the qualities of purva janma and matrujadi bhavas, start developing hasta (hands), pada (lower limbs), jihwa (tongue), ghrana (nose), karna (eyes), nitamba (butts, pelvis), etc organs. This means to tell that, garbha will be called as shareera once the organs start getting manifested in a visible and clear way.
Just before Finish –
The description of shareera, its formation, its ingredients and the methodology involved shows the knowledge and vision the ancient Ayurvedic seers had about the embryology. We can also see a part of spirituality and a big cosmic theory involved in the description of shareera. Ayurveda believed that each shareera is a small representation of a big cosmos; the panchamahabhuta theory explains and justifies this aspect. The garbha and shareera concepts explained in the Ayurvedic texts might be the first ever references of human embryology explained in a scientific, systematic and comprehensive way. Salutations to the ancient wisdom of Ayurvedic medical science for having passed on these basics through many generations!!
Click to Consult Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu), through email