Kaya: Understanding The Term In Different Ayurveda Contexts

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) and Dr Manasa BAMS


Kaya is human body. The word Kaya is derived from the root word – Chit Chayane. Here Chit Chayane means ‘to collect’. That which collects or gets nourished by anna (food) etc factors needed for growth and development is called Kaya. Here Kaya means body.

This means that the body takes in food and after its assimilation it builds up various tissues. Hence the whole process of metabolism is understood by the term kaya. Kaya here explains the body which is a product of nutrition.

चीयते अन्नदिभिः
Kaya as body – That which grows and develops being nourished by anna (food) etc essential elements is called kaya. In this context, kaaya means body because the body grows and develops (cheeyate) by collecting and converting the food into its supporting components.

Kaya as fire – The same verse also describes Kaya as fire. That which manifests and gets increased (cheeyate) due to the anna (food) etc factors is called Kaya. It is true that the agni or the fire in our belly manifests when the body needs food. This manifests in the form of hunger. Once we take food, the same agni or fire gets enhanced (food acting like fuel for the fire) and digests the food and converts it into fine components suitable enough to support the body tissues and their functions.

चीयते प्रशस्त दोष धातु मलैः इति कायः।(अरुणदत्त, अ.हृ.सु.१/१६)

That which after assimilating the food forms dosha, dhatu (tissues) and malas (excreta) is called kaya. Kaya or Deha is that which consumes food, digests, absorbs and metabolizes it to byild up ‘prashasta dosha dhatu mala’ i.e. best quality doshas, dhatus and malas which are the essential factors of the human body. In this context too, kaya is explained in terms of ‘human body’ composed of dosha, dhatu and mala.

अत्र काय शब्देन दोष धातु मल संघातः उच्यते।(डल्हण, सु.उ.३९/२)
Dalhana, the commentator of Sushruta Samhita also clarifies that Kaya is a combination of dosha, dhatu and mala.

कायं सकल शरीरं। (शिवदास सेन्, चरक)
According to Shivadasa Sen, commentator of Charaka Samhita, Kaya means sakala shareera or full body.

काय चिकित्सा नाम सर्व अंग समाश्रितानां व्याधीनाम् ज्वर रक्तपित्त सोह्ष उन्माद अपस्मार कुष्ठ मेह अतिसारादीनाम् उपशमनार्थम्।(सु.सू.१/३)

According to Sushruta, Kaya Chikitsa is a branch of Ayurveda created to address and treat diseases like Jwara (fever), Raktapitta (bleeding disorders), Shosha (emaciation, tissue wasting), unmaada (insanity), apasmara (memory related disorders, epilepsy), kushta (skin disorders), meha (urinary disorders, diabetes), atisaara (diarrhea) etc. By the implication of this definition, Kaya would mean sarva anga i.e. complete body.

All the synonyms of Kaya i.e. Kalevara, Gatram, Vapu, Samhanam, Shareera, Varsma, Vigraha, Kaya, Deha, Murthi and Tanu explain Kaya as physical body. (Ref Amarakosham)

Kaya is Agni

Kaya is Agni or metabolic fire –
कायः शब्देन अग्निः उच्यते।(शिवदास सेन्, च.सू.३०/२०-२६)
According to Shivadas sen, commentator of Charaka Sutra, Kaya means agni

कायः अग्निः किं वा देहः।(डल्हण)

Dalhana, commentator of Sushruta Samhita clarifies that Kaya is agni or fire. He also tells that kaya is also deha or body. Thus he has given 2 meanings for Kaya.

कायस्य नामः अन्तराग्नेः’ (चरक)
Charaka is also of the opinion that Kaya is agni or antaragni (the fire within the body).

कायस्य्स् अन्तराग्नेः चिकित्सा काय चिकित्सा।(चक्रपाणि, च.सू.३०/२८)
Kaya Chikitsa is a branch of Ashtanga Ayurveda (8 branches of Ayurveda). Here Kaya Chikitsa is defined as the treatment and correction of agni (pathological, errors of agni). Kaya means agni in this context.

कायो अत्र अग्निः उच्यते, तस्य चिकित्सा काय चिकित्सा, अथवा कायो देहः, तस्य चिकित्सा काय चिकित्सा।(डल्हण, सु.सू.१/७)
Dalhana defines Kaya Chikitsa in 2 different meanings. He tells, Kaya is agni or fire, treating the errors of agni is called Kaya Chikitsa. He also tells, Kaya means deha or body, treating the body as a whole is called Kaya Chikitsa.

Other references related to Kaya

Kaya is mind

काय चित्त प्रकृति।
शरीरम् इति सत्त्वम् अनु विधीयते सत्त्वं च शरीरम्। (च.शा.४/३७)

Kaya means Chitta pravrutti or the activities of mind. Thus Kaya is compared to the mind.
The Chandogya Upanishad treatise states that the food consumed undergoes trividha paka or 3 types of transformation. The sthulamsha i.e. the coarse fraction goes to the mala formation or formation of wastes and excreta. The madhyamamsha or nutritive fraction goes into the formation of rasadi dhatus (the tissues of the body). The sukshmamsha or micro-essence of ahara or food goes on to nourish the Manas or mind. This also explains that Manas is dependent on Agni-processed-ahara. This brings in the Manas or mind also in to the broader definition of kaya i.e. ‘Cheeyate annadibhihi iti kaayaha’.

Kaya is heart or mind

कायति शब्दायते इति कायः।
That which produces sound is called Kaya. According to this reference from Shabda Stoma Mahanidhi, the heart produces sounds or shabda while pumping blood into the system. This produced by the hridaya or heart is a proof of life.

Since the sounds (varnatmaka shabda or the words which we speak) are produced by the involvement of manas, kaya in this context also refers to manas or mind.

By seeing the above said definitions of Kaya, Kaya is –

  • Deha – Human Body
  • Kayagni – Fire in the body
  • Manas – Mind
  • Hridaya – Heart
  • Sakala Shareera – full body

Thus Kayagni can be understood as ‘The fire in the body’ or the fire itself.
If Kaya is taken as fire, Kayagni is the gross fire in the whole body. Here Kaya becomes synonymous with Kayagni.
Click to Consult Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu)

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