Asthi Shareera – Definition, Anatomy, Types Of Bones

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) and Dr Manasa B.A.M.S
‘I have no history but the length of my bones!!’ – Robin Skelton
Bones are hard tissues which form the bulk of the anatomical structure of an individual. It is on the support of the bony skeletal frame that we exist, stand, sit, move and do all the activities. 

Bones are 206 in number and are present in various shapes and sizes, long, short, flat and many others. They fit aptly into the plan of engineering of the body and have evolved a lot keeping in pace of the evolution of mankind.

According to Ayurveda, bones are 360 in number. It is not that there is a huge numerical difference between the number of bones mentioned by Ayurveda and modern anatomical science; it is about how these 2 different sciences looked at the anatomy of the body and the arrangement of bones from their view-points, millenniums apart!!

Asthi Shareera

Asthi=bone, bones
Shaareera=study of body
Asthi Shaareera means the study of human body in terms of anatomy of bones or study of bony part of the body. In simple terms, it means anatomy of bones.

In this article, I would give an account of the anatomy of the bones and classification from an Ayurvedic perspective.

Asthi Definition

Etymological definition – Asthi is that which lives within the mamsa (muscle).
Even practically we see that asthi or bones are enveloped by layers of mamsa (muscle).
Asthi is considered to be a Pitruja Avayava – or paternal organ or the part of the body derived from father (sperm). All hard structures are said to be Pitruja.

Asthi is predominantly made up of Prithvi (Earth) mahabhuta (element of our creation). The other elements of nature (wind, water, fire and space) are also present, but in a latent and recessive form.

Functionally Asthi is said to satisfy the function of ‘Dharana’ or adorning the body. It is obvious that the bones are structural make-up of the body.

Among the tridoshas (3 body humors or physiological / functional components), Vata is said to be seated in the bones or asthi. Asthi is one of the important seats of Vata. When Vata increases, the mass of asthi decreases (asthi kshaya), as in osteoporosis, osteopenia etc and when Vata pathologically decreases, the bone tissue tends to increase (asthi vriddhi).

Asthi Marma

Certain bones are said to be Marmas or vital points of the body which when injured leads to sudden or gradual death or deformity of the body. Example: Amsaphalaka (scapular region), Shanka (temple bone) etc

Asthi is defined as a long lasting component of the body among all the tissues where as the twak (skin) etc structures degenerate earlier than the asthi.

‘The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones’ – William Shakespeare

Asthi Sankhya

Asthi Sankhya (Classification of bones)
According to Ayurveda, the bones (asthi) are classified into 5 types. They are

  • Kapala Asthi – Flat bones
  • Ruchaka Asthi – Teeth
  • Taruna Asthi – Cartilages
  • Valaya Asthi – Curved Bones
  • Nalaka Asthi – Long bones

Kapala Asthi – The bones of shira (head), Shankha (temple region), kapala (cranial vault), talu (palate, upper part of the oral cavity, roof of mouth), amsa (scapula region, shoulder blade) and janu (knee) are classified under Kapala Asthi or flat bones.

Ruchaka Asthi – The teeth or danta are classified under Ruchaka Asthi (Ruchaka=taste)

Taruna Asthi – The cartilages found in the regions of akshikosha (orbital sac, pit of the eye, eye socket), sruti (auditory apparatus, ear canal), ghraana (olfactory region, nasal cavity or passages) and greeva (neck) are classified under Taruna asthi (taruna=immature, unprocessed, young)

Nalaka Asthi – The long bones present in the hasta tala (plantar region or upper portion of hand), pada tala (plantar or lower portion of the foot), kurcha-manibandha (wrist joint), bahu (arms), anguli (fingers and toes), Jangha dwaya (both legs) etc are classified under Nalaka asthi

Valaya Asthi – Curved bones (apart from long bones) situated in the pani (hand), pada (foot), yuga (sides of the trunk, ribs), prushta (back, vertebrae), vaksha (chest, ribs), jathara (abdomen), payu (anal region, butt) are classified under Valaya asthis.

‘Beauty may be skin deep, but ugly goes clear to the bone’ – Redd Foxx

Asthi Sankhya (Numbers of bones)
Different authors have given different opinion regarding the number of bones. As said, it depends on how they visualized the anatomy of bones!!

Charaka and Vagbhata have opined that the bones are 360 in number. According to Sushruta they are 300 in number. According to Modern anatomy, bones are 206 in number.

Let us make a comparative study of numerology of bones as said by different teachers of Ayurveda as compared with the opinion of modern anatomy.

NoName of the boneCharaka-360Vagbhata-360Sushruta-300Modern-206
1Nakha (nails)1010
2Padanguli (phalanges, toes)30303028
3PadaShalaka (metatarsals)10100810
4Padadhishtana (tarsals)020210 (Kurchasthi)10 (tarsals)
5Gulpha (ankle)0404+04 (Kurcha)0202 (Talus)
6Parshni (calcaneum)02020202
7Antar janghasti (Tibia)02020202
8Bahihi Janghasti (Fibula)02020202
9Janu (Tibial tuberosity)0202
10Janu Kapalika (Patella)020202
11Uru nalaka (Femur)02020202
12Nakha Tala (Nail bed)1010
13Hastanguli (metacarpals)30303028
14Hasta Shalaka Kurcha (Metacarpals)10100810
15Hastadhishtana (Distal Carpals)02021008
16Manika Tala Kurcha (Proximal Carpals)02060408
17Gulpha sthaanasthi (styloid processes)04
18Antaha Prakoshtasthi (ulna)02020202
19Bahihi Prakoshtasthi (Radius)02020202
20Bahu Nalaka (Humerus)02020202
21Kurparasthi (Elbow)0202
22Shroni Palaka (Hip bone)02020202
23Bhagasthi (Pubis bone)010101
24Trika (Sacrum)010101
25Anutrika (Coccyx)0101
26Prushta asthi (back bones)45303005+12
27Parshuka (Ribs)124242424
28Parshukarbuda (TP of TV)2242424
29Parshuka sthalaka3242424
30Uro asthi414080801 (sternum)
31Akshaka (clavicle)020202
32Amsa (scapular region)0202
33Amsaphalaka (Scapula)02020202
34Jatru (root of neck)01
35Greevasthi (Cervical vertebrae)515130907
36Kantha Nadi (Throat bones)6040401 (hyoid)
37Hanvasthi (Maxillae and Mandible)01020202+01
38Hanumula Bandhana (Root of jaw)02
39Shiraha Kapala (Scalp bones)704060606
40Talu asthi (palate, lacrimal)02020102palate + 02lacrimal
41Shankasthi (Temporal bones)02020202
42Nasasthi (nasal bones)801030302+02+01
44Lalata (forehead)01
45Karna asthi (ear ossicles)020206
46Danta (teeth)323232
47Danta Ulukhala (tooth sockets)3232
48Jatrukasthi (tracheal cartilage)01

Certain clarifications in the table –

  1. Parshuka asthi (No 27 in the table) – There is a lot of variation in the numerology according to many opinions.

Charaka has mentioned its number as 45. This includes Sacro-coccyx, 20 bodies, arches and transverse processes of 5 lumbar vertebrae and 24 bodies, arches of Thoracic vertebrae.

Vagbhata’s 30 parshukasthis include – Transverse processes and bodies of 5 lumbar vertebrae + 1st sacral vertebra + 12 Thoracic vertebrae

Sushruta’s 30 include the same bones mentioned in the count of Vagbhata’s calculations.

According to modern anatomy, it includes 5 lumbar and 12 thoracic vertebrae

  1. Parshukarbuda (No 28 in the table) – Ayurvedic teachers have counted the transverse processes of the Thoracic vertebrae as separate bones and have numbered them as 24 (12×2), 2 for each vertebrae (thoracic vertebrae are 12 in number), one on each side. The modern anatomy has not counted them as separate bones but has included them as parts of vertebrae.
  2. Parshukasthalaka (No 29 from the table) – Ayurvedic teachers have counted the costal facets (the cartilages of ribs, one on each side of each rib, 12×2=24 are attached to these depressed parts on the vertebrae) as separate bones whereas according to modern anatomy; they are the parts of the ribs.
  3. Uro asthi (No 30 from the table) – There is again a lot of variation in numerology. Charaka’s 14 consist of 14 costal cartilages. Vagbhata’s 8 comprises of segments of sternum. Sushruta’s 8 comprises of 6 sternal segments along with 2 clavicles. According to modern anatomy, sternum (taken as a single piece), 1 in number is included under this category.
  4. Greevasthi (No 35 from the table) – Charaka’s 15 includes bodies and arches of cervical vertebrae (14) and 1 hyoid bone. Vagbhata’s 13 includes 1st cervical vertebra along with bodies and arches of 5 cervical vertebras. Sushruta’s 9 comprises of 7 cervical vertebrae and 2 transverse processes. 7 cervical vertebrae are included in this category according to modern anatomy.
  1. Kantaa nadi (No 36 from the table) – While Charaka has not mentioned any bone in this category, Vagbata’s count of 4 bones include the structures epiglottis, hyoid, thyroid and cricoid cartilages of trachea. Sushruta’s 4 include hyoid, thyroid, cricoid and cartilage of the trachea. Hyoid bone explained in modern anatomy can be included in this category. It is one in number.
  2. Shiraha Kapala (No 39 from the table) – Charaka’s 4 include 1 frontal, 2 parietals and 1 occipital bone along with sphenoid taken as single unit. Vagbhata’s 6 are 1 frontal, 2 parietals, 1 occipital, 1 sphenoid and 1 ethmoid. Sushruta’s and Modern anatomy’s count of 6 includes the same bones mentioned by Vagbhata.
  3. Nasasthi (No 42 from the table) – Charaka has considered the entire nasal apparatus (bony make-up) as a single entity and has mentioned nasasthi as 1 bone. Vagbhata and Sushruta’s 3 bones include 2 nasal bones and a septum. According to modern anatomy 5 bones are included under this category i.e. 2 nasal bones, 2 concha and 1 vomer.

‘Parents are the bones on which children cut their teeth’ – Peter Ustinov

Reasons for difference in numbers

Reasons for differece in calculations in the numerology of bones –
The way in which the anatomy, physiology and pathology were viewed in olden days and are viewed nowadays has undergone immense changes. The bones and their numbers are the same but the methodology of study, documentation and presentation has varied over a period of time.

Charaka and Vagbhata have the same opinion. According to both, the number of bones is 360. Though there are some differences between them, ultimately they have arrived at the same numbers. Sushruta has given a count of 300 bones but still he is 94 bones more than the modern anatomy whose count is 206. Sushruta looks more precise in comparison to Charaka and Vagbhata in terms of counting the number of bones and classifying them. He seems to be proximal to the explanation of modern anatomy.

  • Ayurveda has counted nails and nail bed (Charaka and Vagbhata) as separate bones, the modern anatomy has not counted them among the bones.
  • Ayurveda has mentioned teeth and sockets of teeth as bones while the modern science have not.
  • Ayurveda has counted phalanges as 30 in number whereas according to modern anatomy the number is 28.
  • Ayurveda has counted the arches, facets, bodies and transverse processes of the vertebrae as separate bones while they are parts of the vertebrae.
  • Ayurveda has counted the costal cartilages and facets as separate bones, while they are parts of the ribs. Modern anatomy has not counted the cartilages as bones.
  • Ayurveda has counted different segments of sternum as different bones but they all comprise of a single bone according to modern anatomy.
  • Ayurveda has counted many cartilages as bones, modern anatomy hasn’t
  • Bones have ossification centers. In the fetal stage and after birth, many bones are in the process of ossification (many fragments joining together and forming a complete bone, bone remodeling). At these stages, a single bone appears to be in 2-3 fragments. Probably Ayurveda has counted the bones at the stage of ossification rather than after their complete formation and maturity. This might have enhanced the count of bones by many folds in comparison to the modern science.

The above mentioned points help in understanding the large numbers given by Ayurveda with respect to ‘number of bones’ in the human body.

Just Before Finishing –
Ayurveda has contributed immensely towards the science of anatomy. In fact it is not wrong to tell that Ayurveda laid foundation to the anatomical concepts around which the modern day anatomy has evolved. While we all learn and know the modern day anatomy as related to the study of bones (in this context), it is still wiser enough to go back and see the point of its origin. This article was an attempt to present the most ancient concepts of bone and bone classification in a nut-shell.

‘To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone’ – Reba McEntire
Click to Consult Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu)

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