Jnana and Karma Indriyas: Organs Of Sense And Function

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Indriyas means sense organs. Indriyas are the tools of knowledge and learning according to Ayurveda.


Sense organs are the important organs of our system which detect various senses from the environment (sense objects), carry them to the mind and intellect for processing the information and later help us in acquiring the knowledge of the objects in their true sense. 

Sense organs help us in acquiring Yathartha anubhava i.e. ‘knowledge of an object or subject related to the particular indriyas in their true and unadulterated sense, as-it-is’.

Such a knowledge obtained with the help of indriyas is called as indriya janya gnana or Pratyaksha gnana.
The knowledge of Indriyas is much beyond the learning of anatomy and physiology of the famous sense organs namely the eye, the nose, the tongue, the ear and the skin. The term Indriya explains more than this. In this article I would like to focus on the definition of Indriya, its classification and functions of indriyaas and its sub-types in brief.

Definition of Indriya

indraM AtmA tasya sAdhanam indriyam|
Indra means Aatma i.e. soul. Indriya is its saadhana or instrument (tool) for getting the knowledge. This means to tell that Indriya is the instrument (source) of aatma to perceive true and comprehensive knowledge.

indriyaM indra liGgaM indra dRSTaM indra sRSTaM indra juSTaM indra dattaM iti|(pANinIya sUtra 5/2/93)
The term Indriya is entangled with the word ‘Indra’, which forms its root word. Indra means Aatma or soul. The Aatma or soul experiences the knowledge we gain through Pratyaksha or Indriyaas. Indriya is said to be –

Indra Linga – Sign of Indra or Aatma (that through which Indra manifests or shows its presence)
Indra Drushtam – Seen or perceived by Indra (that through which Indra sees)
Indra Srushtam – Created by Indra
Indra Jushtam – Associated with Indra
Indra Dattam – Given by Indra

In simple terms – ‘That which is a sign of Indra, seen, created, associated and given by Indra or Aatma is called Indriya’.

We can see that the knowledge is gained through Indriyartha Sannikarsha i.e. the association of Indriya (sense organ) with the Indriyartha (sense object). This knowledge is taken by Manas (mind), and screened by Buddhi (intellect). But ultimately it is the Indra which judges and enjoys the knowledge in true sense. Thus the Indriya is invariably associated with Indra in the process of perception of true and comprehensive knowledge.

ina iti viSayANAM nAma tAn inaH viSayAn prati dravanti iti indriyam|
yadvA indriyasya AtmanaH liGgaM cihnam upabhoga sAdhanam indriyam iti|

The word Indriya is made up of 2 terms i.e. ‘In’ and ‘Dravanti’.
‘In’ means Vishayas (subjects or objects of sense)
‘Dravanti’ means flow or move towards
Therefore Indriya means ‘That which moves towards its Vishayas or objects’.

Indriyasya (aatmanaha) Lingam (Upabhoga saadhanam) Indriyam Meaning – ‘The sign or source (means) of gaining experience or knowledge for Aatma is called Indriya’

This means to tell that Indriya is the source or means through which the Aatma or soul experiences the knowledge of the sense objects.

Classification of Indriyas

Indriyaas are classified into 3 broad categories. They are:
– Buddhi Indriyas or Gjnaana Indriyaas
– Karma Indriyas
– Ubhaya Indriya

Buddhi Indriyas or Gnaana Indriyaas –
Buddhi Indriyas comprise of sense organs. They are 5 in number. They are as mentioned below:

  • Chakshu Indriya – Sense organ of Sight (Eye)
  • Shrotra Indriya – Sense organ of Hearing (Ear)
  • Ghraana Indriya – Sense organ of Smell (Nose)
  • Rasanaa Indriya – Sense organ of Taste (Tongue)
  • Twak Indriya or Sparshana Indriya – Sense organ of Touch (Skin)

Karma Indriyaas –
Karma means action. Indriyas involved in actions and important functions are called Karma Indriyas. Karma Indriyaas comprise of motor organs. They are also 5 in number. They are as mentioned below:

  • Vaak Indriya – Motor organ of speech (Speech organs)
  • Paani Indriya – Motor organ of grasp or hold (Hands)
  • Paada Indriya – Motor organ of locomotion (Feet)
  • Paayu Indriya – Motor organ of excretion, defecation (Anus and Rectum)
  • Upastha Indriya – Motor organ of sex (Penis)

Ubhaya Indriya –
Ubhaya means both. Ubhaya Indriya is both sensory and motor in function. It is associated with sensory organs while sensory perception is taking place and with motor organs while motor activities are taking place. Ubhaya Indriya is one in number. It is called Manas or Mind.

Buddhi Indriyas

Buddhi Indriyas or Gnaana Indriyaas
eka eka adhika yuktAni khAdInAm indriyANi tu|
paJca karmAnumeyAni yebhyo buddhiH pravartate||(ca.zA. 1/24)

The Buddhi Indriyaas namely Chakshu, Shrotra, Ghraana, Rasanaa and Twak are called Buddhi Indriyaas because Buddhi or knowledge (intelligence) is embedded in these organs. Buddhi Indriyaas are therefore called Gjnaana Indriyaas (indriyaas which help in perceiving the knowledge of sense objects).

Each Gnaana or Buddhi Indriya is made up of all the Mahabhutas i.e. elements of nature but is predominant in one Mahabhuta. The function of these indriyaas depends on the quality and quantity of Mahabhuta present in these indriyaas. The Mahabhuta predominance in Buddhi Indriyaas are as below mentioned –

Chakshu Indriya – eyes – Dominated by Agni Mahabhuta (fire element). Perceives Roopa Guna – sight sense.
Shotra Indriya – Ears – dominated by Akasha – ether element (vacuum) – perceives sound – Shabda guna.
Ghrana Indriya – Nose – dominated by Prithvi – earth element – perceives smell sense – Gandha Guna
Rasana Indriya – tongue – dominated by Jala – water element – perceives taste – Rasa guna.
Twak Indriya – skin – dominated by Vayu – air element – perceives touch sense – Sparsha guna.

Pancha Karma Indriyas

hastau pAdau guda upasthaM vAg indriyam athA api ca|
karma indriyANi paJca eva pAdau gamana karmaNi||
pAyU upasthaM visargArthaM hastau grahaNa dhAraNe|
jihvA vAg indriyaM vAk ca satyA jyotiH tamo anRtA||(ca.zA.1/25,26)

Karma Indriyaas are the organs of motor functions. They are designed and designated to perform certain activities, important life-activities. They are 5 in number. They are as mentioned below –

1. Hasta (pani)- hands
Functions as per Charaka – Grahana (receive, gather, collect), Dhaarana (hold)
Functions as per Saankhya Karika – aharana (receive), aadaana (hold)

2. Paada, Foot –
Functions as per Charaka – Gamana (To walk, move, locomotion)
Functions as per Saankhya Karika – Viharana (roam around, move), Gamana (walk)

3. Guda (Paayu), Anus
Functions as per Charaka – Mala Visarga (defecation)
Functions as per Saankhya Karika – Mala Utsarga (defecation)

4. Upastha (Linga), Penis
Functions as per Charaka – Mootra Visarga (urination)
Functions as per Saankhya Karika – Ananda / Ramana (Sexual pleasure)

5. Vak Indriya, Tongue, organs of speech
Functions as per Charaka – Vaak, Vaani (speech)
Functions as per Saankhya Karika – Vachana – speech

Indriya Vritti

rUpAdiSu paJcAnAm Alocana mAtram iSyate vRttiH|
vacana AdAna viharaNa utsarga AnandAH ca paJcAnAm||(sAM.kA.28)

Vrittis are the assigned functions of the Indriyaas (duties).

Jnana Indriya Vritti

Chakshu Indriya – Eyes – Roopa Grahana, Alochana – perceiving and analyzing form, color, size, shape etc
Shotra Indriya – Ears – Shabda grahana, alochana (perceiving and analyzing different types of sounds)
Ghraana Indriya – Nose – Gandha grahana, alochana (perceiving and analyzing different types of smells)
Rasana Indriya – tongue – Rasa grahana, alochana (perceiving and analyzing different types of tastes)
Sparsha Indriya – skin – Sparsha grahana, alochana (perceiving and analyzing different types of touches, feel)

Bhoutikatwa of Indriya

Bhoutikatwa of Indriyas (relation of elements of nature and Indriyaas) –
According to Ayurveda, the Indriyas are made up of Pancha Mahabhutas (5 elements of nature) just like any other material or object of the creation. Each Indriya is made up of all the Mahabhutas but predominantly made up of single Mahabhuta. Below tabulated are the relations of specific Mahabhutas with their related Indriyas.

Creation of Indriya

According to some Darshanaas the whole world and every individual life, human being are created from either 24 or 25 tatvas (creative principles). Sushruta has accepted 25 tatvas taking part in the creation of Purusha or Srushti.

Among the 25 principles, 8 are Prakritis (primordial elements) and 16 are Vikritis (derivatives). The Aatma or Purusha (life element) when gets association in the form of 25th tatva with these 24 factors the life is created.

Related reading: Purusha: Definition, Types, Characteristic Features

8 Prakritis or Ashta Prakritis are – Avyakta, Mahat, Ahankara and Pancha Tanmatras (5 tanmatras). Tanmatras are the micro or elemental forms of Sense objects. They are Shabda, Sparsha, Rupa, Rasa and Gandha.

The 16 Vikritis are the 11 Indriyas (mentioned in the introduction of this article) and 5 Mahabhutas (5 elements of nature).

According to the above said philosophies, the Indriyas are created from the Ahankara (cosmic egoism) during the Srushti Utpatti Krama (chronological pathway of creation of universe).

Other important points related to Indriyas –

Asatmya Indriya Artha Samyoga

Asaatmya Indriyaartha Sannikarsha
Asaatmya Indriyaartha Sannikarsha (Incompatible relationship between Indriyaas and their Indriyaarthaas) is one of the main causes for manifestation of diseases. This happens in 3 ways –

– Heena Yoga – Deficit contact of Indriyaas with Indriyaarthaas
– Ati Yoga – Excessive contact of Indriyaas with Indriyaarthaas
– Mithyaa Yoga – Perverted contact of Indriyaas with Indriyaarthaas

Indriya Pradoshaja Roga

Indriya Pradoshaja Rogas
The diseases caused by functional impairment or defect of Indriyaaas are called as Indriya Pradoshaja Rogas.

Indriyartha Sannikarsha

Indriyaartha Sannikarsha
The relationship or contact between Indriya and its related artha (indriyaartha or sense object) is called Indriyaartha Sannikarsha. This forms the root cause of Gnaana Utpatti or Pratyaksha Gnana (comprehensive and unadulterated knowledge).

Sequence of Indriyartha Sannikarsha – First there is a contact of Indriya with its Indriyaartha. The information is carried to the Manas or mind. The information is later analyzed by the Buddhi (intellect). The aatma or soul observes everything and enjoys the knowledge. (The same sequence happens with each and every Indriya and Indriyaartha in the process of Pratyaksha gnana).
Read related: Pratyaksha Pramana: Knowledge Perception Through Sense Organs

Just Before Finishing
Indriyas are the medium through which we see, feel and sense the whole creation. One cannot imagine a life minus Indriyaas. They are also the link between the creation and the knowledge of everything in the creation that we perceive. Everything we perceive and understand becomes the code of communication of life and life activities without which the whole world would have come to a standstill!! This article is to convey the knowledge of the ‘Indriyas’ extracted from the wisdom of Ayurveda to our knowledge hungry readers.
Click to Consult Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu)

2 comments on “Jnana and Karma Indriyas: Organs Of Sense And Function

  • Nagendra Kumar Jain

    15/08/2022 - 6:21 pm

    Very beautiful article. Really nicely presented.

    Reply to comment

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