Health Definition According To Mahabharata

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Mahabharata is one of the greatest Indian Epics and longest known epic poem (Mahakavya), the other one being Ramayana. It narrates the story of Pandava and Kaurava Princes, and the battle of Kurukshetra. Mahabharata also comprises in it the philosophical preaching, moral ways of living and teachings of humanity as taught by Lord Krishna in the form of Bhagavad Gita Upadesha as done to Arjuna. 

Mahabharata is supposedly written by Veda Vyasa and is said to be composed between 8th and 9th centuries BCE.

Ayurveda in Mahabharata

Ayurveda has influenced and has been influenced by many sciences. Excerpts and references of Ayurveda have been embedded in many treatises and epics, at every stage of its evolution. Ayurveda is the most ancient and long-existing medical science. References of Ayurveda and its branches (Ashtanga Ayurveda), types of medicinal and surgical methods and many herbs mentioned in Ayurveda are found in Mahabharata.

Definition of Swasthya

Definition of Swasthya or Comprehensive Health in Mahabharata
Ayurveda was the first medical science to have given a comprehensive definition of health, covering both physical and mental well being as components of the health.

The reference for ‘definition of swaasthya’ in Mahabharata is as mentioned below. The explanation is similar to the definitions of health as explained in Ayurveda.

Physical component of health

  1. Physical component of ‘health definition’ in Mahabharata

Mahabharata explains swaasthya or health in terms of Sheeta, Ushna and Vayu.

Meaning –
‘Sheeta or cold (coldness), Ushna or heat and Vayu or air, are the three Gunas (qualities, elements, humors) of the body. When there is Saamya or a state of equilibrium (balance) amongst these 3 elements in a being, he or she is said to be in a state of Swaasthya (healthy)’

Ayurveda has also considered the equilibrium of the same 3 elements i.e. sheeta, ushna and vayu for the body to enjoy a comprehensive health or swasthya. The human body, according to Ayurveda is said to be a miniature nature and represent in itself the whole representation of the bigger cosmos. Thus, each physical body is a microcosm and is essentially derived from and belongs to the greater macrocosm. Ayurveda has given the concept of ‘Prakriti-Purusha Samya’ i.e. similarities between the nature (creation) and human body (created).

Just like the Soma (moon), Surya (Sun) and Anila or Vayu (Air) control the nature by controlling the Visarga (cold season or energy giving), Adana (hot season or energy sapping) and Vikshepa (airy season or moderate season having equal distribution of heat and cold) Kalas respectively, the Kapha, Pitta and Vata adorn and control the human body and the functions therein.|

This means to tell that just as the Soma is responsible for Visarga karma in the macrocosm, Kapha does visarga karma (coolant, buffer and protective functions) in the microcosm of human body. Just as the Surya is responsible for Aadana karma in the macrocosm, Pitta does the aadana karma (heat related activities, metabolism) in the microcosm of the human body. Just as the Anila or Vayu is responsible for Vikshepa karma (distributive property) in the macrocosm, the Vayu does the vikshepa karma (distribution functions and balancing act, runs the body and mind activities undisturbed in a state of balance) in the microcosm of the body.
Read related: Ayurvedic Definition of health – WHO vs Ayurveda

Here,

  • Kapha – is a water component of the human body, represents the Soma (moon) and Sheeta (coldness as mentioned in Mahabharata). Kapha and Soma too are cold in nature.
  • Pitta – is a fire component of the human body, represents the Surya (Sun) and Ushna (heat as mentioned in Mahabharata). Pita and Surya too are hot in nature.
  • Vayu / Vata / Anila – is the air component of the human body, represents the Vata (air) and Vayu (air as mentioned in Mahabharata). Vata and Vayu are airy in nature.

The equilibrium or balance of these 3 components is essential for maintenance and sustenance of Swasthya or good health. Ayurveda names these 3 humors i.e. Vata, Pitta and Kapha as Tridoshas. The Vayu, Ushna and Sheeta mentioned by Mahabharata as inevitable factors whose equilibrium is mandatory for good health correspond with Vata, Pitta and Kapha mentioned in Ayurveda respectively. Just like the pillars support the house or a building, Vata (Vayu), Pitta (Ushna) and Kapha (Sheeta) when present in a state of equilibrium or saamya, jointly support the home called human body.

According to Sushruta, ‘No organism can exist without Kapha, Pitta, Vata and Rakta (blood) because the body is supported by these three elements.’

The body is a unique system wherein all the contrasting elements i.e. water (kapha, sheeta), fire (pitta, agni, ushna) and air (vata, vayu) are operating at a time. They don’t meddle with each other’s functions and carry on the activities of the body and mind in a comprehensive way, provided they are not disturbed. In fact, in a state of equilibrium, they complement each other’s functions. If these components are disturbed due to various causative factors including erratic lifestyle practices, incompatible diet, stress, forcible withholding of body urges etc, they tend to contaminate the body elements including tissues and cause various diseases including loss of immunity. When disturbed they also tend to disturb each other. Therefore they need to stay in a state of equilibrium.

Vata, Pitta and Kapha are not only doshas, they are also considered as dhatus and malas (metabolic wastes). This depends on whether they are rendering constructive activities or destructive activities (as when they get vitiated and cause diseases), whether they are in a state of equilibrium or whether they are disturbed. When these 3 elements i.e. Vata (Vayu), Pitta (Ushna) and Kapha (Sheeta) get vitiated and tend to damage the body, they are termed as doshas. When the same elements are in a state of balance and render the body activities normally and sustain the body, are protective in nature, they are called dhatus (act like tissues). When these elements vitiate the body and body elements, contaminate and damage them by not getting expelled from the body, cause blocks in the system, they are called malas (contaminants, excreta, endo-toxins).

Seeing these resemblances, it can be concluded that the Vayu, Ushna and Sheeta mentioned by Mahabharata in the definition of health are the same as Vata, Pitta and Kapha mentioned in Ayurveda.

Mental component of health

  1. Mental component of ‘health definition’ in Mahabharata

In the above said verse, Mahabharata explains swaasthya or health in terms of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas which are the qualities of the Manas or Mind.

Meaning –
‘Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are the 3 Gunas (attributes) of the Manas (mind). When there is Saamya or a state of equilibrium (balance) amongst these 3 elements in a being, he or she is said to be in a state of Swaasthya (healthy)’

Mahabharata has dealt the definition of health in 2 split sections –

  1. A physical component of health which depends on the equilibrium of Vayu, Ushna and Sheeta
  2. A mental component of health which depends on the equilibrium of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas

It cannot be clearly said if Mahabharata had considered the body and mind components together to define a comprehensive health or have given individual importance to both. Mahabharata might have meant that either physical or mental components have to be in a state of equilibrium for a person to be enjoying good health.
But Ayurveda has always defined body and mind health as a comprehensive unit.
Read related: References Of Health And Ayurveda In Mahabharata

Definition of health

we can see that Swastha or healthy person is defined as a person who has Sama Dosha (equilibrium of Vata, Pitta and Kapha), Sama Agni (balanced state of metabolism), Sama Dhatu (equilibrium of tissues in terms of quality and quantity), Sama Mala Kriya (timely and proper elimination of waste substances of the body) and a Prasannatva of Atma, Indriya and Mana (state of balance or pleasantness of soul, senses and mind).

Here we can see that Ayurveda has given importance to both Sama Dosha and Prasanna Manas (equilibrium of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas) in the definition of Ayurveda.

Also according to Ayurveda, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are the 3 qualities (gunas) of manas (mind). Among these, Rajas and Tamas are said to fluctuate towards different extremities and subject to wax and wane. Therefore they are called as Mano Doshas or contaminants of mind. Disturbance in Rajo and or Tamas gunas leads to the manifestation of diseases, mainly mind related diseases. Sattva Guna of mind is not counted as a dosha because it is devoid of any changes or modifications (or is not influenced by other factors) from its natural state.

Sattva is light and illuminator, Rajas is instigator and represents mobility and activity, Tamas is heavy and obstructer. These 3 attributes are contradicted by each other but they collectively are responsible for acquiring good knowledge, just like the combination of oil, thread (wick) and fire illuminate things. Sattva is free from impurities. Hence Sattva is apparent, well-being, virtuous and it is attracted only towards pleasure and knowledge. The balance or equilibrium state of these three gunas brings about healthy state of mind faculty.

Just Before Finishing –
In this article I have tried to explain the definition of Swasthya or health as explained in Mahabharata and the similarity of definition with those given in Ayurvedic treatises. Ultimately it is the comprehensiveness of body and mind, body elements (Vata, Pitta and Kapha or Vayu, Ushna and Sheeta according to Mahabharata) and mind elements (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas) which define Swasthya or complete and good health!!
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