Embryology As Per Ayurveda

By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S

‘Embryology is branch of biology that studies prenatal development of gamates, fertilization and development of embryos and fetuses’. (Wikipedia)


Garbha shareera is a term coined for embryology in Ayurveda. We can find some specific chapters in treatises like Sushruta Samhita focusing on fundamentals of embryology and materials related to embryology scattered at different contexts. Compiling extracts and related references would give a good gist of embryological basics explained in Ayurveda. Read – Conception And Formation Of Fetus As Per Ayurveda

Tridosha – embryology

Tridosha link to Ayurvedic embryology

According to Ayurveda, Garbha i.e. embryo is said to be formed in womb of mother in below mentioned process.

First of all shukra i.e. sperm and shonita i.e. ovum get united in garbhashaya i.e. womb, uterine tube to be precise. This is fertilization. When sperm and ovum get united, product will be called as shukra-shonita i.e. zygote.

This zygote gets impregnated with –

  • atma i.e. life element
  • 8 types of prakriti
  • 16 types of vikriti

Entire composition of atma, prakriti and vikriti embedded in zygote is called garbha. This embryo gets implanted in uterine cavity. Here, being nurtured by maternal nutrients through fetal circulation happening through placenta and umbilical cord, embryo attains growth and development over a period of 9 months until it is matured enough to be delivered at term of pregnancy. Read – Essential Elements For Conception – Garbha Sambhava Samagri

8 types of prakriti

  • Avyakta – microcosm
  • Mahat – cosmic intelligence
  • Ahankara – feeling of egoism or individuality
  • Shabda – sound
  • Sparsha – touch
  • Rupa – vision
  • Rasa – taste
  • Gandha – smell

Sound, touch, vision, taste and smell are called pancha tanmatras. Read – Purusha: Definition, Types, Characteristic Features

16 types of vikriti are – Pancha maha bhutas + pancha jgnana indriyas + pancha karma indriyas + manas

Pancha maha bhutas i.e. five elements of nature

  • Prithvi – earth
  • Ap / jala – water
  • Teja – fire
  • Vayu – wind / air
  • Akasha – space / ether

Read – Jnana and Karma Indriyas: Organs Of Sense And Function

Pancha jgnana indriyas and manas – 5 sense organs and mind

  • Chakshur indriya – sense organ of vision, eyes
  • Shrotra indriya – sense organ of sound, ears
  • Ghrana indriya – sense organ of smell, nose
  • Rasana indriya – sense organ of taste, tongue
  • Sparshana indriya – sense organ of touch, skin
  • Manas – mind

Read – Indriya Pancha Panchaka: 5 Fives Of Sense Organs

Pancha karma indriya – 5 motor organs, organs of function

  • Vak indriya – vocal apparatus
  • Pani indriya – hands
  • Pada – feet
  • Payu indriya – anus
  • Upastha indriya – sexual organ, penis

Garbha thus formed is processed and developed by five basic elements of nature at various stages of development.

Prakriti – Dosha

Fetus – constitution of an individual – dosha link

We are all born with fixed and predetermined body and mind constitution, which also makes our body types and metal makeover. Constitution is called prakriti which means ‘that which comes naturally’. Body constitution is known as shaareerika prakriti. It is determined by predominance of one or more of three doshas i.e. vata, pitta or kapha. Mind constitution is known as manasika prakriti. It is determined by predominance of either of sattva, raja or tamo qualities of mind.

This prakriti which determines one’s individuality and temperament is all set up right at point of conception. A person is either vata predominant, pitta predominant or kapha predominant. A person develops and inherits certain features and traits on basis of predominant dosha that he beholds right from his conception in his mother’s womb.
Read – Kapha Body Type From Structural, Functional Mental And Social Viewpoint

A combination of two doshas is called dwandwa / samsarga / dual constitution. Example – vata-pitta prakriti. Here either vata can be proportionally more than pitta or pita more than vata or both in a state of proportional balance. Physical activities taking place in body when these doshas are in a state of balance and pathological manifestations occurring in same body when doshas are out of balance are determined on individual and proportional imbalance of dosha(s) making up prakriti. Read – Vata Body Type From Structural, Functional Mental And Social Viewpoint

Predominance of dosha in our constitution is inherited from predominance of doshas in sperm of father and ovum of mother at time of conception. Thus, we start our life by getting tagged with one or other dosha. Birth constitution cannot be changed or altered throughout life. When there is deviation in one’s constitution and its features due to influence of many factors, we call it vikriti i.e. pathological deviation in one’s body type and features.

Example – a person born with vata constitution, who was supposed to have a thin body shape and structure, presents in clinic for treatment of overweight. Person may look bulky and physician may be deceived to identify him as a kapha predominant body type because kapha constitution presents with large body frame and look bulky. But a thorough history gives us a clue that person was thin at birth and during most part of childhood.
Read – Pitta Body Type From Structural, Functional Mental And Social Viewpoint

Later many influencing factors like abnormal diet, lifestyle practices, sedentary life, depression, impact of geographical and environmental factors and comfortable living might have played a part in person gaining abnormal weight. This is vikriti, but person’s body constitution is vata itself. Reverting back abnormalities and bringing vata to a state of balance in this person would be chief motive of treatment. This would re-establish basic constitutional features in given individual.
Read – Effect of Body Constitution On Imbalanced Dosha

Doshas – sperm – ovum

As already said, predominance of doshas in sperm and ovum would determine dosha predominance in zygote, embryo and fetus. This would go on to determine basic constitution of an individual which would never change for life.

Shukra i.e. semen consisting of sperms in general and sperms in particular are said to be soumya i.e. cool and watery in nature. This tissue belongs to kapha group of tissues. Following discipline of residence-resident relationship, kapha resides in semen / sperms by nature. Semen is residence and kapha is resident.

Artava i.e. ovum / menstrual blood is said to be agneya i.e. fiery in nature. It is a form of blood and all synonyms of blood are given to artava. Since pitta resides in blood, pitta also resides in menstrual blood sharing residence-resident relationship. Artava is a sub-tissue of rasa dhatu i.e. lymph tissue. It is formed in form of byproduct of rasa while rasa is in process of transformation into blood tissue. Since it is formed parallel to formation of blood, at same time and since it shares same features of blood tissue, artava is blood like and will have more of pitta features.

Vata, chiefly apana vata, enables expulsion of artava. If artava is taken as menstrual blood, apana vata helps in menstruation. If artava is taken as ovum, apana vata helps in ovulation. Similarly, apana vata helps in normal ejaculation.

Fetus – elements – dosha

While garbha i.e. fetus is developing in mother’s womb, five elements of nature basically participate in various aspects of formation, maturation and development of fetus. Air element helps in division and fragmentation of fertilized ovum i.e. cell division.

Fire element processes zygote and causes dissolution. It can be correlated to dissolution of nucleus and nucleolus of developing cell during early part of cell division and dissolution of zona pellucid of multiplying cells so as to enable developing cells to come into direct contact with endometrium after implantation. Maturity of developing cells is also brought by action of fire element.
Read – Garbhashaya – Anatomy Of Uterus, Ayurvedic Perspective

Water element helps in nourishing dividing cells. This can be correlated to endometrial fluid entering blastocyst to offer nutrition and nourishment. Earth element causes integrity and maintains compactness of cells undergoing division. Ether element provide space for different structures to develop. Same elements also form tridoshas which form constitution of body. Vata is formed by combination of air and space elements. Pitta is formed by combination of fire and water elements. Kapha is formed by combination of water and earth elements.

In second month of fetal development, it is said that embryo under influence of and being processed by sheeta (kapha), ushma (pitta) and vata and its bhutas i.e. elements, forms into a mass. If mass is compact, ball like clump or mass, embryo would be male child. If mass is in shape of a quadrangular stripped muscle, it is of female sex. If shape of embryo resembles that of a bubble, hemispherical in shape, it would be a eunach. Read – Monthly Development Of Fetus – Ayurvedic perspective

Thus, doshas not only form constitution of an individual, they also influence formation and development of fetus at all stages and also determine sex of fetus.

Doshas – organ formation

Role of doshas in forming organs in fetus

When we see development of some organs explained in Ayurvedic treatises, we can see involvement of doshas in formation of these organs during fetal development. Examples –

Kapha is seen to form tongue, testes, white portion of eye and heart. Samana type of vata along with heat of body is said to form liver and spleen. Vata is also seen to be involved in formation of visceral organs and gall bladder. All three doshas are involved in formation of intestines, anus, rectum and urinary bladder. Vata and pitta are involved in formation of channels and muscles of body. Apertures of body are formed by vata. Read – Involvement Of Doshas In Formation Of Organs

Fetal anomalies and Dosha

Doshas and fetal anomalies, multiple pregnancies, birth defects

When vitiated doshas influence fetus during various stages of development, many fetal anomalies are formed. Doshas may also cause different complications related to fetus during its development or during delivery.

Mudha Garbha – Disturbed apana vata is said to cause mal-presentation of fetus and makes delivery of fetus difficult. This condition is called mudha garbha.

Apraja – A condition in which vitiated pitta causes excessive bleeding leading to abortion of fetus is called asruja or apraja.

Putraghni – Putraghni is a condition wherein aggravated vata repeatedly destroys fetus. Thus, repeated abortions occur due to affliction of fetus by vitiated vata. Read – Anomalies, Defects In Fetus, Ayurvedic Treatment

Importance of Vata

Vata is most important factor in fetal development – as already said, vata helps in division of zygote and in differentiation of different body portions. Master Harita tells that hands, legs, head etc body parts are formed by vyana vata, mouth and its aperture is formed by udana vata and anal opening is formed by apana vata.

According to Kashyapa, all activities like splitting and retention in fetus are carried out by vata. According to Bhela, agni i.e. pitta and vata enter body and form different major and minor body parts and also cause growth and activity. According to master Sushruta and Bhavamisra, development of fetus depends on inflation done by vata and nourishment supplied to fetus by rasa. Read – Signs And Symptoms Of Pregnancy – Ayurvedic Perspective

Multiple pregancies

Multiple pregnancies caused by vata – Master Charaka tells that excessively increased vata in uterus, divides zygote into multiple pieces. Number of fetuses formed depends on number of zygote pieces caused by vata. Harita opines that origin of all fetal parts depends upon specific combination of doshas and tissues.

Health of fetus depends on vata. Charaka further tells that vata dosha divides zygote in a way that one part of zygote is bigger than other, then child born from bigger portion will be healthier and child formed from smaller zygote portion will be weaker and unhealthier.

Teratogenic abnormalities

Doshas involved in causation of teratogenic abnormalities – Master Charaka tells – ‘Due to abnormalities of sperms and ovum, deeds of previous life, uterus, time factor, abnormality of menstrual cycles and abnormalities occurring during conception time and dietetics along with mother’s mode of life, vitiated doshas produce abnormalities of fetus. These abnormalities caused by vitiated doshas affect appearance, complexion and sensory system of fetus. Aggravated doshas situated in uterus disfigure fetus just like a tree fallen in river gets disfigured due to effect of being knocked by woods, stones and water currents’.

Abnormalities of semen and vata, as well as vitiated vata located in semen are also said to produce congenital anomalies. Read – Beejopaghata: Sperm Damage And Azoospermia In Ayurveda

Sushruta further tells that due to vitiation of vata and non-fulfilment of desires of pregnant woman, fetus may become humpbacked, maim or crooked armed, lame and dumb and may have nasal voice.

In short, atheism of parents, bad deeds of previous life and aggravation of vata are three main causes for teratologic abnormalities. Commentator Indu opines that other doshas too can cause these problems.

Vata Dushta Shukra

Semen or sperms contaminated by vata will not be capable of impregnating and hence futile in reproduction. Semen contaminated excessively by pitta and kapha too makes conception difficult. Read – Shukra Shodhana Gana: Semen Detoxifying Herbs: Review, Formulations

Mother’s diet – Dosha vitiation

Effects of dosha-vitiating diet of mother on fetus

  • When a pregnant woman consumes vata aggravating foods, vata vitiated by those foods makes fetus idiot, dumb and deaf, lame, humpbacked, dwarf, causes hoarseness of voice and less or more body parts.
  • When a pregnant woman consumes pitta vitiating foods, pitta causes baldness, premature graying of hair, absence of facial hair, tawny color of skin, nail and hairs and other pitta disorders.
  • When a pregnant woman consumes kapha vitiating foods, vitiated kapha causes leprosy, pigmentation disorders of skin.

Read – Diet And Lifestyle For Women In Ayurveda

Vitiated and accumulated doshas are responsible for abortions Master Vagbhata tells that excessive accumulation of doshas, non-avoidance of contraindicated articles, diseases or influence of deeds done in previous life of either mother or fetus, abortion occurs. Most authors have considered vitiated vata to be chief culprit in causation of abortion. Read – Charaka Chikitsa Sthana 30th Chapter – Yoni Vyapat

Garbha Shosha / Vatabhipanna Garbha – It is a condition wherein vata causes dryness of fetus. Dried fetus does not fill properly in mother’s womb and quivers very slowly. It can be compared to intra-uterine growth retardation of fetus.

Upavishtaka / Upashushka Aggravated vata withholds pitta and kapha and compresses nutritional channels supplying fetus. Due to this there is insufficient nutrition of fetus and deficit development of fetus.

Nagodara – When a pregnant woman fasts, eats stale food, does not take adequate fat and uses vata vitiating foods and articles, her fetus gets desiccated and does not grow. It remains in uterus for a very long time and does not quiver. This is called nagodara. Read – Ayurvedic Diet And Lifestyle During Menstruation (Periods)

Lina Garbha – It is a condition caused by fetus complicated and afflicted by vata. Here fetus gets adhered and remains in uterus for long duration.

Mruta Garbha – Among many reasons for intra-uterine death of fetus, excessive aggravation of vata and excessive accumulation of doshas have been named as important etiological factors.

Shukra pradoshaja vikara – Semen or sperms contaminated by doshas cause abortion, miscarriage and children who are always diseased, have less life span and awkward look. Many people will not have progeny in these conditions. Same are symptoms of contamination of semen carrying ducts and channels. Read – Shukrajanana Gana: Herbs To Improve Semen, Sperm: Review, Formulations

Shodhana before conception Ayurveda treatment principles advise aspiring couple to undergo shodhana i.e. cleansing treatments in form of panchakarma before planning a child. This forms blueprint of begetting a healthy child. According to Ayurveda, there is a possibility that sperm or ovum be contaminated by morbid doshas. If union of such contaminated sperm and ovum takes place there would occur many fetal anomalies.

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