Earth Element – Qualities, Functions, Diseases, Treatment

By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Earth is one among the five elements of nature – water, fire, ether and air. Earth, by all means is a cradle of life of magnificent and natural colors. In Ayurveda Earth is called as Prithvi Mahabhuta.
Read – Panchamahabhuta: Application, Areas of Utility in Ayurveda treatment

Earth, as a part of body – Our physical body is said to be made up of five elements of nature. The human body is called parthiva which means earthly. This is because most of our body parts, mainly the hard structures are made up of the earth element. Example, bones, muscles, hairs, nails ligaments, tendons, moustache etc. Even after the death of the person, only hard structures remain, mainly bones.
Read – Shareera: Formation Of Human Body, Ayurvedic Concept

Earth element and fetus – Earth element is indulged in providing compactness and solidity to the fetal body and enabling proper growth and development. Few women eat mud during pregnancy. This is a pointer that the earth element in the fetus is imbalanced and the hard structures are not being formed properly. This is the language of fetus expressed through mother. When nutritional supplements which enable proper child growth, especially bone and muscle growth, like protein, iron, calcium etc are given to the mother, she may stop eating earth after few days.
Read – Conception And Formation Of Fetus As Per Ayurveda

Origin of Earth Element
The earth element having smell quality takes its origin from the water element. Practically we have seen that when the water is excessively cooled it loses its liquidity and gains the form of ice. Therefore solidity is the condensed form of water. Similarly the earth element is also formed from the water element.

Sanskrit Verse

Qualities of earth element

Gandha i.e. smell is the specific quality of the earth element. We might have experienced a peculiar smell that the earth emits when it rains. No other element emits smell. Therefore smell is the specific quality and nature of the earth element.
Read – Relationship Between Doshas And Basic Elements (Pancha Mahabhuta)

Sometimes we experience smell from non-earthy elements i.e. water and air too. But smell is not their quality. The smell of air or water is due to the association of the particles of earth elements in them.

Apart from having smell, the earth element also possesses the qualities of its predecessor elements – sound of ether, touch of space, shape of fire and taste of water element.
Read – Akasha Mahabhuta: Qualities, Functions, How To Balance

The earth element is also said to take its origin from the gandha tanmatra i.e. the microscopic form of smell which later manifests as the quality of earth element.
Read – Relation Between Doshas, Sense Organs And Perception

That which consists of sight, taste, smell and touch qualities is called as earth element. Among these, the smell is its specific quality and the other qualities are those of other elements. Thus, according to Vaisheshika Darshana, the earth element has four qualities.
Read – Vaisheshika Darshana and Ayurveda: Relation and Similarities

Types of Earth Element

Tarka Sangraha explains earth element and its types as below explained – ‘Among the five elements of the nature, that which consists of smell quality is called as earth element. Therefore the earth is also called as gandhavati i.e. that which has smell’.

The presence of smell with an inseparable relationship is the quality of earth element.

Earth element is of two types. They are Nitya and Anitya.
Nitya prithvi – It means eternal component of earth. This is in a microscopic and unseen form. It is also called as karana i.e. causative earth. This is responsible for creation of the functional or effective earth.

Anitya prithvi – It is non-eternal component of the earth and is derived from the eternal component. This is macroscopic form of earth. It is a karya rupa i.e. effective form because it is derived from its cause i.e. eternal earth. This part of earth is functional.
Read – Bad Prognosis Based On Smell, Touch, Taste, Colour And Voice

This again is of 3 types. They are –

1. Sharira – the body of the earth, i.e. those which are composed predominantly of earth component and possess a structure –

a. Yonija – those which take birth:
a1. Jarayuja – those which take their birth being attached to the placenta are called jarayuja. Example – human beings etc.
a2. Andaja – those which take their birth from the eggs are called andaja. Example – birds etc.

b. Ayonija – those which do not take their birth:
b1. Swedaja – those which are born from sweat are called swedaja.
Example – lice etc.
b2. Udbhija – those which are born from seeds, grow breaking the earth are called udbhija. Example – plants, trees etc.

2. Indriya – the sense organ of the earth –
Ghranendriya i.e. nose is the sense organ which belongs to the earth element. Smell is the quality of the earth element. Earth takes its origin from the microscopic component of earth i.e. smell or gandha tanmatra. Smell is the sensation of the nose. Therefore nose is the sense organ which belongs to the earth element.
Read – Anosmia: Ayurvedic Treatment And Home Remedies

3. Vishaya – the subjects of the earth element –
Mud, stones, wood, metal etc are the subjects of earth element. Anything which is hard is probably made up of earth element. All hard substances are earthy.

Similar explanation is given by Siddhanta Muktavali.
The earth element which consists of different forms is the causative factor for manifestation of smell quality. Earth element consists of all six tastes and two types of smell. It is said to have anushna sheeta sparsha i.e. a touch which is neither cold nor hot.
Read – Six Tastes Of Ayurveda: Qualities, Benefits, Therapeutic Action (Shad Rasa)

Earth is basically of 2 types. They are eternal and inconsistent. The microscopic and invisible earth which is responsible for creation is called eternal earth. The earth which is functional and looks like anything being created is called inconsistent on non-eternal earth. Eternal earth is causative and doesn’t have a form whereas non-eternal earth is an effect created by eternal earth and does have a shape and form.

The non-eternal and structural form of earth represents itself in three ways i.e.

Other qualities of earth element
14 qualities –

  • Sparsha – touch
  • Sankhya – number
  • Parimana – quantum
  • Pruthaktva – differentiation
  • Samyoga – association
  • Vibhaga – separation
  • Paratva – superiority / predominance
  • Aparatva – inferior
  • Vega – speed, velocity
  • Dravatva – liquidity
  • Gurutva – heaviness
  • Rupa – visibility
  • Rasa – taste
  • Gandha – smell
    Read – Heaviness Quality – Guru Meaning, Action On Doshas, Therapeutic Uses

Factors and things belonging to Akasha (Prithvyatmaka Bhavas)
The below said elements belong to earth element. These factors are manifested in fetus in third month of the pregnancy itself.

  • Gandha – smell, perception of smell
  • Ghrana / nasa – nose,
  • Gaurava – heaviness
  • Sthairya – stability
  • Murti / kathinya – hardness, shape

Dissolution of Earth element

Just as one element is formed from the other in chronological order, the dissolution too takes place in a reverse chronology. Ultimately all elements on death dissolve in the first element to be created i.e. space element. In this reverse chronology, the earth dissolves into the water, the water into fire, the fire into air and ultimately the air dissolves into ether. This is also called as pralaya or ultimate destruction, the doom, which is applicable to the universe and also individual.
Read – Drava Guna (Liquidity) – Meaning, Action On Doshas, Therapeutic Uses

Role in Fetus formation

Role of earth element in the formation of fetus
All five elements have a role to play in the formation of the human body while it is growing and developing in the mother’s womb. The key function of samhanana i.e. bringing the integrity and holding the fetus as a single mass is attributed to the earth element.

Samhanana also means providing the compactness to the body. Earth element provides solidity to the body without which it would collapse as a mass. Hard structures including our skeleton are formed by earth element. With the help of water element, it forms a cement substance which holds all cells together and all structures in an integrated way. The shape, size and form of each and every structure are defined and it is provided by earth element. When the earth element is deficit in the formation of fetus, the mother craves to eat earth as a compensatory mechanism.
Read – Monthly Development Of Fetus – Ayurvedic perspective

Dosha relation

Earth element and dosha connection
Earth element is predominant in the kapha dosha. It is associated with the water element to form kapha dosha. Kapha has more of water and comparatively less earth element in it. Just like water and mud form the concrete to hold the bricks together of a construction, the combination of water and earth in kapha holds the cells, tissues and structures of the body together and is thus responsible for compactness and stability of the body.

Organs and Tissues

Organs and tissues predominantly made up of earth element  
All hard structures like bones, ligaments, tendons, hairs, teeth, cartilages etc are formed predominantly by earth element. The outer layer of cells and walls of hollow organs and channels of the body, the nerve fibers and all hard organs are formed by predominance of earth element. Among the tissues, earth element is involved in the making of muscle, fat, bones, bone marrow and semen tissues.
Read – Involvement Of Doshas In Formation Of Organs

Earth element and excreta
Among the excreta, earth element is predominantly present in the faeces. Faeces also has small amount of water element. Increase in earth element in comparison to water element will lead to constipation. If water quantity in faeces increases beyond limits, it may lead to conditions like diarrhoea etc due to decrease in earth element.
Read – Tri Malas – The Three Major Waste Matters Of Body

Earth element and Tastes
Earth element is present in sweet, sour, salt and astringent tastes.

Earth element and health
All hard structures forming the framework of human body and the entire physical support system is provided by the compactness and integrity of the earth element, its balance is of utmost importance. Its relative balance with other elements is also equally important. When earth element is balanced, the entire anatomy of the body is maintained. Not only the hard structures, any structure which has a surface, boundaries and shape is formed by earth element. Balance of earth element is a key for physical integrity and stability.
Read – Activities And Diet For Kapha Balance

Diseases

Earth element and Diseases
Imbalance of Earth element can cause many pathological conditions in the body. The increase or decrease of earth element can occur either individually or in relation to the other elements.

Examples of disorders caused by imbalance of earth element –

Increase in earth element can cause kha vaigunya i.e. deformity of spaces and passages. Example – a kidney stone, ureteric stone or atherosclerotic plaque in the blood vessels. This causes expansion of the vessels and channels and also viscera and leave permanent damage. On the other hand when the earth element gets diminished, integrity and compactness of the structures are lost.  

Imbalance of earth element can take place in 2 forms:
1. Increase and decrease in earth element
2. Primary and secondary imbalance of earth element

1. Increase and decrease of earth element in the body
a. Increase in Earth element – Increase in earth element leads to increase in quantity of hard structures in the body. There may be extra growth of bones, muscles, teeth, nails and other hard structures.

Herbs, medicines and food which cause depletion of these hard structures may help in reversing the condition, but only in earlier conditions. If the condition cannot be reversed, the extra growths may remain permanently.
Read – Calcaneal Spur (Heel Spur) – Ayurvedic Treatment, Tips and Remedies

This condition may occur as an imbalance of earth element in the body or increased supplement of foods which support the tissues formed by earth element in the body or may also be a congenital predominance of earth element.

Systemic diseases leading to the increase in earth element cannot be ruled out. In these conditions, the other elements will be relatively imbalanced. The structures of the body formed by those elements too will be disturbed and cause pathological manifestations therein.

Example, Gigantism, acromegaly, obesity, formation of stones in the kidney and ureters, constipation, hardness of the muscles etc. indicates deposit of excessive earth element in the body.
Read – Urinary calculi – Home Remedies, Ayurvedic Treatment, Diet, Recipes

b. Decrease in Earth element – Decrease in the earth element leads to reduction in quantity of hard tissues of the body. This too can be pathological or congenital. This also may be due to an imbalance of earth element in the body or deficit supplement of foods which support the tissues formed by earth element in the body or may also be a congenital presence of deficit of earth element.

There may be deficit and retarded growth of bones, muscles, teeth, nails and other hard structures.

Herbs, medicines and food which increase these hard structures may help in reversing the condition, but only in earlier conditions. If the condition cannot be reversed, the deficit growths may remain permanently. In these conditions too, the other elements will be relatively imbalanced. They may in fact get increased. Pathological conditions will manifest in the structures of the body formed by those imbalanced elements. 

Example, short stature and mal-developments of the body, dwarfism, brittle bones, premature fall and graying of hairs, premature tooth fall and dental problems, weak joints and muscles, pain in bones, muscles and soft tissues, weakness, conditions like polio etc, indicates excessive depletion of earth element in the body.
Read – Effective Ayurveda treatments for Knee Osteo Arthritis (SandhiVata)

Causes of Imbalance

Causes of imbalance of earth element in the body
The causes of imbalance of earth element in the body are food choices and life activities which increase or decrease the earth element, diseases which cause imbalance of earth element or congenital causes.
Read – Srotas: Body Channels and Duct systems – Easy Explanation

Diagnosis of imbalance of earth element
The earth element is represented by the smell sensation. Excessive, deficit or perverted smells often give a clue to the imbalance of the earth element in the body, so does any disease of the nose.

Normal musculo-skeletal system and absence of structural disorders related to the solid organs or the walls of hollow organs is an indicator of balance of earth element.
Read – Doshas And Musculo-Skeletal System

Treatment

Treating Earth element imbalance
Earth element imbalances are replaced by foods which are rich in qualities of earth element and help in increasing the earth element when it is decreased and foods which are deficit of qualities of earth or possessing earth depleting qualities (rich in air, ether or fire elements).

Foods rich in sweet, sour, salt and astringent tastes should be administered in skillful combinations to increase earth elements in the body. Similarly foods rich in pungent and bitter tastes should be used to deplete excessive formation of earth elements in the body structures. Similarly unctuous and heavy foods should be administered to increase earth elements while foods rich in light and dry qualities shall be administered to destroy and remove excessive earth element in the body.
Read – Benefits of Sweet Taste – Ayurveda Description, Effect On Body 

Treating Vata and Pitta – Vata is made up of air and ether elements. Pitta is made up of fire and water elements. When vata or pitta or both increase, they are antagonistic to kapha, which is made up of earth and water elements. Most of the kapha structures, are made up of earth element. Thus, vata and pitta increase can cause degeneration and inflammation and hence damage the earth components in the body and also the structures formed by earth. Therefore treating vata and pitta is very essential. On the other hand, decrease in vata and pitta allows excessive accumulation of earth elements in the body which is also harmful.
Read – How To Balance Pitta Vata Dosha? 6 Points To Consider

Treating Kapha
Earth and water elements make up kapha dosha in the body. This kapha governs many tissues i.e. lymph, muscles, fat, bone marrow and semen and also faeces. When there is relative imbalance in the components making up kapha in terms of increase of earth or decrease of earth components, the disorders of the mentioned components are manifested. In these conditions kapha should be addressed with appropriate measures. Earth imbalance may be considered in diseases caused due to imbalance of kapha.
Read – Dhatu – 7 Body Tissues As Explained In Ayurveda

Other factors which help in restoring balance of earth element –
Taking tridosha balancing foods and lifestyle, daily living and seasonal regimen will help in restoring balance of earth element.

Not withholding the natural reflexes of the body, like the urges for hunger, thirst, sleep, defecation etc.
Good exercises, Yoga and Pranayama will be extremely helpful in combating the earth element imbalance.
Read – Health Benefits Of Yoga: Mind And Body

Primary, Secondary Imbalance

Primary and secondary imbalance of earth element in the body

a. Primary Imbalance of Earth Element
When the Earth element is individually imbalanced all by itself, it will be considered as primary imbalance of earth element. Primary imbalances are generally congenital.
Read – How To Make Prognosis Of Disease According To Ayurveda?

b. Secondary Imbalance of earth element
Imbalance of earth element occurs as a result of influence of other factors and the relationship of earth element with other elements at a given point of time. There will be relative imbalance of the elements and there will be an impact of the imbalance of other elements on the quantity and quality of earth elements and the structures formed by it.

When the damage related to the hard structures of the body in the form of pathological increase or decrease occurs as a result of the vitiation or imbalance of some other element, the condition will be called as secondary imbalance of earth element. In this condition, the other elements will be associated with the morbid and imbalanced earth element in the causation of disease pathology.
Read – Understand Kapha Dosha By Its Functions

Examples –
Earth and water elements combine together to form Kapha dosha in the body. If there is mutual imbalance between these two components, the increase and decrease of the hard structures will be caused due to their mutual imbalances.

The bony joints of the body are made up of kapha, mainly shleshaka kapha. When the earth element in kapha increase beyond that of water component, there is accumulation of earth element in between the joints.
Read – Shleshaka Kapha – Location, Functions, Imbalance, Disorders, Treatment

This accumulated component of earth element will produce crystals and loose bodies in the joints, reduces the lubrication of the joints since the water component of kapha has reduced. There is rubbing of bony ends due to reduced lubrication and increased friction. The bones get eroded and damaged, further leading to degeneration and inflammation. This causes arthritis and other pathological conditions of the bony joints leading to the destruction of earthy bones. Here, the earth components are destroyed because of reduction of water components which support the components formed by earth elements forming a cementing substance, keep them intact, and lubricated.

Similarly the bones are made up of predominantly earth element. The bones are also abodes of vata i.e. air element and ether element. When the air and ether element composing the vata get increased in the bone, they destroy the earth element and hence the bone tissue is destroyed and lost. This leads to conditions like osteoarthritis etc.
Read – Bone Mineral Density In Women: Staying Healthy With Strong Bones

Likewise, the increase of air and ether elements in the bone causes porosity of the bones while reducing its mass which is formed by earth element. This leads to conditions like osteopenia and osteoporosis.

The majja dhatu i.e. bone marrow tissue which is said to fill the bones according to Ayurveda is a tissue which belongs to the kapha category. When there is decrease in this tissue, the bone tissue loses its support, i.e. the loss of water element in the form of marrow leads to the destruction of earth element in the form of bone tissue.

These changes take place in the body just like the earth gets dry and cracked when its wetness and unctuousness is not maintained with constant rain or water body in and around it. Therefore the nature too is balanced with each element being in its proportions and supporting the other elements. When there is mutual imbalance, we suffer from nature’s fury.
Read – Vata Increase Caused Due to Tissue Depletion: Dhatu kshaya

Similar changes afflict the water component when there is decrease in earth element. The muscle element is made up of more earth and less water elements. When the earth element decreases in the muscle and when the watery component increases, the muscle becomes weak and flaccid. The joints and limbs will not get support from the muscles and the body would become weak and collapse.

In this, the pathological changes can take place in both ways.
1. Earth element imbalance causing imbalance of water element (primary imbalance of earth element)
2. Water element imbalance causing imbalance of earth element (secondary imbalance of earth element)

Similarly the impact of the imbalance of other elements over the earth element and vice versa should be understood.

Deformity of space and structure (Kha Vaigunya) caused by increase or decrease of earth element in the body
When there is abnormal increase in the earth element there is deposition of earth element in structures or its formation.

  • Increase of earth element in the blood vessels will cause formation of plaques and atherosclerosis. This would subsequently lead to block of blood vessels, congestion and deficit supply of blood to the related organs. This would disrupt the elasticity of the blood vessels and death of the tissues supplied by blood by those vessels.
  • Similar mechanism causes formation of stones in the urinary and biliary tract and formation of fibres in the muscle tissue.
  • Increase of earth element in the faeces will cause constipation.
  • Increased deposit of earth element and subsequent blocks in the channels will put pressure on the surrounding structures and will cause disturbance of their functions. Since the space and movement of things in the channels will be disrupted, it can be considered as the primary increase of earth element leading to the interruption of space and flow i.e. ether and air elements.

When there is abnormal decrease in the earth element there is depletion of earth element in the related structures. This leads to flaccidity of structures and tissues leading to the laxity of organs and channels and their expansion beyond limits.

  • Structures may lose integrity, composure and compactness and also may collapse leading to severe impairment of functions of the related structures formed predominantly by the earth element.
  • Weak and brittle bones, pathological dislocation of joints and fracture of bones, unusual laxity of muscles and their weakness, unusual expansion of channels and ducts of the body leading to accumulation of abnormal fluids in the cells and structures etc is an effect of deficit earth element in the body.
  • Osteoporosis, osteopenia, osteoarthritis etc are caused by decrease of earth element in the bones.
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