Sharir – 24 Elements (Tattvas)
As we have seen previously that Hinduism believes in the field-fielder (Kshetra–Kshetragna) theory. Prakruti is the field and Purush is its fielder. Similarly, body is a field (kshetra) and the soul is its fielder (kshetragna). According to Sānkhya scriptures, Prakruti or the nature consists of 24 physical entities or elements (tattvas), whereas, Purush, also known as Ishwar, is a quite distinct eternal entity or ontological element (tattva). Similarly, body, being the part of nature, also consists of 24 elements, whereas, soul or jiv is ontologically quite distinct eternal entity from the body. Both, Prakruti or body and Purush or jiv, are characteristically quite different from each other. One is mortal (nāshvant), decayable, destructible, “trigunātmak” (having three gunas or properties of maya), full of ignorance, etc. The other is imperishable or non-aging (ajar), immortal (amar), indestructible (achhedya), indivisible and impenetrable (abhedya), full of knowledge or knowledgeable (gnātā), subtle (sukshma), etc. When jiv behaves as united or intermingled with its body and Purush is intermingled with Prakruti, it is their combined or inseparable form (anvay swarup). When jiv is behaves as quite distinct from its three kinds of body (sthul, sukshma, and kāran) and Purush or Ishwar remain quite distinct from its three kinds of body (virāt, sutrātmā, and avyākrut) body, it is their distinct eternal form (vyatirek swarup).
These 24 elements are as follows:
1. Five gross elements (called Panch-bhuts): Pruthvi, Jal, Tej, Vayu, and Akash. They are explained and translated in English as Earth, Water, Fire or Light, Air or Gas, and Space or Sky, respectively. But this translation is misleading. Rather, they should be translated as they are.
Five Bhuts (pronounced as Bhoots) are five basic structural elements. They are derived from Tāmas Ahamkār – one of the three types of Ahamkārs. The three Ahamkars, namely, Sātvik Ahamkār, Rājas Ahamkār, and Tāmas Ahamkār are created from Mahattattva which is in turn created from Pradhan-Prakruti.
2. Five subtle elements (called Panch-Tanmātrās, Panch–Vishays, or Panch Prāns): Five subtle or microscopic elements are physical elements at the subatomic level, for example, tanmatras, and physiological elements at the bimolecular level, for example, prans.
Five subtle physical elements are: sound (Shabda), touch (Sparsh), sight/light (Roop), taste (Ras), and smell (Gandh). Each subtle element is a part or meter (mātrā) of each gross element. For example, sound (Shabda) is part (matra) of Ākāsh/Vyom and its main receiving organ is ear, touch (Sparsh) is part (matra) of Vayu/Marut/air and its main receiving organ is skin, sight/light (Roop) is part (matra) of Tej/light and its main receiving organ is eye, taste (Ras) is part (matra) of Aapa/Jal/water/liquid and its main receiving organ is tongue, and smell (Gandh) is part (matra) of Kshiti/Pruthvi/solid and its main receiving organ is nose. Similarly, each vishay is carried by each tanmātrā. Thus, tanmatras are akin to carrier particles of science.
Hinduism has also described five functional or physiological processes at the biomolecular level as five subtle elements, which are collectively known as prāns. Five prāns are: Prān (also spelled as Prāna), Apān (also spelled as Apāna), Vyān also spelled as Vyāna), Samān (also spelled as Samāna) and Udān (also spelled as Udāna). Prans as vital processes are as such not physical elements but as life sustaining entities or forms of energies they are also considered as elements. Along with five prāns, five upa-prāns (pronounced as oopa-praans) are also described in Hinduism. Five upa-prans are: Nāg (also spelled as Naga), Kurm (also spelled as Koorma), Krikara, Devdatt (also spelled as Devadatta) and Dhananjay (also spelled as Dhananjaya)
Five Tanmātrās are five basic carrier elements of vishays to their respective senses. Just as panch-bhuts, panch-tanmatras are also derived from Tāmas Ahamkar, but Prāns are derived from Rājas Ahamkar.
3. Five motor or executive organ systems (called Karmendriyas – (Karma-Indriyas): speech organ (Vāk, Vāni, or Mukh), hands or working organs (Pāni or Hasta), legs or locomotors organ (Pād), excretory organ (Pāyu), and reproductory organ (Upastha).
4. Five sensory organ systems (called Gnanendriyas – (Gnan Indriyas): organ for sound (ear – Karna-Indriya), organ for touch (skin – Tvak or Sparsh-Indriya), organ for seeing (Eyes – Chakshu-Indriya), organ for taste (Tongue – Jihvā or Swad-Indriya), and organ for smell (Nose – Nāsikā or Ghran-Indriya).
Ten Indriyas (five types of motor organs and five types of sensory organs) are derived from Rājas Ahamkar.
5. Four intellectual systems or functional operating units (collectively called Antahkaran – antah + karana: inner operative or executive instruments): They are: Man or Mana, Buddhi, Ahamkār, and Chitt. Chitt is equivalent to Mahattattva of the universe. Just as Mahattattva is primordial form of universe, Chitt is primordial form of body. Chitt is first to appear or develop in the body. Ahamkar is derived from Chitt. Ahamkar is of three kinds: Satvik, Rajasik, and Tamasik. Mana is derived from Sātvik Ahamkar. Buddhi is derived from Rājas Ahamkar.
Thus, five bhuts, five tanmatras, ten prans (five prans and five upa-prans), ten indriyas, four antahkarans, and fourteen presiding deities (devatās) of indriyas (namely, Dis, Vāta, Surya, Varun, Ashvins are for gnanendriyas; Vahni, Indra, Upendra, Mrityu, and Prajapati are for karmendriyas; and Chandra, Prajapati, Rudra, Kshetragna are for antahkarans) are all derived from three Ahamkars which in turn are derived from Mahattattva. Thus, Mahattattva is the primordial form of universe. It is like the matter in the fireball from which the whole Brahmānd (Universe) is evolved. This could be the reason why Vedas and Upanishads describe Mahattattva as Hiranyagarbha or the Golden Embryo.
All of the above physical elements that constitute body and universe, according to Hinduism, are part of Maya – one of the five fundamental eternal philosophical elements. The soul or jiv itself makes an ontologically quite distinct fundamental eternal philosophical element. According to Hinduism, all of the above physical elements are considered incapable of doing anything without soul or jiv. And soul or jiv is considered incapable of doing anything without God. God resides in the soul.