Can anyone please explain to me the meaning of five elements -earth, water, air, fire, ether in context of hinduism?

Ancient cultures like Greece had similar ideas about how everything is made up..but in hinduism does it have more mystical meaning?

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    i think this is a duplicate. the 5 elements are subtle elements, not gross elements. the gross elements are made up of combinations of the subtle elements. For example, the subtle elements water does not 100% directly correlate to the gross element water. Oct 18, 2016 at 4:20
  • You must first understand that our ancients used metaphorical names and stories just about everything. Earth is made of 5 elements, but is predominantly made 'Earth' element .On this I am with Sadhguru. They were explaining the fundamentals of universe with more mundane things. Please see this video youtube.com/watch?v=aaCTs8oeAh8&feature=youtu.be&t=1435
    – user13262
    Jan 18, 2019 at 15:39

3 Answers 3


The five elements you referred to are together called the "Pancha Bhootas".

Now,The Pancha Karmendriyas(Indriyas=Senses,Karma=Activity/Work,Jnana=Knowledge)are related to excretion,reproduction,& the acts of grasping,moving & speaking.

Where as, the "Pancha Jnanendriyas" are related to the acts of smelling,tasting,seeing,touching & hearing.

In the context of "Srishti Karma"(the proccess of creation by the Almighty) the Aiteraya Upanishad describes (as quoted below)how the Pancha Bhootas and Dasa indriyas are inter-connected and how they are created from Him :

I.i.4) Taam abhyatapat, Tasyaabhitaptasya mukham nirabhidyataptasya mukham nirabhidyayata yathaandam: mukhaad vaah, Vaachognir naashike nirabhidyetaam naasikaabhyaam praanah, pranaad vaayuh, akshini nirabhidyetaam, akshibhyaam chakshuhu, chakshusa aadityah, karnou nirabhidyetaam, karnaabhyaam shrotram, shrotaad dishaa, twan nirabhidyata, tvaacho lomaani lomaabhya oushadhivanaspatayah, hridayam nirabhidyata, hridayaan manah, manasa chandramaah, naabhir nirabhidyata, naabhyaa apaanah, apaanaan mrityuh, shishnaam nirabhidyata, shishnaad retah, retasaa aapah/

( The Supreme Self designed the process of creation as follows: from his ‘Mukha’ (face), the mouth surfaced ‘vaak’ the vocal chord from which emerged sound and speech; from the faculty of speech materialised Fire; as the Supreme Self’s nostrils parted, the sense of smell and the resultant Vayu or Air got generated. Similarly His ‘Akshini’ or two eyes turned up vision and eye sight; from the latter emerged Surya or the Sun; from the ears generated sound and the faculty of hearing and the sense of Dishas or directions. From the skin came the sense of touch, herbs and trees. From the heart the mind and Chandra or the Moon. The navel of the Supreme’s physique the organ of outbreath and resultant death to the Beings; The Lord’s seat of generative organ came procreation and semen which materialised water). This was how the cycle of Panchendriyas of the Supreme Self caused Pancha Karmendriyas, Pancha Jnanendriyas and Pancha Bhutas viz. the Body Parts of Deed, Sense and Elements in their respective Places!

I hope these informations help your cause.


Five primary elements appeared at the beginning of the creation, before the universe took shape. They evolved one out of the other, beginning with ether/space.

Their purpose is to carry information about a particular kind of “pleasure” so that ether enables sound and hearing, air enables movement and touch, fire enables shape and sight, water taste, and earth smell. Each element comes with corresponding “tan-matra” - the essence of sound, form etc, and a corresponding sense of perception.

Hearing sound, for example indicates presence of another object and distance. Moving towards the sound is a function provided by the next element in the hierarchy - air. Seeing the object is a function of fire and so on progressively.

All our experiences, therefore, are described in terms of sense perceptions and elements that provide them. They are “real” - as anyone can attest, while things like mass and charge are imaginary imperceptible inventions put in place of actual knowledge.

Mapping these five elements to our bodies is not straightforward, however - because what we perceive as our gross bodies are sensory objects already, not instruments of perception. We can see our skin, touch our ears, smell our breath etc. We can’t see our sense of hearing or a sense of sight. “Legs”, as a sense of action, karmendriya, provide movement but we can just roll in the bed, too, or pull ourselves by our arms.

In another description an atom occupies space, electrons circling around indicate presence of air. Nucleus contains energy - fire. The force that keeps it together indicates presence of water, and it’s made of subatomic particles - earth. This isn’t totally kosher but illustrates how Sankhya gives us a very different approach to understanding the world.


According to Samkhya Yoga , the Universe is made up of two basic elements--matter( solid,liquid and gaseous) and ether(space and an air-like substance that fills the Inter-Stellar space)*.

Life comes out of interaction between Ether(spirit,dehi,atman,purusha) and Matter(body,deha,sharira,prakriti). Energy and Time (Maya ,Shakti) serve as forces that bind body to the spirit.Ref-Bhagabat Gita--ch2-(16 t0 25) &ch13-(13 to 18) and ch8(16 to 22).

Activities associated with Life, are Time Bound activities ,with a beginning and an end.
Transcending the Bondage of Time is Liberation (Mokshya,Mukti,Nirvana).

Advaita (One) Philosophy assumes that all these concepts,element or variables (Matter,Ether,Energy and Time) are in reality ONE (Brahman).Rf--Complete works of Swami Vivekananda --1:14.

Reference link:-http://www.vsc.iitm.ac.in/Vivekananda/Complete%20works/Complete_Works_of_Swami_Vivekananda_-_Vol_1.pdf

  • It's not ether and matter. It's Prakruthi and Purusha. Which I think, is totally different
    – user13262
    Jan 18, 2019 at 15:41

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