Out of the Five-Elements only akasha is the one I am unable to understand till now. How is it related to the earth or a material body? Though we know it's different from air and recedes into outer space, how is it possible to add akasha as an element which forms our body?

How do I explain this to a scholar and explain its significance?

  • IMHO, it's Nabh (नभ् space), not Akasha (sky). Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 5:47
  • @VineetMenon link tells us for Akasha (sky), let me know if its space to which our scripts refer (sometimes wiki is not a genuine source)
    – Trialcoder
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 5:51
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    it's called Akasha in Sanskrit but the translation is not sky, rather Ether (a refuted concept in Physics). Hence, I used the word, Nabh since Akash has a popular meaning of sky. omicsgroup.org/journals/… Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 6:36
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    Akasha is the first subtle element created. Without space, dimensions, nothing else can exist in the universe. There are 5 subtle elements. From the subtle elements the gross material elements are created by different combinations of the subtle elements. As an example, the subtle element water does not directly equal the gross element water. Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 14:11

3 Answers 3


I am giving excerpts from 'The Serpent Power' by Sir John Woodroffe on the Bhutas including Akasa. Sir John compares Akasa with ether but I will remove those parts from the excerpt posted here:

The Indian theory [says] that ...scientific or ponderable matter does not permanently exist, but says that there are certain motions or forces (five in number) which produce solid matter, and which are ultimately reducible to Akasa. Akasa is one of the gross forces into which the Primordial Power (Prakrti-Sakti) differentiates itself. Objectively considered it is a vibration in and of the substance of Prakrti of which it is a transformation in which the other forces are observed to be operating. Lastly, Akasa is not an ultimate, but is itself derived from the super-sensible Tanmatra, with its quality (Guna) whereby Akasa affects the senses; and this Tanmatra is itself derived from the mental I-making principle (Ahamkara), or personal consciousness produced from the superpersonal Jiva-consciousness as such (Buddhi), emanating from the root-energy, or Prakrti-Sakti, the cause and basis of all forms of "material" force or substance. At the back of both "matter" and mind, there is the creative energy (Sakti) of the Supreme who is the cause of the universe and Consciousness itself.

Matter affects the Jiva in five different ways, giving rise in him to the sensations of smell, taste, sight, touch and feel, and hearing.

As already explained, the Tanmatras are supersensible, being abstract qualities, while the senses perceive their variations in particular objects only. These sense particulars are produced from the generals or universals.

From the Sabda-Tanmatra and from the combinations of the later with the other Tanmatras are produced the gross Bhutas (Maha-bhuta), which as things of physical magnitude perceivable by the senses approach the Western definition of discrete sensible "matter". These five Maha-bhutas are Akasa (Ether), Vayu (air), Tejas (fire), Apas (water) and Prthivi (Earth). Their development takes place from the Tanmatra, from one unit of that which is known in sensible matter as mass (Tamas), charged with energy (Rajas) by the gradual accretion of mass and redistribution of energy. The result of this is that each Bhuta is more gross than which precedes it until "Earth" is reached. These five Bhutas have no connection with the English "elements" so called, nor, indeed, are they elements at all, being derived from the Tanmatras. Dynamically and objectively considered they are (proceeding from Akasa) said to be five forms of motion, into which Prakrti differentiates itself; viz, non-obstructive, all-directed motion radiating lines of force in all directions .. affording the space (Akasa) in which other forces operate; transverse motion and locomotion in space (Vayu); upward motion giving rise to expansion (Tejas); and the motion which produces cohesion, its characteristic of obstruction being the opposite of the non-obstructive ether (Akasa) in which it exists and from which it and the other Tattvas spring. The first is sensed by hearing through its quality (Guna) of sound (Sabda)[According to western notions, it is the air which is the cause of sound. According to Indian notions, Akasa is the substratum (Asraya) of sound and Air (Vayu) is a helper in its manifestation]; the second by touch through resistance and feeling; the third by sight as colour; the fourth by taste through flavour; and the fifth by the sense of smell through its odour, which is produced by matter only in so far as it partakes of the solid state.

The hard and stable obstructive "earth" is that which is smelt, tasted, seen and touched, and which exists in space which is known by hearing - that is the sounds of it. The smooth "water" is that which is tasted, seen, and touched in space. "Fire" is what is seen and touched - that is felt as temperature- in space. "Air" is what is so felt in space. And sound which is heard is that by which the existence of Akasa is known. These Bhutas when compounded make up the material universe.

Akasa is space and is the starting point of the other Bhutas. The subject matter of the Bhutas is complicated because it is derived from Yogic and not ordinary experience.


Akasha is present everywhere. It is the substratum of all other bhutas. Without the existence of space, nothing else could exist because there has to be something that will act as a base. And that something is akasha or space that pervades everything. Hence, akasha is one of the five fundamental elements. In fact it is the most important fundamental element as akasha was manifested first and from it alone arose everything else:

tasmādvā etasmādātmana ākāśaḥ saṃbhūtaḥ ākāśādvāyuḥ vāayoragniḥ agnerāpaḥ adabhyaḥ pṛthivī pṛthivyā oṣadhayaḥ oṣadhībhyonnam annātpuruṣaḥ [Tait. Up. - 2.1]

Verily from Brahman arose the space; from space air, from air fire, from fire water, from water earth, from earth minerals, from minerals vegetation and from vegetation man.

So because spae is the most fundamental of the element that acts as the base, not just our body, every other thing like planets and galaxies can be said as made of akasha.

  • shabda or sound tanmatra is the quality of akasha. if akasha is everywhere, then why we cannot hear sound in vaccum ? science says air (vayu) or any material like water or earth is needed for sound to propagate.
    – ram
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 14:10

Rather than having an abstract idea about these 5 elements and in particular about the Akasha element you can also have a more direct and a "related to your own physical body" kind of concept for each of them .

Such expositions of ideas are found in the Yoga Tattva Upanishad (which is associated with the Krishna YajurVeda). Here Lord Vishnu is doing all the explanations:

83(b). There are the five elements: Prithvi, Apas, Agni, Vayu and Akasa.


84-87(a). To the body of the five elements, there is the fivefold Dharana. From the feet to the knees is said to be the region of Prithvi, is four-sided in shape, is yellow in colour and has the Varna (or letter) ‘La’. Carrying the breath with the letter ‘La’ along the region of earth (viz., from the foot to the knees) and contemplating upon Brahma with four faces and four mouths and of a golden colour, one should perform Dharana there for a period of two hours. He then attains mastery over the earth. Death does not trouble him, since he has obtained mastery over the earth element.


87(b)-90. The region of Apas is said to extend from the knees to the anus. Apas is semi-lunar in shape and white in colour and has ‘Va’ for its Bija (seed) letter. Carrying up the breath with the letter ‘Va’ along the regions of Apas, he should contemplate on the God Narayana....


91. From the anus to the heart is said to be the region of Agni. Agni is triangular in shape, of red colour and has the letter ‘Ra’ for its (Bija) seed.

92-93(a). Raising the breath made resplendent through the letter ‘Ra’ along the region of fire, he should contemplate on Rudra, who has three eyes, who grants all wishes, ....


94(b)-96. From the heart to the middle of the eyebrows is said to the region of Vayu. Vayu is hexangular in shape, black in colour and shines with the letter 'Ya’. Carrying the breath along the region of Vayu, he should contemplate on Ishvara, the Omniscient.....


From the centre of the eyebrows to the top of the head is said to be the region of Akasa, is circular in the shape, smoky in colour and shining with letter ‘Ha’.

98(b)-101(a). Raising the breath along the region of Akasa, he should contemplate on Sadashiva in the following manner, as producing happiness, as of the shape of Bindu, as the great Deva, as having the shape of Akasa, as shining like pure crystal, as wearing the rising crescent of moon on his head, as having five faces, ten hands and three eyes, as being of a pleased countenance, as armed with all weapons, as adorned with all ornaments, as having Uma (the goddess) in one-half of his body, as ready to grant favours and as the cause of all the causes.

So,the region from between the centre of the eyebrows to the top of your head is the region of Akasha.Thus,Akasha is not anymore abstract but quite tangible now.

The Supreme Being Sadashiva along with his Shakti(Uma) reside there in the form of Ardhanareeswara.

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