Indriyas (इन्द्रियाणि)

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Indriyas form one of the integral parts of the union called as ‘Ayu’ (आयुः। Life) of an individual. Indriyas refer to the organs that are essential for obtaining the knowledge of outside world and perform actions in response to this knowledge to maintain life. Thus, Indriyas are correlated with Sense organs and motor organs of human body. They are total 11 in number. Jnanendriyas (ज्ञानेन्द्रियाणि।), karmendriyas (कर्मेन्द्रियाणि।) and Manas (मनः।) are the components of Indriyas faculty.

परिचयः॥ Introduction

Ayurveda offers the knowledge of methods for maintaining and enhancing Ayu (Life) of an individual. Ayu is defined as the close of union of 4 essential components namely, Sharira (शरीरम्। Physical Body), Satva or Manas (मनः। Mind), Atman (आत्मा। Consciousness or life energy) and Indriyas (इन्द्रियाणि। Sensory and motors organs). Thus, each and every component of this union is equally important for survival. Among these, Sharira and Indriyas are such components that connect individual’s life with the external world. Here, Indriyas are believed to perform the function of obtaining the knowledge of outside world and provide the essential stimulus or signal to the body or mind to perform necessary functions to survive in this world. Without Indriyas knowledge of outside world and performing any kind of action in response to these stimuli is not possible. Thus, these are considered the important tools of knowledge as well as action which work in close union with other 3 components viz. Shaira, Manas and Atman.

इन्द्रियाणि तथा तेषाम् भेदाः॥ Number and Types of Indriyas

Total 11 Indriyas are described in Ayurveda and they are known as ‘Ekadasha Indriyani’ (एकादश इन्द्रियाणि।). They are described as follows,

ज्ञानेन्द्रियाणि॥ Jnanendriyas (Sensory organs)

These are the Indriyas responsible for generating stimuli for gaining knowledge through 5 senses of sight, smell, sound, touch and taste.[1] These are 5 in number and as follows,

  1. Chakshu Indriya (चक्षुरेन्द्रियम्। Organ capturing and transferring sensations related to 'Sight')
  2. Ghrana Indriya (घ्राणेन्द्रियम्। Organ capturing and transferring sensations related to 'Smell')
  3. Shrotra Indriya (श्रोत्रेन्द्रियम्। Organ capturing and transferring sensations related to 'Sound')
  4. Rasana Indriya (रसनेन्द्रियम्। Organ capturing and transferring sensations related to 'Taste')
  5. Sprashana Indriya (स्पर्शनेन्द्रियम्। Organ capturing and transferring sensations related to 'Touch')

ज्ञानेन्द्रियेषु पञ्चमहाभूतानाम् अधिक्यम् ॥ Dominance of element (Panchamahabhuta) in each Jnanendriya

Ayurveda believes that all Indriyas are composed of 5 basic elements (पञ्चमहाभूताः।). Although each Indriya has all 5 basic elements in it, there exists dominance of 1 particular element (महाभूतः।) for one Jnanendriya (ज्ञानेन्द्रियम्। sensory organ).[1] This dominance is responsible for specific action of that Indriya. Therefore, understanding this association between Indriya and basic element is important in order to comprehend the disturbances and ailments of these Indriyas as well as to find right methods to stabilize these imbalances to restore their normal function. The association is described below in the table.

Association of Jnanendriyas with Panchamahabhutas (5 Basic elements)
Indriyas Site/ Body part embedding Indriya Dominant basic element
Chakshu Indriya Eyes Agni (Fire)
Ghrana Indriya Nose Prthvi (Earth)
Shrotra Indriya Ears Akasha (Space)
Rasana Indriya Tongue Jala (Water)
Sparsha Indriya Skin Vayu (Air)

कर्मेन्द्रियाणि॥ Karmendriyas (Motor organs)

These type of Indriyas are responsible to perform appropriate actions as a response to any generated stimulus.[2] There are 5 such Indriyas and are listed as follows,

  1. Hastas (हस्तौ। Both hands)
  2. Pada (पादौ। Both legs)
  3. Guda (गुदम्। Anus)
  4. Upastha (उपस्थम्। Phallus or Sexual organ)
  5. Vak (वाक् / वाचा। Speech)

मनः॥ Manas (Mind)

Also known as Satvam (सत्वम्।). It is 1 in number. Though Manas is a separate entity in the union of Ayu, it is also counted under Indriyas since it has a capacity to gain knowledge independently and it is only when Manas in united with a particular Indriya it can capture and transfer stimulus from object in outside world. Moreover, one can not perform any voluntary action physical or verbal in response to knowledge gained from outside stimulus, if Manas is not united with motor organ at that point of time. It is the important link between Atman and Indriyas in the process of gaining any kind of knowledge.

मनःपुरःसराणीन्द्रियाण्यर्थग्रहणसमर्थानि भवन्ति|| (Char. Samh. 8.7)[3]

manaḥpuraḥsarāṇīndriyāṇyarthagrahaṇasamarthāni bhavanti||

Meaning: he sense organs are capable of perceiving objects only when they are associated with the mind.

Moreover, Manas possesses the unique ability to link with Jnanendriyas (ज्ञानेन्द्रियाणि। Sensory organs) as well as karmendriyas (कर्मेन्द्रियाणि। Motor organs) by performing both the actions i.e. gaining the knowledge and deciding the response activity. Thus, it is called as Ubhayatmakam Indriyam (उभयात्मक इन्द्रियम्। Capable of performing both types of actions).

इन्द्रियबुद्धयः॥ Function of Indriyas: Perception & Action

All types of Indriyas perform specific action vital for the survival of the Individual in this world. Each Indriya is assigned exclusive action and this is called as the function of that Indriya. Since Manas can perform varied types of activities owing to its unique nature and role it is not listed in the table below. Refer Manas for details.

Indriyas (इन्द्रियाणि) Indriyas (इन्द्रियाणि) Site/ Body part embedding Indriya (इन्द्रिय अधिष्ठानानि) Function (इन्द्रियबुद्धयः कर्माणि च)
Jnanendriyas Chakshu Indriya Eyes Knowledge of site (दर्शनम्।)
Ghrana Indriya Nose Knowledge of Smell (गन्ध ग्रहणम्।)
Shrotra Indriya Ears Knowledge of sound (श्रवणम्।)
Rasana Indriya Tongue Knowledge of Taste ( रसनम्।)
Sprashana Indriya Skin Knowledge of Touch (स्पर्शनम्।)
Karmendriyas Hasta Hands Holding/grasping/collecting (ग्रहणम् धारणम् च।)
Pada Legs Locomotion (गमनम्।)
Guda Anus Excretion (उत्सर्गः।)
Upastha Sexual Organ/ Phallus Excretion/ Secretion (उत्सर्गः।)
Vak Speech Speaking/ expressing/ reacting (संभाषणम्।)

इन्द्रिय महात्म्यम्॥ Significance of Indriyas in Life

All the objects can be classified as animate and inanimate. The basis for this classification is not presence or absence of atman (soul) in specific objects. Because atma is described as vibhu (ubiquitous, i.e. present everywhere). But the presence of atman is manifested through sense organs. Therefore, presence or absence of indriya (sense organs) is taken as the base for classification of animate and inanimate objects.

सेन्द्रियं चेतनं द्रव्यं, निरिन्द्रियमचेतनम्|| (Char. Samh. 1.1.48)[4]

sendriyaṁ cetanaṁ dravyaṁ, nirindriyamacetanam||

Sense organs here do not refer to only externally known organs like eyes, ears etc. Indriya are subtle and therefore imperceptible entities. Externally known organs like eyes, ears etc. are just their tools. E.g. plants do not exhibit external sensory organs like eyes etc., but they have all the sensations which are realized by subtle indriya present internally. It is significant to note that it was known to ancient Indian scholars, and also to Vaidyas (Ayurvedic physicians) specially, that plants do possess sensations like photosensitivity, auditory, taste, olfactory and tactile sensation i.e. all five sensations [5]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 8)
  2. Charaka Samhita (Sharirasthanam Adhyaya )
  3. Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 8 Sutram 7)
  4. Chraka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 1 Sutram 48)