Mansa Dhatu (मांस धातु)
Mansa dhatu (मांस धातु) is the 3rd dhatu in order of 7 dhatus described in Ayurveda. It is that structural unit or body tissue which performs the important function of covering and protection of body. The word 'Mansa' literally means flesh or meat. Thus, Mansa dhatu is fleshy body tissue which makes it equivalent to muscle tissue identified by western medicine.
व्युत्पत्तिः ॥ Etymology
The word 'Mansa' (मांसः) is derived from Sanskrit root called “Mans” (मांस) meaning flesh or meat. Flesh in the body of any animal is present as a covering to main skeleton or bones. It takes part in the process of movements and protects the delicate structures inside the body by providing firm covering. Thus, Mansa dhatu is that component in body, which covers body parts, takes part in movements of joints of bones and enhances body mass.
पर्यायाः ॥ Synonyms
Mansa dhatu is mentioned at various places in the treatises by various different synonyms. Pishita (पिशित), Kravya (क्रव्य), Palala (पलल) and Amisha (आमिष) are some of the synonyms for mansa dhatu used in Ayurveda literature. Synonyms are used at places to specifically highlight mansa dhatu’s peculiar function in that context.
मांस धातु उत्पत्तिः॥ Formation of Mansa Dhatu
The mansa dhatu is formed from its predecessor rakta dhatu (रक्त धातुः). When Rakta dhatu is subjected to the process of micro-transformation (सूक्ष्मपचनम्), one processed part of it is specifically utilized to provide nourishment to the next dhatu in order i.e. Mansa Dhatu (मांस धातुः). This part is responsible for development and nourishment of mansa dhatu in body. Transformation of this fluid part of rakta into solid form mansa happens due to action of vayu (वायुः), jalam (जलम्) and tejas (तेजः) mahabhutas.
स्थानानि॥ Location of mansa dhatu
Mansa dhatu is solid in nature. It covers the body and protects inner organs. The chief sites of Mansavaha srotas (मांसवह स्रोतस | channel of transportation and metabolism) are snayu (स्नायु | ligaments, muscles) and twak (त्वक् | skin). Thus, Mansa dhatu lies in snayu and twak in abundance.
पांचभौतिकत्वम्॥ Panchabhoutik constitution
Mansa dhatu is developed from Rakta dhatu which displays presence of all 5 mahabhutas equally. Thus Mansa dhatu also possesses all 5 mahabhutas in it. However, since it is solid in nature it shows abundance of prthvi mahabhuta.
The chief function of mansa dhatu is to provide covering and protection of inner organs from external and environmental factors. This function is referred as lepanam (लेपनम्) by Acharya Vagbhata.
लेपः-उपदेहो, मांसस्य कर्म| तदुपलिप्तान्यस्थीनि चेष्टां क्षमन्ते| (Asht. Hrud. 11.4) 
lepaḥ-upadeho, māṁsasya karma| tadupaliptānyasthīni ceṣṭāṁ kṣamante|
Covering and protection (Lepana) is the main function of mamsa dhatu. . It provides support for various movements and protection to the inner organs too.
..मांसं शरीरपुष्टिं मेदसश्च..(Sush. Samh 15.5)
..māṁsaṁ śarīrapuṣṭiṁ medasaśca..(Sush. Samh 15.5)
Providing strength to the body and nourishment to its successor adipose tissue (meda dhatu) are additional functions.
- Mamsa dhatu is also inevitably involved in sustaining the strength of the body (bala). 
उपधातु ॥ Upadhatu of mansa dhatu
Vasa (वसा | muscle fat ) and Tvacha (त्वचा | skin) are known to be the metabolic byproducts of Mansa dhatu metabolism. Thus, these are known as upadhatus of mansa dhatu.
Skin, which is considered to be the largest organ of human body, is known as tvak (त्वक्) or tvacha (त्वचा) in Ayurveda and it is directly associated with Mansa dhatu. Therefore mansa dhatu metabolism plays significant role in maintaining the health of skin.
मलाः ॥ Mala of Mansa dhatu
According to Ayurveda, there are some external orifices in the body which regulate the exchange of substances between body and outer environment. Nasal cavity, oral cavity are some of them. In all such external orifices various secretions are accumulated. These secretions which in optimum amount perform the function of protecting the inner skin of these orifices are believed to be the waste by-products of mansa dhatu metabolism. These are known as kha-malas (ख-मलाः | kha-cavity, malas-wastes). Kha-malas are thus malas of mansa dhatu.
मांससारता लक्षणानि॥ Mansa sara
Those who have supreme quality of mansa dhatu in a body are identified by some characteristic features. These features are called as mansa-sarata features (मांससारता लक्षणानि). Most of these features are manifested on various parts of body and joints. Thus one can identify the quality of mansa dhatu by assessing presence or absence of following signs.
शङ्खललाटकृकाटिकाक्षिगण्डहनुग्रीवास्कन्धोदरकक्षवक्षःपाणिपादसन्धयः स्थिरगुरुशुभमांसोपचिता मांससाराणाम् |
सा सारता क्षमां धृतिमलौल्यं वित्तं विद्यां सुखमार्जवमारोग्यं बलमायुश्च दीर्घमाचष्टे ॥ (Char. Samh. 8.105)
śaṅkhalalāṭakr̥kāṭikākṣigaṇḍahanugrīvāskandhodarakakṣavakṣaḥpāṇipādasandhayaḥ sthiraguruśubhamāṁsopacitā māṁsasārāṇām |
sā sāratā kṣamāṁ dhr̥timalaulyaṁ vittaṁ vidyāṁ sukhamārjavamārogyaṁ balamāyuśca dīrghamācaṣṭe ॥ (Char. Samh. 8.105)
Meaning: The persons having essence of mamsa dhatu have their temples (shankha), forehead (lalata), nape (krikatika), eyes (akshi), cheek (ganda), jaws (hanu), neck (griva), shoulder (skandha), abdomen (udara), axillae (kaksha), chest (vaksha), hands (pani), feet (pada) and joints (sandhi) well developed with firm, heavy and good looking muscles. This essence indicates forbearance, restraint, and lack of greed, wealth, knowledge, happiness, simplicity, health, strength and longevity.
मांसधातुदुष्टिहेतवः॥ Vitiating factors
Multiple dietary and lifestyle factors adversely affect mansa dhatu. Once the normal constitution and levels of mansa dhatu in body are disrupted, it lays down the foundation for development of various illnesses. The following are causative factors for the vitiation of channels for transport and transformation of mamsa dhatu (मांसधातु) and mamsavaha srotasa (मांसवह स्रोतसम्).
आहारहेतवः ॥ Dietary causes
- Excessive consumption of food that increases secretions and causes obstruction (अभिष्यन्दि abhishyandi),
- Eating excessively bulky food or excessive meat
- Overeating food that is heavy for digestion (takes time for digestion)
विहारहेतवः ॥ Lifestyle causes
- Sleeping in day time
मांसधातु उपयोगित्वम् ॥ Importance of Mansa dhatu in health and wellbeing
Mansa dhatu performs the crucial function of providing covering and protection of body. Thus it is the important component of defense system of the body. Immunity of any individual depends upon the strength of that person called as 'balam' (बलम्) in Ayurveda. It is specifically mentioned that the one who possesses 'balam' shows nourished, toned and stable musculature. Reversibly if the mansa dhatu is not well nourished the person will have weaker immune system and overall strength. Thus strength of the individual and mansa dhatu are interdependent.
Ayurveda acharyas have identified the need of having the best quality of mansa dhatu in order to acquire good tolerance, endurance and immunity by a human being. This significant role of mansa dhatu in one's health and well-being has been described by Acharya Charaka as follows,
सममांसप्रमाणस्तु समसंहननो नरः| दृढेन्द्रियो विकाराणां न बलेनाभिभूयते॥
क्षुत्पिपासातपसहः शीतव्यायामसंसहः| समपक्ता समजरः सममांसचयो मतः॥ (Char. Samh 21.18-19)
samamāṁsapramāṇastu samasaṁhanano naraḥ| dr̥ḍhendriyo vikārāṇāṁ na balenābhibhūyate॥
kṣutpipāsātapasahaḥ śītavyāyāmasaṁsahaḥ| samapaktā samajaraḥ samamāṁsacayo mataḥ॥ (Char. Samh 21.18-19)
Meaning: A person with a balanced proportion of muscles and compactness of the body and firmness in sense organs is not affected by diseases. Such people can tolerate hunger, thirst, the heat of the sun, cold and physical exercise. Their digestion, assimilation of food, and muscle metabolism are in a state of equilibrium..
- Charaka Samhita (Chikitsasthanam Adhyaya 15 Sutra 29)
- Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 5 Sutram 8)
- Ashtanga Hrudayam (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 11 Sutra 4)
- Sushruta Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 15 Sutra 5)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 21 Sutra 18-19)
- Charaka SAmhita (Chikitsasthanam Adhyaya 15 Sutra 17)
- Charaka Samhita (chikitsasthanam Adhyaya 15 Sutra 18-20)
- Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 8 Sutra 105)
- Available from charakasamhitaonline.com
- Charaka samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 5 Sutra 15)
- Sushrut Samhita (Sutrastanam Adhyaya 15 Sutra 20)
- Charaka Samhita (Vimanasthanam Adhyaya 8 Sutra 116)