Purusha (पुरुषः)

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Purusha (Samskrit पुरुषः) is a complex concept whose meaning evolved in Vedic and Upanishadic times. Depending on source and historical timeline, it means the cosmic man or Self, Consciousness, and Universal principle.

परिचय || Introduction

During the Vedic period, Purusha concept was one of several theories offered for the creation of universe. Purusha, in Rigveda, was described as a being, who becomes a sacrificial victim of gods, and whose yajna creates all life forms including human beings.

In the Upanishads, the Purusa concept no longer meant a being or cosmic man. The meaning evolved to an abstract essence of Self, Spirit and the Universal Principle that is eternal, indestructible, without form and all pervasive.The Purusa concept is explained with the concept of Prakrti in the Upanishads. The universe is envisioned, in these ancient Sanskrit texts, as a combination of perceivable material reality and non-perceivable, non-material laws and principles of nature. Material reality, or Prakrti, is everything that has changed, can change and is subject to cause and effect. Purusa is the Universal principle that is unchanging, uncaused but is present everywhere and the reason why Prakrti changes, evolves all the time and why there is cause and effect. Purusa is what connects everything and everyone, according to various schools of Hinduism.

There is a diversity of views within various schools of Hinduism about the definition, scope and nature of Purusa.


According to the expository Brahmana books or lexicons, ‘Purusha’ has several meanings such


1. पुरति अग्रे गच्छति || purati agre gachchati (He who goes ahead)

2. पिपर्ति पूरयति बलम् यः || piparti puurayati balam yah (That which fills all with his strength)

3. पूर्षु शेते यः || purshu shete yah (He who lies inside a township).

4. Pur-usha, the dawn in the city; He who is filled with light;

5. Puru-sha – filled with wisdom and eternal happiness; citizen of Heaven

Purusha with its three kaleidoscopic syllables, pu-ru-sha, keeps unfolding in a never-ending play, the image of the creation like a musical theme developed by a skillful musician.

In the Upanishads and later texts of Hindu philosophy, the Purusa concept moved away from the Vedic definition of Purusa and was no longer a person, cosmic man or entity. Instead, the concept flowered into a more complex abstraction.

Both Samkhya and Yoga schools of Hinduism state that there are two ultimate realities whose interaction accounts for all experiences and universe - प्रकृति || Prakrti (matter) and पुरुष || Purusa (spirit).

Hinduism refers to Purusa as the soul of the universe, the universal spirit present everywhere, in everything and everyone, all the times.

  • Purusa is a Universal Principle that is eternal, indestructible, without form and all pervasive.
  • Purusa is in the form of nature’s laws and principles that operate in the background to regulate, guide and direct change, evolution, cause and effect.
  • It is Purusa or Chaitanya form, in Hindu concept of existence, that breathes life into matter, is the source of all consciousness, one that creates oneness in all life forms, in all of humanity, and the essence of Self.
  • It is Purusa, the cause in Hinduism, as to why the universe operates, is dynamic and evolves, as against being static.

Both Samkhya and Yoga school holds that the path to मोक्ष || moksha (release, Self-realization) includes the realization of Purusha.

तद् एकम् || Tad Ekam As in नासदीय सूक्तं || Nasadiya Suktam (Rig Veda)

Rig veda

clearly talks about the Origin of Creation in the 10th mandala, which is popularly known as the Nasadiya suktam.

"न मृ॒त्यु: आसीत् अमृतं॒ न तर्हि॒ || " (10.129.2)

death existed, nor the immortal" "

आनी॑त् अवा॒तं स्व॒धया॒ तत् एकम्तस्माद्धान्यन्न परः किञ्चनास || (10.129.2)

That One

was breathing without breath, of its own nature (by its own inherent impulse, self-sustaining), There was That One then, and there was no other" 

The implication here is That One was alive and waiting to happen, despite the

complete absence of the means to exist.

तपस॒: तत्महि॒नअजाय॒तएकम् || (10.129.3)

Meaning : "That One, enclosed in nothing (void), was born from heat (tapas)".

So, prior to creation, the Creation Sukta does not describe a state of "nothingness" but rather "तद् एकम् || tad ekam (That One)" which is, "Spaceless, timeless, yet in its own way dynamic and the Sole Force, this Absolute.

This Creation unfolded & evolved from Ekam, That One, which is,The Ultimate Supreme Reality, the Source of Supreme Consciousness. This Ekam, That One is the very same PURUSHA

Purusha - As in मुण्डक उपनिषद् || Mundaka upanishad

Mundaka Upanishad is the vedanga of the Atharvana Veda. Verses 2-5 describe the attributes of the Purusha.

"दिव्यो ह्यमूर्तः पुरुषः सबाह्याभ्यन्तरो ह्यजः | अप्रणो ह्यमनाः शुभ्रो ह्यक्षरात्परतः परः || " (Mund. Upan. 2.1.2)

Meaning : Replete without a form, this Purusha, all pervading and internal, unborn, without life (breath) or intellect, from Him arises life, breath and mind.

It was said that from that Imperishable Being, everything proceeds; the world is created by That. That Supreme Imperishable is the divine, formless Purusha. Here Purusha is to be understood in the sense of essential Consciousness. The origin of all things is Consciousness.

Verse 2.1.3 wonderfully describes that from this great Purusha (एतस्माज्जायते || etasmaajjayate), everything comes.

  • The cosmic प्राणो || prana, Hiranyagarbha, emanates from this Supreme Brahman.
  • The Virat, which is called here the मनः || manas, also emanates from that Brahman.
  • The सर्वेन्द्रियाणि || sarvendriyaani or indriyas , or all the sense organs, also emanate from That Purusha. They are actually the feeders, the tentacles of consciousness. 
  • The five elements खं वायुर्जोतिरापः पृथिवी || kham vayurjotitirapah pruthivi – (earth, water, fire, air and ether); पृथिवी विश्वस्य धारिणी || pruthivi vishvasya dharini (The very Earth that sustains us), the basis of all, emanate from That.
  • The whole ब्रह्माण्ड || Brahmanda, the fourteen worlds, which are the permutations and combinations, modifications of gross forms or subtle forms, or the real forms of the five elements, all these come from one breath, as it were, of this one Supreme Being, the Purusha.

Purusha - As in अत्मनोपनिषद् || Atmanopanishad

The abstract idea Purusa is extensively discussed in various Upanishads, and referred interchangeably as महा-आत्मन || maha-atman and ब्रह्मन् || brahman (not to be confused with a person).

Rishi Angirasa of the Atmopanishad belonging to the Atharvaveda explains that Purusha, the dweller in the body, is three-fold:

  • the बाह्यत्मन् || Bahyatman (the Outer-Atman) which is born and dies
  • the अन्तरात्मन् || Antaratman (the Inner-Atman) which comprehends the whole range of material phenomena, gross and subtle, with which the Jiva concerns himself
  • the परमात्मन् || Paramatman which is all-pervading, unthinkable, indescribable, is without action and has no संस्कार || Samskaras

Purusha - As in साङ्ख्य || Saamkhya

Samkhya school of darshanas states that there are two ultimate realities whose interaction accounts for all experiences and universe - Prakriti (प्रकृति | Matter) and पुरुष || Purusha (पुरुषः | Atman). Sankhya analyzes the cosmos into a dualistic, and atheistic scheme.

In other words, the universe is envisioned as a combination of perceivable material reality and non-perceivable, non-material laws and principles of nature.

  • Material reality, or Prakrti, is everything that has changed, can change and is subject to cause and effect.
  • Universal principle, or Purusa, is that which is अक्सर || aksara (unchanging) and is uncaused.

The Purusha is pure consciousness, is itself inactive yet whose presence disrupts the equilibrium of the three Gunas in their unmanifest condition. The disruption triggers the emergence of the manifested condition of empirical reality we experience, states the text.

The first premise of Sankhya philosophy is the universal fact of suffering. Cutting the root of rebirth is the only way to final emancipation from suffering, according to Sankhya. The only way to fight suffering is to leave the circle of संसार || samsara (transmigration between births and deaths) forever. This is the liberation of Purusha, in Sankhya, normally called कैवल्य || kaivalya (isolation). It comes about through loosening of the bond between Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha enters into liberation, forever.

Samkhya school holds that the path to मोक्ष || moksha (release, Self-realization) includes the realization of Purusha.

Purusha - As in पुरुष सूक्तं || Purusha Suktam

The Purusha Suktam is the most popular Sukta among all the Suktas in the four Veda Mantra Samhitas. It is found with some variations in all of them.

  1. In the Rig Veda Mantra Samhita it is the 90th Sukta in the 10th Mandala.
  2. In the Shukla Yajur Veda Vajasaneya Samhita it is Adhyaya 31.
  3. In Taittiriya Aranyaka, it is the 12th anuvaka in the 3rd Kanda.
  4. It is also found in Sama Veda & Atharva Veda with some variations.

It gives a description of the adhyatmik unity of the universe. It presents the nature of Purusha or the cosmic being as both immanent in the manifested world and yet transcendent to it. 

The Supreme infinite Reality when expressing through Its own creativeness identifies with the Total-Causal-Body and becomes the ईश्वर || Eswara (God); and God, when He expresses with the Total-Subtle-Body, identifying with this Urge-to-create becomes the Creator (later identified with Brahma, हिरण्यगर्भ || Hiranya-garbha or प्रजापति || Prajapati) ; and when the Creator projects forth through the Total-Gross-Body, He comes to play as this universe in space and time (Virat). Cosmic Form of the Lord is विराट पुरुष || Virat Purusha. When the Creator comes to identify with what He had projected in His Creation, He becomes, the जीव || Jiva (individualized entity).

What are the processes and stages through which the Universe had emerged out in this act of Divine यज्ञ || Yagna (the great sacrifice)?

These are most poetically visualized and sung in the Vedas. The PURUSHA SUKTAM is a Sukta of Praise adoring the Mighty Spirit Divine.

The Purusha is defined and described as a being who pervades everything conscious and

unconscious universally. He is poetically depicted as

सहस्रशीर्षा पुरुषः सहस्राक्षः सहस्रपात् || sahasrashirsha purushah sahasrapat

(a being with thousand heads, eyes and legs),

"स भूमिं विश्वतो वृत्वात्यतिष्ठद्दशाङुलम् || "

"sa bhumim vishvato vruttvatyatishthdvshnshdulam || "

(enveloping the earth from all sides) and transcending it. He is the Life, the Consciousness, by which everything functions.

पुरुष एवेदं सर्वं यद्भूतं यच्च भव्यम् || purusha evedam sarvam yadvabhatam yachcha bhavyam

(All manifestation, in past present and future, is held to be the Purusha alone).  

एतावानस्य महिमातो ज्यायाँश्च पूरुषः ||

etavansya mahimaato jyayaanscha purushah

(The Total-Universe is the Single Body of the One Self, He alone expresses through all). 

Creation is described to have started with the origination Virat or the cosmic body from the Purusha. In Virat, omnipresent intelligence manifests itself which causes

the appearance of diversity.

तस्माद्विराळजायत विराजो अधि पूरुषःस जातो अत्यरिच्यत पश्चाद्भूमिमथो पुरः ||

tasmadviraljaayat virajo adhi purushas jato atyarichyat paschadvbhamimatho purah ||

Purusha - As in आयुर्वेदः || Ayurveda

Purusha refers to a person or a human being in general. Ayurvedic classics specify that the term ‘Purusha’ denotes Chetana dhatu (‘consciousness, soul or life element’).  The knowledge of life offered by Ayurveda is for longevity, health and well-being of ‘Tridandatmaka Purusha’ which is called as Adhikaran (Object) of Ayurveda.

Etymology according to Ayurvedic classics

The term purusha is composed of 2 words.

Pure shareere shayati iti

Where, ‘Pure’ means City and ‘Shayati’ means sleeps or resides

Thus, the term Purusha means the one which resides inside the body (indicated by the word city). It is believed that ‘Jivatma’ resides in the human body and therefore, the term ‘Purusha’ denotes the Jivatma (soul/consciousness or life element) inside the living body.

Importance of ‘Purusha’ according to Ayurvedic classics

Acharya Charaka has pertinently highlighted the unparallel role of purusha in living world. Acharya says that no object or experience in world can be perceived without the presence of Purusha. Darkness and light, Truth and untruthful, knowledge in Vedas and good or unethical actions, body, pleasure and pain perception, movement, rest, speech, intelligence, birth and death, bondage and liberation; nothing could be perceived without the presence of Purusha in this world. This clearly indicates that the Purusha is the cause of perception and also the prime cause for the creation. (charaka Sharir 1/ 41)

Various components of Purusha described in Ayurvedic classics

Purusha is one and single entity. However after reviewing other shastras, Ayurveda acharyas have mentioned various components of Purusha described elsewhere and specified the meaning of term 'Purusha' when used in context of Ayurveda shastra. Ayurveda acharyas have described Purusha from different perspectives as follows,

कर्मपुरुषः|| Karmapurusha

This is also known as षड्धात्वात्मकः पुरुषः|| ‘Shad dhatwatmaka purusha’ or चिकित्साधिकृतः पुरुषः || ‘Chikitsadhikruta Purusha’. This purusha is the one which is commonly referred as human being and it is for him, the knowledge of life in Ayurveda has been described. This purusha is composed of ‘Panchamahabhootas’ (5 basic elements) and the 6th element ‘Jivatma’ (the life element or consciousness of human being). (sushruta sutra 1) (sushruta sharir 1) Since Chikitsa (Treatments and procedures) can be prescribed and conducted on the living physical body only, this type of purusha is called as ‘Chikitsadhikruta purusha’ (the purusha indicated for treatments offered in Ayurveda) or ‘Karmapurusha’.

एकधात्वात्मक: पुरुषः|| Ekdhatwatmaka Purusha

When purusha refers only to the consciousness inside the human body then it is called as ‘Ek dhatwatmaka purusha’ i.e. Purusha composed of single element named ‘Chetana’ (life element/living force) Citation needed

त्रिदन्डात्मकपुरुषः|| Tridandatmaka Purusha

Acharya Charaka has clearly mentioned that, knowledge about life offered in Ayurveda is related to the Ayu of त्रिदन्डात्मकपुरुषः । Tridandatmaka Purusha.  सत्वम्। Satva (Mind), आत्मा। Atman (Life energy) and शरीरम् । Shariram (Body) are the three basic components. The union of these three components form the tripod of life. The entire life depends and sustains on this union. It must be understood that any one of these is not sufficient to uphold the life individually. When each one of these factors supports other and form a union, they develop the ability to sustain the life. When any one of these factors is absent and their union breaks, the life discontinues. Hence each of these 3 factors and their union hold equal importance. This union is also called as पुमान् । Puman or चेतनम् । Chetan and Tridandatmaka Purusha

चतुर्विंशतिकः पुरुषः || Chaturvinshatika purusha

Also known as ‘Rashi purusha’. This form of Purusha refers to the union of 24 basic principles of evolution and existence of life in this world. These 24 Tatvas (principles) are 8 Prakruti (Primary substances) and 16 Vikaras (secondary substances). 8 Prakrutis are Avyakta, Mahat, Ahankara and 5 Tanmatras (subtle forms of 5 basic elements) while 16 Vikaras are 11 Indriyas (5 sense organs, 5 motor organs and 1 Manas commonly referred as mind), Pancha mahabhutas (5 basic elements of nature).

पंचविंशतिकः पुरुषः || Panchavinshatika purusha

Acharya Sushruta opine that the 24 tatvas when unite make an inert amalgamation which is lifeless until the Jivatma enters into it. Thus, Purusha is composed of 25 tatvas i.e 24 tatvas described above along with ‘Jivatma’ (life element or consciousness) as the 25th Tatva. Such Purusha is called as Panchavinshatika purusha.  


  1. Rig veda