The term Sharira (Samskrit: शरीरम्) refers to the physical body of an individual. According to Ayurveda, physical body is that component of the life, which is limited to this world only i.e mortal component. Although Vedas and other shastras identify various components of one’s life by the term Sharira, Ayurveda sticks only to the gross or Sthula Sharira category among Sharira Traya (शरीरत्रयम्). Thus, ‘Sharira’ in Ayurveda refers to the material, physical, mortal body which is the seat of life energy or consciousness in this world. It denotes the body which eats, breathes and moves (acts). Other terms like ‘Deha’ (देहः), ‘Kaya’ (काया), ‘Vapu’ (वपुः), 'Kalevara' (कलेवरम्) are also used interchangeably with ‘Sharira’.
- 1 परिचयः ॥ Introduction
- 2 व्युत्पत्तिः ॥ Etymology
- 3 शरीरस्य परिभाषा ॥ Definition of Sharira by Ayurveda
- 4 शरीरस्य मूलम् ॥ Roots of Sharira
- 5 शरीरस्य क्लेश तथा विनाशस्य कारणम्॥ Factors responsible for maintenance and destruction of Sharira
- 6 शरीरवृद्धीकराः भावाः ॥ Factors responsible for growth of Sharira
- 7 References
परिचयः ॥ Introduction
Ayurveda believes that, any Purusha (पुरुषः। Human being or Individual) is a life and, this life exists only because of the strong union of Satva (सत्वम्। Mind), Atman (आत्मा। Life energy), Indriyani (इन्द्रियाणि। Sensory and motor organs) and Sharira (शरीरम्। Body). Thus, Sharira is one of the 4 vital components of a union which is integral for existence in this world. The entire life (Individual) depends and sustains on this union. In this union, Sharira can be regarded as the body of an individual which provides seat for life energy, senses and mind. Moreover, this body is such a part of the individual which is not subtle like mind or consciousness. Subsequently, it becomes the medium of expression for other components as well as the means of taking outside resources like food or medicines, water and breath that is required for survival.
व्युत्पत्तिः ॥ Etymology
शीर्यते तद् शरीरम् |
śīryate tad śarīram |
The root word in samskrit from which the the term 'Sharira' has been derived, indicates the process of degeneration. Therefore, the word 'Sharira' in Samskrit means, 'the one that is in the process of continuous degeneration'. It denotes the natural tendency of physical body to degenerate or to undergo wear and tear (if not intervened with use of food or medicines). This indicates the mortal nature of human body. However, in the womb before birth, in the childhood and even in the young age the body grows and develops more than undergoing degeneration. This tendency of the body is explained by other synonymously used terms like ‘Deha’ (देहः), ‘Kaya’ (काया), ‘Vapu’ (वपुः) which suggest growing nature of physical body (with the help of food and other nourishing factors).
शरीरस्य परिभाषा ॥ Definition of Sharira by Ayurveda
According to Acharya Charaka, Sharira is the seat for Atma (आत्मा। life energy) and it is composed of derivatives of the Panchamahabhutas (पञ्चमहाभूतानि। five basic elements) in a specific proportion that maintains equilibrium.
तत्र शरीरं नाम चेतनाधिष्ठानभूतं पञ्चमहाभूतविकारसमुदायात्मकं समयोगवाहि | (Char. Samh. 6.4)
tatra śarīraṁ nāma cetanādhiṣṭhānabhūtaṁ pañcamahābhūtavikārasamudāyātmakaṁ samayogavāhi |
Acharya Sushruta has described sharira on the basis of its physical appearance and its parts like organs, tissues, systems developing at the time of its growth in the womb. 
शरीरस्य मूलम् ॥ Roots of Sharira
3 Doshas (दोषाः), 7 Dhatus (धातवः) and 3 Malas (मलाः) are believed to be the basic functional units or roots of the ‘Sharira’.  All of them are composed of different proportions of Panchamabhutas (पञ्चमहाभूतानि। 5 basic elements). It is believed that, any visible characteristic or activity of a human being has its roots in the interplay of these 3 integral components of human body. These 3 components control and represent the structure as well as the function of physical body while maintaining close union with mind, senses and life energy.
शरीरस्य क्लेश तथा विनाशस्य कारणम्॥ Factors responsible for maintenance and destruction of Sharira
Ayurveda has given utmost importance to maintaining the equilibrium of 3 components viz. Dosha (दोषाः।), Dhatu (धातवः।) & Malas (मलाः।). It is said that, when these constituents are in equilibrium, the individual is healthy thus, all of them are called Dhatus in this state. On the other hand, when these 3 components fail to maintain equilibrium (in terms of alteration in their natural quality or quantity) then there is either discomfort or destruction of the body.
यदा ह्यस्मिञ् शरीरे धातवो वैषम्यमापद्यन्ते तदा क्लेशं विनाशं वा प्राप्नोति | (Char. Samh. 6.4)
yadā hyasmiñ śarīre dhātavo vaiṣamyamāpadyante tadā kleśaṁ vināśaṁ vā prāpnoti |
It is clear from the foregoing that, Ayurveda has attributed the status of health and ill-health entirely to the balanced state of 3 components namely Doshas, Dhatus and Malas.
ओज अभावः॥ Depletion of Ojus
Ojus (ओजः) is considered the quintessence of all the Dhatus. Being the essence and the purest form of all 7 types of body tissues, it represents overall strength of the body and thus it is also referred to as the 'Balam' (बलम्) or strength of the body. While describing the nature and other properties of Ojus, Acharya Sushruta has stated that, If this Ojus is depleted it causes degeneration of the Shariram.
ओजः .... प्राणायतनमुत्तमम् || देहः सावयवस्तेन व्याप्तो भवति देहिनः | तदभावाच्च शीर्यन्ते शरीराणि शरीरिणाम् || (Sush. Samh. 15.22)
ojaḥ .... prāṇāyatanamuttamam || dehaḥ sāvayavastena vyāpto bhavati dehinaḥ | tadabhāvācca śīryante śarīrāṇi śarīriṇām ||
शरीरवृद्धीकराः भावाः ॥ Factors responsible for growth of Sharira
In line with Ayurveda’s objective of promoting health of individual, description is found on the role of some important factors in growth of this Sharira. These factors play critical role in growth and development of physical body according to Ayurveda. Superior or inferior quality of these factors decide Sharira's growth or its stagnation.
This topic is another example of brilliance of ancient Ayurveda scholars. They have precisely pointed out the various factors that should be considered together in order to understand the possible reasons for proper or improper growth of physical body of any individual. Listed following are those critical factors responsible for one’s growth and development,
कार्त्स्न्येन शरीरवृध्दिकरास्त्विमे भावा भवन्ति; तद्यथा- कालयोगः, स्वभावसंसिध्दि:, आहारसौष्ठवम्,अविघातश्चेति|| (Char. Samh. 6.12) 
kārtsnyena śarīravr̥dhdikarāstvime bhāvā bhavanti; tadyathā- kālayogaḥ, svabhāvasaṁsidhdi:, āhārasauṣṭhavam,avighātaśceti||
कालयोगः॥ Favorable time of season and age
The natural age of growth and development is childhood and young age while the natural time of year favorable for growth and building strength is Visarga kala (विसर्ग कालः। season of the year where strength of body is naturally superior). (See Rtucharya (ॠतुचर्या। seasonal regimen) for details on Visarga kala). The nature's force aids in the process of growth in this period positively.
स्वभावसंसिध्दिः॥ Natural tendencies of individual
By natural tendencies of individual the growth may happen or may not. The commentator Chakrapani has described this factor to be Adrshta (अदृष्टम् । invisible or unknown). One might correlate this with genetic constitution of an individual for ease of understanding.
आहारसौष्ठवम्॥ Quality of food consumption
Intake of good quality of food having attributes beneficial for body and abiding by all the good dietary practices expounded in compendium is essential for development of superior quality body tissues.
अविघातः॥ Absence of inhibiting factors
In spite of having good quality food at favorable time of life and season, one might face difficulty in maintaining good health and life. This could be because of presence of or practice of some such factors which adversely affect body growth. Classics mention few examples like indulging in unhygienic practices, excessive sexual activity and not following rules mentioned in Sadvrtta (सद्वृत्तम्। noble code of conduct). These practices are regarded as the inhibiting factors for growth and thus adversely affect growth and development.