The term Dosha in Samskrit means ‘a fault, defect or weak point’ in general. It is also used to indicate someone’s noxious quality, crime, guilt or offense. However, in the context of Ayurveda, this term ‘Dosha’ by default, refers to the 3 biological units or bio energies in the body that control entire functioning of the body. According to Ayurveda, Sharira doshas and Manas doshas are separate entities that control the function of body and mind respectively. Vata, Pitta and Kapha are 3 sharira doshas while Raja and Tama are 2 Manas doshas. All of them have a some specific role and function that is vital for life.
The entire physiology and pathology in Ayurveda depends upon the status of 3 fundamental functional units in sharira viz. Doshas, Dhatus and Malas. Among these 3 units, Doshas are always the first to get disturbed by various avtivities, dietary factors, seasonal fluctuations, time of the day and several other factors. Once vitiated they further cause damage to Dhatus, Malas and other components of Sharira and initiate the process of disease development. Thus, Doshas have been given prime importance. In the normal state of equilibrium, they support the body and when vitiated produce the disease. Doshas thus play important role in the pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment of the diseases. Similarly Manas doshas Rajas and Tamas are responsible for disturbances in the normal functioning of the mind.
Sharira Dosha or Tridosha
वायुः पित्तं कफश्चोक्तः शारीरो दोषसङ्ग्रहः| (Char Samh 1.57)
vāyuḥ pittaṁ kaphaścōktaḥ śārīrō dōṣasaṅgrahaḥ|
Meaning: Vata (also called as Vayu), Pitta and Kapha are the 3 Sharira doshas.
Vayu or Vata dosha is the leader of these 3 doshas. It is believed to be the chief controller of all the functions and activities of living body. Moreover, without Vata doshas the other 2 doshas can not manifest them fully. Thus it comes first in the order of 3 doshas.
The word ‘Vāta’ is derived from the verb ‘Vā’ which means Gati (motion). This Doṣa is responsible for all the movements in the body.
This biological unit is said to be dry, cold, light, subtle, mobile, non-slimy and rough in its characteristics and can be pacified by drugs that have opposite properties (i.e., creamy or oily, heavy and thick in their property).
Vata dosha is one and the single energy present all over the body. It is believed to be present in each and every minute part of the body. However, in order to increase the ease of understanding of its function, associate site and modality of treatment; Ayurveda acharyas have described its 5 types.
The 5 types of Vata doshas have specific site in the body and perform specific function. These 5 types of vata doshas are as follows
- Prana Vayu
- Udana Vayu
- Samana Vayu
- Vyana Vayu
- Apana Vayu
In depth description on Vata's role in the body can be found in classical Ayurveda treatises.
Function of vata dosha
Vata dosha controlls all the activities and movements in the body. Various types of vata are responsible for following functions- Salivation, coughing, eructation, sneezing, respiration, deglutition, phonation, secretion of the gastric juice, retaining the food in the stomach or intestine for the required time, helping in absorption of processed and digested food material. Further it also controls elimination of the semen, urine, faeces etc. The movements related with the delivery of fetus are also governed by it. Pulsation of heart and blood circulation, movement of eyes, limbs etc. are caused by vata dosha. Apart from these activities, unvitiated vata dosha in balanced state is also responsible for generation of enthusiasm, vitality, complexion etc.
The word Pitta is derived from the root ‘Tapa’ which means heat (Santāpa). This Dosha is responsible for Pachana and Parinamana (digestion and metabolism) in the body.
Pitta is hot, sharp, mildly unctuous, viscous, sour, mobile and pungent in nature. Pitta can be readily pacified by drugs and food articles having opposite properties i.e. coolants, sweets, bitter and astringent substances.
Acharya Sushruta and Vagbhata have classified Pitta dosha into 5 types on the basis of its sites and functions. The 5 types of Pitta are as follows,
- Pachaka Pitta
- Ranjaka Pitta
- Bhrajaka Pitta
- Alochaka Pitta and
- Sadhaka Pitta.
In depth description on Pitta's role in the body can be found in classical Ayurveda treatises.
The most important function of Pitta dosha is digestion and metabolism. It is that bio energy present in the body which is responsible for bringing out any type of conversion, transformation or change in the nature of any substance from outside world into the bodily substance. Thus it is the bodily form of Agni element in the Purusha. Apart from digestion, various other functions performed by Pitta dosha are to provide pigmentation to the skin, hair etc, power of vision, discrimination of colors and formation of Rakta from the essence of food. Pitta dosha is the one which is responsible for intelligence and ego and thus, Pitta dosha also co-ordinates all the functions of the mind and body.
Kapha is also called Śleṣma. One of its main functions is to provide nutrition to the bodily tissues.
Kapha is heavy and dense, cold, soft, unctuous, sweet, immobile and slimy, and can be subsided by drugs and food articles possessing opposite properties.
Kapha is also of five types viz. Kledaka Kapha, Avalambaka Kapha, Tarpaka Kapha, Bodhaka Kapha and Śleṣaka Kapha.
Kledaka Kapha is situated in the stomach. It is slimy (Picchila) in quality, sweet in taste and has the action of moistening the food ingested. It also protects the digestive organs from being hurt by the digestive juices.
Avalambaka Kapha is located in the chest where it provides the nutrition to the heart. Bodhaka Kapha is found in the tongue and it is responsible for perceiving the taste. Seat of function of Śleṣaka Kapha is joints where it lubricates the joints so that they may function properly. Tarpaka Kapha is situated in the head and gives nutrition to the mental faculties.
Doshas and Panchamahabhutas (Association between Doshas and 5 basic elements)
Significance of Doshas
Manas commonly correlated with mind is one of the integral components of one’s life. Vedas and Bhagvadgita hava clearly mentioned that Satva, Raja and Tama are the 3 properties of manas which carry individual significance. Among these 3 properties Ayurveda makes differentiation and considers Satva as Guna (Good quality) of mind while Raja and Tama are regarded as Doshas of mind.
मानसः पुनरुद्दिष्टो रजश्च तम एव च|| (Char Samh 1.57)
mānasaḥ punaruddiṣṭō rajaśca tama ēva ca||
In addition to Vāta, Pitta and Kapha which are the bodily Doṣa, there are two Mānasa Doṣa viz. Rajas (passion) and Tamas (darkness). Mānasa Doṣa may be held responsible for mental diseases.