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Ayurveda 101: Seven Dhatus

Within a span of nine months, a single sperm cell and a single egg combine and evolve into a human being, with a pair of limbs, hands, fully functional body organs though delicate—when you think about it you cannot but marvel about the ways of this creation. The ancient classical Sankhya philosophy states that only two ultimate entities make up the entire universe: the purusa, or the spirit, and prakriti, the primordial matter. The science of longevity, Ayurveda, has been derived from this very knowledge. 

While the primordial matter manifests in the form of five elements to make up all of the revealed aspects of the physical universe, it is these five elements that go on to form the three doshas that drive all the processes of our body and mind and determine our physiological and psychological makeup right from the time of conception. 

Ayurveda explains that the body of all living beings is a composition of three dosas, seven dhatus, and waste products like feces, sweat, and urine.  Whatever food gets absorbed and assimilated by our body gets processed into dosas, dhatus, and waste products.  

What are the seven dhatus?

Dhatus are the constituent elements that provide structure and support to the body. Seven dhatus can loosely be understood as seven kinds of tissue systems in our body which are Rasa (plasma), Rakta (blood), Mamsa (muscle tissues), Medas (fat tissues), Asthi (bone tissues), Majja (bone marrow), and Shukra (the reproductive tissues). The nutrients from food, called ahaara rasa, are passed into each level of the dhatus for nourishment, starting from the rasa dhatu. The doshas derived from food enter these tissue systems and it is these dhatus that accumulate the vitiated doshas before the imbalance manifests in the form of diseases. A precarious equilibrium of tridoshas, dhatus and waste products is essential for a healthy body and mind. 

Rasa Dhatu
Rasa can be understood as the essence of the digested food that gets absorbed into the body.  Rasa is the primary water—the nourishment that we receive. It is the first dhatu that is directly derived from food and forms the basis of all the other dhatus. Healthy rasa dhatu in the required amount makes one feel satiated at the physical and psychological level. Rasa dhatu is supported by the water element and kapha dosha. The fluids from the body like menstrual fluid or the nourishing breast milk can be directly related to rasa dhatu. The quality of rasa dhatu depends on the quality of the food we eat and the strength of the digestive fire, or jatharagni. Poor metabolism can affect the quality of rasa dhatu and increased waste in the form of aggravated kapha dosha, making a person lethargic, potentially leading to nutritional deficiencies and ailments related to kapha accumulation. Vitiated vata and pitta dosha also deplete the rasa dhatu by drying it out. Dry and cracked skin, chapped lips signal insufficient rasa dhatu in the body.

Rakta Dhatu
Rakta here stands for the red color of the blood. It is this rakta dhatu that provides color, complexion and strength to the body. Rakta Dhatu is what carries the fire that provides energy and vigor to the body organs and the mind. Primarily made up of fire element, rakta dhatu is supported by pitta dosha. The deficiency of rakta dhatu leads to a decrease in body heat and diminished pitta; and as a result, the mental functions like the capacity to cognize and remember things get hindered.  Excess of this dhatu can lead to skin diseases and autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.

Mamsa Dhatu
Mamsa literally translates to flesh. Mamsa dhatu is what forms our muscles, skin and ligaments. Since earth and fire elements form the basis of mamsa dhatu, it is hot, heavy, dry, hard, and dense in nature. Pitta and Kapha doshas support mamsa dhatu when in balance, by providing structure, cohesion, and assimilation. Excessive and imbalanced mamsa dhatu can manifest in the form of tumors, carcinoma, and cyst whereas lack of mamsa dhatu can cause fatigue and weakness. Consumption of food containing adequate earth elements along with proper metabolism is necessary to have strong muscles and healthy skin. While the earth element is present in abundance in food grains, nuts, and legumes, the ability of rakta dhatu to transform it into mamsa dhatu, called mamsagni, is strengthened by physical activity. A balanced mamsagni along with intake of food rich in earth element, therefore, is necessary in order to build strong and healthy muscles.

Medas Dhatu
Medas dhatu can be related to the fat that provides luster to the skin, moisture and lubrication to various parts of the body including bones and joints, and stores energy to support the body. The primary element that makes up the medas dhatu is water—which constitutes the nourishing nature of fatty tissues. Earth element, on the other hand, supports medas dhatu as the secondary element. Sweat and sebum are the waste products resulting from the formation of medas dhatu. A healthy medas dhatu brings in a deeper level of satisfaction and calmness, which is necessary in order to nurture emotions of love and affection, as well as for a nourished and healthy brain.  Excessive medas dhatu leads to fat deposits in the abdomen and various body parts. An unhealthy quality or amount of medas dhatu not only paves the way to many ailments like obesity, fatty liver and cardiac issues but also makes the body and mind heavy and sluggish. Deficiency of medas dhatu, on the other hand, makes the body excessively thin, and skin and hair dry.  A balanced and healthy proportion of medas dhatu makes the skin soft and hair healthy, brings about balanced emotions, and a soothing voice.  

Asthi Dhatu
Asthi is the Sanskrit word for bones. Asthi dhatu is what provides the base or the solid structure- the skeleton to the body. Derived from medas dhatu, asthi dhatu is supported by the earth and air elements which make it solid, rough, and hard. In addition to the bones, the teeth are also formed by asthi dhatu. The waste products that come out of the formation of asthi dhatu are nails and hair. Excessive asthi dhatu formation can lead to hypertrophy of bones and hypercalcinosis whereas deficiency of the same causes problems like osteoporosis, joint problems, hair loss, fatigue, and brittleness of hair, teeth, and bones. Healthy and balanced asthi dhatu makes a person decisive and confident and an unhealthy proportion of the same can make one stubborn or indecisive and underconfident. 

Majja Dhatu
Majja translates to bone marrow in English. Majja dhatu makes up the tissue that carries electrical impulses in the nervous system. It fills up the empty spaces inside the bones, brain cavity, spine, and nerve channels. The sclera of the eye and the sclerotic fluids are also formed from majja dhatu. The metabolic process of the formation of majja dhatu also results in some waste products in the form of eye secretions.  A healthy majja dhatu brings in a sense of fullness and makes a person focused and compassionate. 

Shukra Dhatu
Shukra dhatu is related to the reproductive tissues like sperm and semen in the male body and the egg in the female body. The Shukra dhatu is last in the subsequent formation of dhatus from rasa dhatu and hence it contains the essence of all the other dhatus- and is the most refined one. A healthy and balanced Shukra dhatu supports creative instinct and ability to reach completion of a project but when in excess, Shukra dhatu, can actually hamper creativity. Excessive sex drive and overindulgence are results of an unbalanced and increased Shukra dhatu and lack of the same can lead to weakness, impotency, and problems related to infertility. 

To think that the knowledge about these basic constitutional elements that make the structure and support the physiology and mind, and how they interact with the tridoshas has been mentioned in Ayurvedic texts cognized thousands of years ago with such precision—long before modern sciences came to being—is truly astonishing.