Ayurveda: Guna -Attributes

These attributes reflect the proportion of the five elements that substances contain. For example, if earth is the dominant element, it is heavy; if space dominates, it is light. As stated earlier, taste alone cannot determine the attribute of a substance. Attributes can be judged on the basis of both taste and the effect on the body constitution.

All substances have some attributes that cause various effects in the body. Ayurveda texts describe these attributes in different substances. There are 20 such prime attributes in 10 opposing pairs. These pairs become the cause of mutual conflict, because each of them has one opposing property. They are as follows:

l(a).    Guru (heavy): Increases Kapha, decreases Vata and Pitta. Increases heaviness, stoutening and restorative, creates dullness and lethargy. For example, black gram, muscle (musali), etc.

l(b).   Laghu (light): Increases Vata, Pitta and agni, decreases Kapha. Helps in digestion, increases lightness in the body, creates freshness and alertness. For example, green gram, laja (Parched rice flakes), etc.

2(a).    Manda (dull or slow): Increases Kapha, decreases Vata and Pitta. Creates sluggishness, slow action, relaxation and dullness. For example, pumpkin, etc.

2(b). Tiksna (sharp or pungent): Increases Vata and Pitta, decreases Kapha. They have an immediate effect on the body. Promotes sharpness and quick understanding. For example, marking nut (bhilava), red chilly, etc.

3(a). Snigdha (oily or greasy): Increases Pitta and Kapha, decreases Vata and agni. Creates smoothness, moisture, lubrication and vigor, and promotes compassion and love. Its main action is oleation. For example, almond, sesame, etc.

3(b). Ruksa (dry): Increases Vata and agni, decreases Pitta and Kapha. Increases dryness, absorption, constipation and nervousness. For example, barley, guggula, etc.

4(a) Sita (cold): Increases Vata and Kapha, decreases Pitta. Acts as a styptic, creates coolness, numbness, unconsciousness, fear and insensitivity. For example, sandal, couch grass, etc.

4(b). Usna (hot): Increases Pitta and agni, decreases Vata and Kapha. It acts as a sudative, promotes heat, digestion, cleansing, expansion, inflammation, anger and hatred. For example, white leadwort (citraka), asafoetida, etc.

5(a). Slaksna (smooth): Increases Pitta and Kapha, decreases Vata and agni. It acts as a vulnerary, increases smoothness, love and care, and decreases roughness. For example, milk, etc.

5(b). Khara or khuradara (rough): Increases Vata and agni, decreases Pitta and Kapha. It acts as a cautery, causes cracking of skin and bones, and creates carelessness and rigidity. For example, barley, gram, etc.

6(a). Sandra or thosa (solid or dense): Increases Kapha, decreases Vata, Pitta and agni. It nourishes, promotes solidity, density and strength. For example, butter, yogurt, etc.

6(b). Drava (liquid): Increases Pitta and Kapha, decreases Vata and agni. Promotes salivation, compassion and cohesiveness; dissolves and liquifies. For example, buttermilk, sugarcane juice, etc.

7(a). Mrdu or komala (soft): Increases Pitta and Kapha, decreases Vata and agni. It causes loosening, creates softness, delicacy, relaxation, tenderness, love and care. For example, grapes, ghee, etc.

7(b). Kathina or kathora (hard): Increases Vata and Kapha, decreases Pitta and agni. Increases hardness, strength, rigidity, selfishness, callousness and insensitivity. For example, coral, pearl, etc.

8(a). Suksma (subtle or minute): Increases Vata, Pitta and agni, decreases Kapha. It quickly diffuses, pierces and penetrates subtle capillaries, increases emotions and feelings. For example, alcohol, poison, etc.

8(b). Sthula (bulky or gross): Increases Kapha, decreases Vata, Pitta and agni. Causes obstruction and obesity, bring firmness. For example, semi-solid substances, modaka (sweet meat), etc.

9(a). Sthira (stable or static): Increases Kapha, decreases Vata, Pitta and agni. Promotes stability, obstruction, constipation, support and faith. For example, rejuvenating herbs.

9(b). Cala or sara (tremulous or mobile): Increases Vata, Pitta and agni, decreases Kapha. Promotes motion, shakiness, restlessness and lack of faith. For example, non-satiating substances.

10(a). Visada oracipacipa (non-mucilaginous or non-slimy or clear): Increases Vata, Pitta and agni, decreases Kapha. It acts as a depurative or a purifier, Causes isolation and diversion. For example, margosa (nima), alkali, etc.

10(b). Picchila or cipacipa (mucilaginous or slimy or cloudy): Increases Kapha, decreases Vata, Pitta and agni. Heals fractures and causes adhesion, vitality, unclearness and lack of perception. It is heavy to digest. For example, glue cherry (lisora), resins of plants, etc.

These attributes in substances are not merely physical but medicinal. They are determined by the effect of different substances on the body. Just because a substance feels heavy does not mean that it necessarily has heavy attributes. Heaviness and lightness depend on the time taken to digest it. That which is easily digested is light and that which takes time to digest is heavy. Similarly, mustard seeds which appear cold are actually hot because they increase the temperature of the blood.

These attributes reflect the proportion of the five elements that substances contain. For example, if earth is the dominant element, it is heavy; if space dominates, it is light. As stated earlier, taste alone cannot determine the attribute of a substance. Attributes can be judged on the basis of both taste and the effect on the body constitution.

(Excerpted from the book: ‘A Practical Approach To The Science of Ayurveda: A Comprehensive Guide For Healthy Living’authored by Acharya Balkrishna)

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