According to ancient Indian philosophy, there are five elements that are believed to be the fundamental constitution of the universe. Referred to in Sanskrit as the pancha mahabhutas, they are earth, fire, water, air and ether. Hindus believe that everything in the world, ranging from plants and human beings to thoughts and emotions, is composed of these elements. According to Hindu thought, humans are charged with keeping these elements in balance, both within themselves and within the planet, for when the elements are out of balance, violence, destruction, confusion and stress prevail.
Water is considered in Hindu thought to be the lifeline of human existence. The blood that runs through the human body is composed predominately of water, just as the earth is composed primarily of bodies of water. Not only is water crucial for the basic survival of plants, animals and humans, it is also vital to maintain hygiene and cleanliness. Rivers, which are venerated in Hindu society, are indispensible as they cater to personal and industrial requirements. Water, therefore, is revered as the crux of civilization. Hindus believe that when the water element is out of balance, natural disasters such as tsunamis, hurricanes and floods occur.
Earth is a neutralizing and solidifying element. All plants, vegetables and fruits spring from the Earth, which humans use for survival. The Earth is also the source of all building materials that humans use to create homes, schools and businesses. Much like water, major industries are dependent on the Earth to function. When the earth element is out of balance, earthquakes and famines can occur.
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Fire is the source of all warmth and illumination. Without the rays of the sun, the Earth would be shrouded in darkness and ignorance. Without heat in the body, people wouldn’t survive the elements, or burn out disease. Hindu’s venerate the fire element because it is used to cook the food that nourishes the body. Just as with the other elements, it is also essential to industry, as it is the cause of electricity.
Air and Ether
Air is revered in Hindu thought as humans' most essential link to life. Air creates and sustains life through breath. In Hindu philosophy, air is called prana, a Sanskrit word that is directly related to breath. Air also nourishes plants in the form of oxygen. Ether, also referred to as space or sky, ties all of the other four elements together. It is within the space of ether that they are able to thrive. It is the highest, yet the most subtle of the elements.