The 6 Rasas in Ayurveda
he word “rasa” has several meanings in the Sanskrit language. It can mean the taste of a substance, the tissue fluid in the body, the digested food in the intestines or the Rasa Dhatu (metabolic milestone or basic tissue of the body). Each meaning has its own importance. However, the taste (as detected by the taste buds in the tongue) is the fundamental meaning of the term Rasa. This dimension of rasa is also the most meaningful for the layman.
Ayurveda describes 6 types of tastes that can be experienced by the physical sense of taste. They are – madhura (sweet), amla (sour), lavana (salty), katu (bitter), tikta (pungent) and Kashaya(astringent). These tastes have distinct qualities and produce unique effects on a person.
Rasa – the genesisA
yurveda is based on the Vedic philosophy. The core of all Vedic sciences is embedded in the belief that the physical world is but a reflection or imagination of the Supreme Being. Therefore, everything physical should emerge from a subtle source. According to this logic, these rasas are formed by the 5 basic elements, namely – akash(space), vayu(energy), agni(heat), jala(fluid/water) and Prithvi(matter/earth). All the rasas are formed from all the 5 elements. However, they are different because of the dominance of different elements in each rasa. The dominant elements in each rasa are –
- Madhura – jala, prithivi
- Amla – Prithvi, agni
- Lavana – jala, agni
- Katu – vayu, agni
- Tikta – vayu, akash
- Kashaya – vayu, prithvi
According to Ayurveda, the taste of a substance has a special physical, metabolic and mental effect on the body. The dominance of specific elements in the rasas imparts different qualities to them. For example, on the physical plane, Madura rasa nourishes the body and eliminates the effect of vata (leanness of the body) and pitta (hunger/ inflammation in the body)
On the mental plane, madhura rasa with the dominance of jala (cohesiveness, friction prevention) and Prithvi (stability, reliability) helps to reduce anxiety. Anxiety is caused by the effect of vata (dominated by vayu). In this way, rasa can help to balance the tridosha (vata, pitta, and kapha) in the body and preserve the health of the individual.
The taste is also supposed to have a spiritual effect, in the long run, for example, satvik or benevolent people prefer madhura rasa or the sweet taste as compared to all other tastes. Madhura rasa, in turn, promotes and sustains their peaceful nature. According to recent scientific studies, it is been proved that different tastes have a different effect on the mind and thus on the body, for example, sweet taste as a pacifying effect on an anxious person.
There is no specific taste that is considered to be the best. Each rasa is a part of the metabolic jigsaw puzzle that helps to balance the effects of the others. However, madhura rasa is considered to be the most nourishing for the mind, body and the soul. Madhura rasa is supposed to prevent the acidic environment in the body. It helps to rejuvenate and maintain the body cells. It is also considered to be an anti-aging rasa.
Knowledge of taste and their effects on human metabolism can help us to make better food choices according to our body requirements. Let us look at the incredible effects of these rasas on the human body. Also, let us try to understand our best options in different health conditions.
ccording to Charak Samhita, madhura rasa has the following properties –
- Madhura rasa is most compatible with the body and is readily absorbed. It nourishes all the tissues of the body.
- It is a rejuvenation agent for the body tissues. It pleases the mind along with the body.
- It is good for strength and complexion.
- It helps to balance the pitta and vata dosha. It is considered to be anti-toxin, anti-inflammatory and satiety inducer.
- It helps to stabilize the body metabolism and heal the wounds.
- It is stable, cool in temperament and heavy to digest.
“Ati sarvatra varjayeta” (excess is always harmful) is one golden rule of Ayurveda. In spite of all the wonderful properties of madhura rasa, one should not consume it in excess. Madhura rasa, like all other rasas, causes harmful effects in the body when consumed in excess. Some of the harmful effects caused by madhura rasa in case of excess consumption are –
- Heaviness, obesity
- Excess sleep
- Cough, cold
- Fever with chills
- Eye disorders
- All kinds of kapha dosha diseases
It is not necessary that all these diseases should occur to a person consuming excess sweets. However, excess consumption of madhura rasa causes increased susceptibility towards all of the above-stated disorders.
Therefore, it is important to have a balanced diet, where madhura rasa is well-adjusted with other rasas.
mla rasa or the sour taste is the second most important rasa in Ayurveda. It is light to digest, hot and unctuous in nature. Therefore, it is a natural pacifier for vata (dry, cold in nature). Sour (acid) taste is the one that generates and promotes digestion. It is responsible for stimulating the taste buds and the secretion of saliva. The saliva helps to line the walls of the esophagus and helps in smooth passage of the food towards the stomach. Amla rasa is acidic and therefore aids in breaking down of the food particles.
Acharya Charak considers amla rasa to the factor in causing fatness rather than the sweet taste. In that case, one should reconsider the advice of drinking lemon water for reducing weight! Amla rasa stimulates the mind and the senses. It also increases strength. Amla rasa is dominated by agni and Prithvi. Therefore, it helps to pacify and correct the flow of vata in the body. Amla rasa is considered to be the best taste for the heart. This statement needs to be scientifically verified still.
However, excess consumption of amla rasa can cause severe problems in the body. Acid is always responsible for the breakdown. In the balanced condition, amla rasa helps to digest the food. But excess amla rasa in the body can break down the vital body tissues. Some of the problems caused by excess consumption of amla rasa are
- Excess stimulation in the gums and loosening of the teeth
- Excessive thirst
- Pitta imbalance
- Inflammation in the muscles
- The weakening of the body joints
- Excess swelling when consumed by the weak, wounded or sick people
- Exaggeration of infection and pus formation in the burns, boils, wounds etc.
- Burning sensation in the heart, throat and chest region
The overall negative effect of excess consumption of amla rasa is inflammation and accelerates the catabolic process in the body. Therefore, it is extremely important to take care of the amount of acidic food consumed by an individual. Now, the right amount of acidic food is not standardized. It is not an exact amount applicable for all. The right amount of any rasa may vary according to the prakrati or the body constitution of the person. For example, Pitta prakrati people should be extra careful while consuming acidic food as even a little amount of amla rasa can misbalance the fiery pitta constitution; whereas kapha prakrati person might be able to use a higher amount of amla rasa without any negative effect. Therefore in order to know the right amount of amla rasa, consult your doctor. However, the best way to find out the best quantity of amla rasa or any other rasa is to listen to your body and not to your tongue!
We hope that this sweet and sour information will help you in leading a healthier lifestyle. In the next blog, we will be discussing lavana (salty) and katu (bitter) taste and their effects on the body. Stay tuned!