Agni or the transformative fire is the core of any metabolic change inside our body.
Anabolism and catabolism are two processes constantly taking place in our bodies. And both these processes need energy and raw material. This energy and raw material come from digestion.
That’s why master Sushrut says that agni is like the god inside the body. Without agni or digestion, there can be no life. The basic concept of agni is a system that takes an input and processes/digests/burns it to produce a specific output.
Digestion is the most important and extensive chemical transformation happening in our body. But, numerous other transformational processes extend to the cellular levels. All these transformational processes are also calledagnis.
Also, Koshthagni (Abdominal Fire), Kayagni (Metabolic Fire), Jatharagni (Catabolic Fire), Pachakagni (Digestive Fire), all could be understood as a synonymous to agni and used in ayurveda classics for different level understanding of agni
But grossly there are thirteen different types of agni or digestive fires inside the body. The most important is the abdominal fire or Koshthagni.
Agni is a transformative force that manifests in different metabolic functions throughout the body. Digestion is the foundational metabolic function.
The Sanskrit word koshtha refers to a box/cavity. Therefore, an agni or digestive power that resides boxed up in a cavity is calledKoshthagni.
Normally, Koshthagni signifies the stomach as the main part of the digestive system. However, it includes the entire alimentary canal. Here, the alimentary canal serves as a cavity where the agni (digestive power) cooks the food to release nutrition.
There are two types of glands in our body, the exocrine and endocrine glands. Endocrine glands normally produce hormones and they secrete their products directly into the blood. But exocrine glands work differently. They secrete their secretions into another organ.
Some of the important examples of exocrine glands are –
- Digestive glands in the stomach
These glands secrete their secretions in a specific cavity. Their secretions are harsh (acidic/basic) and aid digestion.
These glands are akin to the fire stations that offer their part of the offering in this grand fire sacrifice of digestion. So, these glands are also a part of Koshthagni.
Koshthagni has multiple other synonyms. Some of the important ones are kayagni,Jatharagi, Pachakagni
Koshthagni(koshtha – cavity, agni – fire) is the primary digestive force that works through the alimentary canal and other digestive cavities like the liver, pancreas, etc.
The human body has many Sanskrit synonyms. Each word for body conveys a deeper physiological meaning.
Sharir – an entity in the process of constant breakdown (catabolism)
Deh – an entity in a constant process of building up (anabolism)
Kaya – an entity that harbors both constant anabolism and catabolism.
The transformational energy that sustains the constant processes of anabolism and catabolism in the body is kayagni.
Kayagni is a general synonym for Koshthagni. However, it offers a broader perspective of action than Koshthagni. Digestive energy is the door to nutrition. Both the building up and breaking down processes depend on this fundamental energy to act.
Kayagniis the overall metabolic fire that runs different chemical conversions in the body. It is the sun-total of all other types of agni or anabolic or catabolic changes.
The word jathar normally means gut or belly or stomach or abdomen. So, the digestive power that resides in the stomach or the abdominal area is called Jatharagi
But the word Jathar has another meaning – hard/dense. Therefore, Jatharagi is a transformational energy that works on the dense food which could be understood as digestion occurring in alimentary canal on whatever dense or raw food we eat, breaks it down, and makes nutrients available for absorption.
The word root “pach” refers to the process of cooking/ripening/digestion. Therefore, the term Pachakagniis the digestive fire that helps in the digestion of food from complex to simpler form to provide optimum nourishment to the body.
All the above-mentioned terms provide different aspects of the digestive fire that is the source of energy for the body.
Digestive fire manifests itself as the power that breaks down the complex food compounds and cooks them to release nutrition
The word Dhatu means “something that sustains or carries”. Dhatu is that which supports body (sharira), mind(manas), and prana(life). Dhatus are the essential tissue structures that sustain the body’s metabolism. Ayurveda mentions seven fundamental tissues in the body –
- rasa(chyle/ essence of food)
- mansa(muscular tissue)
- meda(Adipose tissue)
- asthi (Bony tissue)
- shukra(Reproductive tissues – sperm/ova)
Dhatuvagni (Tissue Fire)
This sequence of Dhatu is very important as they are formed in the same sequence. For example, chyle forms the blood. Blood churns out to make muscular tissue, muscular tissue condenses to form the fat tissue, and so on.
This conversion process is called dhatu paka and the conversion fire that helps one dhatu to mold and mature into a successive dhatu or tissue is called Dhatuvagni.
Just like Koshthagni, each Dhatuvagni has three roles –
- Break down the cell structure of the inferior tissue
- Reconstruct successive tissue structure from the broken-down raw material
- Segregate waste formed as the by-product of the conversion process.
In other words, as the supreme soul branches out in the form of myriad living beings, the kayagnide centralizes and enters each system and cell to sustain life. The base of this transformational pyramid is the Koshthagni, the digestive fire in the alimentary canal. This agni is the fuel house for all other higher digestive fires or Dhatuvagnis.
We have seven Dhatuvagni that work constantly to rejuvenate the body tissues.
- rasagni(transformational fire to form chyle)
- raktagni(fire that forms blood)
- mansagni(fire that forms muscular tissue)
- medagni(fire that forms Adipose tissue)
- asthyagni(fire that forms Bony tissue)
- majjagni(fire that forms marrows)
- shukragni(fire that forms reproductive tissues – sperm/ova)
According to Ashtang Hridyam, the site of Dhatuvagnis is the liver.
The seven tissues (dhatu) in the body (tissue fluid, blood, muscles, fatty tissue, bones, marrows, and reproductive tissue) have their unique conversion processes called dhatuvagni.
Bhutagni (five elemental agni)
As we know everything in this universe is a structural matrix of five elements called panchmahabhuta, so the basic composition of the human body, as well as the food we eat, is five elements. So Bhutagni refers to that part of agni that breakdown the product of digestion into subtle bhautik (elemental) components. So there following 5 types of bhutagni
Parthiv Agni (agni for earth element)
Apya agni (agni for water element)
Taijasa agni (agni for fire element)
Vayaveeya agni (agni for air element)
Akasheeya agni (agni for space element)
Ayurveda says that the universal agni (the fire element) manifests itself in the human body in the form of digestive fire. This digestive fire called kayagni (kaya- body metabolism, agni-fire) is responsible for all chemical/heat-based changes in the body.
This fire exists in different forms in different parts of the body. The primary agni exists in the digestive tract called the koshthagni/jatharagni/pachakagi. The chemical processes that form different tissue systems are called dhatuvagnis.
I hope this information helps everyone to appreciate the depth of Ayurvedic wisdom. In the next blog, let us explore the details of dhatuvagni and their mode of action.