By definition the word itself means impurity / fault / blemish / vitiator and so on. However, according to the ancient Ayurvedic literature the term dosha has three important meanings / functions. Sharng. 1.5.23-24 gives the three functions of dosha:
Vata, pitta, and kapha are called doshas (blemishes, vitiators), dhatus (supports, tissues), and malas (wastes) in different contexts: doshas because they vitiate the body, dhatus because they support the body, and malas because they contaminate it.
In general these doshas perform the following functions:
Vata protects the body, bestowing enthusiasm (eagerness, desire), exhalation and inhalation, all movements (of the body, mind, speech), initiation (and execution) of urges, maintenance of tissues, proper functioning of senses.
Pitta in its normal state governs: digestion, body temperature, vision, hunger, thirst, appetite, complexion, intelligence, courage, valor, softness (suppleness) of the body.
Kapha in its normal state governs: stability, lubrication, compactness (firmness) of the joints, forbearance (forgiveness, withhold emotions, strain, etc).
Each dosha has a physical nature composed of 5 elements but predominately of two:
Vata is constituted predominately of space and air elements; pitta is made of fire and water elements, predominately; kapha is composed of primarily water and earth elements. In the modern periodic table of elements (comprised of 92 naturally occurring elements or 118 including the artificially created elements) the various individual entities that make up all substances are reduced by the Ayurvedists to 5: space/ether, air, fire, water, and earth. These may be viewed as states of energy which equate to the most rarified forms to those having high density elements or mass.
Each dosha has a special functional nature (qualities) which derives from this predominance of two elements (the exact nature of which varies according to textual source:
Vata: cold, dry, light, rough, mobile, subtle, clear and pervading
Pitta: slightly oily, sharp, hot, light, mobile, and liquid
Kapha: heavy, dull/slow, cold, oily, dense/solid, liquid, smooth, soft, hard, stable, sticky/cloudy, and gross
Each dosha have five special functions or sub-types:
Vata: prana, udana, samana, apana, vyana (their functions in brief, respectively: sensation/breath, speech, digestion/peristalsis, elimination, circulation)
Pitta: pacaka, ranjaka, sadhaka, alocaka, bhrajaka (digestion, coloring of blood, discrimination/emotional integration, sight, skin color/function)
Kapha: kledaka, avalambaka, bodhaka, tarpaka, sleshaka (gastric mucus secretion; support via heart, lungs, spine; taste, lubrication/protection of senses; joint lubrication
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