Ayurveda teaches that all that is matter is made up of the five great elements (pancha mahabhuta). These elements are Ether (Space/Akasha), Wind (Air/Vayu), Fire (Agni), Water (Jal), and Earth (Prithvi).
Here we are discussing the elements in their subtle form moving from the most subtle (Space/Ether), to the most gross (Earth) element.
The Origin of the Five Great Elements:
In the beginning there was the word or sound, and these sound waves create vibrations. When there are vibrations in Space it creates movement and this gives rise to the element Wind. This movement and vibration creates friction and as this increases it gives rise to heat and the element Fire. When there is heat in space there will be tendencies for condensation and water droplets forming producing the Water element. As the Water increases in volume it gains in mass and weight and gathers cosmic dust and due to forces of nature such as gravity, this mixture of water and cosmic dust gathers together producing the Earth element.
The Attributes of the Five Great Elements:
Ether is space; and for consciousness to exist, space is required. This is the place where everything happens and all exists. It is characterised by the quality of sound. Its attributes are cold, dry, light, subtle, liquid, mobile, sharp, soft, smooth, and clear.
Wind is movement and has the quality of touch and sound. Its attributes are cold, dry, light, subtle, mobile, sharp, rough, hard, and clear.
Fire is energy and has the qualities of sight, touch, and sound. Its attributes are hot, dry. Light, subtle, mobile, sharp, rough, hard, and clear.
Water provides flexibility and has the qualities of taste, sight, touch, and sound. Its attributes are cold, wet, heavy, gross, liquid, static, dull, soft, smooth, and cloudy.
Earth gives firmness and has the qualities of smell, taste, sight, touch, and sound. Its attributes are cold, dry, heavy, gross, solid, static, dull, hard, rough, cloudy, and dark.
Although some of the qualities are shared by more than one element they exist to different degrees in different elements. For example fire, air, and ether all contain the attributes of being dry, light, subtle, but these are the less subtle in fire and more subtle in ether.
The five elements combine to form the Tridosha – Vata, Pitta and Kapha.