According to various Indian schools of philosophy, a tattva (Sanskrit: तत्त्व) is an element or aspect of reality. In some traditions, they are conceived as an aspect of deity. Although the number of tattvas varies depending on the philosophical school, together they are thought to form the basis of all our experience. The Samkhya philosophy uses a system of 25 tattvas, while Shaivism recognises 36 tattvas. In Buddhism, the equivalent is the list of dhammas which constitute reality.


Tattva (/ˈtʌtvə/) is a Sanskrit word meaning 'thatness', 'principle', 'reality' or 'truth'.[1]


Jain philosophy can be described in various ways, but the most acceptable tradition is to describe it in terms of the tattvas or fundamentals. Without knowing them one cannot progress towards liberation. According to major Jain text, Tattvarthsutra, these are:[2]

  1. Jiva - Souls and living things
  2. Ajiva - Non-living things
  3. Asrava - Influx of karma
  4. Bandha - The bondage of karma
  5. Samvara - The stoppage of influx of karma
  6. Nirjara - Shedding of karma
  7. Moksha - Liberation or Salvation

Each one of these fundamental principles are discussed and explained by Jain scholars in depth.[3] There are two examples that can be used to explain the above principle intuitively.

  • A man rides a wooden boat to reach the other side of the river. Now the man is Jiva, the boat is ajiva. Now the boat has a leak and water flows in. That incoming of water is Asrava and accumulating there is Bandha. Now the man tries to save the boat by blocking the hole. That blockage is Samvara and throwing the water outside is Nirjara. Now the man crosses the river and reaches his destination, Moksha.
  • Consider a family living in a house. One day, they were enjoying a fresh cool breeze coming through their open doors and windows of the house. However, the weather suddenly changed to a terrible dust storm. The family, realizing the storm, closed the doors and windows. But, by the time they could close all the doors and windows some of the dust had been blown into the house. After closing the doors and the windows, they started clearing the dust that had come in to make the house clean again.

This simple scenario can be interpreted as follows:

  1. Jivas are represented by the living people.
  2. Ajiva is represented by the house.
  3. Asrava is represented by the influx of dust.
  4. Bandha is represented by the accumulation of dust in the house.
  5. Samvara is represented by the closing of the doors and windows to stop the accumulation of dust.
  6. Nirjara is represented by the cleaning up of already collected dust from the house.
  7. Moksha is represented by the cleaned house, which is similar to the shedding off all karmic particles from the soul.


In Buddhism the term dhamma/dharma is being used for the constitutional elements. Early Buddhist philosophy used several lists, such as namarupa and the five skandhas, to analyse reality. The Abhidhamma tradition elaborated on these lists, using over 100 terms to analyse reality.


The Samkhya philosophy regards the Universe as consisting of two eternal realities: Purusha and Prakrti. It is therefore a strongly dualist philosophy. The Purusha is the centre of consciousness, whereas the Prakriti is the source of all material existence. The twenty-five tattva system of Samkhya concerns itself only with the tangible aspect of creation, theorizing that Prakriti is the source of the world of becoming. It is the first tattva and is seen as pure potentiality that evolves itself successively into twenty-four additional tattvas or principles.

Theistic traditionsEdit

Kashmir ShaivismEdit

In Kashmir Shaivism the tattvas are inclusive of consciousness as well as material existence. The 36 tattvas of Shaivism are divided into three groups:

Shuddha tattvas
The first five tattvas are known as the shuddha or 'pure' tattvas. They are also known as the tattvas of universal experience.
Shuddha-ashuddha tattvas
The next seven tattvas (6–12) are known as the shuddha-ashuddha or 'pure-impure' tattvas. They are the tattvas of limited individual experience.
Ashuddha tattvas
The last twenty-four tattvas (13–36) are known as the ashuddha or 'impure' tattvas. The first of these is prakriti and they include the tattvas of mental operation, sensible experience, and materiality.

Gaudiya VaishnavismEdit

Within Puranic literatures and general Vaishnava philosophy tattva is often used to denote certain categories or types of being or energies such as:

The Supreme personality of Godhead. The causative factor of everything including other Tattva(s).
Any incarnation or expansion of Krishna.
The multifarious energies of the Lord Krishna. It includes his internal potency Yoga Maya and material prakrti.
The living souls (jivas).
Lord Siva (excluding the Rudra(s)) is not considered to be a jiva.
The total material energy (prakrti).[4]

In Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy there are a total of five primary tattvas described in terms of living beings, which are collectively known as the Pancha Tattva and described as follows:

"Spiritually there are no differences between these five tattvas, for on the transcendental platform everything is absolute. Yet there are also varieties in the spiritual world, and in order to taste these spiritual varieties one should distinguish between them".[5]


Air is blue circle. Earth is yellow square. Fire is red triangle. Water is silver crescent. Spirit is the black egg.

In Hindu tantrism there are five tattvas creating global energy cycles of tattvic tides beginning at dawn with Akasha and ending with Prithvi:[6]

  1. Akasha (Spirit tattva) – symbolized by a black egg
  2. Vayu (Air tattva) – symbolized by a blue circle
  3. Tejas (Fire tattva) – symbolized by a red triangle
  4. Apas (Water tattva) – symbolized by a silver crescent
  5. Prithvi (Earth tattva) – symbolized by a yellow square

Each complete cycle lasts two hours.[7] This system of five tattvas which each can be combined with another, was also adapted by the Golden Dawn (→Tattva vision).

Siddha medicineEdit

The Siddha system of traditional medicine (Tamilசித்த மருத்துவம், Citta maruttuvam ?) of ancient India was derived by Tamil Siddhas or the spiritual scientists of Tamil Nadu.[8] According to this tradition, the human body is composed of 96 constituent principles or tattvas. Siddhas fundamental principles never differentiated man from the universe. According to them, “Nature is man and man is nature and therefore both are essentially one. Man is said to be the microcosm and the Universe is Macrocosm, because what exists in the Universe exists in man.”[9]


Tattvas are the 96 qualities or properties of human body according to Akilattirattu Ammanai, the religious book of Ayyavazhi.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "tattva - of the truth" from BG 2.16 Archived 2007-02-23 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Jain 2011, p. 3.
  3. ^ Mehta, T.U. Path of Arhat - A Religious Democracy, Volume 63 Page 112, Faridabad: Pujya Sohanalala Smaraka Parsvanatha Sodhapitha, 1993.
  4. ^ "Mahattattva, Mahat-tattva: 5 definitions". Wisdom Library. February 10, 2021. Mahattattva (महत्तत्त्व) or simply Mahat refers to a primordial principle of the nature of both pradhāna and puruṣa, according to the 10th century Saurapurāṇa: one of the various Upapurāṇas depicting Śaivism.—[...] From the disturbed prakṛti and the puruṣa sprang up the seed of mahat, which is of the nature of both pradhāna and puruṣa. The mahattattva is then covered by the pradhāna and being so covered it differentiates itself as the sāttvika, rājasa and tāmasa-mahat. The pradhāna covers the mahat just as a seed is covered by the skin. Being so covered there spring from the three fold mahat the threefold ahaṃkāra called vaikārika, taijasa and bhūtādi or tāmasa.
  5. ^ Chaitanya Caritamrita, Adi-lila 7.5 Archived 2007-02-28 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Rama Prasad: Nature's Finer Forces. The Science of Breath and the Philosophy of the Tattvas. 1889 / Kessinger Publishing 2010, ISBN 978-1162567242
  7. ^ John Michael Greer: The New Encyclopedia of the Occult, Llewellyn Publications, 2003 (p. 470-471 [1])
  8. ^ Team visits Government Siddha Medical College Archived 2013-11-05 at the Wayback Machine, The Hindu, Saturday, 20 Feb 2010.
  9. ^ Siddha – a unique system Dr. R. Kannan


External linksEdit