Everything in this universe is made of five elements - earth, water, air, fire and space. These five elements are also present in the human body. If these elements are polluted in the external world, they are also contaminated in the human body, because that which is outside is also inside. However, it needs to be mentioned, that of the five elements, space and fire cannot get contaminated because of their very nature.
The nature of fire, is to burn everything it comes into contact with, to ashes, to its base element. It has no discrimination; it consumes and devours everything it touches.
Space is infinite and holds everything within it and yet is not touched by anything. Nothing exists without space. It cannot be stained; it cannot be contaminated. So, we are left only with the other three elements, earth, water and air that can be polluted.
What is the root cause of these elements is what the Upanishad rishis questioned. Can they exist by themselves? Do they have a consciousness that can say "I exist"? Who says they exist? "I" say they exist.
Who is this "I"?
This "I" is an entity that is aware of its own existence and everything around it. The final question put forth by the Upanishad rishis was "What is the root cause of this "I"?
Who is to say this "I" exists? And they came to the irrefutable conclusion that this "I" is the causeless cause of everything that exists. It needs no proof of its own existence and gives proof to the existence of everything else by its "awareness". Therefore, this "I" is consciousness that is existence and awareness; what is termed in Sanatana Dharma as "sat" and "chit". Also this "I" is termed "atman" and is analogous to light for it has the knowledge of everything through awareness. It is also called swayam jyoti, self effulgence. One light does not need another light to illumine its existence. This "I" or light is present in everyone. Just as a light bulb glows within the casing of a glass bulb and yet spreads its light everywhere, this atman shines in the casing of a physical body and yet spreads its light everywhere. When this consciousness revels in the pure awareness of its own existence, it experiences bliss, the highest and purest form of happiness and sheer joy. It is also the ultimate as it is the causeless cause of everything. This is what is called Atman or God. The words atman and I are synonymous. On an individual level it is called Atman, but on a universal level it is called Paramatman. The whole goal of life is in finding this oneness (Brahmatmaikya bhava) or identity of the Atman with Paramatman, individual Self (atman) with the Universal Self (Brahman).
In order to experience this state of oneness of the Self with the Universal Self, Sanatana Dharma prescribed a way of life that took a comprehensive outlook of both the external world as well as the inner world. They regarded everything in this world as sacred and had a reverent attitude towards everything and worshipped the five elements and nature itself.
The next question naturally follows, "How did they worship?
There is what is called Pancha Puja, worship of the five elements. This puja is performed to the main God, be it Vishnu, Lalitambika or Ganesha in the form of the essence of the five elements.
Correspondingly, these five elements are given a special place of residence in the chakras of the subtle body of the human body as mentioned in Kundalini yoga, which is the practice of the yoga or union of Shiva and Shakti.
In this ritualistic puja, the most sacred and auspicious physical offerings representing the five elements are made to the divinity who is worshiped with the chanting of powerful bijaksharas, seed letters in a very reverential manner.
1. Fragrant sandalwood paste representing the earth element in the muladhara chakra, the root chakra is offered while chanting the lam bijakshara, seed letter.
2. Nectarean food representing the water element in the Svadhishthana chakra is offered while chanting the 'vam' bijakshara.
3. A lighted lamp representing the fire element in the Manipura chakra, in the solar plexus is offered while chanting the 'ram' bijakshara.
4. Fragrant flowers representing the air element in the Anahata chakra, the heart chakra are offered while chanting the 'ham' bijakshara.
5. Fragrant incense representing the space element in the vishuddhi chakra, the throat chakra is offered while chanting the 'yam' bijakshara.
Ajna chakra, the third eye chakra is the seat of knowledge and is beyond the elements. Sahasrara chakra, the thousand petalled lotus in the crown chakra also does not pertain to the elements and is the place where shakti is united with Shiva.
Physical offerings symbolizing these elements are made through the chanting of mantras and powerful seed letters called bijaksharas. Seed letters resound in space and their vibrations are carried in their subtlest forms through the medium of fire, water, air, earth and space to Paramatman.
The rishis of Sanatana Dharma could control these elements and make them do what they wanted. Their pujas were performed to thank and appease the elements and keep them in balance.
Water is the elixir of life, earth is called Mother Earth for it provides us with everything for our sustenance and air is called prana vayu, vital life giving force. The greatness of each of these elements will be discussed in the next article. How do we show them due respect by developing the right attitude toward them is the subject of the next article.