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What Is Tanmatra In Hinduism?

Hiranyagarbha is the first form of Supreme Brahman. The body of Hiranyagarbha is made of five subtle elementary elements (sukshma bhutas). These are called tanmatra. Tanmatra literally means “that alone” and hence stands for an elementary bhuta so long as it is not mixed up with other.

The five elementary bhutas are prithvi, ap, tejas, vayu and akasha. These should not be confused with what is meant by ether, air, fire, water and earth. The tanmatras are far more subtle than these and belong to a different order. These have emerged from avaykta (non-manifest undivided original) and therefore they are originally dominated by the three gunas (traits) – sattva, rajas and tamas.

Because these three constituents are found in all that which come out of the avyakta, each is said to have a sattvika (illumining), a rajasika (dynamic) and tamasika (inert) part. These inert portions of the tanmatras get compounded with one another by a particular process. Each gross bhuta is made up of all the kinds of tanmatras or subtle bhutas (elements) in a particular mathematical proportion. In the knowledge texts it is called pancikarana or combination of five elements.

These gross bhutas (elements) constitute the physical bodies of the jivas and their habitations in the shape of various lokas (worlds). These entities of gross bhutas range from the very coarse and dull to the very fine and bright. By this process is born another cosmic being called Virat who has the entire physical universe as his body and God as his soul. This virat is macrocosm or brahmanda. This reality is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita (XIII.13) – with hands and feet everywhere, with eyes, heads, and mouths everywhere, with ears everywhere, He exists in the world, enveloping all.