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By Swami Harshananda

Tanmātras literally means ‘only that'.

The five primordial elements that manifest from the Ātman associated with ajñāna or ignorance are called ‘tanmātras’ since each of them contains one and only quality. For instance, the primordial element ākāśa has only śabda sound or vibration as its characteristic and hence called ‘śabda- tanmātra.’

The other elements are:

  1. Sparśa tanmātra or vāyu - air
  2. Rupa-tanmātra or agni - fire
  3. Rasa-tanmātra or āpas - water
  4. Gandha-tanmātra or pṛthvī - earth

These tanmātras are also called ‘sukṣma-bhutas’[1] or pañcīkrta-bhutas’[2] Further creation takes place out of them associated with the Ātman.


  1. Sukṣma-bhutas are the subtle elements.
  2. Pañcīkrta-bhutas means uncompounded elements.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore