Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism Online

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(9,463 words)

The Sanskrit term mahābhūta (lit. great being) mostly occurs in the plural and is generally used as a noun with the neuter gender. It is commonly translated as “great element,” sometimes also as “material element,” or just as “element,” and in the classical period of South Asian thought it comprises the following:

1.  earth (pṛthivī);

2.  water (āpaḥ);

3.  fire (tejas);

4.  wind (vāyu); and

5.  space/ether (ākāśa).

The Sanskrit terms given here are the most comm…

Cite this page
Preisendanz, Karin, “Mahābhūtas”, in: Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism Online, Editor-in-Chief Associate Editors Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, Vasudha Narayanan. Consulted online on 19 October 2021 <>
First published online: 2018

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