thathva thrayam – achith – What is matter?

srimathE rAmAnujAya nama:
srimadh varavaramunayE nama:
sri vAnAchala mahAmunayE nama:

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Understanding the achith (matter) thathvam through the teachings of the wise men

We are continuing our journey in understanding the
three entities (
chith, achith, ISwara) through the divine
grantham “thathva thrayam” (tattva trayam) of
piLLai lOkAchAryar with the
help of
maNavALa mAmunigaL‘s
beautiful commentary.
  • achith
    (insentient) is devoid of knowledge and is abode for
  • Since,
    achith is devoid of knowledge, it purely exists for the enjoyment of
  • Unlike chith (sentient – soul), which is unchangeable (does not change its
    nature), achith undergoes changes.
  • There
    are three types of achith, namely
    • sudhdha
      sathvam – pure goodness devoid of any rajas (passion) and thamas
    • miSra
      sathvam – combination of sathvam (goodness), rajas (passion) and thamas
    • sathva
      sUnyam (kAlam) – The principle of time which is devoid of  any guNam
      (sathvam, rajas, thamas)
sathvam (pure goodness)

– spiritual abode of SrIman nArAyaNan which is full of mandapams, gardens,
etc., which are made of divine matter
  • This is pure goodness devoid of any rajas and
    thamas. This is mainly focussed on all achith (insentients) in
  • By nature, this
    • is eternal 
    • is source of knowledge and joy 
    • manifests as vimAnams/gOpurams (towers),
      mandapams (halls), etc by the divine desire of
      bhagavAn instead of being created by the desire of a jIvAthmA induced by his karmA. 
    • is in an unlimited brilliantly shining
    • cannot be quantified/fully comprehended
       by nithyas (eternally free from samsAram), mukthas (one who became
      free from samsAram) and bhagavAn himself.
      mAmunigaL raises a doubt and clarifies it himself – if bhagavAn cannot
      quantify/fully comprehend this, would it not affect his sarvagyathvam –
      omniscience (knower of everything)? He beautifully explains that knower
      of everything means knowing the true nature of everything – so,
      bhagavAn knows that sudhdha sathvam is unlimited which is its true nature
      and that is true omniscience. 
    • is exceedingly marvellous 
  • Some say that, this is luminous and others say
    that is this is non-luminous. There are two opinions about it. 
  • But there is more weightage for the view that
    it is luminous. In such case, it will reveal itself to nithyas, mukthas
    bhagavAn. But samsAris will be unable to perceive it. 
  • It is different from the soul since
    •  it does not realize itself
    •  it transforms into many forms
  • It is different from knowledge since 
    • it manifests into different forms (knowledge
      does not take any gross form) without the help of others
    • unlike knowledge which grasps thanmAthras
      (objects of senses – sound, touch, form, taste and smell), this is abode
      of the subtle elements.
sathvam (impure goodness)
  • By nature, this is 
    • a mixture of sathvam, rajas and thamas
    • a veil which blocks the jIvAthmA from
      realising full knowledge and bliss
    • the source of perverse knowledge for the
    • eternal
    • an instrument for ISwaran in his pastimes
    • at times  
      similar to each other and at other times different from each other
      depending on state (avyaktha – unmanifested state vs vyaktha – manifested
      state) and time (srushti – creation vs samhAram – destruction time)
    • popularly known as
      • prakruthi – since it is the source of all
      • avidhya – since it is tangential to true
      • mAyA – since 
        its outcome is marvellous and full of different varieties 
  • As identified by nammAzhwAr in thiruvAimozhi 10.7.10, there are 24 elements of matter, namely
    • pancha thanmAthras – 5 objects of senses –
      Sabdha (sound), sparSa (touch), rUpa (form), rasa (taste), gandha (smell)
    • pancha gyAnEndhriyas – 5 sense organs of
      knowledge -srOthra (ears), thvak (skin), chakshur (eyes), jihvA (tongue),
      grAhNa (nose) 
    • pancha karmEndhriyas – 5 sense organs of
      actions – vAk (mouth), pANi (hands), pAdha (legs), pAyu (excretory
      organs), upastha (organs for procreation) 
    • pancha bhUthas – 5 great elements – AkASa
      (ether), vAyu(air), agni (fire), Apa/jala (water), prthvi (earth)
    • manas – mind
    • ahankAram – ego
    • mahAn – manifested state of matter 
    • mUla prakruthi – unmanifested state of matter
  • Of these, mUla prakruthi is the primordial
    matter which manifests itself into various states due to the mixture of
    guNams (attributes)
  • guNams are of three categories – sathvam
    (goodness), rajas (passion) and thamas (ignorance)
  • sathvam is the inducer/source of happiness and
  • rajas is the inducer/source of attachment and
    thirst for material aspirations
  • thamas is the inducer/source of perverse knowledge,
    forgetfulness, lethargy/laziness and sleep
  • When the 3 guNams are equally distributed,
    that results in unmanifested state of matter.
  • When they are unequally distributed, that
    results in manifested state of matter. 
  • mahAn is the first state of manifested matter.
  • ahankAram comes into existence from mahAn.
  • Subsequently all the other elements
    (thanmAthras, gyAna indhriyas, karma indhriyas, etc) manifest from mahAn
    and ahankAram.
  • pancha thanmAthras (objects of senses) are the
    subtle state of pancha bhUthas (gross elements) 
  • bhagavAn creates the manifested universes by mixing these different
  • bhagavAn creates the universes (effect) and
    their cause. i.e.,transforms the unmanifested mUla prakruthi into the
    manifested state of elements by his sankalpam (effortlessly).
  • All entities which live in the universes are
    created by bhagavAn through other living entities such as brahmA,
    prajApathi et al (by guiding them being their antharyAmi – in-dwelling
  • Innumerable universes exist.
  • They are created simultaneously and
    effortlessly by
    bhagavAn just by his sankalpam.
  • Each universe has 14 layers. mAmunigaL explains in great detail about the structure of the universe based
    on various pramANams. 
of leela vibhUthi (samsAram – material world)
  • 7 bottom layers
    • From the top, they are named – athalam,
      vithalam, nithalam, kapasthimath (thalAthalam), mahAthalam, suthalam and
      pAthAlam  these are occupied by demoniac people, snakes, birds, etc
    • there are many beautiful towers, palaces, etc
      which are more enjoyable than even svarga lOkam
  • 7 top layers
    • bhU lOkam – where humans, animals, birds, etc
      live. Split into 7 large dhvIpams (islands). We are living in
    • bhuvar lOkam – where gandharvas (celestial
      singers) live
    • svarga lOkam – where indhran (a post which is
      to manage the activities of bhUlOkam, bhuvar lOkam and svarga lOkam) and
      his associates live
    • mahar lOkam – where the retired indhrans and
      the ones who desire/waiting to be indhran live
    • janar lOkam – where many great sages like
      brahmA’s 4 sons sanaka, sanakAdhika, sanAthana and sanandhana, etc live
    • thapa lOkam – where prajApathis (primordial
      progenitors) live
  • sathya lOkam – where brahmA, vishNu and Siva
    and their devotees live Each universe (made of 14 layers) is surrounded by
    7 layers of protection – water, fire, air, ether, ahankAram, mahAn and
    finally by mUla prakruthi.
  • gyAnEndhriyas acquire knowledge about subtle
    and gross elements. karmEndhriyas
    are used in performing various physical actions. Mind is common to all and
    helps in
    every aspect. 

  • panchIkaraNam is the process by which bhagavAn
    mixes the various elements and leads to the manifestation of the universe
    as we see it now.
sUnyam – kAlam (time)

  • By nature, time
    • acts like a catalyst in the tranformation of
      matter (from unmanifested state to manifested state and subsequently as
    • manifests in different scales of measurement
      (like day, week, fortnight, etc).
    • is eternal – meaning there is no beginning or
      end for time
    • helps ISwaran in his pastimes
    • is also a form (body) of emperumAn himself
  • mAmunigaL quotes naduvil thiruvEdhip piLLai bhattar who explained
    classification of time into many parts.
    • nimEsham (moment, winking of the eye – equal
      to a second) is the lowest unit of time
    • 15 nimEshams = 1 kAshta
    • 30 kAshta = 1 kalai
    • 30 kalais = 1 muhurtham
    • 30 muhurthams = 1 dhivasam (1 day)
    • 30 dhivasams = 2 pakshams (fortnights) = 1
      mAsam (month)
    • 2 mAsams = 1 ruthu (season)
    • 3 ruthus = 1 ayanam (6 months – uttarAyanam
      and dhakshiNAyanam)
    • 2 ayanams = 1 samvathsaram (year)
    • 360 human samvathsaram = 1 dhEva samvathsaram
  • Other two achith thathvams (sudhdha sathvam
    and miSra sathvam) are the enjoyable items, abode of enjoyment and
    instrument of enjoyment.
  • sudhdha sathvam (divine matter) is boundless
    at the top/sides and bounded at the bottom (it is fully present in
    paramapadham – the higher/spiritual universes)
  • misra sathvam (matter) is boundless at the
    bottom/sides and bounded at the top (it is fully present in samsAram – the
    lower/material universes)
  • kAla thathvam is present everywhere (both in
    paramapadham and samsAram).
  • It is said that time is permanent/eternal in
    paramapadham and temporary/transient in samsAram.
    mAmunigaL quotes periyavAchAn piLLai‘s explaination – “time is of uniform (eternal) nature in both
    paramapadham and samsAram” in his thathva thraya vivaraNam (a
    grantham which is not to be found these days). So, that is considered as
    the ultimate authority. But since some AchAryas have explained the
    difference in nature of time between paramapadham and samsAram – it has to
    be understood that because of its ever changing nature in samsAram, it is
    considered as temporary here.
  • Some say time does not exist. But since it
    defies logic and SAsthramm that cannot be accepted.

Thus we have seen a bit about the achith
(matter) thathvam which falls under 3 categories (sudhdha sathvam –
divine matter in paramapadham, misra sathvam – matter in this samsAram and
sathva sUnyam – time, common to both places). As said before, this
subject matter is very complex and this article is aimed at creating interest
to hear this subject matter under an AchAryan in the form of kAlakshEpam for
true enlightenment.

srImathE ramyajAmAthru munIndhrAya mahAthmanE
srIrangavAsinE bhUyAth nithyasrI nithya mangaLAm

mangaLAsAsana parai: madhAchArya purOgamai:
sarvaischa pUrvai: AchAryai satkruthAyAsthu mangaLam

Up next,  We will see in detail about Iswara thathvam (God).

adiyen sarathy ramanuja dasan

Sources: thathva thrayam

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