Module on ‘Know your Agnibala (Digestive Strength)’ by Dr. Aparna Singh

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             Know your Agnibala (Digestive Strength)

Dr. Aparna Singh, Assistant Professor, Dept of Kriya Sharir, Faculty of Ayurveda, Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University

 Relevance of Agnibala in Ayurveda

  • Ayurveda being one of the healthcare systems, rests on the concept of individualized and person-centric approach, the assessment of Agnibala (digestive strength) becomes vital in the context of lifestyle related activities, dietary recommendation and the choice of therapeutic interventions along with the nature of drugs administered to an individual.
  • Agni converts food in the form of energy which is responsible for all the vital functions of our body.
  • The maintenance of human body, the origin of diseases as well as good and bad effects of the food consumed is dependent upon the nature of Agni dwelling inside the human body.

                                         समदोषः समाग्निश्च समधातुमलक्रियः |
                                         प्रसन्नात्मेन्द्रियमनाः स्वस्थ इत्यभिधीयते ||  (Su.Su15/41)

In the definition of “Svastha” by Acharya Sushruta, the importance of Samagni is cited along with other factors. He has defined health is that state where all three Dosha (bioenergy), Agni (metabolic process) and Dhatu (tissues) are in balanced state and performing their functions in proper order as well as Atman (soul), Indriya (senses),  Manas (Psyche) are in harmony with internal peace, the svastha (optimal health) is achieved.

           आयुर्वर्णो बलं स्वास्थ्यमुत्साहोपचयौ प्रभा    |
ओजस्तेजोऽग्नयः प्राणाश्चोक्ता देहाग्निहेतुकाः ||३||
शान्तेऽग्नौ म्रियते, युक्ते चिरं जीवत्यनामयः   |
रोगी स्याद्विकृते, मूलमग्निस्तस्मान्निरुच्यते   ||४||         (C.Ci 15/3-4)

           जाठरो भगवानग्निरीश्वरोऽन्नस्य पाचकः | (Su.Su 35/27)

           केवलः समदेहाग्नेः सुखसाध्यतमो गदः |
अतोऽन्यथा त्वसाध्यः स्यात्कृच्छ्रो व्यामिश्रलक्षणः||    (Su.Su.35/47)

Acharya Charaka considers that Dehagni (Jatharagni) is the cause of life, complexion, strength, health, nourishment, luster, Oja, Teja (energy) and Prana (life energy)  hence after stoppage of the function of Agni, the individual dies and when the Agni of an individual is Sama, then that person would be absolutely healthy and would lead a long, happy, healthy life. But if the Agni of a person is vitiated, the whole metabolism in his body would be disturbed, resulting in ill health and disease. Hence Agni is said to be the base (mula) of life.

Synonyms of Agni

The synonyms of Agni as mentioned in Amarkosh is described as Vaishwanara, Jaataveda, Asrayasa,Rohitaaswa,Hutabhuk,Sukva,Vahni,Tanupat,Brihadbhanu,Vayusakhaa,Dahana,Chitrabhanu,Veethihotra,Basti,Krisanu,Shikhee,Havyavaahana,Vibhavasu,Dhananjaya,Sushma,Pavaka,Asusukshinee,Saptarchi,Shuchi,Jwalana,Krsnavartma,Anala,Hiranyaretaa,Dhamunaa, Ushnarbhdha etc.(A.K.1/1/53-56)

 Agni and Pitta

अग्निरेव शरीरे पित्तान्तर्गतः कुपिताकुपितः शुभाशुभानि करोति; तद्यथा- पक्तिमपक्तिं दर्शनमदर्शनं मात्रामात्रत्वमूष्मणः प्रकृतिविकृतिवर्णौ शौर्यं भयं क्रोधं हर्षं मोहं प्रसादमित्येवमादीनि चापराणि द्वन्द्वानीति|| (C.Su 12/11)

The existence of life is not possible without Agni. The ancient scholars explain no fundamental difference in physical and biological fire or Agni, except that the latter is associated with living organism. The functions performed by the external fire are the same as performed by Pitta in the body, hence the term Pitta and Agni have been used as similar entities. In Charaka Samhita  Marichi rishi stated that it is the Agni alone that located in Pitta, gives rise to beneficial or harmful consequences accordingly as it is in normal or abnormal state i.e. Agni which is present   in form of Pitta in the body is responsible for producing various effects  either in normal (non-vitiated) or abnormal (vitiated) states respectively. The functions such as digestion-indigestion, vision-improper vision, proper – improper degree of heat,  normal- abnormal complexion, prowess-fear, anger-exhilaration, confusion -clarity and other such duals.

Classification of Agni

                                                            

Physio-anatomical Classification

Acharya’s have considered broadly 13 types of Agni present in the body.

        इति भौतिकधात्वन्नपक्तॄणां कर्म भाषितम् ||   (C.Ci 15/38)

Jatharagni

  • यदन्नं देहधात्वोजोबलवर्णादिपोषकम्|
    तत्राग्निर्हेतुराहारान्न ह्यपक्वाद्रसादयः|| ( C.Ci 15/5)
  • अन्नस्य पक्ता सर्वेषां पक्तॄणामधिपो मतः|
    तन्मूलास्ते हि तद्वृद्धिक्षयवृद्धिक्षयात्मकाः|| ( C.Ci 15/39)

Jaṭharagni or the active form of Pachaka Pitta is responsible for the digestion of all kinds of nutrients in the gut. Hence, this should include all amylolytic, proteolytic and lipolytic enzymes secreted by various kinds of exocrine glands in the gut, which actually cause digestion, i.e. breaking down of different macromolecules into their constituent units.

Panch Bhutagni

  • भौमाप्याग्नेयवायव्याः पञ्चोष्माणः सनाभसाः|
    पञ्चाहारगुणान्स्वान्स्वान्पार्थिवादीन्पचन्ति हि||                                                                                                                      (C.Ci 15/13)
  • “जाठरेणाग्निना पूर्वं कृते सङ्घातभेदे पश्चाद्भूताग्नयः पञ्च स्वं स्वं द्रव्यं पचन्ति” इति  |                                                                                    (Chakrapani on C.Ci15/13)

There are five Bhutagni which metabolize those components of the food that are homologous to them in their composition viz. Bhauma Agni acts on the component that is Bhauma (i.e. Parthiva) in its composition. Bhutagnis act on the products of digestion (Jaṭharagni Paka).The major site where the absorbed nutrients undergo biochemical transformation is in the liver. Liver plays an important role in metabolism, wherein several processes such as trans-amination, de-amination, beta-oxidation of fatty acids, glycolysis etc. take place.

Therefore the overall intermediary metabolism (involving fats, carbohydrates and proteins) can be understood as the functioning of the Bhutagnis.

Dhatvagni

  • स्वस्थानस्थस्य कायग्नेरंशा धातुषु संश्रिताः|

 तेषां सादातिदीप्तिभ्यां धातुवृद्धिक्षयोद्भवः||     (A.H.Su.11/34)

  • एव पञ्चोष्माणः पार्थिवादयः स्थानन्तरप्राप्ता धातूष्माण (Arundutta A.H.Sha. 3/60)
  • त सप्तभिर्देहधातारो धातवो द्विविधं पुनः|
    यथास्वमग्निभिः पाकं यान्ति किट्टप्रसादवत् (C.Ci. 15/15)

The seven components that sustain the body, known as Dhatavah (tissues), are metabolized / transformed into two kinds of products known as Sara and Kitta. This process is the function of seven specific entities known as Dhatvagni’s; each Dhatvagni being specific for its corresponding Dhatu. Dhatvagnis act at tissue-level (in fact, at cellular level) upon the products of Bhutagni . The bio-energetic processes of a cell seem to be under the regulation of Dhatvagni.

 Agnibala

अग्निषु तु शारीरेषु चतुर्विधो विशेषो बलभेदेन भवति|
तद्यथा- तीक्ष्णो, मन्दः, समो, विषमश्चेति|
तत्र तीक्ष्णोऽग्निः सर्वापचारसहः, तद्विपरीतलक्षणस्तु मन्दः, समस्तु खल्वपचारतो विकृतिमापद्यतेऽनपचारतस्तु प्रकृताववतिष्ठते, समलक्षणविपरीतलक्षणस्तु विषम इति|  (C.Vi 6/12)

The food material that one ingests cannot be assimilated in the same form. The ingested food undergoes a series of physical and chemical transformations before it is rendered into acceptable form to be incorporated by various tissues. This transformation process, according to the principles of Ayurveda, completely depends upon the strength of Agni. Stronger the Agni, quicker is the transformation, in general. On the contrary if this Agni is weak, the transformation also is slow and incomplete. Ayurveda proposes four kinds of functional states of Agni: Sama (Regular), Vishama (Irregular), Tikshna (Intense), and Manda (Weak).

                         PHYSIO-CLINICAL STATE OF AGNI

          Tikshnagni        Mandagni       Vishamagni Samagni
Pitta Prakriti individuals Kapha Prakriti individuals Vata Prakriti individuals Samdosha Prakriti individuals
Predominance of Pitta Dosha Predominance of Kapha Dosha Predominance of Vata Dosha Sama Dosha status
State of very quick digestion and can tolerate all sorts of regimen ,easily digests even a very heavy meal, in the very short space of time Cannot tolerate even slightest of the improper regimen. Action of Agni is irregular; it sometimes helps the process of complete digestion and sometime digests food quickly or slowly. Well equilibrated state of the functioning of tridosha ,ensures complete digestion of the food ingested at the proper time without any irregularity.
It is stated to produce parched throat, palate and lips, heat and other discomforts

Agni and Prakriti

तत्र समवातपित्तश्लेष्मणां प्रकृतिस्थानां समा भवन्त्यग्नयः,वातलानां तु वाताभिभूतेऽग्न्यधिष्ठाने विषमा भवन्त्यग्नयः, पित्तलानां तु पित्ताभिभूते ह्यग्न्यधिष्ठाने तीक्ष्णा भवन्त्यग्नयः, श्लेष्मलानां तु श्लेष्माभिभूतेऽग्न्यधिष्ठाने मन्दा भवन्त्यग्नयः||   (C.Vi 6/12)

Acharya Charaka in Vimanasthana 6th chapter has described a strong relationship between Agnibala and Prakriti. The Vata Prakriti individual tends to have Vishamagni, Pitta Prakriti individual tends to have Tikshnagni and Kapha Prakriti individual tends to have Mandagni; whereas a Sama Doshaja Prakriti  individual, Samagni has been described.

Need of assessment of Agnibala

  • The clinical assessment of Agni becomes vital in the context of the dietary recommendations, lifestyle-related advises, and the choice of the appropriate therapeutic interventions.
  • Since the status of Agni is likely to vary according to individual constitution, age, seasonal rhythm etc., it becomes even more important to evaluate accurately the strength of Agni in an individual
  • From therapeutic viewpoint too, Agni has been considered to be important since the nature of drugs, dosage, and route of administration- all depend on the strength of Agni.

                                        Agnibala assessment tool

 Preparation of preliminary tool

  • Tough there are many agnibala assessment available but none of them fully justifies the assessment of agni in an individual. Considering the deficits observed in the current methods of Agnibala estimation, a “Self assessment questionnaire” was designed for assessing the strength of Agni
  • This tool consist of questionnaire which is chiefly designed on the basis of classification of Agni Bala (strength) as described in Charaka Samhita in Vimanasthana (Chapter 6, 12the verse) which depicts the four functional states of Jatharagni, Vishamagni, Tikshanagni, Mandagni and Samagni.
  • The other features of Agni based on this mode of classification were also collected from other classical texts of Ayurveda, and a preliminary questionnaire was developed in such a way that simple questions or statements were designed to assess each feature of Agnibala.
  • The tool required that the respondents recorded their agreement or disagreement with the statement/question in appropriate columns by marking a check mark (√) against the specific statement/ question.The guidelines regarding the method of responding were clearly stated in the tool. Respondents were supposed to tick the statement/questions that best described them. One score was assigned for the specific response, if found to be present in that individual.Total scores were calculated in respective columns and subsequently the scores were converted into percentage for further analysis.
  • The status of Agni in an individual was decided on the basis of maximum percentage scores obtained under the different categories of This self assessment designed questionnaire was also validated on statistical ground.
  • The specific features of Agnibala was categorized in four column viz. I=Mandagni, II=Vishmagni, III=Samagni, IV=Tikshnagni. This was done because these categories of Agni represented a sequential spectrum ranging from diminution to accentuation

  Agnibala and Applied Aspects

                                       युक्ते चिरं जीवत्यनामयः|  (C.Ci 15/4)

Agni is believed to be the transforming moiety which helps to maintain the integrity of human body. Ayurveda believes that Ayu (life), Bala (strength), Varna (colour) and Prabha (lusture) all these are dependent on the healthy status of Agni. (C.Ci 15/3)

            रोगाः सर्वेऽपि मन्देऽग्नौ | (A.H.Ni 12/1)

Acharya Vagbhatta states that Mandagni is the main or responsible factor for occurrence of many diseases.  The hypo-functioning of the Agni may lead to incomplete digestion and may lead to formation of Ama. Hence the status of Agnibala is an important factor for determining the healthy state of an individual.

                  अग्न्यधिष्ठानमन्नस्य ग्रहणाद्ग्रहणी मता|     (C.Su 15/56)

Grahani is believed to be the Agni Adhisthana and having Adhar Adheya Sambandha with Grahini. The integrity of Grahani depends upon Agni. Hence it helps in understanding the pathology, course of disease and treatment of Grahani dosha.

            कायस्यान्तरग्नेश्चिकित्सा कायचिकित्सा|   (C.Su on Chakrapani 30/28)

Depicting the therapeutic importance of Agni, Kayachikitsa which is among the eight branches of Ayurveda, specifically deals with the correction of disturbed status of Agni.

    शमप्रकोपौ दोषाणां सर्वेषामग्निसंश्रितौ|
तस्मादग्निं सदा रक्षेन्निदानानि च वर्जयेत्|   (C.Ci. 5/136)

The normal status of Agni is responsible for maintaining the homeostasis of body.

      मात्राशी स्यात्|
आहारमात्रा पुनरग्निबलापेक्षिणी|| (C.Su. 5/3)

The role of Agni is important while following dietary regimen.

            त्रयो विकाराः प्रायेण ये परस्परहेतवः|
अर्शांसि चातिसारश्च ग्रहणीदोष एव च||
एषामग्निबले हीने वृद्धिर्वृद्धे परिक्षयः|
तस्मादग्निबलं रक्ष्यमेषु त्रिषु विशेषतः  (C.Ci. 15/244-245)

Agni plays an important role in depicting the progression of disease as it is the main causative factor in Arsha, Atisar and Grahani roga.

All the textual references i.e. Samhita chapter number and verse number have been mentioned in the text.

Abbreviations:

C.- Charak, Su- Shusruta, A.- Astanga, S– Samgrah, H– Hridyam, Su-Sutrasthan, Ci-Chikitsasthan, Vi. – Vimansthan, Ni- Nidansthan A.K- Amarkosh

 

  1. Which of the following is correct regarding the functions of Agni
    1. It is responsible for the sustenance of Prana
    2. It is a regulating factor of Ayu, Bala and Varna
    3. It is responsible for the maintenance of health
    4. All of the above
  2. Bhutagni can be considered under which type of classification of Agni
    1. Physio-anatomical
    2. Physio-clinical
    3. Both
    4. None
  3. Which of the following is not correct regarding the Jatharagni
    1. It is regulator of Bhutagni and Dhatvagni
    2. It is active form of Pachaka Pitta responsible for digestion of nutrient in gut
    3. It includes all sorts of Amyolytic, proteolytic and lipolytic enzymes secreted in GIT
    4. None of the above
  4. Which of the following type of Agni is responsible for metabolizing the homologues component
    1. Jatharagni
    2. Dhatvagni
    3. Bhutagni
    4. Jatharagni and Dhatvagni
  5. Which of the following is incorrect regarding Bhutagni Paka
    1. It can be considered as all the intermediary metabolism taking place in liver
    2. Bhutagni acts on the product of Dhatvagni Paka
    3. This Paka is carried out by Panchabhutagni
    4. All options are correct
  6. Bio energetic process of cell is under the
    1. Jatharagni Paka
    2. Dhatvagni Paka
    3. Bhutagni Paka
    4. Dhatvagni and Bhutagni Paka
  7. If there is increase in strength of Dhatvagni, it will lead to
    1. Dhatuvriddhi
    2. Dhatukshaya
    3. No effect as Dhatukshayavriddhi is independent to Dhatvagni
    4. Dhatuvriddhi followed by Dhatukshaya
  8. Which of the following type of Agni is Sarvapchara Saha
    1. Samagni
    2. Mandagni
    3. Vishamagni
    4. Teekshnagni
  9. What is the relevance of assessment of Agnibala
    1. Dietary and life style recommendation
    2. Therapeutic intervention
    3. Maintenance of homeostasis
    4. All of the above
  10. What was the basis used for the development of Agnibala assessment tool
    1. It was based on the four types of Agnibala
    2. It was based on thirteen types of Agni
    3. It was based on the both thirteen and four types of Agni
    4. It was based on the general description of Agni

Answers

 

1 4
2 1
3 4
4 3
5 2
6 2
7 2
8 4
9 4
10 1

 

For further details on the development and validation of the tool to assess Agnibala, please visit: Development, Validation, and Verification of a Self-Assessment Tool to Estimate Agnibala (Digestive Strength).

 

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