Upadhatus: Sub-Tissues Of The Body

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. and Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
‘Conscience is God’s deputy in the soul’ – Thomas Adams
‘A mother is God’s deputy on Earth’ – Rahel Varnhagen

And so do most of the things in the creation have their own deputies. The deputy or subordinate may be equally important than the chief or even powerful at times. The key is that the deputy has very important role to play when in-charge or when assigned or entrusted with a specific duty to be accomplished to successful ending!! 

The Dhatus or the tissues of the body also have their deputies, their sub-ordinates and they are called Upa-Dhatus.

Upa-Dhatus
Shareera Dhaaranaat Dhatavaha
Those which adorn or wear the body are called Dhatus (Read as those which create or construct the body in understanding sense)

Dhatus or tissues make up the physical composure of the body. They form the structure (anatomy) of the body and are hence the building blocks.
Upadhatus are the sub-tissues or secondary tissues in the body which serve as important components and have certain fixed functions to render.

Upa=Sub, subordinate, deputy, subsidiary, secondary
Dhatu=Tissue

This doesn’t mean that the upadhatus would render the same job of their mentor dhatu (or the main dhatu to which they are secondary). They are related to the main dhatus (as they derive their nutrition and are nurtured from their parent dhatu) but have special designated functions of their own. Since they also satisfy some important functions in the body and help in maintenance of the body, they are graduated under the category of dhatus with a prefix ‘upa’ or sub.

Upadhatus do not support the body nor behold its construction as importantly as dhatus do. Therefore they cannot be considered as Dhatus.

Thus the word Upadhatu means ‘a tissue just inferior to the main dhatu possessing either shareera dharana (construction of the body) or shareera poshana (nourishing the body) properties’. They can be considered as supporting blocks to the main constructive blocks (dhatus) in the body.

With the exception of Asthi (bone), Majja (bone marrow) and Shukra (semen or reproductive fluid), all the other 4 dhatus have their upa-dhatus.

Dhatus and their Upadhatus
रसात् स्तन्यं ततो रक्तम् असृजः कण्डराः सिराः।
मांसाद् वसा त्वचः षट् च मेदसः स्नायु सम्भवः॥(च.चि.१५/१७)


Rasa dhatu (essence of nutrition, lymph, plasma, nutrition in circulation) has these two Upadhatus  – Stanya (breast milk) and Aartava (Menstrual blood, ovum)
Rakta Dhatu (blood) –  Siras (blood vessels, veins) and Kandaras (tendons)
Mamsa Dhatu (muscles)  – Vasa (muscle fat) and Twak (skin)
Medas (fat) – Snayus (ligaments, nerves), and Sandhis (bone joints)
Asthis (bone) – nil
Majja (Bone marrow) – nil
Shukra (semen, reproductive tissue) – nil

How Upadhatus are nourished?
We don’t have a straight reference in the treatises indicating the formation of Upadhatus. But upadhatus are nourished by the dhatus. We can infer with 2 types of hypothesis related to the origin of upadhatus:

Hypothesis of Upadhatu nourishment – 1
The upadhatus are independently formed during the formation of the body components in the garbhavastha (intra-uterine life). After the birth of the child, the upadhatus are nourished and nurtured from their respective dhatus.

Example: Stanya or Artava are formed independently but are later nurtured by Rasa Dhatu and not any other dhatu. Thus Rasa and Artava are under the care of Rasa Dhatu. Since they are under the patronage of Rasa dhatu they are considered as upa-dhatus of rasa dhatu.

Though they are formed independently, their health and functioning much depends on the quality and quantity of nutrition they obtain from their parent dhatu (rasa dhatu in this example).

If Rasa dhatu is good in terms of quality and quantity, artava and stanya too get their optimum share of essence and they too are at the best of their health. If Rasa dhatu is scantily produced or is contaminated by doshas, or if there is obstruction in the channels leading to the nourishment of rasa dhatu or rakta dhatu (blood tissue, the 2nd tissue to be formed in sequence after rasa dhatu, rakta dhatu, like the upadhatus of rasa dhatu is also formed from rasa dhatu in the same axis), stanya or artava are also scantily formed. This may lead to deficit production of breast milk and menstrual blood, leading to many forms of related morbidity.

Thus upadhatus are dependent on their parent dhatus for survival and performance.
The same rule holds good for other upadhatus enumerated above (in the table).

Hypothesis of Upa dhatu nourishment – 2
The Updhatus are formed from their respective dhatus in the sequence of the formation of dhatus. According to Ayurveda, the ahara rasa or essence of nutrition or nutritional juice which is formed after the digestion of food in turn nourishes the dhatus. Rasa Dhatu is the first dhatu formed in the sequence.

When the ahara rasa reaches the Rasa dhatu, the tissue fire within it i.e. Rasa Dhatwagni further acts on the ahara rasa, digests and processes it into micro-components of nutrition such that the ahara rasa becomes compatible with self.  During this process, Poshya rasa dhatu (the local rasa dhatu or lymph or plasma or essence of nutrition), poshaka rasa dhatu (that part of rasa dhatu which nourishes the next dhatu i.e. Rakta dhatu or blood tissue and helps in its formation) and mala or waste / excreta is formed in the form of Kapha. In this context, Ayurveda has not explained the formation of upadhatus (stanya and artava in this context). If we stick to hypothesis 1, we need to believe that the upadhatus are independently formed. Coming to hypothesis 2, we can infer that the upadhatus are formed along with the successive dhatus in the same lineage or axis, i.e. From the poshaka rasa dhatu (in this example), rakta is formed (nourished) as the next dhatu in the sequence along with artava (which is also a type of rakta) and stanya as upadhatus and kapha as mala.

Since we do not have a strong theoretical support to substantiate and consider hypothesis 2, we need to go with hypothesis 1.

This rule holds good for all the other upadhatus (to be understood on the same lines).
Thus we can conclude that Upadhatus are nourished by their dhatus rather than being formed!!

Differences between Dhatus and Upadhatus

As the names suggest, dhatus are prime tissues and upadhatus are sub-tissues.

Though dhatus and upadhatus both serve the function of shareera dharana (construction and maintenance of thebody), upadhatus differ from the dhatus. Dhatus take part in forming and nourishing the subsequent dhatu in the lineage whereas the upadhatus don’t. Example, Rasa dhatu being a dhatu forms and nourishes its next dhatu (dhatu which is formed after it in the chronology of tissue formation) i.e. Rakta Dhatu (blood tissue). The upadhatu of rasa dhatu i.e. stanya and artava do not form any other tissue nor nourish other tissues. (This rule is applicable to all the upadhatus).

Dhatus form the dhatu malas or waste products during the cycle of formation of consecutive dhatus. Upadhatus don’t.

Need of studying Upadhatus

Though by name they are sub-tissues or secondary tissues, the upadhatus render very important functions in the body. Without upadhatus many important fucntions could not be imagined. Stanya is helpful in lactation, aartava in regular cleansing and maintenance of health in woman and also in reproduction, siras help in circulation, kandaras and snayus help in supporting the body and holding the body tissues together, vasa helps in lubrication and twak in enveloping the body, protection and beautification and sandhis help in our movements and locomotion. Imbalances in upadhatus in the form of pathological increase (vriddhi) and or decrease (kshaya) will lead to many diseases and deformities. Therefore it is important to know in detail about upadhatus, their location, types, number and functions.

Just before finishing –
Upadhatus are important components (structures) of our body serving important functions. The description of upadhatus by Ayurveda teachers of ancient time explains the dexterity, analytical vision and the perfection with which the anatomy was understood, taught and documented in spite of having lesser amenities for doing it.

Ayurvedic Rachana shaareera (the anatomy of ancient time) was a comprehensive approach towards understanding the human body to the minutest detail, especially when seen with a perspective that it was the first ever science to do so!! This article is intended to give an account of this indispensable knowledge from the core of Ayurvedic treatises to our knowledge hungry viewers!!
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