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Tattva is a Sanskrit word meaning 'thatness', 'principle', 'reality' or 'truth'.[1] According to various Indian schools of philosophy, a tattva is an element or aspect of reality conceived as an aspect of deity. Although the number of tattvas varies depending on the philosophical school, together they are thought to form the basis of all our experience. The Samkhya philosophy uses a system of 25 tattvas, while Shaivism recognises 36 tattvas.


The tattvas in Samkhya

The Samkhya philosophy regards the Universe as consisting of two eternal realities: Purusha and Prakrti. It is therefore a strongly dualist philosophy. The Purusha is the centre of consciousness, whereas the Prakriti is the source of all material existence. The twenty-five tattva system of Samkhya concerns itself only with the tangible aspect of creation, theorizing that Prakriti is the source of the world of becoming. It is the first tattva and is seen as pure potentiality that evolves itself successively into twenty-four additional tattvas or principles.

The tattvas in Shaivism

Main article: The 36 tattvas

In Shaivite philosophy, the tattvas are inclusive of consciousness as well as material existence. The 36 tattvas of Shaivism are divided into three groups:

  1. Shuddha tattvas: the first five tattvas are known as the shuddha or 'pure' tattvas. They are also known as the tattvas of universal experience.
  2. Shuddha-ashuddha tattvas: the next seven tattvas (6–12) are known as the shuddha-ashuddha or 'pure-impure' tattvas. They are the tattvas of limited individual experience.
  3. Ashuddha tattvas: the last twenty-four tattvas (13–36) are known as the ashuddha or 'impure' tattvas. The first of these is prakriti and they include the tattvas of mental operation, sensible experience, and materiality.

The tattvas in Vaishnavism

Within Puranic literatures and general Vaishnava philosophy tattva is often used to denote certain categories or types of being or energies such as :

  • Vishnu-tattva - Any incarnation or expansion of Vishnu.
  • Jiva-tattva - The living souls (jivas).
  • Mahat-tattva - The total material energy (prakrti).

It is described in Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy that there are a total of five primary tattvas in terms of living beings, which are collectively known as the Pancha Tattva and described as follows:

"Spiritually there are no differences between these five tattvas, for on the transcendental platform everything is absolute. Yet there are also varieties in the spiritual world, and in order to taste these spiritual varieties one should distinguish between them".[2]


The word is used as the title and chorus line in Kula Shaker's 1996 hit song Tattva. "Achintya-bheda-abheda-tattva".

See also

  • Mahabhuta
  • Achintya Bheda Abheda
  • Tattva vision
  • Tat Tvam Asi


  • Prasad, Ram (1997). Nature's Finer Forces: The Science of Breath and the Philosophy of the Tattvas. Kessinger. ISBN 1-56459-803-9
  • Ramacharaka Yogi (1997). Science of Breath. Kessinger. ISBN 1-56459-744-X
  • Singh, Jaideva (1979). Siva Sutras: The Yoga of Supreme Identity. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidas.

Further reading

  • Swami Satyananda Saraswati. Tattva Jnana. Devi Mandir. ISBN 1-877795-62-3.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Tattva". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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