A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 2

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1932 | 241,887 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of bones in the atharva-veda and ayurveda: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the second part in the series called the “speculations in the medical schools”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 2 - Bones in the Atharva-veda and Āyurveda

The main interest of the present chapter is in that part of the Atharva-Veda which deals with curative instructions, and for this the Kauśika-sūtra has to be taken as the principal guide. Let us first start with the anatomical features of the Atharva-Veda[1].

The bones counted are as follows:

  1. heels (pāṛṣṇī , in the dual number, in the two feet)[2];
  2. ankle-bones (gidphau in the dual number)[3];
  3. digits (aṅgulayaḥ in the plural number)[4];
  4. metacarpal and metatarsal bones (ucchlaṅkhau in the dual number, i.e. of the hands and feet)[5];
  5. base (pratiṣṭhā)[6];
  6. the knee-caps (aṣṭhwantau in the dual)[7];
  7. the knee-joints (jānunoḥ sandhī)[8];
  8. the shanks (jaṅghe in the dual)[9];
  9. the pelvic cavity (śroṇī in the dual)[10];
  10. the thigh bones (ūrū in the dual)[11];
  11. the breast bones (uras)[12];
  12. the windpipe (grīvāḥ in the plural)[13];
  13. the breast (stanau in the dual)[14];
  14. the shoulder-blade (kaphoḍau in the dual)[15];
  15. the shoulder-bones (skandhān in the plural)[16];
  16. the backbone (pṛṣṭīḥ in the plural)[17];
  17. the collar-bones (aṃsau in the dual)[18];
  18. the brow (lalāta);
  19. the central facial bone (kakātikā)[19];
  20. the pile of the jaw (hanu-citya)[20];
  21. the cranium with temples (kapālam)[21].

Footnotes and references:


Hymns 11. 33 and x. 2 are particularly important in this connection.


Caraka also counts one pāṛṣṇi for each foot. Hoernle (Studies in the Medicine of Ancient India, p. 128) remarks on the fact, that Caraka means the backward and downward projections of the os calcis, that is, that portion of it which can be superficially seen and felt, and is popularly known as the heel. The same may be the case with the Atharva-Veda. Suśruta probably knew the real nature of it as a cluster (kūrca); for in Śārīra-stḥātia vi he speaks of the astragalus as kūrca-śiras, or head of the cluster, but he counts the pāṛṣṇi separately. Hoernle suggests that by pāṛṣṇi Suśruta meant the os calcis, and probably did not think that it was a member of the tarsal cluster (kūrca). It is curious that Vāgbhata I makes a strange confusion by attributing one pāṛṣṇi to each hand (Aṣṭāṅga-saṃgraha, n. 5; also Hoernle, pp. 91-96).


Gulpha means the distal processes of the two bones of the leg, known as the malleoli. As counted by Caraka and also by Suśruta, there are four gulphas. See Hoernle’s comment on Suśruta’s division, Hoernle, pp. 81, 82, 102-104. Suśruta, hi. v. 19, has “tala-kūrca-gidpha-saṃśritāni daśa ,” which Ḍalhaṇa explains as tala (5 śalākās and the one bone to which they are attached)—6 bones, kūrca —2 bones, gulpha —2 bones. Hoernle misinterpreted Ḍalhaṇa, and, supposing that he spoke of two kūrcas and two gulphas in the same leg, pointed out a number of inconsistencies and suggested a different reading of the Suśruta text. His translation of valaya as “ornament” in this connection is also hardly correct; valaya probably means “circular.” Following Ḍalhaṇa, it is possible that the interpretation is that there are two bones in one cluster (kūrca) in each leg, and the two bones form one circular bone (valayāsthi) of one gulpha for each leg. If this is accepted, much of what Hoernle has said on the point loses its value and becomes hypercritical. There are two gulphas, or one in each leg, according as the constituent pieces, or the one whole valayāsthi, is referred to. On my interpretation Suśruta knew of only two bones as forming the kūrca, and there is no passage in Suśruta to show that he knew of more. The os calcis would be the pāṛṣṇi, the astragalus, the kūrca-śiras, the two malleoli bones and the two gulpha bones.


Both Caraka and Suśruta count sixty of these phalanges (pāṇi-pādāṅguli), whereas their actual number is fifty-six only.


Caraka counts these metacarpal and metatarsal bones (pāṇi-pāda-śalākā) as twenty, the actual number. Suśruta collects them under tala, a special term used by him. His combined tala-kūrca-gulpha includes all the bones of the hand and foot excluding the aṅguli bones (phalanges).


Caraka uses the term pāṇi-pāda-śalākādhiṣṭhāna, Yājñavalkya, sthāna, and Suśruta, kūrca. Caraka seems to count it as one bone. Kūrca means a network of (1) flesh (māmsa), (2) śirā, (3) snāyu, (4) bones (māmsa-śirā-snāyv-asthi-jālāni). All these four kinds of network exist in the two joints of the hands and feet.


Hoernle remarks that in the Atharva-Veda aṣṭhīvat and jānu are synonymous; but the text, x. 2. 2, seems clearly to enumerate them separately. The aṣṭhīvat is probably the patella bone. Caraka uses the terms jānu and kapālikā, probably for the knee-cap (patella) and the elbow pan (kapālikā). Kapālikā means a small shallow basin, and this analogy suits the construction of the elbow pan. Suśruta uses the term kūrpara (elbow pan), not in the ordinary list of bones in Śārīra, v. 19, but at the time of counting the marma in ibid. vi. 25.


This seems to be different from aṣṭhīvat (patella).


The tibia and the fibula in the leg. Caraka, Bhela, Suśruta and Vāgbhafa I describe this organ rightly as consisting of two bones. The Atharva-Veda justly describes the figure made bv them as being a fourfold frame having its ends closely connected together (catuṣṭayaṃ yujyate saṃhitāntam). The corresponding two bones of the fore-arm (aratrd) —radius and ulna—are correctly counted by Caraka. Curiously enough, Suśruta does not refer to them in the bone-list. The bāhu is not enumerated in this connection.


Caraka speaks of two bones in the pelvic cavity, viz. the os innominatum on both sides. Modern anatomists think that each os innominatum is composed of three different bones: ilium, the upper portion, ischium, the lower part, and the pubis, the portion joined to the other innominate bone. The ilium and ischium, however, though they are two bones in the body of an infant, become fused together as one bone in adult life, and from this point of view the counting of ilium and ischium as one bone is justifiable. In addition to these a separate bhagāsthi is counted by Caraka. He probably considered (as Hoernle suggests) the sacrum and coccyx to be one bone which formed a part of the vertebral column. By bhagāsthi he probably meant the pubic bone; for Cakrapāṇi, commenting upon bhagāsthi, describes it as“abhimukhaṃ kaṭi-sandhāna-kārakaṃ tiryag-asthi” (the cross bone which binds together the haunch bones in front). Suśruta, however, counts five bones: four in the guda, bhaga, nitamba and one in the trika. Nitamba corresponds to the two śroṇi-phalaka of Caraka, bhaga to the bhagāsthi, or pubic bone, guda to the coccyx and trika to the triangular bone sacrum. Suśruta’s main difference from Caraka is this, that, while the latter counts the sacrum and coccyx as one bone forming part of the vertebral column, the former considers them as two bones and as separate from the vertebral column. Vāgbhafa takes trika and guda as one bone, but separates it from the vertebral column.


Caraka, Suśruta and Vāgbhafa I count it correctly as one bone in each leg. Caraka calls it ūru-nalaka.


Caraka counts fourteen bones in the breast. Indian anatomists counted cartilages as new bones (taruṇa asthi). There are altogether ten costal cartilages on either side of the sternum. But the eighth, ninth and tenth cartilages are attached to the seventh. So, if the seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth cartilages are considered as a single bone, there are altogether seven bones on either side of the sternum. This gives us the total number of fourteen which Caraka counts. The sternum was not counted by Caraka separately. With him this was the result of the continuation of the costal cartilages attached to one another without a break. Suśruta and Vāgbhata I curiously count eight bones in the breast, and this can hardly be accounted for. Hoernle’s fancied restoration of the ten of Suśruta does not appear to be proved. Yājñavalkya, however, counts seventeen, i.e. adds the sternum and the eighth costal cartilage on either side to Caraka’s fourteen bones, which included these three. Hoernle supposes that Yājñavalkya’s number was the real reading in Suśruta; but his argument is hardly convincing.


The windpipe is composed of four parts, viz. larynx, trachea, and two bronchi. It is again not a bone, but a cartilage; but it is yet counted as a bone by the Indian anatomists, e.g. Caraka calls it “jatru” and Suśruta “kaṇṭha-rtāḍī.” Hoernle has successfully shown that the word jatru was used in medical books as synonymous with windpipe or neck generally. Hoernle says that originally the word denoted cartilaginous portions of the neck and breast (the windpipe and the costal cartilages), as we read in the Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa:tasmād imā ubhayatra parśavo baddhāḥ kīkasāsu ca jatruṣu” (the ribs are fastened at either end, exteriorly to the thoracic vertebrae and interiorly to the costal cartilages— jatru). In medical works it means the cartilaginous portion of the neck, i.e. the windpipe (Caraka), and hence is applied either to the neck generally or to the sterno-clavicular articulation at the base of the neck (Suśruta). It is only as late as the sixth or seventh century A.D. that, owing to a misinterpretation of the anatomical terms sandḥi and aṃsa, it was made to mean clavicle. See Hoernle’s Studies in the Medicine of Ancient India, p. 168.


Pārśvayoś catur-viṃśatiḥ pārśvayos tāvanti caiva sthālakāni tāvanti caiva sthālakārbudāni i.e. there are twenty-four bones in the pārśva (ribs), twenty-four sthālakas (sockets), and twenty-four sthālakārbudas (tubercles). Suśruta speaks of there being thirty-six ribs on either side. A rib consists of a shaft and a head; “ at the point of junction of these two parts there is a tubercle which articulates with the transverse process of corresponding vertebrae, and probably this tubercle is arbuda .” There are, no doubt, twenty-four ribs. The sthālakas and arbudas cannot properly be counted as separate bones; but, even if they are counted, the total number ought to be 68 bones, as Hoernle points out, aṇḍ not 72, since the two lowest have no tubercles.


Kaphoḍa probably means scapula or shoulder-blade. Caraka uses the word aṃsa-phalaka. Caraka uses two other terms, akṣaka (collar-bone) and aṃsa. This word aṃsa seems to be a wrong reading, as Hoernle points out; for in reality there are only two bones, the scapula and the collar-bone. But could it not mean the acromion process of the scapula? Though Suśruta omits the shoulder-blade in the counting of bones in Śārīra, v. (for this term is akṣaka-saṃjñe), yet he distinctly names aṃsa-phalaka in Śārīra, vi. 27, and describes it as triangular (trika-saṃbaddhe); and this term has been erroneously interpreted as grīvāyā aṃsa-dvayasya ca yah saṃyogas sa trikaḥ by Palhana The junction of the collar-bone with the neck cannot be called trika.


Caraka counts fifteen bones in the neck. According to modem anatomists there are, however, only seven. He probably counted the transverse processes and got the number fourteen, to which he added the vertebrae as constituting one single bone.

Suśruta counts nine bones. The seventh bone contains spinous and transverse processes and was probably therefore counted by him as three bones, which, together with the other six, made the total number nine.


Caraka counts forty-three bones in the vertebral column (pṛṣṭḥa-gatāsthi), while the actual number is only twenty-six. Each bone consists of four parts, viz. the body, the spinous process, and the two transverse processes, and Caraka counts them all as four bones. Suśruta considers the body and the spinous process as one and the two transverse processes as two; thus for the four bones of Caraka, Suśruta has three. In Caraka the body and the spinous process of the twelve thoracic vertebrae make the number twenty-four; the five lumbar vertebrae (body + spine + two transverses) make twenty. He adds to this the sacrum aṇḍ the coccyx as one pelvic bone, thus making the number forty-five; with Suśruta we have twelve thoracic vertebrae, six lumbar vertebrae, twelve transverses, i.e. thirty bones. The word kīkasa (A.V. 11. 33. 2) means the whole of the spinal column, anūkya (A.V. 11. 33. 2) means the thoracic portion of the spine, and udara the abdominal portion.


Both Caraka and Suśruta call this akṣaka and count it correctly as two bones. Cakrapāṇi describes it as “ahṣa-vivakṣakau jatru-sandheḥ kīlakau” (they are called akṣaka because they are like two beams—the fastening-pegs of the junction of the neck-bones).

Suśruta further speaks of aṃsa-pītḥa (the glenoid cavity into which the head of the humerus is inserted) as a samudga (casket) bone. The joint of each of the anal bones, the pubic bone and the hip bone (nitamba) is also described by him as a samudga. This is the “acetabulum, or cotyloid cavity, in which the head of the femur, is lodged” (Suśruta , Śārīra, v. 27, arnsa-pīṭḥa-guda-bḥaga-nitambeṣu samudgāḥ).


Lalāṭa is probably the two superciliary ridges at the eye-brow and kakāṣikā the lower portion, comprising the body of the superior maxillary together with the molar and nasal bones. Caraka counts the two molar (gaṇḍa-kūṭa), the two nasal, and the two superciliary ridges at the eye-brows as forming one continuous bone (ekāstḥi nāsikā-gaṇḍa-kūṭa-lalāṭam).


According to Caraka, the lower jaw only is counted as a separate bone (ekaṃ ḥanv-astḥi), and the two attachments are counted as two bones {dve hanu-mūla-bandḥane). Suśruta, however, counts the upper and the lower jaws as two bones (ḥanvor dve). Though actually each of these bones consists of two bones, they are so fused together that they may be considered as one, as was done by Suśruta. Caraka did not count the upper jaw, so he counted the sockets of the teeth (dantolūkhala) and the hard palate (tāluṣaka). Suśruta’s counting of the upper hanu did not include the palatine process; so he also counts the tālu (1 ekaṃ tāluni).


Śaṅkḥa is the term denoting the temples, of which both Caraka and Suśruta count two. Caraka counts four cranial bones (catvāri śiraḥ-kapālāni) and Suśruta six (śirasi ṣaṭ). The brain-case consists of eight bones. Of these two are inside and hence not open to view from outside. So there are only six bones which are externally visible. Of these the temporal bones have already been counted as śaṅkḥa, thus leaving a remainder of four bones. Suśruta divides the frontal, parietal and occipital bones into two halves and considers them as separate bones, and he thus gets the number six. Both the frontal and occipital are really each composed of two bones, which become fused in later life.

Though the author has often differed from Dr Hoernle, yet he is highly indebted to his scholarly explanations and criticisms in writing out this particular section of this chapter.

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