A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 2

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

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

Part 3 - Organs in the Atharva-veda and Āyurveda

We have no proofs through which we could assert that the writer of the Atharva-Veda verse knew the number of the different bones to which he refers; but it does not seem possible that the references made to bones could have been possible without a careful study of the human skeleton. Whether this was done by some crude forms of dissection or by a study of the skeletons of dead bodies in a state of decay is more than can be decided.

Many of the organs are also mentioned, such as

  • the heart (hṛdaya),
  • the lungs (kloma)[1],
  • the gall-bladder (halikṣṇa)[2],
  • the kidneys (matsnābhyām)[3],
  • the liver (yakna),
  • the spleen (plīhan),
  • the stomach and the smaller intestine (antrebhyaḥ),
  • the rectum and the portion above it (gudābhyaḥ),
  • the larger intestine (vaniṣṭhu, explained by Sāyaṇa as sthavirāntra),
  • the abdomen (udara),
  • the colon (plāśi)[4],
  • the umbilicus (nābhi),
  • the marrow (majjābhyaḥ),
  • the veins (snāvabhyaḥ)
  • and the arteries (dhamanibhyaḥ)[5].

Thus we see that almost all the important organs reported in the later Ātreya-Caraka school or the Suśruta school were known to the composers of the Atharvaṇic hymns[6].

Bolling raises the point whether the Atharva-Veda people knew the difference between the śirā and the dhamani, and says,

“The apparent distinction between veins and arteries in 1. 17. 3 is offset by the occurrence of the same words in vii. 35. 2 with the more-general sense of ‘internal canals’ meaning entrails, vagina, etc.— showing how vague were the ideas held with regard to such subjects[7].”

But this is not correct; for there is nothing in 1. 17. 3 which suggests a knowledge of the distinction between veins and arteries in the modern sense of the terms, such as is not found in vii. 35. 2. The sūkta I. 17 is a charm for stopping the flow of blood from an injury or too much hemorrhage of women.

A handful of street-dust was to be thrown on the injured part and the hymn was to be uttered. In 1. 17. 1 it is said,

“Those hirās (veins?) wearing red garment (or the receptacles of blood) of woman which are constantly flowing should remain dispirited, like daughters without a brother[8].”

Sāyaṇa, in explaining the next verse, 1. 17.2, says that it is a prayer to dhamanis. This verse runs as follows:

“Thou (Sāyaṇa says ‘thou śirā’) of the lower part, remain (i.e. ‘cease from letting out blood,’ as Sāyaṇa says), so thou of the upper part remain, so thou of the middle part, so thou small, so thou the big dhamani[9].”

In the third verse both the hirās and dhamanis are mentioned.

“These in the middle were formerly (letting out blood) among a hundred dhamanis and thousands of hirās (and after that) all the other (nāḍīs) were playing with (others which have ceased from letting out blood)[10].”

Hymn vii. 35 is for stopping the issue of a woman who is an enemy.

The third verse says,

“I close with a stone the apertures of a hundred hirās and a thousand dhamanis .”

Sāyaṇa, in explaining this verse, says that the hirās are fine nāḍīs inside the ovary (garbha-dhāraṇārtham antar-avasthitāḥ sūkṣmāyā nāḍyaḥ) and the dhamanis the thicker nāḍīs round the ovary for keeping it steady (garbhā-śayasya avaṣṭaṃbkikā bāhyā sthūlā yā nāḍyaḥ). The only point of difference between this verse and those of 1. 17 is that here śirās are said to be a hundred and dhamanis a thousand, whereas in the latter, the dhamanis were said to be a hundred and the śirās a thousand. But, if Sāyaṇa’s interpretation is accepted, the dhamanis still appear as the bigger channels and the śirās as the finer ones. Nāḍī seems to have been the general name of channels. But nowhere in the Atharva-Veda is there any passage which suggests that the distinction between veins and arteries in the modern sense of the terms was known at the time. In A.V. 1. 3. 6 we hear of two nāḍīs called gamnyau for carrying the urine from the kidneys to the bladder[11]. The gods of the eight quarters and other gods are said to have produced the foetus and, together with the god of delivery (Sūṣā), facilitated birth by loosening the bonds of the womb[12].

The term jarāyu is used in the sense of placenta, which is said to have no intimate connection with the flesh and marrow, so that when it falls down it is eaten by the dogs and the body is in no way hurt. A reference is found to a first aid to delivery in expanding the sides of the vagina and pressing the two gavīnikā nāḍīs[13]. The snāvas (tendons) are also mentioned along with dhamanis, and Sāyaṇa explains them as finer śirās (śuksmāḥ śirāh snāva-śabdena ucyante), The division of dhamanis, śirās and snāvas thus seems to have been based on their relative fineness: the thicker channels (nāḍīs) were called dhamanis, the finer ones were called śirās and the still finer ones snāvas. Their general functions were considered more or less the same, though these probably differed according to the place in the body where they were situated and the organs with which they were associated. It seems to have been recognized that there was a general flow of the liquid elements of the body. This probably corresponds to the notion of srotas , as we get it in the Caraka-saṃhitā , and which will be dealt with later on. Thus A.V. x. 2.11 says,

“who stored in him floods turned in all directions moving diverse and formed to flow in rivers, quick (tīvrā), rosy (aruṇā), red (lohinī), and copper dark (tāmra-dhūmrā), running all ways in a man upward and downward?”

This clearly refers to the diverse currents of various liquid elements in the body. The semen, again, is conceived as the thread of life which is being spun out[14]. The intimate relation between the heart and the brain seems to have been dimly apprehended. Thus it is said,

“together with his needle hath Atharvan sewn his head and heart[15].”

The theory of the vāyus, which we find in all later literature, is alluded to, and the prāṇa, apāna, vyāna and samāna are mentioned[16]. It is however difficult to guess what these prāṇa, apāna, etc. exactly meant. In another passage of the Atharva-Veda we hear of nine prāṇas (nava prāṇān navabhiḥ saṃmimīte), and in another seven prāṇas are mentioned[17]. In another passage we hear of a lotus with nine gates (nava-dvāraṃ) and covered with the three guṇas[18]. This is a very familiar word in later Sanskrit literature, as referring to the nine doors of the senses, and the comparison of the heart with a lotus is also very common. But one of the most interesting points about the passage is that it seems to be a direct reference to the guṇa theory, which received its elaborate exposition at the hands of the later Sāṃkhya writers: it is probably the earliest reference to that theory. As we have stated above, the real functions of the prāṇa , etc. were not properly understood; prāṇa was considered as vital power or life and it was believed to be beyond injury and fear. It was as immortal as the earth and the sky, the day and the night, the sun and the moon, the Brāhmaṇas and the Kṣattriyas, truth and falsehood, the past and the future[19]. A prayer is made to prāṇa and apāna for protection from death (prāṇāpānau mṛtyor mā pātaṃ svāhā)[20]. In A.V. III. 6. 8 manas and citta are separately mentioned and Sāyaṇa explains manas as meaning antaḥkaraṇa, or inner organ, and citta as a particular state of the manas ( mano-vṛtti-viśeṣeṇa), as thought[21]. Here also the heart is the seat of consciousness.

Thus in a prayer in hi. 26. 6 it is said,

“O Mitra and Varuṇa, take away the thinking power (citta) from the heart (hṛt) of this woman and, making her incapable of judgment, bring her under my control[22].”

The ojas with which we are familiar in later medical works of Caraka and others is mentioned in A.V. II. 18, where Agni is described as being ojas and is asked to give ojas to the worshipper[23].

Footnotes and references:


Caraka counts kloma as an organ near the heart, but he does not count pupphusa. In another place (Cikitsā , xvii. 34) he speaks of kloma as one of the organs connected with hiccough (ḥṛdayaṃ kloma kaṇṭhaṃ ca tālukaṃ ca samāśritā mṛdvī sā kṣudra-hikveti tiṛṇāṃ sādḥyā prakīrtitā). Cakrapāṇi describes it as pipāsā-stḥāna (seat of thirst). But, whatever that may be, since Caraka considers its importance in connection with hiccough, and, since he does not mention pupphusa (lungs— Mahā-vyutpatti, 100), kloma must mean with him the one organ of the two lungs. Suśruta speaks of pupphusa as being on the left side and kloma as being on the right. Since the two lungs vary in size, it is quite possible that Suśruta called the left lung pupphusa and the right one kloma. Vāgbhata I follows Suśruta.

The Atharva-Veda, Caraka, Suśruta, Vāgbha^a and other authorities use the word in the singular, but in Bṛhad-āraṇyaka, x. the word kloma is used in the plural number; and Śaṅkara, in commenting on this, says that, though it is one organ, it is always used in the plural (nitya-bahu-va-canānta). This, however, is evidently erroneous, as all the authorities use the word in the singular. His description of it as being located on the left of the heart (yakṛc ca klomātiaś ca hṛdayasyādhastād dakṣiṇottarau māṃsa-khaṇḍau, Br. 1. 1, commentary' of Śaṅkara) is against the verdict of Suśruta, who places it on the same side of the heart as the liver.

The Bhāva-prakāśa describes it as the root of the veins, where water is borne or secreted. That kloma was an organ which formed a member of the system of respiratory organs is further proved by its being often associated with the other organs of the neighbourhooḍ, such as the throat (kaṇṭha) and the root of the palate (tālu-mūla).

Thus Caraka says,

udaka-vahānāṃ srotasāṃ tālu-mūlaṃ kloma ca....Jihvā-tālv-oṣṭha-kaṇṭha-kloma-śoṣam ...dṛṣṭvā
      (Vimāna, v. 10). Śārñgadhara, I. v. 45,

however, describes it as a gland of watery secretions near the liver (jala-vāhi-śirā-mūlaṃ tṛṣṇā-tchādanakaṃ tilam).


This word does not occur in the medical literature. Sāyana describes it as “etat-saṃjñakāt tat-saṃbandhāt māṃsa-piṇḍa-viśeṣāt.” This, however, is quite useless for identification. Weber thinks that it may mean “gall” (Indische Studien, 13, 206). Macdonell considers it to be “some particular intestine” (Vedic Index, vol. ix, p. 500).


Sāyana paraphrases matsnābhyām as vṛkyābhyām. Caraka’s reading is vukka. Sāyana gives an alternative explanation:

matsnābhyām ubhaya-pārśva-saṃbandhābhyāṃ vṛkyābhyāṃ tat-saṃīpa-stha-pittādhāra-pātrābhyām.”

If this explanation is accepted, then matsnā would mean the two sacs of pitta (bile) near the kidneys. The two matsnās in this explanation would probably be the gall bladder and the pancreas, which latter, on account of its secretions, was probably considered as another pittādhāra.


Plāśi is paraphrased by Sāvana as “bahu-cchidrān mala-pātrāt” (the vessel of the excreta with many holes). These holes are probably the orifices of the glands inside the colon (mnla-pātra). The Śatapatha-brāhmaṇa, xii. 9. i. 3 enumerates all these organs as being sacred to certain gods and sacrificial instruments— hṛdayam evāsyaindraḥ puroḍāśaḥ, yakṛt sāvitraḥ, klomā vārtmaḥ, matsne evāsyāśvattḥaṃ ca pātram audumbaraṃ ca pittaṃ naiyagrodham antrāṇi sthālyaḥ gudā tipāśayāni śyena-pātre plīhāsandī nābhiḥ kumbho vaniṣṭhuḥ plāśiḥ śātātrṇṇā tad yat sā bahudhā vitṛṇṇā bhavati tasmāt plāśir bahudhā vikṛttaḥ. Vasti, or bladder, is regarded as the place where the urine collects (A.V. 1. 3. 6).


Sāyana says that snāva means here the smaller śirās and dhamanī the thicker ones (the arteries)— sūksmāḥ śirāḥ snāva-śabdena ncyante dhamani-śabdena sthūlāḥ (A.V. 11. 33).


A.V. X. 9 shows that probably dissection of animals was also practised. Most of the organs of a cow are mentioned. Along with the organs of human beings mentioned above two other organs are mentioned, viz. the pericardium (purītat) and the bronchial tubes (saha-kaṇṭhikā). A.V. x. 9. 15.


Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, “Diseases and medicine: Vedic.”


Sāyana paraphrases hirā as śirā and describes it as a canal (tuulī) for carrying blood (rajo-vahana-nāḍyaḥ), and the epithet “lohita-vāsasah” as either wearing red garment” or “red,” or “the receptacle of blood” (rudhirasya nivāsa-bhūtāḥ).


The previous verse referred to śirās as letting out blood, whereas this verse refers to dhamanis as performing the same function. Sāyana also freely paraphrases dhamani as śirā (mahī mahatī sthūlatarā dhamaniḥ śirā tiṣṭhād it tiṣṭhaty eva, anena prayogeṇa nivṛtta-rudhira-srāvā avatiṣṭhatām).


Here both the dhamani and the hirā are enumerated. Sāyana here says that dhamanis are the important nāḍīs in the heart (hṛdaya-gatānām pradhāna-nāḍīnām), and hirās or śirās are branch nāḍīs (śirāṇāṃ śākhā-nāḍtnām). The number of dhamanis, as here given, is a hundreḍ and thus almost agrees with the number of nāḍīs in the heart given in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, vi. 16 (śatam caikā ca hṛdayasya nāḍyaḥ).

The Praśna Upaniṣad, 111. 6 also speaks of a hundred nāḍīs, of which there are thousands of branches.


antrebhyo mnirgatasya mūtrasya mūtrāśaya-prāpti-sādhane pārśva-dvaya-sthe nāḍyau gaiñnyau ity ucyete.
      Sāyana’s Bhāṣya.

In 1. 11. 5 two nādts called gavtnikā are referred to and are described by Sāyana as being the two nāḍīs on the two sides of the vagina controlling delivery

(gaiñnike yoneḥ pārśva-vartinyau nirgamana-pratibandhike nāḍyau —Sāyana).

In one passage (A.V. 11. 12. 7) eight dhamanis called manya are mentioned, and Sāyana says that they are near the neck. A nāḍī called sikatāvatī, on which strangury depends, is mentioned in A.V. 1. 17. 4.


Another goddess of delivery, Sūsāni, is also invoked.


vi te bhinaḍmi vi yortiṃ vi gavīnike. A.V. I. 11. 5.


Ko osmin reto nyadadhāt tcintur ātayatām iti (Who put the semen in him, saying, Let the thread of life be spun out? A.V. x. 2. 17).


Mūrḍhānam asya saṃñvyātharvā hṛḍayaṃ ca yat (A.V. x. 2. 26). See also Griffith’s translations.


Ko asmin prāṇam avayat ko apānaṃ vyānam u samānam asmin ko ḍeve ’ḍhi śiśrāya pūruṣe (Who has woven prāṇa, apāna, vyāna and samāna into him and which ḍeity is controlling him? A.V. X. 2. 13).


Sapta prāṇām aṣṭau manyas (or majjñas) tṃṃs te vṛścāmi brahmaṇā (A.V. II. 12. 7). The taittrirīya-brāhmaṇa, 1. 2. 3. 3 refers to seven prāṇas, sapta vai śīrśaṇyāh prāṇāh. Again a reference to the seven senses is found in A.V. X. 2. 6: kah sapta khāni vitatardn śīrṣaiii. In A.V. XV. 15. 16. 17 seven kinds of prāṇa, apāna and vyāna are described. These seem to serve cosmic functions.

The seven prāṇas are

  1. agni,
  2. āḍitya,
  3. candramāḥ,
  4. pavamāna,
  5. āpaḥ,
  6. paśavaḥ
  7. and prajāḥ.

The seven apānas are

  1. paurṇamāsī,
  2. aṣṭakā,
  3. amōvāsyā,
  4. śraddhā,
  5. dīkṣā,
  6. yajña
  7. and dakṣiṇā.

The seven kinds of vyāna are

  1. bhūmi,
  2. antarikṣaṃ,
  3. dyauḥ,
  4. nakṣatrāṇi,
  5. ṛtuvoḥ,
  6. ārtavāḥ
  7. and saṃvatsarāḥ.


puṇḍarīkaṃ nava-dvāraṃ tribhir guṇebhir āvṛtaṃ
tasmin yad yaksam ātmanvat tad vai Brahma-i'ido viduḥ.

(Those who know Brahman know that being to be the self which resides in the lotus rlower of nine gates covered by the three guṇas. A.V. X. 8. 43.)

The tiāḍls jḍā, piñgalū and suṣutnṇā, which figure so much in the later Tāntric works, do not appear in the Atharva-Veda. No reference to prāṇāyāma appears in the Atharva- Veda.


A.V. 11. 15.


Ibid. 11. 16. 1. Prāṇa and apāna are asked in another passage to enter a man as bulls enter a cow-shed. Sāyana calls prāṇa, apāna ‘‘ śarīras-dhāraka ’’ (A.V. 111. 11. 5). They are also asked not to leave the body, but to bear the limbs till old age (111. 11. 6).


Manas and citta are also separately counted in A.V. in. 6. 8.


The word cittinaḥ is sometimes used to mean men of the same ways of thinking (cittinaḥ samāna-citta-yuktāḥ —Sāyana. A.V. in. 13. 5).


Ojo’ sy ojo me dāḥ svāhā (A.V. II. xvm. i). Sāyana, in explaining ojaḥ, says,

ojaḥ śarīra-sthiti-kāraṇam aṣṭamo dhātuḥ." He quotes a passage as being spoken by the teachers (ācāryuiḥ): “ ksetrajñasya tad ojas tu kevalāśraya iṣyate yatḥā snehaḥ pradīpasya yatḥābḥram aśatii-tviṣaḥ

(Just as the lamp depends on the oil and the lightning on the clouds so the ojah depends on the kṣhetra-jña (self) alone).

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