History of Indian Medicine (and Ayurveda)

by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society | 1949 | 162,724 words | ISBN-13: 9788176370813

The History of Indian medicine and Ayurveda (i.e., the science of life) represents the introductory pages of the Charaka Samhita composed of six large sections dealing with every facet of Medicine in ancient India in a Socio-Historical context. Caraka is regarded as one of the pioneers in the field of scientific healthcare. As an important final a...

Chapter 3 - The Story of Bharadvaja

The prime source of all knowledge to the Indo-Aryans was the Veda and both legend and history must ultimately be traced to Vedic origins. The ‘Science of Life’ and the gods and sages that have propagated and enriched it, find mention in that eternal body of knowledge, the Vedas. The Rigveda and the Atharvaveda are variously claimed as the source, or the original tree of which Ayurveda is a branch. It is thus called an Upa-veda (upaveda) of the Atharva-veda by most and of the Rigveda by some.

Though the Vedas are the eternal source of knowledge, they are given out at the beginning of each cycle of creation by the creator Brahma (Brahmā) and are promulgated by the foremost of his creatures for the guidance of the world. Thus, Brahma, according to the Mundakopanisad (Muṇḍakopaniṣad) which belongs to the Atharvaveda, narrates the descent of the Brahma-vidya (brahmavidyā) from Brahma. Brahma taught it to his eldest son Atharva. Atharva gave it to Angir and be to Satyavaha, a descendant of Bharadvaja. Through him it came down through generations to the world. What applies to this Brahma-vidya applies to the whole of the Atharvaveda. This Atharva-veda is also called the Brahma-veda, the Veda par excellence. At the time of the sacrifice, the Rigveda is represented and sung by the Hota (Hotā), the Yajur-veda by the Adhvaryu, the Sama-veda by the Udgata (Udgātā) and the Atharva-veda by Brahma i. e. the one that represents them creator. Thus the place of honor is accorded to this Veda.

The Gopatha Brahmana says that while all the three Vedas form one wing of the bird of sacrifice the Atharva-veda, by itself, forms the other wing.

[Gopathabrāhmaṇa 3.2]

We thus see that this Atharva-veda was held in high esteem and its promulgators were naturally regarded as the leaders of thought and practical wisdom.

This Atharva-veda is both religious and secular m its range of subjects and scope of practice. Not only was it sung and represented at the performance of the sacrifice which was the nucleus of Vedic religion and worship, but its coteries were the ones considered duly qualified to be the priests and advisers to kings and entitled to perform the auspicious ceremonies for happiness and health (śāntikapauṣṭika) and of coronation of kings.


Thus we see that the Atharva-veda containing as it does, both spiritual and worldly lore, was patronised both by sages and kings Its promulgators were naturally the leaders of society and the originators of the great sciences and arts that the Atharva-veda contained. This Atharvangirasa lineage is the one from which hrs sprung the great sage in question, Bharadvaja, and no wonder that in the Atharva-veda bis name and stature stand out conspicuously; and according to the Caraka Samhita, he is the bringer of the medical science from the king of the gods and the first teacher of Ayurveda on earth, of whom Atreya and others are the great disciples.

Agni, Vayu and Surya are the recepients of the Rik, Yajus and Saman respectively and similarly Atharva is the recipient of the Atharav-veda. Bharadvaja belonging to his line is naturally accorded the great place as the earthly promulgator of its important branches of medicine and archery.

Now, as regards the evidence we have from the three fore most Samhitas of Ayurveda about its origin and earthtly descent, there is unanimity upto a certain extent i.e. with reference to the celestial part of its devolution.

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 1, 4-5]

Daksa Prajapati, the progenitor, first obtained the science of life in its entirety as promulgated by Brahma, the great one i.e. the Creator and from him in turn, the Ashvin [Ashvin] twins obtained it, from the Ashvin twins the god Indra acquired Therefore Bharadvaja bidden by the sages approached Indra (Śakra)”.

Thus according to them all, Brahma taught the science to Daksa, the progenitor, and he imparted it to the twin gods known as the Ashvins. From them Indra, the lord of the immortals, learnt it. It is from Indra that mortal protagonists acquired it, and according to the Caraka Samhita, the first mortal that received the science was Bharadvaja, who repaired to the court of Indra delegated by the congress of Rishis to appeal to the king of the gods to impart the science for the redemption of suffering mankind below. Graciously enough, Indra taught the whole of the science to Bharadvaja, from whom Atreya and other great sages learnt it and passed on to their disciples. The prime object of the science of life is to lengthen the span of earthly existence and Bharadvaja, the first mortal knower of this science, is Credited to have achieved this end.

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 1, 26]

“Bharadvaja thereby acquired unmeasured life endowed with happiness”;

For he is known to have lived through three lives i.e., three generations of contemporary humanity. This, as we have already said, is the version of the Caraka Samhita of the beginning of Ayurveda on earth. But according to the Sushruta and Kashyapa Samhitas which are more or less contemporaneous with Caraka Samhita or Agnivesha-tantra as it is also called, the original teachers of these treatises namely Dhanvantari and Kashyapa claim to have received the science direct from Indra, on a par with Bharadvaja.

The following table gives the manner of descent of Ayurveda and the succession of teachers aid disciples according to each of these three important treatises, each representing predominantly a branch of medicine. Thus the Atreya school is primarily one of medicine, the Sushruta school of Surgery and the Kashyapa school of Pediatrics and obstetrics.

Schools (Lineage) of Ayurveda

Brahma (Brahmā)

Daksha (Dakṣa)

Ashvins (Aśvinau)

Indra (Indraḥ)

(According to the version in Sushruta Samhita)—Dhanvantari or Divodasa (Divodāsa)—Sushruta (Suśruta), Aupadhenava, Vaitarana (Vaitaraṇa), Aurabhra, Paushkalavata (Pauṣkalāvata), Karavirya (Karavīrya), Gopurarakshita (Gopurarakṣita), Bhoja and others.

(According to the version in Kashyapa Samhita)—Kashyapa (Kaśyapa), Vasishtha (Vasiṣṭha), Atri and Bhrigu (Bhṛgu)—Their sons and disciples.

(According to the version in Caraka Samhita)—Bharadvaja (Bharadvāja)—Atreya Punarvasu (Ātreya-Punarvasu)—Agnivesha (Agniveśa), Bhela, Jatu (Jatū), Karna (Karṇa), Parashara (Parāśara), Harita (Hārīta), Ksharapani (Kṣārapāṇi) and others.

In this connection it is necessary to refer to another part of the Caraka Samhita where a different account of the descent of Ayurveda, particularly of Rasayana, is given. In the section on Rasayana, the following narative occurs.

[Ca Ci 1/4-4]

Which means that Bhrigu, Angira and other sages approached Indra in the Himalayan region, desiring to find a remedy for the ills born of d welling in towns and villages. They receive the desired knowledge from Indra. There is no mention of Bharadvaja in this context as receiving Ayurveda from Indra; but there is the name of Atri among the galaxy of sages. The learned commentator Cakrapani comes to the reader’s rescue and explains that this refers to a later occasion than the one described in the opening chapter of the book and that in the meanwhile the science of healing had fallen into neglect and that the sages mentioned above approached Indra again for instruction. The explanation sounds quite plausible considering the fact that no two obviously conflicting versions could have been embodied in the same text by its authors or compilers and subsequent redactors; and a supposition like the one suggested by the learned commentator seems quite justifiable and to have been intended by the authors. The latter reference is evidently limited only to the science of Rasayana,

As regards the evidence of the other two Samhitas referred to, we shall first examine the Sushruta Samhita. There is no mention of Bharadvaja having received the science from Indra or having imparted it to Dhanvantari, the king of Kashi Dhanvantari claims to have received it from Indra directly, as may be seen from the table given before. Yet in contradiction to what we see in the Sushruta Samhita itself, we find from the Taittiriya Brahmana and the Mahabharata that Bharadvaja was the priest (Purohita) of three generations of the Kings of Kashi i.e. Dhanvantari,, Sudasa (Sudāsa) and Pratardana. He is thus said to have lived through three lives. Divodasa must have owed his knowledge to his preceptor and priest Bharadvaja.

The Harivamsha describes Bharadvaja as the teacher of the medical science to Dhanvantari.

[Ha. Vaṃ. 29.26-27]

Evidently, as Divodasa was regarded as the earthly incarnation of God Dhanvantari, the original God of medicine, he claims to have received the science directly from Indra, the king of the Gods. Thus alone can we explain the absence of any mention, in the Sushruta Samhita, of Bharadvaja as the preceptor of Dhanvantari or Divodasa. The compiler of each treatise, perhaps, desired to make the particular preceptor in question supreme above all others We see this tendency in other treatises too. In the Kashyapa Samhita, Kashyapa and not Bharadvaja is the recipient of the Science from Indra-

Again, in the Harita Samhita—Harita is a disciple of Atreya along with Agnivesha, Bhela and others—we have a confirmation of the story of Bharadvaja as the teacher of Atreya and other sages.


Curiously enough, Vagbhata, who draws from all the Samhitas extant at his time, portrays Punarvasu Atreya as approaching Indra as leader of other sages among whom Bharadvaja is also one, and as learning the Science of life from him. He is not indebted to Bharadvaja for his acquisition of the science.

[Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna a-1]

[Aṣṭāṅgasaṃgraha Sūtrasthāna 9]

Perhaps it is these and such other conflicting narratives that have made some scholars believe Atreya to be identical with Bharadvaja But the learned Cakrapani is emphatic on the different individualities of these two sages and is definitely of the opinion that Bharadvaja is the teacher of Atreya.


A much later writer on medicine, Bhavamishra, of the sixteenth century, has three differing versions of the story of Ayurveda. Evidently he contents himself by stating the actual versions then current in books and among the scholars of the science. He firstly narrates the story as told by Vagbhata wherein Atreya, as the leader of a group of sages, receives his instruction from Indra.

[Bhāvaprakāśa Pū. 1]

In the second story, he depicts Atreya as approaching Indra, by himself, out of compassion for suffering humanity, and having learnt the science from Indra, Atreya writes a treatise on Ayurveda and instructs his disciples Agnivesha, Bhela and others in it

[Bhāvaprakāśa Pū. 1]

According to the third story, once it happened that many sages met together on the slopes of the Himalayas. The first to arrive was the best among sages, Bharadvaja. Then all the sages that congregated, unanimously chose and besought Bharadwaja to repair to Indra and bring down the Ayurveda.

[Bhāvaprakāśa Pū. 1]

He did so and the other sages studied the treatise written by him and acquired long life and health. This story is more in accordance with the one given in the Caraka Samhita except for the feature which makes Bharadvaja offer himself voluntarily to be their deputy before Indra in the latter work. That the other sages learnt the science from him is common to both the versions. His teaching was imparted systematically laying out the foundations of logical concepts of Samanya, Vishesha and Samavaya, from which the theory of drug and action as evolved leading to the general principles of the science of medicine. Both in Bhavaprakasha and Caraka, these logical concepts are specifically mentioned as the basic knowledge that Bharadvaja taught the other sages for learning the science of medicine. It is therefore natural to surmise that Bharadvaja should have been famous as a teacher of logic. We find one Udyotakara, the author of Nyayavarttika referring to Bharadvaja as the author of Nyaya.

From the foregoing it must be evident that despite conflicting narratives, Ayurveda owes its inception to Bharadvaja. The strongest point in favour of such a view is his line of descent from Atharva and Angiras, the receivers and seers of the Atharva-veda, and Ayurveda as a part of the Atharva-veda accords leadership in the science to Bharadvaja, a luminous sage of the Atharvavedic line of descent.

Besides, Bharadvaja is a name held in great Generation even in the Rigveda. He is the composer of the Brihat which is the best of the Sama melodies. In a hymn in the Rigveda (X. 181) it is sung that while Vasistha composed the Rathantara Melody it was Bharadvaja who was the author of the Brihat, these being the twin luminous wings of the fire-bird of sacrifice. It is also said that Bharadvaja was among the first to discover “the highway leading to the gods.” The hymn concludes saying, rather mysteriously, that it was “these sages (among whom Bharadvāja is one) that brought down the Gharma” the heat, from the sun.

[Ṛ. Ma. 10. Sū. 181]

“They found with mental eyes the earliest Yajus, a pathway to the gods that had descended from radiant Dhatar, Savitar and Visnu. From Surya did these sages bring the Gharma.” (Griffiths translation of Rigveda)

In the Mahabharata, Bharadvaja is said to be a sage settled near Haradwar on the banks of the Ganges, while in the Ramayana he has his hermitage at Prayag where he receives Rama and Sita.

According to both the Harivamsha (Harivaṃśa) and the Bhagavata (Bhāgavata), Bharadvaja became the adopted son of Paurva, son of Bharata. In the story it is said that as the king was not satisfied with the qualities of the children his wife bore him, he was very much grieved and the Maruts commmended to him this son of Brihaspati as most worthy of being adopted by him for a successor.

The story of his birth in this connection is worth narrating. According to the Visnu Purana and the Mahabharata, he is the son of Mamata (Mamatā) by Brihaspati. When Utathya’s wife Mamata was big with child, Brihaspati the husband’s younger brother cohabited with Mamata. The fetus, who later was the great sage Dirghatamas (Dīrghatamas) objected to the uncle’s attempt at further impregnation and kicked out the new fetus with his feet. In consequence, Brihaspati caused the original fetus to become blind as Dirghatamas became since, as his name indicates. Though thrown out, Brihaspati’s offspring grew into the child that was Bharadvaja later.

“Rear this child of double parentage”, with these words Brihaspati offered the child to the mother.

[Bhāga. Skandha. 9? bha. 20]

Thus the strange tale of an instance of superfetation hangs about this great personage of ancient times, one of the greatest leaders of men at the very dawn of Aryan history in India. Prometheus-like in stature and benevolence, wise as behoves the son of Brihaspati, the teacher of the gods, he strode the earth like a prophet, bringing the fire from the sun, the healing wisdom from the king of the immortals, and opened up the pathway leading to heaven which may mean the “Brahma-vidya” or the institution of sacrifice that opens up the path leading to the Gods. Prophet, sage and prince, this dynamic leader was the contemporary of three generations of humanity, counsellor and teacher to the kings of Kashi, revered leader and compeer of the greatest of sages, he might also be one of the seven orginal sages that exist from the beginning of each cycle of Manvantara. Cakrapani, the commentator is of the view that he is only a descendant of the orginal sage of that name

With this great personage, half legendary and half historical, half divine and half human, striding the snowy heights of the Himalayas in the early dawn of history, footing the path to the home of the king of the immortals, ‘looking larger than human on these frozen hills’, the history of Ayurveda begins. He remains for ever the bringer of the healing light, the father of the science of Medicine on Earth.

The Various Bharadvajas

“The first and the foremost famous vedic poet of this period was Bharadvaja Vajineya (Bharadvāja Vajineya). He was a contemporary of Divodasa, Prastoka Saranjaya (?) and Abhyavartin Cayamana (Cyamāna) and consequently of Dasharatha. His sons were Garga and Payu (Pāyu). Rama Dasharathi repaired to his hermitage on his way back from Lanka. He was the Purohita of Divodasa, gave Pratardana Daivodasi (Daivodāsī) his kingdom and Ksattrashri Pratardani (Kṣattraśrī Pratardanī) was his Yajamana. He was one of the Risis of the Vedic age, who prohibited the slaughter of cows in sacrifices simply out of gratitude to the bovine race which showers on mankind kindness in the form of milk. Bharadvaja loved the cows so very deeply that he did not hesitate to identify them with Indra, his deity”.

The above is evidently the account of Bharadvaja that we have just studied in the foregoing pages as described by am orientalist. That Bharadvaja loved the cows and identified them with Indra is how we may understand if we take the word ‘Go’ to mean cow. ‘Go’ is primarily light or knowledge and the Veda which is the embodiment of it Bharadvaja was a great ‘Gaveshaka’ (Gaveṣaka) meaning not simply a lover or promoter of the well being of the cow, but a seeker after light and knowledge. That he identified knowledge with Indra is easily understandable when we know that he received his Ayurveda from Indra, the fountain-head of knowledge, and the king of the immortals.

Later on in the Mahabharata we hear of a Bharadvaja, the father of Drona, the famous teacher of the Kauravas in archery.

Now we shall deal with the accounts of the various other persons bearing the name of Bharadvaja that we meet in the Caraka Samhita, so that there may be no mistake and confusion regarding the one great Bharadvaja, the first propagator of the Science of Life on earth. and the great seer that was among the bringers of the solar fir e and that approached Indra for the Ayurveda, as the messenger of the sages

In the Caraka Samhita we have another Bharadvaja, known as the Kumarashira (Kumāraśirā) and yet another that takes part in the learned discussion with Atreya. The context in which the names of these two persons appear leaves uo doubt regarding their different identity from the great Bharadvaja

There are three places in the Caraka Samhita where this Bharadvaja with the title of Kumarashira is mentioned.

This is perhaps a nick-name bestowed on that particular Bharadvaja for his theory that in the course of the development of the fetus the head is the first part to manifest itself Or it is also likely that he had a head bigger in size than is usual and resembling the head in an infant, in whom the head is very large in proportion to the rest of the body Or it is equally likely that he had an infantile head in proportion to his adult body and was hence known as Kumarasira “One having a boy’s head” But we know for certain that he propounded the theory of the emergence of the head first in the fetus before other parts, and his theory might have earned him the lasting epithet of Kumarashira.

[Carakasaṃhitā Śārīrasthāna 6-21]

“It is the head that first develops in the womb, thus views Kumarashira Bharadvaja”.

He participates in the discussion on the actions of Vata and again in the significant discussion on the number of tastes. He propounds that tastes are only five in number.

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 12.5]

“Hearing this statement, Bharadvaja, the Kumarashira said, ‘It is even as your honour has said; such, to be sure, are the characteristics of Vata. It is by the repeated use of such like qualities, such like substances and actions of such like potencies that Vata becomes excited. For, verily, the increasing factors of the body-elements is the repeated use of homologous things.”

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 26.4]

“The sinless Bharadvaja known as Kumarashira,”

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 26.8]

“Bharadvaja known also as Kumarashira then said, ‘There are five tastes;....”

Thus we find a Bharadvaja Kumarashira, quite distinct from the Great Originator of the Science on earth and described in the beginning of the Caraka Samhita.

There is another person by the name of Bharadvaja, who is a great scholar taking part in the learned discussions of the sages and propounding the theory of Nature or the innate quality of things as the cause of man as well as of his diseases

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 25.20-21]

[Carakasaṃhitā Śārīrasthāna 4 (1)]

“To this the sage Bharadvaja said—‘No For the doer always precedes the deed. Nor have we any valid knowledge of action that has not been performed, whereof it may be said that an individual is the result. Nature alone is the cause, then, of both man and his disease just as roughness, fluidity, mobility and heat are respectively the’ nature of earth, water, air, and fire”

“No! said Bharadvaja to this. For what reason did he say so? Because neither mother nor father, neither the spirit nor concordance, nor yet the use of drinks or foods that are eaten, masticated or licked up, in fact, bring about the conception Nor does a mind, coming from another world, enter into the embryo”

In the latter part of Sharira-sthana, Chapter III, a Bharadvaja asks the teacher Atreya a number of questions. This Bharadvaja seems to be merely a student who goes on asking questions, and evidently a different person from the learned Bharadvaja of the earlier part of the chapter, who has authoritative views of his own.

[Carakasaṃhitā Śārīrasthāna 3.15]

“How is the embryo integrated? Why does tie embryo emerge in the shape of man? Why are those, sprung of the idiotic, blind............unlike the parents?”

In the Kashyapa Samhita there is a reference to a Krishna Bharadvaja (Kṛṣṇabhāradvādja [Kṛṣṇabharadvādja?]) who may be a son of Bharadvaja.

[Kāśyapasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 27.3]

“There are four kinds of diseases exogenous, those born of Vata, those born of Pitta and those born of Kapha;’ so says Krishna Bharadvaja”.

It is necessary to mention, while yet on this subject, that there are a few works come down in the name of Bharadvaja.

1.Bhavaprakashha (Bhāvaprakāśa) ascribes to Bharadvaja a regular treatise on medicine from which the other sages studied and learnt the qualities and actions of substances.

2.There seems to have been current a book entitled Bharadvajiyam (bhāradvājīyam) meaning the book on the system of Bharadvaja

3.Bheshaja-kalpa (bheṣajakalpa) is another book ascribed to him dealing with the pharmaceutics and treatment of fevers. A commentary of this work is also available.

4. There are a few recipes too bearing Bharadvaja’s name, being perhaps propounded by him.

The following recipes bear the name of Bharadvaja: Brihat Phalaghrita (bṛhatphalaghṛta) [...] and Phalaghrita (phalaghṛta) [...]

In conclusion, it is necessary to repeat that the great mass and variety of evidence that we have reviewed, leave no doubt regarding the existence and accomplishments of this great sage and father of medicine. There must have been lesser persons bearing his name who have played some part in the history of the cultural evolution of the Indo-aryan people; but the proto-type, the Bharadvaja that brought down the science of medicine and opened up the way to the court of Indra, is from all accounts, the real hero and originator of the Science of Medicine and of Life, known as Ayurveda. No account of the evolution of Medicine in India can afford to ignore this hallowed name, if it should be faithful to the inscribed chronicles of racial history. It is only after a full cognizance of his greatness and significance that we can pass on to consider the lives and achievements of other teachers and propagators of medicine, in the land of the Aryas.

Help me keep this site Ad-Free

For over a decade, this site has never bothered you with ads. I want to keep it that way. But I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased truth, wisdom and knowledge.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: