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 5 - The Story of Agnivesha

The great heritage of the healing art left to us by Krishna Atreya would have been lost to us but for the herculean task of his chief pupil Agnivesha who made a detailed record of the exposition which flowed from the benevolent lips of his preceptor Atreya. It was Agnivesha who codified the knowledge and arranged it in the form of a Treatise which forms the basis of what is now the Caraka Samhita. Krishna Atreya expounded the science of Kaya-Cikitsa to his six pupils among whom Agnivesha was one of outstanding intelligence. His intellect was superior to his co students and his treatise was applauded by the sages as the most authoritative.

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 1.30-39]

“Thereafter Punarvasu, the most benevolent, moved by compassion for all creatures, bestowed the science of life on his six disciples. Agnivesha, Bhela, Jatukarna, Parashara, Harita and Ksarapani received the teaching of that sage.

All this has been declared to the foremost disciple by Punarvasu, the Knower of Truth, who was free from the faults of passion and ignorance, in this discourse on the treatment of Pectoral Lesions and Cachexia.

Addressing himself to the six choicest of his disciples headed by Agnivesha, who were dedicated to study and meditation, the master, Atreya, declared as follows, with a view to stimulate inquiry.

It was the excellence of his own understanding and not any difference in instruction by the sage, whereby Agnivesha became the foremost compiler of the science

Not only was he the most brilliant among the disciples but his compilation received the approval of the committee of experts which declared it to be the best of all and ever since it became the authoritative text-book on the science.”

This brilliant author of perhaps the oldest written medical work was known as Hutasha (Hutāśa) or Hutashavesha (Hutāśaveśa) and Vahnivesha (Vahniveśa), Hutasha and Vahni are but the synonyms of Agni and the later authors substituted the synonyms for the purpose of variation.

In (Mādhavanidāna) chapter 44 on fractures we find:


Agnivesha is referred to by his synonyms in Caraka Samhita.

In Siddhisthana (Siddhisthāna) 12th chapter, verse 53 Agnivesha is referred to as Vahnivesha:


The Commentator Cakrapani while beginning the benedictory verse refers to Agnivesha by his synonym.


The Agnivesha-tantra originally consisted of 12000 verses.

[Carakasaṃhitā Siddhisthāna 12.52-53]

Unfortunately Agnivesha-tantra in the original form is not available at present. That logically leads us to the question, as to the period till which the book was available.

Indukara, the commentator of Astanga Sangraha writes ([carako'rdhakṛte tantre brahmabhūya yatā gata?]), this statement has led many to believe that Caraka’s life came to an end before he could complete the redaction of Agnivesha-tantra. But this theory is untenable, because throughout the Caraka Samhita we find at the end of each chapter ([carakapratisaṃskṛte;?]); this means that Caraka redacted the whole of Agnivesha-tantra.

The following statement of Dridhabala has led some people to think that Agnivesha-tantra was not available in his time.

[Carakasaṃhitā Siddhisthāna 12.39]

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 30.289]

“He added seventeen chapters in the section on therapeutics as also the two sections of Pharmaceutics (kalpa) and Success in Treatment (siddhi) in entirety, by culling his data from various treatises on the science”.

“The seventeen chapters and the sections on Pharmaceutics and Success in Treatment in the treatise composed by Agnivesha and revised by Caraka have not been found.”

But such an assumption can be easily set aside. The argument put forward is that he mentions having taken from many other books, and Agnivesha-tantra is not specifically mentioned. But we must not forget that Dridhabala is a redactor. As we have seen, redaction is the progressive revision of the original text. Additions or omissions can be made according to the progress in the science made during that period. Naturally the author has to consult all new books for such redaction. He has to move with the times and be in constant touch with the changing. He was not a mere commentator who had just to make the text lucid. He was a redactor and as such he consulted all available treatises in order to revise and make the text up-to-date. The basic text which was to be redacted need not be mentioned as such as it is to be taken for granted as the basic text on which the super-structure was constructed.

Again, the verse quoted above means no more than this that the redacted portion of Caraka is not available and it is only by a stretch of unwarranted assumption that we can construe it as meaning that Agnivesha tantra was not available. A slight linguistic ambiguity in the verse has however, caused this confusion. If the reading were the ambiguity would not have occurred.

In the Siddhisthana (siddhisthāna) 4th chapter, Dridhabala (Dṛḍhabala) describes the meeting of the learned sages under the presidentship of Atreya. Unless we take this to be a mere conventional way of writing in those days, we must conclude that Agnivesha-tantra (Agniveśatantra) was available in Dridhabala’s time.

There is difference of opinion as regards the portion of section on therapeutics, that have been restored by Dridhabala. This creates a problem as to which 17 chapters were restored by Dridhabala. A critical examination of this question by thrashing out all available internal and external evidence indicates that the original text of Agnivesha existed as the basic text for Dridhabala and that a certain portion of the redacted text of Caraka was not available.

The style and language of the original texts of Agnivesha, Caraka and Dridhabala can be distinguished on minute examination of the text. Now, we find that there is a mixture of the styles and diction in nearly all the chapters and hence one is led to the natural conclusion that Agnivesha-tantra did exist in the time of Dridhabala.

The index of all the 120 chapters is given in the 30th chapter of Sutra-sthana. Dridhabala’s arrangement is quite in accord with that. Though this is not a strong argument in itself, as one can Say that the headings of the chapters might have been taken by Dridhabala from the index in Sutra-sthana or that the whole index in the 30th chapter may be altogether a later insertion

That the Agnivesha-tantra did exist upto and well after Vagbhata is amply supported by various facts. The following quotations should disperse any suspicion that Agnivesha-tantra was lost in the time of Vagbhata.

[Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 1.4]

[Aṣṭāṅgasaṃgraha Uttarasthāna 50]

[Aṣṭāṅgasaṃgraha Uttarasthāna 50]

[Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā Nidānasthāna 2.62]

Jejjata, a pupil of Vagbhata quotes from Agnivesha-tantra the following verses. These verses are not found lu the Caraka Samhita and hence he must have quoted these from the original Agnivesa-tantra which must have been available in his days.


Tisata (Tīsaṭa), son of Vagbhata in his Cikitsa-Kalika (Cikitsa-Kalikā) mentions Agnivesha as a distinct authority showing that Agnivesha-tantra existed in his time.

[Ci. Ka. śloka 2]

Cakrapani, the commentator of Caraka Samhita who flourished in the 11th century A D cites pharmacentcal preparations which are not found in the Caraka Samhita. This leads us to the conclusion that the original Agnivesha tantra was available even in the time of Cakrapani.

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 6.1??—Ṭīkā]

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 8.7??—Ṭīkā]

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 7.?2—Ṭīkā]

The following recipe of Vasadya Ghrita (Vāsadya Ghṛta) is quoted by Shodhala (Śoḍhala) from Agnivesha-tantra


Shodbala flourished in the 12th Century A.D. and this shows that Agnivesha-tantra was available even then.

Kanthadatta (Kaṇṭhadatta) the commentator on Vrinda’s Siddhayoga who flourished in the 13th century A. D. says:


These verses are also not found in the Caraka Samhita and hence it can be presumed that they have been taken directly from the Agnivesha-tantra itself.

Shivadasa Sen who flourished in the 15th century A. D. says in his Tattva-candrika (Tattvacandrikā):


As this verse is not found in the Caraka Samhita, the only possible source of it must be Agnivesha-tantra which must have been available in the fifteenth century. After that period no more citations from the Agnivesha-tantra are available except one suggestive reference by Gangadhar Sastri in the 19 th century.

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 30.289]

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 14.2—Gaṅgādhara Ṭīkā]

More references will be unearthed by scholars in the course of research.

Besides this premier work on Ayurveda, several other works are ascribed to Agnivesha. Anjana Nidana (Añjananidāna) a treatise on diseases of the eye is one such book.


(Girindranath Hist. Vol III Pages 525-526).


This closing sentence definitely ascribes the work to Agnivesha. He is also quoted by Vagbhata, Bhavamishra, Tisata and Rudrabhalla and other authors. There are two or three commentaries written on this book

A third work Nidanasthana (Nidānasthāna—pathology) also stands in the name of Agnivesha.

Dowson speaks of Agnivesha as a sage and son of Agni and an early writer on medicine. We learn that Bharadvaja and Agastya were his preceptors in archery Dhanurvidya (Dhanurvidyā) and that Bharadvaja gave him the Agneyastra which Agnivesha gave to his pupil Drona (Droṇa). This Astra was called Brahmashirah (Brahmaśiras).

Thus we find that Agnivesha was equally adept in the science of war as with that of medicine.

One Agnivesa, the son of Satyaka is mentioned in Majjhama-Nikaya (Majjhama-Nikāya) to have taken part in the philosophical debate with Gautama Buddha,

There is no need to go into elaborate argument over the question of period in which he flourished. He was the pupil of Atreya and hence he flourished during the period of Atreya i.e. during the Shatapatha period. We may briefly enumerate the points that support our placing him in the Shatapatha period, apart from the argument of his contemporaneity with Atreya.

(1) He must have flourished before Panini as we find references to Taxilla in Panini while Taxilla conspicious by its absence in Agnivesha Samhita. No author of the versatility of Agnivesha could afford to neglect mentioning Taxilla if it were a flourishing centre of medical learning in his time.

(2)In the Panini-Sutra, Jatukarna, Parashara and Agnivesha—all names of physicians occur together and this indicates that Agnivesha lived before Panini’s period. We know that Jatakarna and Parasara were co-students (satīrthya) of Agnivesha.

(3) Hemadri-laksana-prakasha (Hemādrilakṣaṇaprakāśa Saṃ. 1525) quotes from Shalihotra (Śālihotra) a list of Ayurvedic authors. In it Agnivesha, Harita, Ksharapani and Jatukarna are mentioned. We know all these were co students.

(4) In Shatapatha Brahmana (Śatapathabrāhmaṇa) we find this:—(vaṃśabrāhmaṇe?)—Here a descendant of Agnivesha is referred to.

To Bharadvaja we pay our homage as the first mortal who undertook the hazardous task of travelling to the abode of Indra and bringing to the mortal world the science of Ayurveda. We regard Atreya with reverence as the first systematic propounder of the science of healing. Caraka is illustrious as the redactor of the original tantra of Agnivesha. But amidst these we must not forget the one who gave the science its permanent impress, by reducing it to the systematic form which it possesses today and which was heartily applauded as the beat by his contemporary sages and scholars. It was Agnivesa, the most brilliant pupil of Atreya who took down the truths as they flowed from the sacred lips of his master. Other pupils followed suit, but it was Agnivesha, who was upheld as the best. Thus it was Agnivesha who like Bhagiratha, brought the heavenly Ganges of the healing art within the reach of suffering mankind. He is the golden link between the preachings of Atreya, and the expositions of later medical authors. It is the anchor sheet and the permanent fountain source of medical science from which all the later scholars have drawn nourishment and support.

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