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 6 - The Story of Caraka

The world knows the most ancient and fundamental book on the Medicine of India as ‘Caraka’, or the ‘Caraka Samhita’. The early Arabic writers on medicine refer to Caraka as an authority and a complete translation was made of Caraka in Arabic. “This book was translated into Arabic for the princes of the house of Barmicides”. (Alberuni’s India B.E.C. Sachan). Tibetan, Chinese and other languages obtaining in the north-west neighbourhood of India may contain either translations of or references to Caraka. One such reference to a Car ka, the court physician of Kanishka, in the Chinese Tripitaka, led the orientalist Sylvain Levi to infer that the author of the Caraka Samhita is identical with the court physician of Kanishka. Of this we shall have to say more later on in this chapter. The name of Caraka as we shall see has been used in the ancient sacred literature of India to mean the adherents of a branch of the Veda, the teacher of a kind of acrobatic dance, a glutton and so forth, varying in its application of the particular sense of the verb ‘car’ out of the many it connotes.

It seems to be an honorific term indicating the profession of the peripatetic teacher. The religious and philosophical teachers called themselves the ‘Parivrajakas’. Mostly these were men who had renounced the world and had entered upon the last stage of religions life, that is ‘Samnyasa’ (Saṃnyāsa). Throughout the many centuries since first the Agnivesha-tantra was studied and redacted by Caraka, the world has known of this great work as the Caraka Samhita. From the fourth century after Christ till the present day, scholars, commentators, translators and institutions have added to the [sanctuary/sincirity?] and authority of this name. Bhattara Haricandra and Jejjata named their commentaries after his name. They are known respectively as Caraka-vyakhya (Carakavyākhyā) and Caraka-nyasa (Carakanyāsa). In the seventh century the great Sanskrit prose writer Bana Bhatta (Bāṇabhaṭṭa) mentions Caraka in one of hia passages containing ‘double entendre’.

Shanti-rakshita refers to Caraka in relation to ‘yukti’ or co-ordination as one of the Pramanas (pramāṇa) means of knowledge.


During the seventh, eighth and the ninth centuries when Arabic scholarship was at its highest and Islam spread in the west till it reached the shores of the Atlantic, Caraka was a revered authority in the Saracan and Latin world of science and scholarship. Alberuni says “they (the Hindus) have a book called by the name of its author, i.e. Caraka which they consider as the best of their whole literature on medicine. According to their belief Caraka was a Rishi in the last Dvapara-yuga when his name was Agnivesha, but afterwards he was called Caraka i.e the intelligent one” (Alberuni’s India by E.C. Sachin). Jayanta Bhatta in his work on logic called Nyaya-manjari (Nyāyamañjarī) refers to Caraka as an example of those authoritative wise men who have the whole of time-space in their ken.

[... Jayantabhaṭṭa Nyāyamañjarī]

Cakrapani, the popular commentator on Caraka of the 11th century is well known Bhanumati. the commentary on Sushruta refers to Caraka too curing the same period. Vijaya-raksita and Shrikantha of the 13 th century, Vacaspati and Kanthadatta and Shivadasa of the 14th and 15th centuries respectively as well as Bhavamishra of the 16th century refer to Caraka as the great medical authority. In the twentieth century there is a club of medical scholars in America, named after Caraka. It is known as the Caraka Club of America. Thus throughout these twenty or more centuries after he edited his great work, his name has been held in high esteem and as the highest authority on Hindu medicine.

We shall now discuss the history of the word ‘Caraka’ as it has been used to denote many aid various individuals or schools of thought.

The secular equivalent to this term was perhaps used to distinguish the secular peripatetic teacher from the religious Samnyasi and the equivalent of Parivrajaka is probably ‘Caraka’ Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhava and innumerable such peripatetic religious teachers were known as Parivrajakacaryas (Parivrājakācārya). Similarly the teacher of the secular wisdom, particularly of medicine, who went about disseminating his skill and theories must have called himself Caraka. It is necessary to examine why there should have come "into being any school of peripatetic teachers either religious or secular. This happens, as it is easy to see, when a new school has come into being, or when an old school is trying to reassert itself against the claims of a new one, at any rate, when there is a need felt for either the establishment of new tenets or the re-establishment of old ones, refuting the opposing or a newer school of thought. We have the example of the black school of Yajurveda whose adherents or propagating section were known as Carakas That was because this black or the older school had to meet the challenge of a new school started and propagated by a schismatic section of the followers of Yajnavalkya who broke away from the old school and founded his own branch known as the white Yajurveda. The older school must have felt the need to re-establishing authority or defend its following against the -inroads of the new and hence went about the country intent on the preservation and dissemination of its doctrine

It is probable that there arose a like situation of great ferment in medical thought and practice either as the result of various schools of medical theories coming into being or of a confusion regarding the rival schools claiming to represent the ancient and authoritative tradition or even perhaps of the wealth of accumulated data of experience and experiment waiting to be properly blended with and incorporated into the original body of the ancient science. That each or every one of these conditions is entirely probable if obvious when we remember that between the original compilation nf the Agnivesa-tantra which was presented to the assembly of sages and approved by them ananimously [anonymously?] and the appearance of the redactor whom we know as Caraka, there must have elapsed a long period of time, not less than a few centuries. If we regard Atreya and Agnivesha as belonging to the eighth or seventh century B.C. at the latest they ate succeeded immediately by the Buddhists to whom medical aid and teaching was [as?] important part of their mission of compassion to the fellow-men. The later day Buddhism of Ashoka was a state-religion and spread out broad and wide all over the central and south eastern parts of the continent of Asia, carrying the message and gift of healing along with the spiritual tenets of the ‘Light of Asia’. With State support, medicine was elaborately organised into institutional forms such as hospitals for man and animal. The universities of Taxilia and Nalanda and the innumerable hospitals for men and animals, that history has recorded for the first time on such an imperial scale owed their origin to the efforts and enlightenment of the Buddhist State of the Ashokan and post-Ashokan periods. The immense wealth of clinical data gathered and the variety of theories that such world-wide organization and contact should have engendered, required a fitting blending[?] and incorporation with the ancient foundations of the sages.

Besides, it must be borne in mind that the centuries succeeding the Nirvana (nirvāṇa) of the Buddha were also the centuries of great and increasing ferment in Indias secular as well as metaphysical thought. With the fall of Nandas and the ascent of Candragupta Maurya to the imperial throne of Magadha and the presence of and threatening incursions into the interior by the Greek Viceroys left behind by Alexander in the north-west of India, the sense of political, national and economic solidarity of India as a people was born. There arose too political theorists like Canakya expounding the science of government and of finance. In religion, astronomy and medicine, contact with the Greeks and the Persians in the west and the Chinese in the east created the need and urge for reasserting the time honoured traditions of thought and practice of the land. The rise and spread of Buddhism among the masses provoked the upsurge and renaissance of the Vedic traditions of worship and thought. Subsequent to Ashoka[?], Buddhism waned in India as a spiritual and political power, and Vedic tradition reclaimed the people to its fold and by a coup d’etat seized, even political supremacy when Pusya-mitra, the commander-in-chief, usurped the throne of Magadha by assassinating his ruler belonging to the Buddhistic persuasion. This was the culmination of the Vedic reassertion and Pusya-mitra performed the horse sacrifice after the manner of ancient Hindu emperors, and proclaimed himself the champion and renovator of Vedic traditions.

It is to this period, we presume, the various systems of Indian philosophical thought owe their origin Similarly it is in this period that the codification and edition and re-organization of the medical thought and traditions of the land, took place based on the experience and accumulated data of the whole period between the time of the sage-promulgators like Atreya and Agnivesha and the time of this new ferment and revival when Buddhism was on the wane.

Caraka, as we may gather from the internal evidence of the work, is aware of the Shakas, Yavanas and the Cinas.

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 30.316]

He knows their habits and dietetic pecularities. During the days of the Magadha empire, India loomed large among the nations of the world. Her wealth, her arts and sciences received international admiration. Conquerors, adventurers, Savants and pilgrims turned their eyes towards India in quest of her wealth, knowledge and holiness. The philosophers of the Nyaya and Vaisheshika schools expounded their theories of reality, of substance and quality. The Sankhyas formulated their theory of evolution of the world by the interaction of matter and consciousness (Prakritiprakṛti and Purusapuruṣa) and established the scientific postulate on which positive sciences could be built.

The popular religion still retained the devotion to Vedic gods and rites and the Atharvavedic rituals e. g Santipaustika, Bali, Mangala and Homa are prescribed in the Caraka Samhita as aids to somatic medicine. All these circumstances point persuasively to a time when there was a ferment and upsurge of ancient Vedic thought and ritual and when India was the meeting ground of the world’s peoples and their thought. It is to such a period, that we are inclined to hold Caraka, the redactor belongs, i.e. about the second century B.C.

It is not possible to know with any, degree of precision who Caraka was or his parentage, when and where he lived and redacted the work, whether this was the pergonal name of the author or of a school to which he belonged or a title he assumed for himself or which was conferred on him by his contemporaries. With the field thus open for the exercise of fertile fancy, several theories have become current regarding the identity and the time of this famous redactor. Before we examine any of these, it is necessary to remember that the book itself affords no clue to the nature and time or other circumstances of the redactor. There is just a bare mention of his name in the colophon of each chapter as the redactor of the treatise compiled by Agnivesha.

[ityagniveśakṛte tantre carakapratisaṃskṛte]

Whether even this colophon is the original feature of his work or appended to it by the later redactor Dridhabala who claims to have completed the work by reconstructing and restoring the last forty-one chapters of the treatise ascribed to Agnivesha, is also a matter for conjecture. Before we can formulate any views regarding the, person and time of Caraka, let us consider why any period, be he known as Caraka or by any other name, should have felt called upon, to redact a work like the, tantra of Agnivesha which had received the commendation, of the great sages as the, best embodiment of Atreya’s teaching. It would be interesting and throw new light on the subject if we could have the Agnivesha-tantra as it was before being redacted by Caraka.

The Bhela and Harita tantras, which were written at the same time by the co-students of Agnivesha, are still available but the tantra of Agnivesha is unfortunately not available now. We have to be satisfied only with its redacted form—Caraka-Samhita.

It seems to us natural to suppose that in addition to the progressive accumulation of material demanding to be sifted and incorporated,a work held in great repute and coming down through the centuries must have been found to have suffered mutilations and spurious amendations and interpolations. Thus the need for verification and reconstruction in the light of the parallel compilations and texts that survived in greater compactness, must have arisen. With tthe appearance, at such a time, of a great scholar with comprehensive vision and learning, the need was fulfilled and we shall not be wrong in holding that after the lapse of a few centuries after the compilation by Agnivesha, there arose a need such as we have envisaged above, and a scholar-physician whom we know as Caraka was born to fulfil this great need. Not having any definite indications as to his time, we do not know what length of time again elapsed between him and, Dridhabala, the second redactor who claims to have restored the lost portions of Agnivesha-tantra as redacted by Caraka, the same having been lost. That even this redacted version of Caraka should have been lost already at the time of Dridhabala, makes one conclude that Caraka was quite ancient even at the time of Dridhabala. The latter however never concerns himself regarding the time or identity of Caraka.

Except giving him an epithet of Atibuddhi (the highly intelligent) he never troubled himself to give us either his view of the Man or of his tims or place.

[Carakasaṃhitā Siddhisthāna 12.38]

We derive no help even from Vagbhata, who based his work on these two ancient compilations of Caraka and Sushruta. He only mentions that these two are preferred to the works of Bhela and other sages, by virtue of their excellence, and hence excellence and not the mere authorship of a Rishi, is deemed the recommendation for a work.

[Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā Uttarasthāna 40.88]

To help us to arrive at as definite a conclusion as possible we shall examine the theories current regarding Caraka’s time and identity.

They are: (1) That Caraka is a Rishi of the Pre-Panini age; (2) that Caraka is Patanjali, the commentator on Panini’s grammar and algo the author of the Yogasutras; (3) that he is a sage born as the incarnation of Shesha, the serpent king and servant of Visnu and (4) that he is the same as the court physician of the king Kaniska.

In this connection we cannot do better than cite the very erudite and elaborate argument advanced by the editor of the Kashyapa Samhita, the Nepal Rajguru Shri Hemaraja Sharma setting forth the pros and cons in each of these theories, as also a general inquiry into the meaning and usage of the word ‘Caraka’, in the ancient books.

As regards Caraka who is known as the redactor of the text of Agnivesha-samhita containing the teaching of Atreya Punarvagu, we find the word Caraka in several works used in various contexts. But it is not possible to determine from these references that there existed a teacher of medicine by that name or that a certain person among those referred to is the medical teacher.

We find in Bhavaprakasha the story of Caraka given thug in the history of medical teachers:—Shesha, the king of serpents, who is versed in the Vedas and in the Ayurveda which is a sub-Veda of the Atharvaveda, took his birth in the world as the son of a sage versed in the Vedas and the sciences and went about as a peripatetic teacher. Thus from word “cara” a perigrinator, he came to be known as Caraka, the last syllable being added without altering the sense. He took up the text of the teaching of Atreya as codified by Agnivesha and redacted it and made it popular in the world. Thus is told the story of Caraka, the author of the work going by the name of Caraka-Samhita

Some are of opinion that the word ‘Caraka’ has the connotation of a physician and that there are a few usages of the word obtaining in that sense with reference to some individuals. If in the lexicons it were found that the word was given as a synonym for physician it should have been applied to Sushruta and others, but we do not find it. Therefore it is natural to conclude that it applies only to the author of the work in question. But if it is found applied to a few other persons, it is to be regarded as a title applied to them like “Kali Bhima” or “modern Samson” or “modern Hippocrates” etc. The importance to Atharva-veda assigned in the Caraka-Samhita like in Kashyapa and Sushruta Samhitas, Atharva-veda being the source of Ayurveda, does not in, any way go against the supposition that Caraka signifies the section (śākhā) of the Veda going by that name. It may also happen to be the author’s Gotra or clan name, even as “Atreya” is one belonging to the clan of Atri. Or it may be his personal name too Or can it be that, being a person born in western India where the Naga race were living, he was called an incarnation, of the serpent-god by the author of Bhavaprakasha. Or it is also probable that as Rudra, the commentator on the Brihajjataka writes that any learned physician who went about as a mendicant from place to place was thus known as Caraka, the perigrinating mendicant. The Lalita Vistara also supports the usage of the this term.



[Lalita Vistara (first adhyaya)—...]

Be it as it may, for in whatever way he may have become popular as Caraka, it is certain that by his erudition and skill in the science of Medicine, he had come to be regarded as a great teacher from the earliest times, for we find that even Vagbhata and others refer to him with respect as the “Preceptor Caraka” (Carakācārya).

Jayanta Bhatta too refers to him with great respect thus in his Nyaya Manjari:

“Caraka and others, are the perceivers of the efficacy of substances in their combinations and singleness relative to the variations of clime, Season, the individual characteristics and stage”.

In this connection some scholars have propounded that Caraka is anterior even to Panini as in one of the Sutras of the latter he refers to the name Caraka ([...]). But the Caraka referred to in that Sutra is prefixed by the word Katha (kaṭha) and as it is with reference to the discussion of Carana Vyuha (Caraṇavyūha), a vedic text, the person referred to must be a seer of the Vedic hymns or some ancient sage of his line of descent. The Caraka branch of the Samhita is available in print now. In another Sutra (5.1.144) of Panini ([...]) Caraka referred to is in connection with significince of the vedic intonation. It is more reasonable to conclude that the name is of the person of the Vedic line and not of the medical Caraka who must be of post-vedic time. Vishvarupacarya in hte commentary on the Yanjnavalkya smriti cites a passage like “thus say the Carakas” ([...]). Though the context is entirely medical, for the passage is in connection with the knowledge of the Ashvinis in the medical science and states that honey in exigencies may be considered not incompatible with Brahmacarya, yet as there is a citation of the Vajasaneyas or the followers of Sama-veda in line with the Caraka, it is clear that Caraka here refers to the Caraka school of the Veda.

According to the Kashika Vritti (Kāśikāvṛtti—another commentary on the Veda), Vaishampayana (a disciple of Vyāsa and the receiver of Yajurveda from him) was known as Caraka and his school of Veda as the Caraka school.

[Yājñavalkyaṭīkā 1.2.32]

[Kāśikāvṛtti 4.3.104]

In the white Yajurveda in the 30th Chapter, 18th hymn in the context of human sacrifice (puruṣamedha) there is found a chant saying to the wicked teacher Caraka (“...”). Mr. Mishra, who comments on this in Hindi says that the teacher Caraka referred to is the medical teacher Caraka. Some are of opinion that Caraka, on this baste, is a very ancient person. But what ground is there to interpret that word to mean the name of a particular individual? Mahidhara (Mahīdhara) interprets it as meaning the ‘Guru off the Carakas’ (“carakaṇāmācārya?”) i.e. the followers of the Caraka school of Veda. But in the context in which the word is found, to think that the Caraka branch of the Veda is referred to, does not seem relevant. There is basis to think that there is reference in the passage in question to various persons belonging to particular classes and occupations for whom oblations are offered and not to the follower of any particular branch of Veda or to individual persons by name. In that very hymn are seen men of low character and gamblers and other wicked people offered oblations for the propitiation of similar evil gods. Therefore this Carakacarya who is given offerings in the name of one evil god should necessarily be a low and sinful person. The authors of the Jnanakosha (jñānakośa) are of the opinion that this word refers to the teacher of the Caraka school of Veda and that this context denotes a denunciation of the Caraka school. But in the Shatapatha Brahmana, though there are numerous occurrences of the word Caraka, the references are only to the peculiar usages of that branch and never any denunciation of it is meant. Even in the Taittiriya Brahmana there occurs the expression ‘To the sinful Caraka’ (“duṣkṛtāya carakācāryam?”). There Sayana interprets it as meaning the teacher of the art of walking on bamboo poles, a kind of dance-teacher. There is no reference to the teacher of the Caraka school of Veda. As any spirit of denunciation does dot seem relevant to the, usage of the word in the ‘Taittiriya Samhita’ to which belongs the Caraka school itself, the interpretation offered by Sayana seems to be applicable here too as meaning some person belonging to a low trade. In the same sense in which the word has. been used in the Naisadhiya carita (Naiṣadhīya-carita), wherein Caraka is used to mean a spy, a secret walker, here too Carakacarya may mean the head of the spies. Then the relevancy of the context, the presence of the sinful man and the offering of things in the name of an evil god, all these agree completely. Dayananda Swami, the author of a commentary on the Yajurveda interprets the word as meaning the teacher of the caters or gluttons. This may be according to the meaning of the verb ‘car’ to eat.

Some scholars have held, on the basis of statements made by Nagesha and Cakrapanidatta supported by Vijnanabbikshu, Bboja, Bhavamishra and others, that Caraka was identical with Patanjali, the author of the Vyakarana Mahabhashya, the commentary on Panini.


Patanjali has been regarded as contemporary of Pushyamitra who followed Ashoka as the ruler of Saketa and who drove back the Greeks from India; and he has been placed about two centuries earlier than Vikrama era, i.e. 175 B.C. Bhandarkar also assigns him the same date after investigation into the Mahabhasya, the Puranas and historical records of western scholars. Thus if Caraka is inferred to be much earlier than 175 B.C. his indentity with Patanjali can not be held to be valid. Again if on the basis of the Tripitaka he is taken to be so late as to be the contemporary of Kaniska, there being a difference of more than two hundred years between the times of Pusyamitra and Kaniska, the indentity of Caraka with, Patanjali is still less probable. If the identity were true, what can be the reason for the non-mention of the name of Patanjali in the medical treatise going by the name of Caraka, while in both the works on Yoga and grammar the authorship is explicitly in the name of Patnjali. In the commentary on grammar, the author explains his other name of Gonardiya (Gonardīya) as meaning the citizen of the country known as Gonarda which is explained in a Sutra as the eastern country, which is the modern Gond according to Bhandarkar. There is another view regarding Gonarda that as in the ancient history of Kashmir there is mention of a king of Gonarda, the latter must be situated in Kashmir. If the commentator on grammar is a citizen of Gonarda and if he is identical with Caraka, why does he not mention the Gonarda region in his medical treatise? In the Caraka Samhita there is mention of the regions of Pancala, Pancanada and Kampilya but nowhere Gonarda. ‘How could he forget to mention a synonym of his name even once?’ thus said the Gonardiya or Caraka the author of the Mahabhasya. Thus the enquiry into the subject of the time, name and place helps only to confirm the distinctness of these two persons. Patanjali’s Mahabhasya is full of proverbial maxims, expositions in extenso and in brief, very varied in scope and difficult to grasp immediately.

But in the Caraka Samhita, the parts whose redactorship is assigned to Caraka, though they contain passages of deep import are yet composed in an easily intelligible style which is delightful to read and understand and which is uniform in its structure and course. Thus from the point of view of style too, these two works show different authorship. Besides being an independent and original author, writing a new and comprehensive treatise on grammar and a foremost Sutra-composition of a masterly type on the Yoga, how could Patanjali have found pleasure in the work of merely redacting the text of auotner’s authorship, as it is in the case of the Caraka Samhita

As regards the view that Caraka was the the court physician to Kaniska, the theory originated from the French orientalist Sylvan Levi who discovered the name Caraka in the Chinese Tripitaka. Thus his identity and also his period which is the same as that of Kaniska, the 2nd century A. D., are according to Sylvan Levi established. If this theory be sound, both the identity and the period of Caraka are easily established as a contemporary of Kaniska who belongs to the 2nd century A D Most scholars hold this to be the probable period and identity of Caraka, with the material available at present. In this connection we may draw the attention of the reader to the contrary view expressed by the late Sir P. C. Ray in his ‘History of Hindu Chemistry’. We shall now concern ourselves with finding the time of Caraka within approximate limits. The task is not a light one, and it is one of the most abstruse questions of Indian chronology.

M. Sylvan Levi has recently unearthed from the Chinese Tripitaka the name of a physician named Caraka, who was attached as spiritual guide to the Indo-Scythian king Kaniska who reigned in the second century A. D The French Orientalist would have this Caraka as the author of the famous Hindu medical work. Specially it would offer an easy explanation of the supposed Greek influence discernible in it

We confess we are by no means convinced of M. Levi’s theory. If we are to go by name alone, we can claim a still higher antiquity for our author. The appellation of Caraka occurs in Vedic literature as a patronymic; in short, Panim felt it necessary to compose a special Sutra for deriving the “Carakas” i. e., the followers of Caraka. Then again Patanjali, who is now generally admitted to have lived in the second century B.C., is known to have written a commentary on the medical work of Caraka, thus further proving the antiquity of our author, and both Cakrapani and Bhoja agree in alluding to him as the redactor of Caraka. Indeed in such matters we would do well to set store by native traditions. It would be beside our purpose, however, to enter into any lengthy discussion on the grounds on which we are inclined to place Caraka in the pre-Buddhistic era (History of Hindu Chemistry by Prafulla Chandra Ray Kt. Pages. 13-23.)

There are many adverse factors in conflict with the view that Caraka, the court physician to Kaniska was the author of the work under review, be he of the second century A.D. or the first century A. D. (the latter is the date 78 A. D. assigned by the Cambridge History of India. Vol I page 583). Kamska’s reign is associated with names like Nagarjuna, Ashvaghosa and Vasumitra and the Buddhist influence was still predominant in the court and Kaniska himself is reputed to have been a zealous follower of the Buddha. As a redactor, Caraka would have incorporated the spirit of the days or the influence of his contemporary viz, the great expert in mercurial science Nagarjuna, and the scholar, poet and mendicant Ashvaghosa. There is nothing in the internal evidence of the work to warrant the view that Caraka the author was a court physician to a Buddhist ruler like Kaniska. As his name indicates, he is more likely to have been a free and independent scholar, not under the patronage of any prince, a roaming scholar, teacher and healer. On the other hand there is some ground for believing that he was a physician popular in India, particularly in the north-west of India in the 2nd century B. C. The Parthian invader Mlttradates invaded and annexed the country between the Indus and the Jhelum i.e., the kingdom of Taxilla towards the close of his reign (171-136 B.C.—Smiths History of India) He was very much afraid of being poisoned by his enemies and he spent considerable time in the study of antidotes and toxicology. He is reputed to have had as his court physician a certain Crateuas who developed materia medica and was known as a wise author of important works One wonders if this ‘Crateuas’ be an outlandish form given to ‘Caraka’ the author under review. It is a hazardous conjecture and until more evidence is available must remain so.

With these various views at our disposal, we should like to consider the greater probabilities of any of these, or of other circumstances implied in the material at our disposal. We should like to, draw upon the internal evidence of the work itself in the absence of definite data from outside

As the Nepal Rajguru rightly observes in his prelace to the Kashyapa-samhita, the non-mention of the names of the days of the week is a significant factor for assigning an ancient date to Caraka.

The concepts of Nyaya and Vaisheshika are yet rudimentary and in a fluid state and the categories of the Sankhya had not grown into their theistic number of twenty-five as in the Mahabharata. The Sankhya of the most ancient form is represented in Caraka and if Caraka was either Patanjali, the author of the Yoga-sutras or a post-Mahabharata scholar, he would certainly have mentioned the twenty-fifth category of a supreme God, for the Sankhya of Patanjali holds Ishvara the original guide and teacher and lord of the universe of souls. There is no cult of devotion to a supreme ruler of the universe, nor is there mention of the incarnations of the deity and the names of the Puranic divinities. If Caraka belonged to a time when these forms of worship were current he could not have failed to incorporate them along with the Vedic rites of Bali, Homa and Mangala. The facts point to a time when Caraka must have existed, anterior to that the Indoscythian, Buddhist king, Kaniska, by which time the classical literature of Sanskrit based on the Puranic legends and anecdotes was fully established in India. Since the time of the original Caraka, the redactor of Agnivesha-tantra, the foremost iu the medical profession, might have been conferred the title of ‘Caraka’. This would explain the Caraka of the court of Kaniska.

The theory of Caraka being Patanjali, the latter only the author of the commentary on grammar or of the Yoga-sutras or of both, is based on the misunderstanding of the verses of praise of Shesha the Serpent-Cod composed by Bhoja, Vijnanabhiksu and others. Vijnanabhikshu makes obeisance to Patanjali for coming down to the mortal world in human form and purifying the mind by Yoga science and by the science of grammar human speech, and the body by the science of medicine.

[Vijñānabhikṣu Yogavārttikā-rambha]

Cakrapani in his commentary on Caraka begins by making salutation to the snake-king whom he identifies with Patanjali and Caraka.


This is because there is a tradition that Patanjali also made a compilation of the medical texts. In the Patanjali-carita by Rama Bhadra Diksit, reference is made to such medical authorship of Patanjali.

[Rāmbhadradīkṣita Patañjalicarita]

Nagesa Bhatta also is of the same opinion, for when giving the definition of Apta, he quotes the passages from Caraka and says “thus spake Patanjali in the Caraka Samhita,” taking Caraka to be identical with Patanjali.


Bhavamishra who must have been acquainted with the tradition of identifying the authors of the Yogasutras and the Mahabhasya on Panini and of Ayurveda with the serpent-god Shesha, gives the following account of the “birth of Shesha in the mortal world as a peripatetic medical teacher”.

[Bhāva Prakāśa 1. A.]

Swami Kumara identifies Caraka with the authors of the Mahabhasya and the Yoga-sutras. In his commentary on Caraka he says:

[Svāmikumāra Caraka-pañcikā-ṭīkā-pārambha...]

From this story it is clear that the name of Caraka is identified with the snake-god who is credited with supreme wisdom owing to his proximity to Visnu. In every age the close ally and assistant the incarnation of Visnu, has been known as an Avatara of Shesha. Thus Ramas brother Raksmana and Baladeva brother of Krishna, were regarded as Avataras of Shesha. In each age there have been prophets and teachers who wanted to establish their supremacy by claiming to be the Avataras of Shesha. Ramanuja who opposed the monism of Shankara claimed to be the Avatara of Sesa. Thus Shesha, throughout the ages has been credited with supreme wisdom as the first servant of Visnu But, by the way, this is purely a Puranic tradition where Visnu reclines on the Adishesha and floats on the milky ocean at the beginning of each creation. Be this as it may, it is significant to note that the Greeks, the Hebrews as well as the Hindus held the serpent as a symbol of wisdom. Asculepius holds in his hand the wand round which serpent is entwined. The Hebrew prophets did the same. In India, the great Patanjali with his science of Yogic breathing was identified with Shesha because the serpent is known for its hissing and is credited to live on mere air for long periods. It is known as Vayu-bhuk (vāyubhuk). Caraka also was regarded, as seen from the story of Bhavamishra, as the incarnation of the serpent-god. In Hindu tradition the serpent is the symbol of time i.e. eternity and is believed to be the longest-lived of creatures. It is perhaps due to this that medicine, holding long life as its goal, has taken the serpent-god for its teacher. In any case all the foregoing circumstances and tales do not support the theory of identifying Caraka with Patanjali, the grammarian and the yoga-propounder but it only ascribes to each of these the Avatar-ship of Shesha the serpent, god. Thus one is left to one’s own conjectures as to the identity and time of the author of the Caraka Samhita.

It is clear from the reference given below that Caraka was acquainted with the Ksanika Vada (kṣāṇikavāda) or the theory of life being a mere series of change without a substratum as propounded by the Buddhists.

[Carakasaṃhitā Śārīrasthāna 1.46-48]

“Phenomena are never the same but are continually in a state of flow, whenever they are of a similar nature they are said to be the same, although, in fact, they are produced anew. The soul-less conglomeration of phenomena is by some, said to constitute the organism They do not believe in a self who is the doer and the enjoyer. Those who do not accept the existence of the self, preach in effect, that the effects of the actions of one are enjoyed by a new another who is similar.”

There is reference also to Caitya and Stupas, These could not be the original texts of the Agnivesa Samhita. Caraka must have imported his Sankhya and the arguments against the Buddhistic tenets, into the original body of the text Buddhism was merely a schismatic school just making its way in the country a little before or a little after the time of Ashoka when it became a state religion. He must have belonged to that period of Buddhism in India when it was on the wane and Vedic tradition was again on the rise. Thus he may be placed between the third and the second century B.C., the period of the greatest spiritual and intellectual upheaval in India with the rise of Buddhism and the struggle of ancient Brahmamsm to reassert itself, the great schools of Hindu philosophy, the uprise of the sciences and the arts based on their fundamental concepts and with the general cultural reassertion, Ayurveda must have come Into its own and found new exponents and enthusiasts.

The neglected and worn out texts were gathered again, systematized, restored and supplemented. And Caraka is either the personal or the assumed name of the great renovator of this science from its neglected condition. Time is like the ocean that throws up from its depths forgotten remnants of long past shipwrecks. Who can tell that some day a new light will not be thrown from unearthed material and reveal to us the fuller identity and detail of this illustrious name in the history of Indian Medicine, For the present he must remain incognito and we shall thank of him as evidence at present warrants as Caraka the reviver of the waning tradition of Ayurveda somewhere in the first days of the renaissance of Vedic religion in India, the period of our greatest intellectual unrest when ancient Vedic tradition felt pulled at the very roots and reacted powerfully in reasserting its supremacy in the soil of its origin and growth.

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