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 10 - The Pupils of Atreya

We learn from Caraka Samhita that Maharsi Atreya had six pupils.

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 1.31]

All these received instruction from their Guru Atreya and each wrote a treatise on medicine. All these treatises were submitted to a committee of Rishis for examination.

1. Agnivesha:

The treatise of Agnivesha was found to be the best among all these six and hence it was authorised to be the universal textbook.


We have already dwelt upon Agnivesha, the foremost pupil of Atreya.

2. Bhela:

Agnivesha and Bhela studied at the same mister’s feet and hence we find great similarity in their works. But Bhela Samhita is more concise and there is more prose in it than in his distinguished co-student’s treatice. The Bhela Samhita as handed down to us seems to be of quite old composition Unfortunately the treatise is incomplete and mutilated. Here and there portions are missing and the text is full of scribe’s errors.

The book is considered to be old even by Vagbhata and is spoken of reverentially by him.

[Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā 6.4?]

Bhela’s name is very often given as Bheda by Vagbhata and Dalhana. This interchange of (“ḍa”) and (“la”) however is authorized by ancient usage (“ḍalayorabheda”).

It seems that no redaction was done of Bhela’s original treatise. But some of the quotations of Bhela given by later authors are not found in the treatise available now. This can lead ns to one of the conclusions that either the portion quoted by later authors but not found in the treatise has been lost or that some earlier redaction might have been done.

Only one manuscript of Bhela Samhita is known to exist. It is m the Tanjore Library No. 10773 (Burnell’s catalogue). Telugu and Devanagari manuscripts are believed to have been written. The Tanjore library manuscript was written about 1650 A.D. apparently copied from an injured Olai manuscript. It is in large and clear hand.

As Bhela was a co-student of Agnivesha, his Samhita was composed at the same time. Thus the Bhela Samhita is of great help to us in differentiating Agnivesa’s original work from the later redactions of Caraka and Dridhabala.

Bhela Samhita, fragmentary and mutilated though it is, must be studied by scholars with great care, as many new terms, similes, concepts and greater details of same subjects will be found in it, which will throw more light on medical history. Frequent references to Gandhara i. e. modern Kandhar in his work lead us to infer that he was a resident of that country.

The following verses from Bhela Samhita are indicative of many things.


These lines have been of great value to the medical historian as they are helpful in proving the identity of Candrabhagi and Punarvasu. They are also significant of the great progress of the science of poison and the king being in constant fear of being poisoned. The verses mention the name of the ruler and his country and also the status of the court physician and the desire of the king to learn the science.


In the Janapada-vibhaktiya (Janapadavibhaktīya) chapter we find new terms as applied to fevers in animals.


(Hay fever)


In the same chapter he gives an interesting description of the countries and their peculiar diseases.

[... 1-5]

[... 1-7]

Bhela described eight varieties of sudation.


But Caraka gives 13 varieties. So it seems Agnivesha must have described only 8 kinds and five more were added during the redaction by Caraka.

The Bhela Samhita was considered to be a book of great merit for long as proved by numerous quotations and references to him in medical works separated by centuries.

Kashyapa, in the section called Siddhi, chapter I says (trivarṣasyaiva tu hiti neti, bhelastamavravīt). Dalhanacarya in Nibandhasamgraha Vya. Su 33.19 says (pravāhikāmiti vidu bimbiśīṃ tvapare budhā[?]).

[Vāgbhata Ci. 21-72]

[Aruṇadatta commentary of Vāgbhata]


[Śivadāsa and Cakrapāṇi—Tattvacandrikā]


3. Jatukarna:

Not much is known about Jatukarna, the co-student of Agnivesha and a great medical author of the golden age of Ayurveda. He is also said to have compiled a medical treatise, but it is not available now. It seems it was available upto Cakrapani’s time as we find profuse quotations from Jatukarna in Cakrapani’s work. Cakrapani seems to have selected passages more from Jatukarna than Bhela.

In Shatapatha Brahmana he is described as the propounder of Brahma-vidya. He is also a great seer whose name is reverently used to denote a Gotra.

The word Jatukarna as such means bat-eared. We do not know whether our Jatukarna had ears like a bat or whether it was just a proper noun without any relation to its derivation.

Jatukarna is also known as Jatukarna and is quoted in many famous medical works.

[Vyākhyā Kusumāvali 1-2]

Vyakhya Kusumavali (Vyākhyākusumāvalī) contains many other quotations out of which only two are cited above.

[Nibandha Sangraha (Nibandhasaṃgraha)]

[Tattva-candrika (Tattvacandrikā)]

We refrain from giving more quotations from this work for fear of length.

In commenting on Palankasadyam Tailam Sivadasa quotes the different readings from Jatukarna:


[Vyākhyā Madhukośa]


[Vāgbhata’s Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya]

Besides this, we find a host of quotations from Jatukarna in Vagbhata.

It is said that we come to know of the work of this greatly learned author through the scattered quotations in other medical works, the original work having been lost to us, perhaps for ever.

4. Parashara:

Rishi Parashara was one of the six disciples of Maharsi Atreya and a co-student of sage Agnivesha. He, too, wrote a treatise on medicine but is not available now.

The word Parashara means a posthumous son, but we have no evidence to show that this Parashara was posthumously born. Medical authors belonging to various ages have quoted substantively from Parashara. He was one of the Rishis invited by Romapada to learn the science of the treatment of elephants.

In Hasti-Ayurveda (Hastyāyurveda) a treatise on the treatment of elephants, Parashara is referred to as under:

[Hasti Āyurveda 1.1.28]

“Parashara (Parāśara), Acuda (Acūḍa), Matanga (Mataṅga) and Urmimali (Ūrmimālī [or Ūrmimālin?]) (were also invited)” H. A H. 28.

A treatise called Takra-kalpa (Takrakalpa), the pharmaceutics of buttermilk is also ascribed to him.

We give below a few specimen quotations from him found in other medical works of repute.

[Suśruta ...]

Dalhana while commenting on Sushruta Samhita says:


(Ṣaṭśabda) is used to signify the six treatises on medicine as composed by Agnivesha, Bhela, Jatukarna, Harita, Ksarapani and Parashara.

[Kaśyapa ...]

Dalhana quotes Parashara:


[Vāgbhata ...]

Vagbhata mentions that each of the disciples of Atreya has composed a treatise (te'gniveśādikāste tu pṛthak tantrāṇi tenire[?]) Arunadatta, while commenting on this line makes it clear by mentioning the names of each author, Parashara being one of them.

This commentator quotes Parashara at various places e.g. in the description of various kinds of rice.



The other commentator of Vagbhata, Hemadri, in his commentary Ayurveda- rasayana (Āyurvedarasāyana) quotes Parashara:


Cakrapani quotes him as under in his commentary Ayurveda-dipika (Āyurvedadīpikā):


Sivadasa in his Vyakhya-kusumavali quotes him in several places

[... 1-2]

Parashara’s works have long fallen into oblivion and have shared the fate of many a learned work that has probably been lost for ever. All we learn about his works is from the quotations found in other works. That medical authors of repute have quoted him proves that he must have been held as an authority of no ordinary repute in their times.

5. Harita:

Harita belonged to the galaxy of the six brilliant pupils of Atreya. He, too, is reputed to have composed a Samhita, but his work is also not available.

There is a Harita reputed to have learnt at the feet of the great sage Jabali and to be the author of Dharma and Smriti books. Whether this Harita is the same as the co-student of Agnivesha is not certain.

Another Harita quotes from Vagbhata and hence is of much later origin and hence of no concern to our present theme

Harita the pupil of Atreya, is quoted in many famous medical works and is often referred to as old Harita

The following specimen quotations selected at random shows how widely he was reputed as an authority.






[Cikitsākalikā (Commentary)]



6. Ksarapani:

The sixth pupil in the brilliant batch trained in the medical lore by Atreya is Ksarapani. He is also said to have compiled a Samhita like his other co-students, but this work also has been lost to us, but its availability upto the time of Vagbhata is inferrable because of the quotations that are given by him Several other medical authors have also liberally quoted him.

[Upajhya Madhukosa]






Thus we find that the galaxy of Atreya’s disciples had each one of them to his credit a great treatise on Ayurveda which has come down to us only in fragment (with the exception of Agniveśa Samhitā and perhaps Bhela Samhitā) through the citations of other later authors. Further research scholars may however delight us with the unearthing of the works of the one or the other author and thus enrich the medical lore

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