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...
The period of the compilation of the Ayurveda Samhita will remain a subject of controversy and research for a long time to come, but we can broadly put the period as running concurrently with the Samhita period of the Vedas themselves. It is likely that it was compiled as a branch of Atharvaveda, as we find the last named Veda full of medical references, although the oldest Rig-Veda also contains many clues to enable us to say that medical science was well advanced even in those days of the hoary past. In any case the compilation was a comprehensive text on the Science of Life. It included all the knowledge of life in health and disease, accumulated during thousands of years of Vedic period over the length and breadth of the land. It seems to be a systematised compilation as it is said to be divided in 1000 chapters, each chapter containg 100 verses, thus making one hundred thousand verses in all.
This science of Ayurveda was regarded as triskanda or tri-based. It gave dominance to positive health or svasthata as stated in Caraka.
[Suśrutasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 1.6]
“He taught the science of causes, symptoms and medication, the supreme refuge of both the healthy and the ailing, the tripartite science eternal and holy, which the Great Father Brahma knew.
He, the sage of great understanding, sosn [soon?] learned correctly, by single-minded devotion the whole science of life, tri-based and extending without end.”
“This science known as Ayurveda is a branch of Atharva-veda. The self-created Brahma before creating men, first formulated this science of life consisting of a hundred thousand verses and a thousand chapters. But in view of the shortness of life and the feebleness of understanding of mortals, he again divided the knowledge into eight parts”.
Thus with the progress of time and of the science, specialisation in each of its branches became a necessity and we find that this science of life acquired the name of Ashtanga-Ayurveda (Aṣṭāṅga-Āyurveda) from the eight different specialized branches into which it developed. This term is still applied to it.
The eight branches are enumerated by Caraka as under—
[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 30.28]
“The branches of this science are eight They are:—(l) Medicine, (2) The science of the special diseases of the supra-clavicular parts of the body (viz. eye, ear, nose, mouth, throat etc.), (3) Surgery, (4) Toxicology, (5) Psycho-therapy, (6) Pediatrics, (7) Rejuvenation and (8) Virilification”.
Before the actual division of the Science of Ayurveda into its eight branches named above there were many treatises written by sages on the subject of Ayurveda in general. The following is a list of them.
The names of these authors are found quoted in later works which are available at present. But unfortunately the original works lie hidden in darkness, which one day the future researchworker may bring to light.
Ayurveda is essentially an Aryan product and it expanded with the expansion of Aryan sway and culture over the country. The knowledge became scattered over the country. Centres of learning sprang up in different places which however could not have been quite isolated as they preserved a unity of culture which can only come from regular inter-communication. But despite this basic unity, a practical science has to develop in different places according to their special requirements and condition of life. For scores of centuries Ayurveda developed in this manner, its wisdom being handed down in the form of aphorisms by word of mouth.
This must have resulted in a lot of confusion and a clash of authorities, for want of a permanent and standardised form this learning of immense value would have faded away like so many other sciences whose fragmentary results remain to this day to astound but not to edify. Fortunately for Ayurveda in about seventh century B.C. we come across the great event in the history of medicine. For about 7th century B.C. we come across a great event in the history of Ayurveda—An all Aryavarta Ayurvedic Congress was held in the vicinity of the Himalayas where even the representatives of foreign countries were invited and consulted. The records of proceedings were handed over to six secretaries to classify, arrange and prepare the text of all deliberations and discussions in a systematic way
The secretaries collected all the Ayurvedic knowledge existing at that time, collated and compiled a text in a coherent system in a scientific terminology. These texts were presented before the committee of the expert Rishis and they approved the work prepared by Agnivesha as the authorised text.
This compilation of Agnivesha popularly called the Caraka Samhita is thus the product of this great meeting of savants.
Caraka and Susruta Samhitas are written with clearness, conciseness and simplicity of arrangement and may be regarded as compendiums of the knowledge of medicine possessed at the time.
All that was necessary for an ordinary medical practitioner was collected in one volume, Caraka’s being a volume of study for the physician and Sushruta’s for the surgeon. Each book contains in addition to description of medicine and surgery, the description of anatomy, physiology, toxicology, psycho-therapy and personal hygiene, medical ethics and many other things which may be useful for a medical practitioner. Each can be considered an encyclopedia of medical literature of the times.
Caraka and Sushruta stabilised the floating mass of medical knowledge so to say of the times and supplanted all other works Caraka and Sushruta are not the first books in medicine. But the reason why we do not come across any book on the subject of prior date is that these master-pieces eclipsed all other books which gradually faded out of existence.
These two memorable works appear at about the beginning of what may be called the golden age of Indian culture. This age may roughly be said to be from 2700 B.C. to 600 A.D. During this period the true scientific spirit was abroad in the land. The quest for knowledge had taken different directions. Philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, trigonometry, music, and administration, were among the branches of knowledge whose foundation was laid in this period and also considerably developed. There were Universities like the well known ones of Taxila, Benares and Nalanda, for dissemination and exchange of knowledge. There were great Acaryas (Professors) of different subjects and those who keenly desired to learn at their feet travelled long distances like true devotees of Sarasvati and sought their Ashramas. During this period of intense intellectual activity it is but natural that the science of life and healing should attract the greatest attention. Ayurveda is a product of that golden age of Indian History. The Caraka and Sushruta collections prove that a vast amount of scientific research, patient investigation and experimentation must have gone before the conclusions embodied in them. These must have covered a very wide range as the vast country provided a variety of climate and geographical conditions We have altitudes ranging up to 5 miles. We have almost rainless region to those having 500 inches a year. We have coldest and hottest possible region We have six clear-cut periodical seasons each producing its distinctive vegetation. All these climatic and geographical variations affected bodily condition and its reaction to attacks of disease and to different kinds of medicines. The country with such enormous variabilities of climate and with such wonderful range of montains as the Himalayas the Vindhyas and the Ghats Was a rich nursery for the growth of all kinds of vegetable life. It provided a vast field for botanical research. Thousands of medicinal herbs or their products growing in diverse parts of the country in different climates are mentioned in Caraka and Sushruta. Diseases peculiar to different localities and seasons find a place in these books. There is no doubt that they represent not a local system of medicine but one which was recognised throughout India
Many authors specializing in one or the other of the branches, wrote on their specialized subject as is evident from the following extracts.
[Carakasaṃhitā Vimānasthāna 8.3]
“Many treatises of medicine are current in the world”
[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 33]
[Suśrutasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 4.9]
In the extracts cited above and from many other sources we learn the names of several authors on the various branches but unfortunately most of the works are lost into oblivion and are not available at present We only hope that extensive researches of the future may enable us to find this lost treasure.
The list of the names of the then extant works in each subject as referred to in later works is as under:—
- Agnivesha-Samhita (Agniveśasaṃhitā);
- Bhela-Samhita (Bhelasaṃhitā);
- Jatukarna-Samhita (Jatukarṇasaṃhitā);
- Parashara-Samhita ( Parāśarasaṃhitā );
- Ksharapani-Samhita (Kṣārapāṇisaṃhitā);
- Harita-Samhita (Hārītasaṃhitā);
- Kharanada-Samhita (Kharanādasaṃhitā);
- Vishvamitra-Samhita (Viśvāmitrasaṃhitā);
- Agastya-Samhita (Agastyasaṃhitā);
- Atri-Samhita (Atrisaṃhitā);
- Aupadhenava-Tantra (Aupadhenavatantra);
- Aurabhra-Tantra (Aurabhratantra);
- Saushruta-Tantra (Sauśrutatantra);
- Paushkalavata-Tantra (Pauṣkalāvatatantra);
- Vaitarana-Tantra (Vaitaraṇatantra);
- Bhoja-Tantra (Bhojatantra);
- Karavirya-Tantra (Karavīryatantra);
- Gopurarakshita-Tantra (Gopurarakṣitatantra);
- Bhalukiya-Tantra (Bhālukīyatantra);
- Kapila-Tantra (Kapilatantra);
- Gautama-Tantra (Gautamatantra);
- Videha-Tantra (Videhatantra);
- Nimita-Tantra (Nimitatantra);
- Kankāyana-Tantra (Kāṅkāyanatantra);
- Gargya-Tantra (Gārgyatantra);
- Galava-Tantra (Gālavatantra);
- Satyaki-Tantra (Sātyakitantra);
- Shaunaka-Tantra (Śaunakatantra);
- Karala-Tantra (Karālatantra);
- Cakshushya-Tantra (Cakṣuṣyatantra);
- Krishnatreya-Tantra (Kṛṣṇātreyatantra);
- Jivaka-Tantra (Jīvakatantra);
- Parvataka-Tantra (Pārvatakatantra);
- Bandhaka-Tantra (Bandhakatantra);
- Hiranyaksha-Tantra (Hiraṇyākṣatantra)—Kashyapa-Samhita (—Kāśyapasaṃhitā).
- Kashyapa-Samhita (Kāśyapasaṃhitā);
- Alambayana-Samhita (Alambāyanasaṃhitā);
- Ushana-Samhita (Uśanasaṃhitā);
- Sanaka-Samhita (Sanakasaṃhitā);
- Latyayana-Samhita (Lāṭyāyanasaṃhitā);
- Patanjala-tantra (Pātañjalatantra);
- Vyadi-tantra (Vyāḍitantra);
- Vasishtha-tantra (Vasiṣṭhatantra);
- Mandavya-tantra (Māṇḍavyatantra);
- Nagarjuna-tantra (Nāgārjunatantra);
- Kakshapura-tantra (Kakṣapuratantra);
- Arogya-Manjari (Ārogyamañjarī);
- Kaumara-Tantra (Kaumāratantra);
- Shalihotra-samhita (Śālihotrasaṃhitā)—(Aśvāyurveda-viṣayā);
- Palakya-samhita (Pālakyasaṃhitā)—(Gajāyurveda-viṣayā);
- Gautama-samhita (Gautamasaṃhitā)—(Gavāyurveda-viṣayā);
Many more names are likely to be unearthed by the efforts of research workers in the field.
The problem of selecting suitable text books out of a maze of a bewildering number of books worried the sylvan university heads of yore as much as it worries the modern text book committees.
In those days meticulous care was taken in the selection of text books as is evident from the following extract from Caraka Samhita—
“Many treatises of medicine are current. In the world. From among these, he should choose that treatise which has obtained great popularity and is approved by wise men, which is comprehensive in scope, held in esteem by those who are worthy of credence, suitable alike for the understanding of the three grades of student (very intelligent, moderate and slow), free from the faults of repetition revealed by a seer, arranged in well-made aphorisms, commentary and summary, well authenticated, free from vulgar usages and difficult words, rich in synonyms, possessing words of traditionally accepted sense, concerned mainly with determining the true nature of things, relevant to the theme, orderly in its arrangement of topics, rapidly elucidating and enriched with definitions and illustrations Such a treatise is to be chosen. For, such a treatise like the unclouded sun, dispelling darkness, illumines everything”.
The selection, sanction and authorization of the text books were entrusted to a committee of learned professors who heard, together in a group, the whole of the text books and then approved the one which was the best. The approval rested purely on the merit of the substance of the text book. They declared it as approved and only then the book became an authoritative text book in the country.
The following interesting verses throw light on the process of authorization of text books:
“Therefore Punarvasu, the most benevolent, moved by compassion for all creatures, bestowed the science of life on his six disciples. (30)
It was the excellence of his own understanding and not any difference in instruction by the sages whereby Agnivesha became the foremost compiler of the science (32).
Thereafter Bhela and the rest made each his own compilation of the science and these talented ones read them out to Atreya and the assembly of the sages. (33).
The sages having listened to the presentation of the subject of these holy men, rejoiced acclaiming that the science had been truly presented. (34)
All of them, pursuant of the welfare of all creatures exhorted the authors, exclaiming together, ‘Great is your compassion for creatures’. (35)
The celestial sages together with the immortals stationed in heaven, heard that auspicious cry of the great sages and hearing it rejoiced greatly. (36)
‘O! well done,’ that ovation, generous and profound echoed with joy by all creatures in the sky, resounded throughout the three worlds. (37).
The winds blew salubriously, all the quarters expanded with radiance aud divine showers of blossoms together with rain descended (38).
Thereafter the goddess of Enlightenment, Understanding, Achievement, Memory, Genius, Resolution, Eloquence, Forgiveness and Compassion entered into Agnivesha and the rest. (39).
The compilations of these disciples which were thus approved by the great sages obtained currency in the world for the well-being of the multitudes of living beings. (40).”
The texts or these Samhitas were prepared in such a way that they served as complete works of reference to the students of ordinary intellect while they gave impetus for further research and progress by showing the line of research to the highly intellectual student
[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 4.20]
“This is quite adequate for the mediocre for the practical purpose of treatment, and for the highly intelligent who are proficient in the art of inference from innate qualities, it will serve as a guiding principle for the comprehensive knowledge of drugs not mentioned here.”
As we have said elsewhere, the advancement of science necessitated specialization of the various branches. The books written on the specialized branches no doubt gave dominance to their particular branch, but they never ignored the other branches, the basic knowledge of all other branches was also included in the book rather in a concise form as is but natural:
[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 26.133]
“The local affections occurring in the upper supra-clavicular part of the body is described here in order to obviate the causes of an absolute omission of them in this treatise. Henceforth, listen to the excellent epitome of this therapeusis succinctly described”.
Every branch evolved its technical terms and the knowledge of this terminology was essential.
[Carakasaṃhitā Siddhisthāna 12.88]
“A physician who is not conversant with the canons of exposition though he may be a student of many treatises will fail to grasp the meaning of these treatises just as a man fails to acquire wealth when fortune has deserted him”.
It was desired of the student that he should study the prescribed book intensively. Intensive study of it would enable him to understand other books with greater ease.
[Carakasaṃhitā Siddhisthāna 12.87]
“One who has acquired a good grasp of even one branch of this science will be able to acquire an understanding of the other branches as well, on account of his being well grounded in general principles.”
If he studied the whole work, understood it well and made use of it constantly, he was sure to have a successful career in life which would be in the interests of the patient as well as of himself
[Carakasaṃhitā Siddhisthāna 12.51]
“He who having studied this treatise in its entirety, gives due reflection to its contents with concentrated mind and constantly verifies his knowledge in practical work and has fully developed his powers of retention, recollection, discretion and righteousness becomes a bestower of happiness and life to men”
Besides, the physician-to-be was required to study all these sciences under the expert guidance of professors of those sciences.
[Suśrutasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 4.6-7]
“One should study the substance contained in other sciences which for some definite reason, is included in the text, under the learned men in the respective sciences. Why? Because it is not possible to include all the knowledge of different sciences into one treatise”.
“One who studies only one science does not acquire the real knowledge (in relation to other sciences) Hence a physician should be well versed in different sciences”.
Equal importance was given to the theoretical as well as practical knowledge.
[Suśrutasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 3.48-50]
“One who is well versed in the science but inadept at practice is confused, when facing a patient, just as a weak-hearted persons confounded when facing a battle. While one who is an expert a practical work but who is devoid of theoretical knowledge of the science, is not revered by the good persons and gets death-punishment from the king. Both such persons are inexpert, unable to perform their duties and know only half their science. They are like one winged birds”.
Thus although the text books were complete, comprehensive and encyclopedic, they were not allowed to stagnate. These books were redacted or re-written or further specialized in a different group at intervals as demanded by the exigencies of time and place. New theories examined in the light of experience and experimentation were incorporated in the texts. Thus a number of redactions and commentaries came to be written to include and interpret the progressive knowledge in theory and practice of the science Agnivesha-tantra (Agniveśatantra) was redacted twice, once by Caraka and then again by Dridhabala (Dṛḍhabala).
At the end of the golden period of Ayurveda, the progressive spirit receives a setback due to disturbed political condition, pre-occupation of the patrons of learning with war and defence and the general breakdown of the morale of the people, a result of the all-pervading sense of defeatism. Thus the decadence set in and the absence of sufficient facilities for study, unavailability of a sufficient number of preceptors, the general lassitude and lowering of the intellectual level and the general disintegration of cultural back-bone tell the rest of the story.
Vagbhata, however, tries to stop the rot and to bring the two prominent branches of medical science—medicine (Kāyacikitsā) and surgery (Śalyaśāstra) together in one concise volume.
He gives the reasons as follows—
[Aṣṭāṅgasaṃgraha Sūtrasthāna 1.12-13]
“Each of them is not comprehensive enough with regard to the treatment of all diseases. Aud because the whole life of man passes away in studying each and every treatise with constant application and because the authors of treatises mention the same thing again and again although some topic is sometimes specially mentioned...”.
Vagbhata of Sind, who flourished about 7th century A.D. composed a treatise called Ashtanga Hridaya which while presenting a summary of Caraka and Sushruta with gleanings from Agnivesha, Bhela and Harita, brings the subjects up-to-date. He introduces a number of new drugs and makes valuable modifications and additions in surgery. He did all this in spite of strong opposition from orthodox school. Ashtanga Hridaya signifies the descriptions in 8 parts. It contains 7,444 verses in 120 chapters
He also wrote another work called “Astanga-Sangraha”. Vagbhata’s style is very clear and concise. He throws light on several obscure passages in his predecessors’ works. Vagbhata was subsequently considered as great as Caraka ano Sushruta. A popular couplet gives him the place of honour in Kaliyuga, just as Caraka and Sushruta had it in Kritayuga and Dvapara respectively—a poetic but an impressive way of recognising the merits of this great man Among the students of Hindu medicine, the three are known by the name of “Viddha Traya” or the “Old Triad”.
Redactors of Caraka, Sushruta and Kashyapa as well as epitomizer Vagbhata, though they believed in the sanctity of the basic principles of the text, were always alert to make progressive additions in the text, required according to time and place and were ever ready to assimilate the useful things from whatever source available.
Caraka in unequivocal terms states—
[Carakasaṃhitā Vimānasthāna 1.14]
“The entire world is the teacher to the intelligent and foe to the unintelligent Hence, knowing this well, thou shouldst listen and act according to the words of instruction ef even an unfriendly person, when they are worthy and such as bring fame to you and long life, and are capable of giving strength and prosperity”.
Not only this, but for the sake of gaining new knowledge, the Rishis took the trouble of going even to foreign countries as Bharadvaja did.
[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 1.3]
“Bharadvaja the mighty ascetic, in search of the science of Longevity approached Indra, having deemed him the lord of the immortals, worthy of suit”.
The ancient Rishis valued knowledge to such an extent that they honoured Mlecchas as Rishis and assimilated knowledge received from them:
The true progressive spirit in compiling new text books is echoed in the statement of Vagbhata when he says:—
[Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā Uttarasthāna 40.44]
“If the works of the ancient Rishis alone are worthy of interest why are Bhela and such others not studied, leaving off Caraka and Sushruta? Therefore it is right that a good work should always be accepted”
Orthodoxy seems to be strongly prevalent in his days and so Vagbhata seems to have been so exasperated that he condemns the obscurantism and anti-progressive spirit in strong terms thus
[Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā Uttarasthāna 40.86]
“Oil, ghee and honey are respectively wholesome and curative of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. What difference will be in the result whether it is prescribed by Brahma himself or any other person created by Brahma, this being not a subject of Mantra?”
Dridhabala, Vagbhata, Madhava, Sharngadhara and Bhavamishra clearly state that out of the best of knowledge related to this science from all the books extant and from all the sages, and after assimilating all worthy of it, they have compiled their volumes. The statements given below of only Dridhabala and Vagbhata give full conception of the principles which governed the compilation of medical text-books.
[Carakasaṃhitā Siddhisthāna 32.31-40]
“He added seventeen chapters in the Section on Therapeutics as also the two Sections of Pharmaceutics and Success in Treatment in entirety, by culling his data from various treatises on the science. Thus this treatise is not deficient either in respect of diction or in respect of content, and is free from any blemishes besetting scientific treatises.”
[Aṣṭāṅgasaṃgraha Sūtrasthāna 1.19]
[Aṣṭāṅgasaṃgraha Sūtrasthāna 1.15-17]
[Aṣṭāṅgasaṃgraha Uttarasthāna 50]
“Not even a prosodial instant is introduced here without the authority of the traditional doctrine. The same are the interpretations and the same is the composition of the work; only the arrangement is changed for the sake of conciseness”.
“Consulting all the main treatises, this treatise of Astanga-sangraha is compiled in various sections and chapters. It is free from improper prolixity, omission and repetition and is a treatise containing the tripartite science of life viz., etiology, symptomatology and medicament, is an elucidator of the parts the real meaning of which is obscure, it desists for the most part from the controversial points between our own and other treatises and is a composition just befitting the spirit of the age.”
“A compilation becomes good if everything is fully described. If anything is left off, the significance of all-comprehensiveness is lost”
“Ashtanga-sangraha is up-to-date especially on account of the assimilation of the topics from a good many of the treatises. So what cannot be learnt from Sangraha must be an impossibility.”
[Aṣṭāṅgasaṃgraha Uttarasthāna 50]
“Who can reach the end of the boundless ocean of Ayurveda? Here is collected the cream of the knowledge of the disease and drugs of the whole universe”.
[Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 1.4]
[Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā Uttarasthāna 50.89]
“Ashtanga-hridaya neither too concise nor too copious is compiled, based on the extract of the essence of all the subjects scattered in various treatises. May the world enjoy full happiness from the merit which is obtained by compiling this Hridaya, the heart of the ocean of the literature of the whole of Ayurveda.”
Though each book was written on a special branch, the basic knowledge of all other branches was given rather in a concise form in each book.
[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 26.133]
“The local affections occurring in the upper supra-clavicular portion of the body are described here in order to obviate the censure of an absolute omission of them in this treatise. Henceforth, listen to the excellent epitome of their therapeusis succintly described.”
Every branch had its technical terms and the knowledge of this technical terminology was essential.
[Carakasaṃhitā Siddhisthāna 12.48]
“A physician who is not conversant with the canons of exposition, though he may be a student of many treatises, will fail to grasp the meaning of these treatises, just as a man fails to acquire wealth when fortune has deserted him.”
Now the selection, sanction and authorization of text books were necessary and they were given by a committee of learned professors who sat together and heard all the texts of various works and approved the one which was found the best, judging purely on the merit of the text book.
They declared a book to be the best and it became an authoritative text book in the country. (Vide this Chapter [...])
[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 1.30-35, 40]
“All of them pursuant of the welfare of all creatures extolled the authors saying, ‘Great is your compassion for creatures”.
“The compilations of these compilers which were thus approved by the great sages obtained currency in the world for the well-being of the multitude of living beings”
The qualities specified for a good text book are described in Caraka (Vide this chapter [...])
[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 8.3]
“Such a treatise, like the unclouded sun, dispelling darkness, illuminates everything”.