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 14 - Legends and Mantras

Legends and myths are the most valuable treasures in a country’s national heritage and India is one of the richest countries in this respect. Such legends are not just fantastic creations of idle minds to be ridiculed and discarded. They contain in them the beginnings of the idealogy and concepts that have influenced, in their own way, the future course of their civilization. They are the crude attempts at embodying in verbal form the vague inklings into the dawn of knowledge, when sublime nature awed the insignificant looking man, and the joy of life let loose the fancy of man inspired by the virginity of life.

Belief in the magic effects of certain words uttered in a fixed order with prescribed intonation is a common feature in the history of early civilization of all countries and India is no exception to the rule. Where experience and reason failed to solve a mystery to a common man magic and Mantras, based on the belief in the supernatural, stepped in.

India in Caraka’s time was ahead of other countries in the progress of civilization especially in the science of medicine Medical knowledge had attained the scientific stage and yet we find traces of legend. Caraka continued the practice of absorbing these legends in his work in the illustration o medical beginnings and facts. For instance, the legend of the origin of fever ascribing it to the anger of God Shiva is quite in consonance with the idea of heat, the dominant pathological effect of feverish condition (Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 3.15-25). Fever was the most common disease and Shiva, the God of Destruction, naturally came to be associated with the most common cause of death viz., fever. Traces of the belief in the curative effects of specially arranged hymns and incantations called Mantras are also found in Caraka Samhita. The traces are however faint and more often than not, the Mantra treatment is accompanied by the rational and scientific treatment. Such mantras form part of psychic therapy and the inclusion of these in his work brings it more into a line with advanced views than the absence of them would have done. And we must not forget that these mantras were meant to be uttered by only those persons who possessed certain qualities in them. Thus the sanctity of mantras was strictly preserved.

The mystical effect of mantras is still being made use of especially in snake poison treatment.

The legends in Caraka Samhita are interesting and we find that shorn of their Imaginative adornments, some of them appear to be literary versions of some scientific truth.

The origin of fever is ascribed to the heat caused by the fire which poured from the anger of Rudra at the destruction of Daksa’s sacrifice of old. The destruction of the above sacrifice was also the cause of many other diseases. The description is interesting as there is a symbology in these mythical representations and legends. where are certain diseases ascribed to various causes. (Carakasaṃhitā Nidānasthāna 8.11)

“It was during the destruction of the sacrifice of Daksa that Gulma first arose in the past as the result of the agitated bodily movements gone through by the assembled persons who in their panic ran helter skelter in all directions running, swimming, racing, flying jumping etc. Also at this time, the urinary and dermic disorders took their rise as the result of the oblations that were eaten, the insanities as the result of fear, alarm and grief, the epilepsies as the result of the pollution by various kinds of unclean beings. As regards the fever we have already described how it arose from the forehead of great God Shiva, from the heat induced by fever arose the disease Hemothermia. As for consumption it took its rise from the excessive sex indulgence of the lord of constellations i.e. the Moon”.

In spite of the legendary lore which is found here and there in the Samhita Caraka never loses true scientific insight and as he says in Vimana-sthana Chapter III verses 24, 27, “calamities never result from any factor other than unrighteousness.” In these verses he logically traces the origin of disorder to a series of acts of unrighteousness, one following the other; how indulgence leads to lassitude, lassitude to greed etc and how deterioration of the quality of food aud exercise made mau the prey to various disorders.

The primogenesis of diseases is thus very aptly narrated. In Nidana VII-19 Caraka clearly states


“Neither gods nor the Gandharvas, neither the goblins nor the demons, nor aught else, torment the man who is not tormented of himself.”

Just as Hippocrates in Europe separated religion from medicine, Caraka did the same in India. Thus Caraka was the proneer of the scientific medicine in India. This clearly shows what a rational outlook Caraka had in spite of the legends and mantras we find in his work.

In Caraka Cikitsa I (4) verses 39-49 we get an interesting narration of the diseases of gods and demi-gods being cured by the Ashvins who are the physicians of gods. It is they who re-united the sacred head of sacrifice. They treated Pusan whose teeth had become loosened, Bhaga who had lost his eye-sight and Indra whose arm had got stiffened. Soma, the Moon God was cured of his consumption, and Cyavana was restored to his youth.

The cause of consumption of the Moon god is very aptly ascribed to his submergence in passion and the consequent weakness. The scientific reason and astronomical phenomenon are robed in mythological garb. As the disease first befell the king of stars it is called (rājayakṣmā) the royal disease (Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 8.12). But immediately following this myth he says that consumption was driven away by Ashvins [Ashvins] to this mortal world finding its four etiological factors viz., over-exertion, suppression of natural urges, wasting and fourthly irregular diet.

In Cikitsa XIX.4 the origin of diarrhea is ascribed to the impairment of the gastric fire by the use of cow’s flesh (which is heavy, hot and disagreeable) at Daksas sacrifice.

In Cikitsa-sthana XXIII, 4-5 there is an interesting derivation of the word poison and this is connected with a famous mythological event.

[Carakasaṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 23]

“When the ocean was being churned by the gods and the demons for the sake of ambrosia, there emerged prior to the nectar, a fearful looking person. He had a resplendent appearance, four fangs tawny hair and fiery eyes and the world despaired at the sight of him Hence he was known as ‘Visa’, poison, the despair of the world.”

This derivation is more significant than the English derivation of poison from ‘potio’, to drink.

Charms and talismans etc., formed part of the treatment, though mostly for psychic effect. In Cikitsa-sthana, chapter XXV verses 3-9 we get descriptions of exogenous and endogenous wounds and Caraka explains the predominant difference by the difference in their treatment. Here too, Caraka lays emphasis on the treatment of exogenous wounds by medications when they do not yield to the ‘Charms’ and other measures due to their association with endogenous morbid factors.

Even when describing the properties of the substance like oil, Caraka sometimes introduces the traditional legend in support of his statement. (Sūtra-sthāna chap. XXVII verse 288).

As it was enjoined upon a sacrificer to perform it not in an unclean condition,' Caraka gives some Mantras which would purify the person.

[Carakasaṃhitā Sūtrasthāna 8.28]

“Pour not the libations of holy ghee barley, til, small sacrificial grass and rape-seed in the sacrificial fire in an unclean condition Bathe to the incantation of the sacrificial texts beginning with the words ‘May the fire not leave me’, ‘May the wind grant me life’, ‘May the Visnu grant me strength, ‘May Indra grant me virility’, and ‘May the waters enter me auspiciously’, “The waters are indeed the source of happiness’ etc., and having laved the lips twice and having besprinkled the feet, touch the body with water on the cavities of the head, on the heart and on the top of the head”.

The psychic effect of mantras was accepted in all spheres of human activity and a person desiring a hero son, is advised by Caraka to utter the following mantra before engaging oneself in procreating act.

[Carakasaṃhitā Śārīrasthāna 8.8]

“Then the following charm should be uttered apostrophizing the child that is to be—‘Thou art the day; thou art the life, thou art well-established from all, sides. May the dispenser dispense to thee Brahmic splendour,’ May Brahma, Brihaspati, Visnu, Soma, Surya and the two Ashvins, as also Bhaga, Mitra and Varuna, bless me with a hero son Having uttered this, the two should unite”.

In the next few lines the charms to be uttered by a woman desiring a son are given.

At the time of delivery, the following charm is prescribed to be uttered into the ears of the pregnant woman by her favourite lady attendant.

[Carakasaṃhitā Śārīrasthāna 8.39]

“May the earth, the waters the heavens, the light, the wind, Visnu and Brihaspati ever protect you and the child, and may they direct the delivery. O! auspicious faced one, bring forth without distress to yourself or to him, a son who will possess the lustre of Kartikeya and have the protection of Kartikeya.”

The potion to be given to a patient to whom emesis is to be administered should be put in a measure pot and the following mantra should be recited over it.

[Carakasaṃhitā Kalpasthāna 1.14]

“Om, may Brahma, Daksa, Ashvins, Rudra, Indra, the earth, the moon, the sun, the gods of the wind, the fire, the sages, the host of drugs, and all diving creatures protect thee. Even as the vitalizers are to the sages, and ambrosia to the best of Nagas, so may this medicine be unto thee Having thus sanctified the potion the patient with his face turned to the east or the north must be made to drink again and again and vomit until the bile is seen to come out especially in persons afflicted with fever of the Kapha type, Gulma or coryza. This is the proper method of the procedure of Emesis”.

In Cikitsa-sthana chapter XXIII, verses 81-91, Caraka speaks of the ‘major perfumed elephant antidote’. This remedy was taught to Kubera by Tryambaka, the three-eyed Shiva. Caraka describes the wonderful effects of this antidote and goes even so far as to say that ‘The house containing this antidote cannot be entered into by evil spirits afflicting children or by Raksasas or hobgoblins, nor can evil charms or black magic gain entry into the house.’ He then prescribes the following efficacious holy incantation to be uttered during the preparation.

[... 90-94]

“My mother’s name is Jaya (victory) and my father is also Jaya (victory) and I am Vijaya (victory). The son of victory, Jaya and Jaya and hence I conquer Salutations to the lion among beings, to god Visnu, the maker of the world, to the eternal Krisna, the source and the glory of life. I am the very light of Visnu and that of Brahma, Indra and Yama. As surely, as I have never heard of the defeat of god Vasuveda and of one wooing one’s own mother’s hand and of the drying up of the ocean, so surely may this antidote achieve success by the truth of these words. O! thou best among remedies allied with hili-mili, give protection. Praise be unto thee!”

Thus has been described the antidote known as ‘Mahagandha-hasti’.

Thus although we find traces of legends and charms in the scientific work, they are there with a purpose; the legends to connect some prescriptions in the hoary tradition or to make the comparatively dry subject interesting, and the charms and mantras to create psychic effect, a principle accepted by even modern scientists.

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: