Rasa Jala Nidhi, vol 5: Treatment of various afflictions

by Bhudeb Mookerjee | 1938 | 63,627 words | ISBN-10: 8170305829 | ISBN-13: 9788170305828

This fifth volume of the Rasa-jala-nidhi deals with the symptoms, treatment and dietary prescriptions of various afflictions. For example, ratapitta (haemoptysis), cough, asthma, tumours and obesity are dealth with and various Iatro-chemical recipes are provided for these diseases. The Rasa-jala-nidhi (“the ocean of Iatrochemistry, or, chemical me...

Part 25 - Ar-Razi and the Indian knowledge of metallic chemistry

Next we turn our attention to the chemistry in Iraq and Persia, as culled from Mr. Stapleton’s remarkable paper on Ar-Razi, and examine whether Ar-Razi’s works bear any trace of the debt due to India. This debt, however, is not denied in the hold of vegetable chemistry. Mr. Stapleton says that Ar-Razi was acquainted with both Sushruta and Charaka. What Mr. Stapleton is not prepared to admit is that Ar-Razi was indebted to the Hindus for his knowledge of metallic alchemy as well. The reasons why I am inclined to say that Ar-Razi was equally indebted to the Indians for his knowledge of metallic chemistry are as follows—

(1) Marqua-shisha (pyrites)

Ar-Razi uses the word “marqua shisha” to denote pyrites. The word is clearly a corruption of the Indian “makshika” which means the same thing i.e., pyrites. It will be seen that the word “makshika” is to be found in Charaka, Sushruta, and all the other books on Indian medicine.

(2) Shakk (arsenic or oxide of arsenic)

This is evidently a corruption of the Indian “ahankha” which means “gouripashana” or sulphide of arsenic. The word in Sanskrit has two meanings viz., conch shell and arsenic stone. Mr. Stapleton says (vide footnote, page 352) that the late Mahamahopadhyaya Pandit Satish Chandra Vidyabhushana reported to him that the word “shankha” in Sanskrit possessed only one meaning, viz., “conch shell,” and “that it is never applied to a poison.” The late Pandit probably looked for the word in a dictionary which does not contain many of the technical terms mainly used in astrology, chemistry, etc. The ancient books on Indian chemistry are full of references to “sankha visha” or “shankhi,” meaning Sulphide of Arsenic.

(3) Quili

The Persian word means an alkali (from Persian “Alquili”). The Indian word “khara” which is of a more ancient origin, means the same thing. The word quili is therefore a corruption of “khara” or “khari”.

(4) Measures of weight in the works of Ar-Razi and other Persian Chemists.

It is interesting to note that measures of weight, as found in the works of Ar-Razi and other Persian chemists, are based on those adopted by Charak and the other Indian chemists. The Persian “dirham” is a contraction of the Sanskrit “dharan,” and the Persian “mann” is the same as the Indian “mana” or “manika.” According to the Persians, 128 dirhams make one “pound or rati and two ratis make one “mann.” That is also the case with us; 128 dharans make one anjali, and two anjalis make one mana or manika (a seer).

(5) Murdasanj

The Persian name appears to have been derived from the Sanskrit “mriddara shringaka,” an ore of lead, found by the side of the Arvuda hills in Gujrat, popularly known in India by the name of “mudra shankha.”

(6) Qualimia.

The Persian word means dross from all “Bodies” during their purification. The word is a slightly corrupted form of the Sanskrit “kalima,” meaning the impure part of a substance. It has been derived according to the rules of Sanskrit Grammar, from, the word “kala,” meanning “black,”

(7) Lazward (Lapis Lazuli),

The Persian word means a stone with bright eyes. It is evidently a corruption of the Sanskrit “rajavarta,” the etymological meaning of which is a stone with bright spots rolled spirally inward. The word “Lazward” is also in use among the common people of India. Reference to this stone is to be found in almost all the ancient Indian treatises.

(8) Salts—Hindi and Baidi.

Of the several salts named by Ar-Razi two arrest our attention, viz., Hindi and Baidi. The former is perhaps the rocksalt or Saindhava found in Sindo and the Punjab, and the latter is evidently the salt prepared by the “Balds” i.e., Indian physicians, and refers no doubt to the “vida” salt which is used by the Indian physicians and prepared artificially in India itself.

(9) Talq.

Alberuni is of opinion that “talq” is the same thing as the Indian “Talak.” Whether it is so or not, the Persian word “talq” is evidently derived from the Indian “Talak,” which is a contraction of Hari-talak (orpiment).

(10) Tutiya.

It has been derived from the Sanskrit “tutthaka” (sulphate of copper). We have it on the authority of Ibn Wafid (1050 A.D.) that mines of tutiya were found on the shores of the Indian ocean (vide footnote, page 350 and also page 372, Stapleton). It appears, therefore, that the Persians used to obtain this mineral from the Indians, who had evidently been acquainted with its use at an earlier date and must have given it their own name. We have no doubt that this name was tutthaka or “tutiya,” a name which is still used by those Indians who are not acquainted with the Sanskrit name, “tutthaka.” A reference to tutthaka is to be found in some of the earliest treatises on metallic chemistry.

(11) The religious beliefs of the Sabians (Harranians or Chaldeans).

Mr. Stapleton says that the ideas of Ar-Razi were to a certain extent influenced by the religious beliefs of the Sabians, who believed that God was both one and many in the different phenomena (i.e., the planets and stars). This is exactly the views of the Hindus even to the present day. The stars are worshipped in India from time out of memory, not for the belief that they are shapers of human destiny, but for the belief that the great God (graha??ḥ sadāśivaḥ) has manifested Himself in them. They are not shapers but only indicators of human destiny (grahāstu phalamūcakāḥ phalasya dāyakā? nahi |). The pictures on the walls of a Chaldrean (Chaldean?) temple of Saturn, viz., that of a black Indian old man holding an axe in the hand, etc., are exactly in keeping with the conception of Saturn found in the ancient treatises on Indian Astrology, such as, Brihat Parasara Hora Shastra[1], a treatise compiled by the sage Parasara, son of Bharadvasa.

I find in Mr. Stapleton’s book that according to Al-Masudi, the ancient Sabians had some connection with India. They went on pilgrimage to a temple of Saturn in Brahmanabad, the then capital of the Sind province. It was situated in an old channel of the Indus (left bank) about 40 miles N. E. of the modern Hyderabad, and therefore only about 100 miles to the south of Mohenjo-dero, where many relics of prehistoric civilization have recently been discovered. Mr. Stapleton appears to be of opinion that the city of Brahmanabad (literally, a settlement of the Brahmanas) which contained a temple of Saturn to which the Sabians used to go on pilgrimage was an outpost of Mesopotamian civilization. This is a conclusion which I do not think is warranted by Al-Masudi’s statement that “the Sabians had some connection with India and that they went on pilgrimage to a temple of Saturn in Brahmanabad or Al-Mansura”, We are inclined to draw from the above statement a conclusion which is quite the reverse of what Mr. Stapleton has arrived at. It appears to me that the ancient Sabians or Chaldrians were originally an offshoot of the Indian race and that they could not cut off their connection with India for several centuries after they had settled in Mesopotamia. They used to go on pilgrimage to the land on which they were dependent for their origin and culure; otherwise they would not have taken the trouble of going on pilgrimage to a temple of Saturn in India, while they had their own temples in Mesopotamia itself. As a matter of fact, worship of planers and erection of temples for the purpose of such worship were prevalent throughout India even from the commencement of Indian civilization. There are many such temples even to this day in India, Calcutta has got at least one temple of Saturn where the image of the planet is worshiped by hundreds of votaries. It is on the Nimtalaghat Street. The earliest temple of Saturn existent to this day is the famous temple of “Konarak” in Orrisa. It is now in ruins and has long been abandoned. The name “Konarak” has been a puzzle to the general public. It has been explained in many ways. None of these explanations is satisfactory. The real meaning of the word “Kana-rak Mandir” is the temple of the planets Saturn and Sun. The word is a compound one and consists of two words, viz., Kona (Saturn) and Arka (Sun). The word “Kona” has two different meanings, vis., (.1) an angle, and (2) Saturn. The second meaning is not familiar to us, but it is to be found in the Puranas, Whatever that may be, the temple of “Konarka” was a temple dedicated to the two planets vis., Saturn and Sun. According to the Puranas, it was built by Shamba, son of Sri Krishna, with a view to worship the planets in the hope that the action might lead to his being cured of leprosy from which he had been suffering. Shamba was born about 5000 years ago, i.e., a few years after the commencement of the Kali era which began to be counted 5028 years ago.

That the Mesopotamians learnt the worship of the planets from the Indians is apparent even from the very names of the planets; as for instance, the Sabin name for Jupiter is “Mushtari” which is a corruption of Mritvari (i.e., enemy of death), one of the Indian names for Jupiter. The name for Mars is Marrikh which is a corruption of one of the several Indian names given to the same planet, viz., Mrirak (mṛ?kaḥ) a name which is also given to the God Siva. The Sabian name for Venus is “Zuhrah” which is a corruption of the Indian name Shukrah (pronounced by the Tamils as Zukrah).

That there was, in pre-historic ages, a racial and some other countries to the west of India, not to speak of Persia and Chaldria only, will be evident from the facts given below:—

(1) It has been pointed out in Chapter I that, in pre-historic times, Baka, an Indian Vaisya, by caste, was the ruler of the island of Crete, which appears to have been a settlement of the Indians This is a conclusion which I arrived at about 8 years ago, in a paper contributed to a Bengali magazine, named “Manasi-o-marmabani,”—a few years before the excavation of Mohenjo Dero and Harappa. The reports of Sir John Marshall and others on the findings in those to and other places in Sind amply corroborates my views that the island of Crete, at least, was an Indian colonization. We understand that of all the remains of buildings unearthed in Harappa, there is only one which is comparatively in a good condition. This is 168 feet in length from north to south and 136 feet in breadth, from east to west. The mode of construction and the architectural peculiarity found in this building markedly resemble those which characterised a class of buildings in ancient Crete. This is an additional proof of the island of Crete having been colonised by the ancient Indians. (2) It has also been proved in Chapter II that in pre-historic limes a large body of Indian emigrants, probably in more than one batches, came to settle, in course of their wanderings, in Persia, Arabia, Phoenicia, Asia Minor, Egypt, and Europe, and naturally brought with them much of the Indian civilization and culture. (3) Apart from the facts brought to light in Chapters I and II of this paper, 1 would refer here to the views expressed by Mr. M. R. Hall, the renowned archaeologist, in his “Ancient History of the Near East” (pages 171-174), although I do not agree with him in all that he says. He maintains that a branch of the Indian Dravidians came to conquer in pre-historic times, Persia and Babylonia, and laid in those places the foundation of the Persian and Babylonian civilization. These Indians according to Mr. Hall, had attained a high state of civilization before they conquered Persia and Babylonia. They were acquainted, at the time of the conquest, with the use of the various metallic, weapons, and could express their ideas in writing by means of a sort of pictogram.

Having regard to all these facts, we should be sufficiently justified in holding that the people of ancient Persia, Asia Minor, etc. were indebted to the Indians, not only for their chemistry and astronomy, but also for much of their culture and civilization.

Mr. Stapleton thinks that the name of “Semen of Siva” was given to mercury about 1200 A. D. I have already proved that even Nagarjuna the Buddhist, not to speak of the more ancient Hindu authors, used this expression in his “Rasa-ratnakara” which must have been compiled at least in the first century B.C. True, Doctor Sir P. C. Boy does not think that Rasa-ratnakara was composed so early as that, but even Dr. Roy has pointed out (See page XLIII, Vol. 2) that in the Library of Nepal there is a manuscript of a tantra named “Kubjika tantra” in which mercury has been described as the generative principle of Siva. This manuscript is written in Gupta character and in the opinion of Maha-mahopadhyaya Pandit Dr. Haraprasad Shastri, who brought it to light, was copied, about the 6th century A. D. The original book might have been composed at least two centuries earlier i.e., in the 4th century A. D. The idea of Semen of Siva therefore must have been conceived long before the 4th century, A.D. Now, this tantra has also a clear reference to the incineration of mercury after its exhaustion with six times its weight of sulphur. This presupposes a knowledge of all the eighteen different kinds of mercurial operations i.e., the whole science of mercury as known to the ancient Indians (See Vol, 1 of my Rasa-jala-nidhi) and specially the knowledge of such apparata as Nabhi-yantra, Jala-yantra, Kachchapa-yantra. etc., the invention of which has been attributed to such ancient chemists, as Nandi (a mythical person), Shambhu, author of Rasarnava, Nagarjuna, author of Rasa-ratnakara, etc. It is therefore manifestly clear that the treatises of Shambhu and Nagarjuna must have been composed long before the 4th century A.D.

As to the contention that quick-silver is nowhere found native in India. I am to point out that Rasa-prakasa Sudhakara and Rasa-ratnasamuchchaya, etc., testify to the fact there had been mines of mercury in the Himalayas and in the eastern hills, in days long gone by. Those must have been exhausted long ago, cinnabar used to be imported into India from Dardes?? province to the north of Kashmir, for the purpose of extraction of mercury, after it had beer-extinct in India proper.

In view of all these facts, it will not be unreasonable for us to hold that chemistry, organic, as well as inorganic based mainly on the use of mercury, as recorded in the Indian medical treatises, was of Indian origin and could not have been imported from outside India.

It will be interesting to close the present chapter with a diagram showing the relation in which the different branches of Rasvidya (metallic chemistry and alchemy) stand to one another:—

Sndt8e33 1

Rasa-vidya (metallic chemistry and alchemy)
Kahema-Vidya (alchemy)
Rasa-chikitsa Vidya (metallic chemistry of medicine)
Dhatu Vidya or Dhatu Veda (industrial or applied chemistry)
Roga-chikitsa (treatment of diseases)
Rasayana-chikitsa (treatment for the cure and prevention of senile decay)

Footnotes and references:


I have edited this most difficult of the astrological books with a Bengali translation, a portion of which was published some eight years back in the Sahitya Samhita of Calcutta.


Rasasastra category This concludes ‘Ar-Razi and the Indian knowledge of metallic chemistry’ included in Bhudeb Mookerjee’s Rasa Jala Nidhi, vol 5: Treatment of various afflictions. The text includes treatments, recipes and remedies and is categorised as Rasa Shastra: an important branch of Ayurveda that specialises in medicinal/ herbal chemistry, alchemy and mineralogy, for the purpose of prolonging and preserving life.

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