Sushruta Samhita, volume 1: Sutrasthana

by Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna | 1907 | 148,756 words

This current book, the Sutra-sthana (english translation), is the first part of this voluminous medical work. It contains a large summary of the knowledge envelopig the medical aspects of Ayurveda. Descriptions of diseases, various diets and drugs, the duties of a surgeon, surgical procedures, medical training; these are only some of the numerous s...

Chapter XLII - Knowledge of tastes of drugs

Now we shall discourse on the Chapter, which treats of the specific properties of flavours (Rasa-Vishesha-Vijnaniya-adhyaya).

The properties of sky (Akasha), air (Pavana), fire (Dahana), water (Toya) and earth (Bhumi) are sound touch, colour, taste and smell, each of the preceding elements possessing properties less by one than those of the one immediately succeeding it in the order of enumeration.[1]

[Since a matter is designated after the name of the preponderant natural element, which enters into its composition], taste is said to be a water-origined principle. All material elements are inseparably connected with one another, and there is a sort of interdependence among them, each one contributing to the continuance of the other and jointly entering, to a more or less extent, into the composition of all material substances. This water-origined flavour (Rasa), which becoming modified through its contact with the rest of the material elements, admits of being divided into six different kinds, such as sweet, acid, saline, pungent, bitter and astringent. These, in their turn, being combined with one another, give rise to sixty-three different kinds. A sweet taste is largely endued with attributes which specifically appertain to the material principles of earth and water. An acid taste is pre-eminently possessed of attributes, which belong to the elementary principles of earth and fire. A saline taste is mostly endued with attributes which characterise the elements of water and fire. A pungent taste is largely possessed of attributes, which mark the elementary principles of air and fire. The specific attributes of air and sky predominate in a bitter taste. The specific properties of earth and air should be regarded as dominant in an astringent taste.

Tastes such as sweet, acid and saline are endued with the virtues of subduing Vayu. Tastes such as sweet, bitter and astringent are possessed of the virtue of subduing the deranged Pitta. Tastes such as pungent, bitter and astringent tend to subdue the deranged Kapha.

The Vayu is a self-origined principle in the human organism. The Pitta owes its origin to the bodily heat (Agneya), while the origin of Kapha is ascribed to the presence of watery (Saumya) principle in the body. Tastes such as sweet, etc. are augmented by causes in which they have their origin, and prove soothing or pacifying in respect of causes other than those which produce them.

According to certain authorities, there are only two kinds of tastes, owing to the two-fold (hot and cold) nature of the temperament of the world. Of these the tastes such as sweet, bitter and astringent are cold in their properties, while the pungent, acid and saline ones exercise fiery or heat making virtues. The tastes such as sweet, acid and saline are heavy and emollient in their character, while the pungent, astringent and bitter ones are dry and light. The watery (Saumya) tastes are cold. The fiery (Agneya) ones are hot.

Coldness, dryness, lightness, non-sliminess, suppression (of the urine or ordure) form the characterstic properties of the Vayu. An astringent taste should be considered as possessed of the same properties as the Vayu, and hence it (astringent taste) increases the coldness, dryness, lightness, non-sliminess and arrestiveness of the latter with its specific coolness, dryness, lightness, non-sliminess and arrestiveness.

Heat, pungency, dryness, lightness, and non-sliminess form the specific properties of the Pitta. A pungent taste, which is possessed of the same properties as the Pitta, respectively increases the heat, pungency, dryness, lightness and non-sliminess of the latter with the help of similar properties of its own.

Sweetness, oiliness, heaviness, coldness and sliminess form the specific properties of Kapha. A sweet taste, which is possessed of the same properties as the Kapha, respectively increases the sweetness, oiliness, heaviness, coldness and sliminess of the latter with the help of similar properties of its own. A pungent taste is endued with properties which are contrary to those of the Kapha, hence the sweetness, oiliness, heaviness, coldness and sliminess of the latter, are respectively destroyed by the pungency, dryness, lightness, heat and non-sliminess of the former. These have been cited only by way of illustration.

Characteristics of Tastes:—

Now we shall describe the characteristics of tastes. A taste, which is pleasant, proves comfortable to, and contributes to the life-preservation of a man, keeps his mouth moist, and increases the quantity of bodily Kapha, is called Sweet (Madhura). A taste, which produces tooth-edge and increased salivation, and increases the relish for food, is called acid (Amla). A taste, which imparts a greater relish to food, produces salivation and softness of a part, is called saline (Lavana). A taste, which produces a burning sensation at the tip of the tongue attended with a tingling of the part and headache, and is instantaneously followed

by a running at the nose (fluent coryza) is called pungent (Katuka). A taste, which gives rise to a sort of sucking sensation at the throat, removes the slimy character of the cavity of the mouth, gives rise to the appearance of goose-flesh on the skin, and increases the relish for food, is called bitter (Tikta). A taste, which brings about the dryness of the mouth, numbs the palate, obstructs the throat, and gives rise to a drawing, pressing sensation in the region of the heart, is called astringent (Kashaya).

Specific virtues of tastes:—

Now we shall describe the specific virtues of tastes. Of these, the sweet taste is possessed of the virtue of increasing the quantity of lymph-chyle, blood, flesh, fat, bone marrow, albumen (ojas), semen, and milk in a parturient woman. It materially contributes to the growth of bones, strengthens the eyesight, favours the growth of hair, improves the complexion of the body, brings about the adhesion of fractured bones (Sandhana), and purifies the blood and the lymph-chyle. Likewise, it proves wholesome to infants, old and weak men and ulcer-patients (suffering from Endocarditis—Urah-Kshata) and is most coveted by bees and ants. It exhilarates the mind as well as the five sense-organs, relieves thirst, swooning and a burning sensation of the body, and originates Kapha. Similarly, it favours the germination of intestinal parasites. Largely and exclusively partaken of, it brings on cough, dyspnea, flatulence (Alasaka), vomiting, sweet taste in the mouth, hoarseness of the voice (aphonia), worms in the intestines, tumours, elephantisis, Vasti-lepa (mucous deposit in the bladder), Gudopolepa (mucous or slimy deposit in the anus), and Abhisandya (ophthalmia), etc.

Acid taste:—

An acid taste should be regarded as a digestant of assimilated food, and is endued with resolving, appetising and carminative properties. It sets in the natural emission of flatus and urine, restores the natural movements of the bowels, lessens the tendency to spasms, and gives rise to an acid (digestive) reaction in the stomach, and to a sensation of external shivering. It originates a slimy or mucous secretion and is extremely pleasant or relishing. An acid taste, though possessed of the aforesaid virtues, brings on tooth-edge, with sudden closing of the eyes, appearance of goose flesh on the skin, absorption of Kapha and looseness of the body in the event of its being largely partaken of to the exclusion of all other tastes. Owing to its fiery character, the taste under discussion sets in a process of suppuration in cuts or burns, or in incised, lacerated or punctured wounds, as well as in those, which result from external blows, or are due to fractures, swellings, or falls, or are brought about as the after effects of any idiopathic distemper, or which are tainted with the urine of any venomous animals or through contact with any poisonous animal or vermin. It gives rise to a burning sensation in the throat, chest and the region of the heart.

Saline taste:—

A saline taste is possessed of corrective (purgative and emetic) virtues, favours the processes of suppuration and spontaneous bursting of swellings, brings about the looseness or resolution of any affected part (ulcer), is heat-engendering in its property and proves incompatible with all other tastes. It cleanses the internal passages or channels of the organism and produces softness of the limbs and members of the body. A saline taste, though possessed of the aforesaid properties, may bring on scabies urticaria, edematous swellings, loss or discoloration of the natural complexion of the body, loss of virile potency, distressing symptoms affecting the sense-organs, inflammation of the mouth and the eyes, hemoptysis, Vata-rakta (a kind of leprosy) and acid eructations etc., in the event of its being largely partaken of to the exclusion of all other tastes.

Pungent taste:—

A pungent taste is endued with appetising, resolving (Pacana) and purifying properties in respect of ulcers etc.), and destroys obesity, languor, deranged Kapha and intestinal parasites. It is antitoxic in its character, proves curative in cases of Kushta (skin diseases) and itches, and removes the stiffness of the ligaments. It acts as a sedative and reduces the quantity of semen, milk and fat. A pungent taste, though possessed of the aforesaid virtues, may bring on vertigo, loss of consciousness, dryness of the throat, palate and lips, burning sensation and a high temperature of the body, loss of strength, tremor, a sort of aching or breaking pain, and a neuralgic pain (Vata Simla) in the back, sides and the extremities, etc. in the event of its being largely partaken of in exclusion of all other tastes.

Bitter taste:—

A bitter taste serves to restore the natural relish of a person for food and brings on a sense of general languor. It is a good appetiser, and acts as a good purifying agent (in respect of ulcers, etc.), and proves curative in itches and urticaria. It removes thirst, swoon and fever, purifies mother’s milk, and is possessed of the virtue of drying up urine, ordure, mucous, fat and pus, etc. A bitter taste, though possessed of the aforesaid properties, may bring on numbness of the limbs, wry-neck, convulsions, facial paralysis, violent headache, giddiness, and an aching, cutting and breaking pain, as well as a bad taste in the mouth in the event of its being largely partaken of in exclusion of all other tastes.

Astringent taste:—

An astringent taste is possessed of astringent, healing, styptic (Stambhana), purifying, liquefacient, drying and contracting virtues. It lessens secretions from mucous membranes. An astringent taste, though possessed of the abovesaid properties, may bring on the peculiar type of heart disease known as (Hridroga) parchedness of the mouth, distention of the abdomen, loss of speech, wry-neck (Manya Stambha), throbbing or quivering and tingling sensations in the body with contraction of the limbs and convulsions, etc.

Now we shall make a general classification of the drugs according to their taste.


The drugs forming the groups known as the Kakolyadi-Gana, as well as thickened milk, Ghī, lard, marrow, Shali and Shashtika rice, Yava, Godhuma, Masha pulse, Shringataka, Kasheruka, Trapusha, Ervaruka, Alavu, Kalaukata Ankalodya, Piyala, Pushkara, Vijaka, Kashmarya, Madhuka (Maula), Draksha, Kharjura, Rajadana, Tala, Narikela, modifications of the expressed Juice of Ikshu (Sugarcane), Vala, Ativala, Atmagupta, Vidari, Pyashya, Gokshuraka, Kshiramorata, Madhulika, and Kushmanda etc. are generally included within the Madhura group.

Acid Groups:—

The fruits known as Dadima, Amalaka, Matulanga, Amrutaka, Kapittha, Karamarda, Vadra, Kola, Prachina-Amalaka, Tintidhi, Koshamra, Bhavya, Paravata, Vetraphala, Lakuca, Amla-Vetash, Dantashatha and curd, whey, Sura, Shukta, Sauvira, Tushodaka and Dhanyamla, etc. are generally included within the acid group.

Saline Group:—

The different kinds of salt such as, Saindhaba, Sauvarchala, Vida, Pakva, Romaka,. Samudraka, Paktrima, Yavakshara (nitrate of potash), Ushara and Suvarchika collectively form the Saline group.

Pungent Group:—

The component drugs which form the groups known as the Pippatyadi and the Surasadi-Ganas and Shigru, Madhu-sigru, Mulaka, Lashuna, Sumukha, Shitashiva (camphor), Kushtha, Devadaru, Harenuka, Valguja-phala, Chanda, Guggula, Mustha, Langalaki, Shukanasa and Pilu etc. and the components of the group known as Salasaradi gana collectively form the pungent group.

Bitter Group:—

The component members of the groups of medicinal drugs known as the aragva-dhadi-Gana and the Guducyadi-Gana together with Mandukparni, Vetra-karira, Haridra, Daruharidra, Indra-yava, Varuna, Svadu-kantaka, Saptaparna, Vrihati, Kantakari, Shankhini, Dravanti, Trivrit, Kritavedhana, Karkotaka, Karavellaka, Vartaka, Karira, Karavira, Sumanah, Sankha-pushpi Apamarga, Trayamana, Ashoka, Rohini, Vaijayanti, Suvarchala, Punarnava, Vrishikali and Jyotishmati, etc. collectively constitute the bitter group.

Astringent Group:—

The component members of the groups known as the Nyagrodhade-Gana, the Amvashtadi-Gana, and the Priyangvadi and the Rodhradi Ganas, Triphala, Shallaki, Jambu, Amra, Vakula, Timduka fruits, Katakha fruits, Shaka fruits, Pashanabhedaka, the fruits of trees known as the Vanaspatis (lit: lords of the forest, such as the Vata, the Ashvattha etc.) and most of the component members of the group known as the Salasaradi Gana, as well as Kuruvaka, Kovidaraka, Jivanti, Chilli, Palanka and Sunishanuaka, etc. and grains and pulse of the Nevara and Mudga species, collectively form the astringent group.

These tastes, in groups of different combinations, number sixty-three in all; as for example, fifteen, computed by taking two at a time; twenty, computed by taking three at a time; fifteen, computed by taking four at a time; six, computed by taking five at a time and six, being severally computed, thus making up an aggregate of sixty-three.

Authoritative verse on the subject:—

The man, who gradually habituates himself to the use of each of the six aforesaid tastes, enjoys a sort of immunity from their injurious action in the same manner as, a strong man, who makes himself successively accustomed to the action of the three deranged humours of his body, is not easily affected by their pathogenetic properties.


Thus ends the forty-second Chapter of the Sutrasthana in the Sushruta Samhita, which treats of the specific properties of flavours.

Footnotes and references:


To put it more explicitly the property of sound belongs to the sky (Akasha). The properties of sound and touch appertain to the air (Vayu). The properties of sound, touch and colour form the characteristics of Fire (Teja). Sound, touch, colour and taste form the specific properties of water (Toya). Sound, touch, colour, taste and smell mark the earth matter (Bhumi).

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