Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita

by Nayana Sharma | 2015 | 139,725 words

This page relates ‘Bhutas and Grahas’ of the study on the Charaka Samhita and the Sushruta Samhita, both important and authentic Sanskrit texts belonging to Ayurveda: the ancient Indian science of medicine and nature. The text anaylsis its medical and social aspects, and various topics such as diseases and health-care, the physician, their training and specialisation, interaction with society, educational training, etc.

Bhūtas and Grahas

While deities are primarily benevolent and relieve humans from their afflictions with their power of healing, they may also inflict diseases. The Saṃhitās attribute certain exogenous diseases to seizures brought on invisible beings[1] who are categorized as bhūtas[2] or grahas.[3] Caraka terms psychic disorders caused by seizures as bhūtonmāda.[4] The list of beings included among bhūtas or grahas are almost similar with minor differences and are innumerable in number.[5] Foremost among them are devas (deities), ṛṣis (sages), pitṛs (manes), gandharvas, yakṣas, rākṣasas, brahmarākṣas, piśācsa, and bhuja ga.[6] They are said to be innumerable in number but the main ones are classified into eight types.[7] The general features of these afflictions are that the patient claims to know the secrets and the future, has an unstable mind, is intolerant and acts in unhuman manner.[8] The inclusion of beings of extremely varied kinds under one term bhūta is interesting. In the Ṛgveda and later Saṃhitās and Brāhmaṇas the term bhūta denotes “being”, “becoming”, “past”, or “what actually happened”. Eventually the “being” came to be used as a noun to signify any animate, inanimate, visible or invisible existence.[9] Therefore, the term has a generic connotation that not only includes all the above beings but also heaven, earth, the atmosphere, the constellations, the oceans, rivers, mountains, etc.[10]

Among the above sages as well as gurus (preceptors), elderly (vṛddha), and siddhas can inflict disease thorough imprecation, spells and meditation (abhidhyāna).[11] Pitṛs, brahmarākṣas and piśācsa may be regarded as disembodied spirits. The term pitṛ refers to one who died long ago.[12] The attitude towards rākṣasas in the epics is that they were harmful spirits, nocturnal powers, demons of darkness who injured those who opposed them.[13] They share similarities with yakṣas (the attendants of Kubera)[14] as both are born of the same mother who was the daughter of Dakṣa.[15] Yakṣa, lord of alarka, who is also the lord of all dogs, is specifically invoked to drives away the poison of the rabid dog.[16] Rakṣasas and piśāca are seen as indigenous tribes who were hostile to Brahmanical culture. The term piśāca denotes a human race subsisting on raw flesh, and later came to be regarded as demons.[17] In the Saṃhitās the characteristic feature of seizure by piśāca is fondness for blood and meat with display of ferociousness.[18] The term bhujaṅga in the text refers to serpent deities.

Graha implies “seizing” or “laying hold of”[19] and the root “grah’ also means the same.[20] Therefore, graha is possibly used in the sense of any being that can seize or enter the body of a human. Grahas are known to be the daughters of Nirṛti, the forefather of demons, and thrive on those individuals who have strayed from the path of truthfulness and righteousness.[21]

From the Vedic corpus we know that Nirṛti, a dark and malevolent earth-goddess, is one the female counterparts of Yama.[22] She is called evil in Śatapatha Brāhmaṇa (VII:2:1:3) and is associated with pain. She also figures in the Mahābhārata as Mṛtyu where she is also characterised as a fierce creature commissioned by Brahman to destroy creation. More importantly, the name itself implies an association with Ṛta; she is the evil spirit who grapples men when they violate the Ṛta. In the Atharvaveda, she binds the offender with a strong rope round his neck; freedom from this knot means long life, strength and vigour.[23] Grāhi (seizure) is almost a synonym for Nirṛti in the Atharvaveda.[24] She is believed to harm the foetus, and hence, sacrificial offering of flesh and cooked rice is advised for her propitiation.[25] The association of Nirṛti with righteousness is evident even in the medical texts for her agents are said to seize those who have strayed from this path. In the Mahābhārata, Nirṛti is the wife of Adharma, and their children, are the rākṣasas who are called Nairritas.[26]

Suśruta refers to another set of grahas that afflict diseases in infants and children.

Nine in number, there are three male grahas

  1. Skanda,
  2. Skandāpasmāra and
  3. Naigameṣa,

And six female grahas—

  1. Śakuni,
  2. Revatī,
  3. Pūtanā,
  4. Andhapūtanā,
  5. Śītapūtanā and
  6. Mukhamaṇḍikā.[27]

Possessing supernatural powers and the ability to assume all forms, they are invisible to man when enter the body.[28] They seize children to extract veneration.[29] Among them Skanda is identified as the son of the supreme deity and of Gaṅgā, Umā and Kṛttikās and as Guha, the chief of the grahas and of the celestial army.[30] A friend of Skanda is the ugly faced Skandāpasmāra, also known as Viśākha.[31] The three goddesses (devī) Revatī, Pūtanā and Andhapūtanā are dark and frightful in appearance. Revatī is tall, dark complexioned and terrible looking, and known as Śuṣkanāma.[32] Pūtanā is described as fierce looking, slovenly, frightful, black and dark as the clouds and having unkempt hair. She dresses in dirty clothes and inhabits lonely places.[33] Andhapūtanā is dreadful, brown complexioned, bald and dresses in red garments.[34] Śītapūtanā is known to be fond of wine and blood among other items.[35] Mukhamaṇḍikā has a pleasing appearance and resides in cowsheds.[36] Naigameśa has the face of a ram and regarded as father to children.[37]

According to Suśruta, all the grahas were created by Kṛttikā, Umā, Agni and Śūlin for guarding the new-born Guha (Kārttikeya).[38] Guha is the name of Skanda who, according to the Mahābhārata, is the father of all the grahas dangerous to children.[39]

The grahas who thrive on blood, fat and flesh (asṛgvasāmāṃsabhuja) and roam around at night,[40] seize humans is to enjoy themselves (that is to procreate) and extract veneration (satkārārtha).[41] Such afflictions are caused by unrighteous behaviour on the part of the sufferer and by the absence of hygiene.[42] Therefore, the treatment of such afflictions commences with measures aimed at pacification of the seizing agents. The physician is advised to initiate the treatment very cautiously by proper recitation of hymns (japa), observing religious austerities (niyama) and offering oblations (homa).[43] Offerings consisting of red fragrant garlands, seeds, honey, ghṛta, eatables, garments as well as the favourite flesh and blood of the graha are made on specific days at specified places.[44] Only to the deva graha are the oblations offered in the sacred fire at a temple and consist of items like kuśa, svastika, pūpa (fried sweet), ghrta, umbrella, and pāyasam.[45] The designated places of worship of the other beings are crossroads (asuras and rakṣasas), cowshed (gandharvas), pleasant mansion (yakṣas), river banks (pitṛs and nāgas), dense jungle (rakṣasas) and deserted houses (piśacas). The offerings to these beings include meat, blood, wine and other items[46] which are forbidden for the deva grahas.[47]

Utmost care and caution is advised in conducting the pacification rites of grahas for the both the physician and the patient faced the risk of losing their lives by arousing the anger of these powerful beings.[48] Offerings to some grahas dangerous to children also contain cooked and uncooked meat and blood as for Skandāpasmāra,[49] fish and flesh for Pūtanā[50] and Andhapūtana[51] but not for others.

However, it is not by rituals alone that the patient should be managed. Suśruta goes on to state that if the seizures are not amenable to the rites of Bhūtavidyā, they should be managed by medicinal formulations[52] which can alleviate all incurable mental disorders in a very short time.[53] One particular formulation, the Mahākalyāṇa Ghṛta is proclaimed an efficacious cure for epilepsy, graha seizures, psychoses and a host of other diseases.[54] Even in paediatric diseases, medicated ghṛtas and fumigation are prescribed. Despite such beneficial medications we find that in cases believed to be graha seizures, religious rites are indicated as the first line of treatment and not medication. This is unlike the case with epilepsy where the emphasis is on various clinical procedures. Patients of epilepsy are advised to worship Rudra and his followers everyday[55] along with the use of auspicious articles.[56] However, this is a secondary step only and precedence is given to clinical therapy.

The designated place for offerings to rākṣasas and aśuras as also for Skanda graha, according to Sūtrasthāna ruta, is at crossroads. This is in fact stems from the association of Nirṛti with crossroads. The Manusmṛti ordains that a vedic student who breaks his vow of chastity should offer at night a one-eyed ass to Nirṛti at crossroads.[57] Nirṛti also has interesting resemblance with Hekate, the goddess of the moon and of witchcraft, as Bhattacharji points out. In ancient Greece offerings to Hekate were made on dark moonless nights and on the day just after the full moon at cross-roads. The figure of Nirṛti fades away in the epic age but the death association remains even in the Purāṇas.[58]

Two important inferences emerge from the survey on the healing deities. First, the healing role of female divinities in our two medical treatises is completely absent; in fact they are conspicuous by their negative role as causative of diseases. Second, the Aśvins who are so highly euologised by Caraka, find little mention in Suśruta. The latter holds Dhanvantari in high esteem. This in itself posits a later date for the compendium of Suśruta.

Footnotes and references:


Caraka Saṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 9.21.


Caraka Saṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 9.17.


Caraka Saṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 9.17.


Caraka Saṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 9.20; Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.7.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.76.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.4.


N.N. Bhattacharyya, Indian Demonology: the Inverted Pantheon, Delhi 2000, p.37.


N.N. Bhattacharyya, Indian Demonology, p.37.


Caraka Saṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 9.20.


N.N. Bhattacharyya, Indian Demonology, p.38.


N.N. Bhattacharyya, Indian Demonology, p.110-111.


Caraka Saṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 9.20.


N.N. Bhattacharyya, Indian Demonology, p.111.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Kalpasthāna 7.59-62. Alarka is the fever occurring in dogs; G.J. Meulenbeld, Mādhavanidāna and its Chief Commentary: Chapters 1-10. Introduction, translation and notes, Leiden: Brill, 1974, p.154.


N.N. Bhattacharyya, Indian Demonology, p.120.


Caraka Saṃhitā Cikitsāsthāna 9.20.


Monier-Williams, p.372.


Monier-Williams, p.371.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.25-26.


S. Bhattacharji, The Indian Theogony, p.82.


S. Bhattacharji, The Indian Theogony, pp.81-83.


S. Bhattacharji, The Indian Theogony, p.101.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Śārīrasthāna 3.30.


E.J. Hopkins, Epic Mythology, New York, 1969 (reprint), p.41.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 27.4-5.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 27.7.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 27.6.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 28.12-13.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 29.9.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 31.10-11.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 32.10-11.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 33.9.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 34.9.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 35.8-9.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 36.11.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 37.4.


M.Winternitz, “Nejamesha, Naigamesha, Nemeso”, The Journal of The Royal Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1895, pp.149-155.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.22.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.5.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 27.6; Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.5;


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.28/2-29/1.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.29/2-31.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.31-33/1.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.33/2-37/1.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.54/2.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.55.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 29.7.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 32.8.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 33.7.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.37/2-38/1.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 60.53/2-54/1.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 62.26.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 61.25.


Suśruta Saṃhitā Uttaratantra 61.41/2.


Manusmṛti XI.119.


S. Bhattacharji, The Indian Theogony, p.85.

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