Man’s eternal endeavour has been to discover new things specially in the unexplored fields. It is this human effort which has culminated in the discovery of Alchemical methods and methods for utilisation of metals as well as minerals for therapeutic purpose. The term ‘Alchemy’ has been interpreted variously by different people. Some modern scientists have discredited this term to the extent of suggesting that it is a myth which man has never succeeded to achieve but for which he has always attempted. Alchemy was in practice in different European countries also. Some scholars claim success and others consider them to be false and quackery. It basically revolves round the preparation of noble metals like gold and silver from out of base metals like mercury and copper. Whatever may be the opinion in European countries, in India, it is not considered as a myth.
As early as 6th Century B.C. Canakaya, an authority on statecraft had described in this monumental work Arthasatra, a type of gold which was prepared by vedha (transmutation) of base metals with processed mercury, and he had termed this type of gold as rasa vedha svarna. It is very clear from this description that alchemy was in practice, rather successful practice, in India even before 6th Century B.C. In subsequent works on rasa sastra (Iatro-Chemistry) different methods have been described for processing mercury with a view to making it capable of transmuting base metals into gold and silver. These descriptions are so cryptic that for ordinary scholars, it becomes difficult of comprehension. Different stages of the processing are intentionally kept secret and often some descriptions are made which give different meanings. This is done largely because the propounders and patrons of these methods did not want the Knowledge to go to unscrupulous persons who may amass wealth by the practice of this technique to indulge themselves in antisocial activities.
Alchemy, according to Indian tradition, is not an end in itself. It is only a means. The actual intention of processing mercury is to administer it for the preservation and promotion of positiverites unhindered for a sufficiently long period to achieve jivan mukti i.e. salvation from the bondage of the world while remaining alive. To ascertain the suitability of mercury for administration to an individual, it is tested over raw (unprocessed) mercury and other base metals. If it is capable of transmutation of ordinary mercury into gold then it is considered to be suitable for administration to the individual. This method is still in practice secretly by saints who are adept in this science. In 1949, a saint by name Pt. Krsna Lala Sarma and the fifth chapter of this work is based on these discussions held and notes taken by the author.
In present day medical practice, Ayurvedic physicians profusely use metals, minerals, gems, jewels and animal as well as vegetable products which in raw form are well know to produce toxicity. Intellectulas of India and scientists of abroad naturally question the wisdom of using such toxic drugs for therapeutic purposes. This is largely because of their ignorance about the rationality of the methods of processing of these poisonous drugs before they are actually used in medicines.
In English and in nontechnical language, book on this topic are rare. Some earlier attempts in this connection have unfortunately made this confusion worst confounded because of mistranslation of certain technical terms. Translation of these technical terms into English is, no doubt, a difficult task. In Ayurveda, these terms carry subtle meaning for which equivalents are not available in English. These terms, therefore, need explanation and not mere translation.
As Physics and Chemistry explain the rationality of different drugs used in modern medicines, similarly the appropriateness of the processing followed by Ayurvedic physicians to make metals, etc. free from toxicity and to potentise them to achieve therapeutic excellence is explained by saints in Indian philosophical works.
In the introduction to the work, the utility of metals and minerals for prevention as well as cure of the diseases and preservation as well as promotion of positive health has been explained.
The First chapter deals with the historical background explaining the origin of Rasa sastra and its subsequent development during the Buddhistic and medieval periods. Some important extant texts along with their authors are chronologically described.
The Second chapter explains the physico-chemical and philosophical concepts basic to the rasa sastra. This explains the rationality of various processes like sodhana and marana by which these metals and minerals are made non-toxic, absorbable, assimilable and therapeutically effective. The concept of jivan mukti (salvation while remaining alive) and its significance are explained on the basis of philosophical concepts of Saivaites (one of the sects of the Hindus).
The Third chapter deals with the implications of the term rasa and the procedure to be adopted for the selection of site for the pharmaceutical laboratory, its construction, equipments as well as assistants.
Fourth chapter deals with mercury, its dosas or defects because of which it produces toxicity in unprocessed from, and details of its processing. For the treatment of ordinary diseases, only eight samskaras (stages of processing) are considered to be enough. But to make it more potent for curing obstinate and otherwise incurable disease and to make it more effective for the purpose of rejuvenation (rasayana) which results in longevity leading to salvation while alive (jivan mukti ),mercury should be subjected to eighteen stages which taken together are called astadasa samskaras. Deha-siddhi (perfection of the body and mind of the individual) is the primary aim of using processed mercury. Before it is administered to a person the processed mercury is to be tested on metals. If this mercury could cause transmutation of base metals, like ordinary mercury into noble metals like gold and silver, only then it is considered suitable for deha-siddhi. Examining the processed mercury by the transmutation of base metals into noble metals is called lauha-siddhi ?(perfection in achieving transmutation of metals). As has been suggested before, this chapter, namely fourth is written on the basis of notes collected from one of the disciples of the saint Pt. Krsna Lala Sarma. However, it will be seen from the descriptions in these two chapters that most of them are taken from extant texts on Rasa sastra with, of course, certain modifications.
In the day-to-day practice, Ayurvedic physicians use several mercurial preparations. A few important recipes are described in the Fifth chapter. Normally, mercury is processed according to the eight stages (asta samskaras) before preparing the recipe. Some physicians and drug manufacturers, however, use simple methods for processing by which mercury, no doubt, becomes free from toxicity but this type of mercury is not very effective when used in recipes. In addition to the recipes described in this ayurvedic practice. Generally, purified mercury and purified sulphur along with other metals, minerals and vegetable as well as animal products are add to these recipes. Details of such recipes are not furnished work. Any standard text on Rasa sastra or Bhaisajya kalpana will, however, provide information in this regard to inquisitive readers.
The Sixth chapter deals with other commonly used metals and minerals. Their synonyms , adverse effects when used in unprocessed from, sodhana, marana, properties, therapeutic indication, dose and anupana or vehicle are described. The primary aim of this book is to present before scholars an outline of methods followed by ancient Indian saints for processing mercury and other metals as well as minerals to make them suitable for the prevention and cure of diseases and for the preservation and promotion of positive health. Details are, therefore, avoided. Those interested in acquiring detailed knowledge on this topic can refer to extant texts on the subject. In the Seventh chapter, only the choisest methods of processing metals and minerals are described. In addition, ayurvedic physicians adopt several other methods. Some methods, they claim to be equal, if not better.
Like metals and minerals, gems and jewels are also used for the treatment of obstinate and otherwise insurable diseases. Most of these gems and jewelsare, no doubt, minerals. But because of their specific characteristics, these are described separately in the Seventh chapter. The gems and jewels are, in addition, used astrologically to propitiate planatory bodies. A passing reference to this has been made in this chapter. Detailed information on this topic can had from astrological works and those on Ratna sastra
The process of marana essentially involves exposing the metal, etc. to the effect of heat of fire. In other words this is a process of calcinations. But some of these gems having cooling properties work better and produce potent therapeutic effects when used in the form of pisti which does not involve exposure to heat. To make this gem digestible, absorbable and assimilable it is reduced to a fine power from by grinding with rose-water or sandal-wood oil. Some of these gems and jewels are used in both the forms, viz., pisti and bhasma.
Some animals and vegetable products are toxic by nature. To make them free from toxicity and to make them easily digestible, absorbable and assimilable, these are subjected to the process of sodhana and marana. It is because of this that these vegetable and animal products are included within the scope of rasa sastra. The processing of and vegetable products is described in the 8th and 9th chapters respectively.
Appendix-I elaborates technical terms used in Rasa sastra. Some of these terms are used in this text and others are often used in other texts on this subject. Acquaintance with these is necessary for those interested in further study on this topic.
Appendix-II provides illustrated description of various equipments and implements commonly used in the processing of mercury and other metals as well as minerals.
The author had the good fortune to be a student of Prof. Vasudev M.Dwivedi at the Post Graduate Training Centre in Ayurveda at Jamnagar. Prof. Dwivedi has since retired from service. In spite of his advance age, his mission for service to the suffering humanity through rasa sastra is ceaselessly continuing. His devotion to alleviate the miseries of the suffering humanity inspired the author to undertaken this work. The author is highly indebted to Prof. Dwivedi. For the preparation of this work Vaidya Lalitesh Kashyap, B.I.M.S., Ph.D., Superintendent of the CGHS Ayurvedic Hospital, New Delhi ; Ku. Kanchan Gupta, M.A.(Sanskrit) and Shri Pradipta Kumar Dash were of constant help. Their help is thankfully acknowledged.
This work, I hope, will be useful to the students, teachers and research workers in ayurveda in general and rasa sastra in particular in India and abroad. This provides a vast unexplored field for research to scientists.