Talk:Textbooks of Medicine

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

Origins of Ayurveda

This science known as Ayurveda is a branch of Atharvaveda. Brahma, before creating men, first formulated this science of life consisting of a hundred thousand verses and a thousand chapters. But with regards to the scarcity of life and feebleness of understanding of mortals, he again divided the knowledge into eight parts.

Duration of Ayurveda Samhita

The period of the compilation of the Ayurveda Samhita is a controversial subject, but it can be concurred with the Caraka Samhita. It was compiled as a branch of Atharvaveda. Atharvaveda is full of medical references, although the oldest Rgveda also contains many clues denoting the advancement of medical science in those ancient days.

Content of Ayurveda Samhita

The compilation was a comprehensive text on the Science of Life. It included all the knowledge on life in health and disease available at that time during the huge time span of Vedic period. It seems to be a systematized compilation as it is said to be divided in 1000 chapters. Each chapter contains 100 verses, which totals up to one hundred thousand verse in all.

Ayurveda as per Caraka

Science of Ayurveda was regarded as Triskandh or tri-based. It gave dominance to positive health[1] as stated in Caraka. He taught to the sages the science known by Brahma which included:

  • The science of causes
  • Symptoms
  • Medication
  • Supreme refuge of healthy
  • Safeguard for the ailing
  • Tripartite eternal science
  • Tertiary holy science

Segments of Ayurveda

With the progress of time and science, specialization in each of its branches became a necessity and we find that the science of life acquired the name of Astanga-Ayurveda from the eight different specialized branches into which it developed. This term is still applied to it.

The eight branches are enumerated by Caraka as under. The branches of this science are eight. They are:

  1. Medicine
  2. The science of the special diseases of the supra-clavicular parts of the body[2]
  3. Surgery
  4. Toxicology
  5. Psycho-therapy
  6. Pediatrics
  7. Rejuvenation
  8. Virilification

Before the, actual division of the Science of Ayurveda into its eight branches named above there were many treatises written by sages on the subject of Ayurveda in general. Brahmavaivarta Purāṇa mentions various authors and their respective works. The names of these authors are found quoted In later works presently available. But unfortunately the original works is still not found, which hopefully might be recovered in the future.

Caraka Samhita

This must have resulted in a lot of confusion and a clash of authorities for the want of a permanent and standardized form of this invaluable learning would have faded away. Fortunately for Ayurveda in about seventh century. B. C. we come across the great event in the history of medicine. An all Aryavarta Ayurvedic Congress was held in the vicinity of the Himalayas where even the representatives of foreign countries were invited and consulted. The records of proceedings were handed over to six secretaries to classify, arrange and prepare the text of all deliberations and discussions in a systematic way.

The secretaries collected all the Ayurvedic knowledge existing at that time, collated and compiled a text in a coherent system in a scientific terminology. These texts were presented before the committee of the expert Rsis and they approved the work prepared by Agnivesa as the authorized text. This compilation of Agnivesa popularly called the Caraka Samhita is thus the product of this great meeting of savants.

Significance of Caraka and Susruta

Contemporary with Caraka, another learned sage who contributed in the same manner for surgical knowledge as Caraka did for the medical. He compiled the Susruta Samhita. Caraka and Susruta Samhitas are written with clearness, conciseness and simplicity of arrangement and may be regarded as compendiums of the knowledge of medicine possessed at the time.

All the necessary knowledge for an ordinary medical practitioner was collected in one volume, Caraka's being a volume of study for the physician and Susruta's for the surgeon. Each book contains the following topics:

  • Description of medicine and surgery
  • Description of anatomy
  • Detailing on physiology
  • Summary on toxicology
  • Report on psycho-therapy
  • Details on personal hygiene
  • Medical ethics
  • Other things important for a medical practitioner

Each can be considered an encyclopedia of medical literature of the times. Caraka and Susruta stabilized all the medical knowledge available at that time. That is the reason why we do not come across any book on the subject of prior date.

Period of Caraka and Susruta

These two memorable works appear at the beginning of the golden age of Indian culture. This age may roughly be said to be from 2700 B. C. to 600 A. D. During this period, the true scientific spirit was abroad in the land. The quest for knowledge had taken different directions. Philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, trigonometry, music and administration were among the branches of knowledge whose foundation was laid in this period and also considerably developed. There were well known Universities located at Taxila, Benares and Nalanda for dissemination and exchange of knowledge.

There were great Acaryas[3] of different subjects and those who keenly desired to learn, traveled long distances like true devotees of Saraswati and sought their Asramas. During this period of intense intellectual activity, the science of life and healing attracted the greatest attention. Ayurveda is a product of that golden age of Indian History. The Caraka and Susruta collections prove that a vast amount of scientific research, patient investigation and experimentation must have gone before the conclusions embodied in them. These must have covered a very wide range as the vast country provided a variety of climate and geographical conditions.

Analysis of Diseases

Diverse climatic and geographical variations affected bodily condition and its reaction to the attacks of disease and different kinds of medicines. The country with such enormous varieties of climate was a rich nursery for the growth of all kinds of vegetable life.

It provided a vast field for botanical research. Thousands of medicinal herbs or their products growing in diverse parts of the country in different climates are mentioned in Caraka and Susruta. Diseases peculiar to different localities and seasons are mentioned in these books. They don't represent a particular local system of medicine recognized throughout the country.

Other Literatures

Many authors specializing in one or the other branches, wrote on their specialized subject is evident from the following extracts. Many treatises of medicine are current in the world. Thereafter, Bhela and the rest made his compilation of the science and these talented ones read them to Atreya and the assembly of sages. The Salya-tantra of Upadhenu, Urabhra, Susruta and Puskalavata are the sources of the other Salya-tantras.


Ayurveda is essentially an Aryan product and it expanded with the expansion of Aryan sway and culture over the country. The knowledge became scattered over the country centers of learning sprang up in different places which however could not have been quite isolated as they preserved a unity of culture which can only come from the regular inter-communication. But despite this basic unity, a practical science has to develop in different places according to their special requirements and condition of life. For scores of centuries, Ayurveda developed in this manner, its wisdom being handed down in the form of aphorisms by word of mouth.

In the extracts cited above and from many other sources we learn the names of several authors on the various branches but unfortunately most of the works are lost into oblivion and are not available at present. Many more names are likely to be unearthed by the efforts of research workers in the field.


  1. It is called as Svasthtā.
  2. It refers to eye, ear, nose, mouth, throat etc.
  3. They were the Professors of ancient times.
  • The Caraka Samhita published by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society, Jamnagar, India