Talk:Features of Medical Text Books

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia
Revision as of 10:20, 25 June 2019 by Shashi Maheshwari (Talk | contribs)

(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)


The problem of selecting suitable text books out of a maze of a bewildering number of books worried the sylvan university heads equally as it worries the present modern text book committees. In those days meticulous care was taken for the selection of text books as it is evident from the denotations cited in Caraka Samhita.

Qualities of a Book

Many treatises of medicine are current in the world. From among these, one should choose the treatise having the following qualities:

  • Popular
  • Approved by wise men
  • Comprehensive in scope
  • Held in esteem by those who are worthy of credence
  • Suitable alike for the understanding of the three grades of student[1]
  • Free from the faults of repetition revealed by a seer
  • Arranged in well-made aphorisms
  • Should have commentary and summary
  • Well authenticated
  • Free from vulgar usages and difficult words
  • Rich in synonyms
  • Possessing words of traditionally accepted sense
  • Concerned mainly with determining the true nature of things
  • Relevant to the theme
  • Orderly in its arrangement of topics
  • Rapidly elucidating
  • Enriched with definitions and illustrations

Ratification of a Book

The selection, sanction and authorization of the test books was entrusted to a committee of learned professors who hear the whole text book together and then approved the one which was the best. The approval rested purely on the merit of the substance of the text book. They declared it as approved and only then the book became an authoritative text book in the country.

Inception of Pharmaceutical Literature

Punarvasu, moved by compassion towards all the creatures, bestowed the science of life on his six disciples.

  1. Agnivesa
  2. Bhela
  3. Jatukarna
  4. Parasara
  5. Harita
  6. Ksarapani
Agnivesa became the foremost compiler of the science due to his excellent understanding of the preachings. Thereafter the rest of the sages made their own compilation of the science and read them out to Atreya and the assembly of the sages. The sages having listened to the presentation of the subject, rejoiced acclaiming that the science had been truly presented. All the sages exhorted the authors, exclaiming together,
'Great is your compassion for creatures.
The celestial sages together with the immortals stationed in heaven, heard that auspicious cry of the great sages and hearing it rejoiced greatly.
O! well done,'

This ovation, generous and profound echoed with joy by all creatures in the sky, resounded throughout the three worlds. The winds blew salubriously, all the quarters expanded with radiance and divine showers of blossoms together with ram descended. Thereafter the goddess of enlightenment, understanding, achievement, memory, genius, resolution, eloquence, forgiveness and compassion entered into Agnivesa and the rest. The compilations of these disciples which were thus approved by the great sages obtained currency in the world for the well-being of the multitudes of living beings.

Significance of The Medical Literature

The Samhitas were prepared in such a way that they served as a complete works of reference to the students of ordinary intellect while they gave impetus for further research and progress by showing the line of research to the highly intellectual student. This is quite adequate for the mediocre for the practical purpose of treatment and for the highly intelligent who are proficient in the art of inference from innate qualities, it will serve as a guiding principle for the comprehensive knowledge of drugs not mentioned here.

The advancement of science needs stated specialization of the various branches. The books written on the specialized branches no doubt gave dominance to their particular branch, but they never ignored the other branches, the basic knowledge of all other branches was also included in the book rather in a concise form. Every branch evolved its technical terms and the knowledge of this terminology was essential.

Regulations for the Students

It was desired of the student that he should study the prescribed book intensively. Comprehensive study of it would enable him to understand other books with greater ease. One who has acquired a good grasp of even one branch of this science will be able to acquire an understanding of the other branches as well, on account of his being well grounded in general principles.

If he studied the whole work, understood it well and made use of it constantly, he was sure to have a successful career in life which would be in the interests of the patient as well as of himself. Besides, the physician-to-be was required to study all these sciences under the expert guidance of professors of those sciences. One should study the substance contained in other sciences which for some definite reason, is included in the text so that it is not possible to include all the knowledge of different sciences into one treatise.

One who studies only one science does not acquire the real knowledge. Hence a physician should be well versed in different sciences. Equal importance was given to the theoretical as well as practical knowledge.

One who is well versed in the science but inadept at practice is confused when facing a patient. While one who is an expert in practical work but devoid of theoretical knowledge of the science, is not revered by the good persons and gets death-punishment from the king. Both such persons are inexpert, unable to perform their duties and know only half their science.

Continuous Amendments in Books

Thus although the text books were complete, comprehensive and encyclopedic, they were ever updating. These books were redacted or further specialized in a different groups at intervals as demanded by the exigencies of time and place. New theories were examined and experimented and then incorporated in the books.

Thus a number of redactions and commentaries were written to include and interpret the progressive knowledge in theory and practice of the science Agnivesa-tantra was redacted twice, once by Caraka and then again by Drdhabala. Susruta Samhita and Kasyapa Samhita have also undergone redactions. At the end of the golden period of Ayurveda, the progressive spirit receives a setback due to disturbed political condition, pre-occupation of the patrons of learning with defense and the general breakdown of the morale of the people. This was the result of the all pervading sense of defeatism.

Books from Vagbhatta

Vagbhatta of Sind who flourished about 7th century A.D., however, tries to stop the rot and bring the two prominent branches of medical science, medicine and surgery together in one concise volume. Each of them is not comprehensive enough with regards to the treatment of all diseases. As the whole life of man passes away in studying each and every treatise with constant application and as the authors of treatises mention the same thing again and again although some topic is sometimes specially mentioned.

Vagbhatta composed a treatise called Astanga Hrdaya, which while presenting a summary of Caraka and Susruta with gleanings from Agnivesa. Bhela and Harita, brings the subjects up-to-date. He introduces a number of new drugs and makes valuable modifications and additions in the surgery. He did all this in spite of strong opposition from orthodox school. Astanga Hrdaya signifies the descriptions in 8 parts. It contains 7,414 verses in 120 chapters.

He also wrote another work called 'Astanga-Sangraha'. Vagbhata's style is very clear and concise. He throws light on several obscure passages in his predecessors works. He was subsequently considered as great as Caraka ana Susruta. A popular couplet gives him the place of honor in Kaliyuga, just as Caraka and Susruta had it in Krtayuga and Dwapara respectively a poetic but an impressive way of recognizing the merits of this great man. Among the students of Hindu medicine, the three are known by the name of:

  1. Vrddha
  2. Trava
  3. Old Triad.

They were the redactors of Caraka, Susruta and Kasyapa as well as epitomizer Vagbhata, though they believed in the sanctity of the basic. Principles of the text were always alert to make progressive additions in the text, required according to time and place and were ever ready to assimilate the useful things from whatever source available.

As per Caraka

Caraka in unequivocal terms states:

The entire world is the teacher to the intelligent and foe to the unintelligent. Hence, knowing this well, thou should listen and act according to the words of instruction of even an unfriendly person, when they are worthy and such as bring fame to you and long life, and are capable of giving strength and prosperity.

Contribution of Other Rsis

Not only this, but for the sake of gaining the knowledge, Rsis took the trouble of going even to foreign countries as Bharadwaja did. Bharadwaja the mighty ascetic, in search of the science of Longevity approached Indra, having deemed him the lord of the immortals, worthy of suit. The ancient Rsis valued knowledge to such an extent that they honored Mlecchas as Rsis and assimilated knowledge received from them.

The Mlecchas or the Yavanas who are well versed in this science were respected like Rsis. The true progressive spirit in compiling new text books is echoed in the statements of Vagbhata. If the works of the ancient Rsis alone are worthy of interest then the question is as to why are Bhela and such others not studied, leaving off Caraka and Susruta. Therefore it is right that a good work should always be accepted.

Orthodoxy seems to be strongly prevalent in his days, hence Vagbhatta seems to have been so exasperated that he condemns the obscurantism and anti-progressive spirit in strong terms. Oil, ghee and honey are respectively wholesome and curative of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. What difference will be in the result whether it is prescribed by Brahma himself or any other person created by Brahma, this being not a subject of Mantra.

Compilation of Medical Textbooks

Drdhabala, Vagbhata, Madhava, Sarngadhara and Bhavamisra clearly state that out of the best of the knowledge related to this science from all the books extant and from all the sages and after assimilating all the worthy books of it, they have compiled their volumes. The concepts mentioned by Drdhabala and Vagbhata gives full conception of the principles which governed the compilation of the medical text-books.

He added seventeen chapters in the section on Therapeutics and also the two Sections of Pharmaceutics and Success in the Treatment in entirety, by culling his data from various treatises on the science. Thus this treatise is not deficient either in respect of diction or in respect of content. It is free from any blemishes besetting scientific treatises. Not even a prosodial instant is introduced here without the authority of the traditional doctrine. The interpretations and compositions of this work are same; only the arrangement is changed for the sake of conciseness.

Treatise of Astanga-Sangraha

Consulting all the main treatises, the treatise of Astanga-sangraha is compiled in various sections and chapters. It is free from improper prolixity, omission and repetition. It contains the tripartite science of life viz:

  1. Etiology
  2. Symptomology
  3. Medicament

It is an elucidator of the parts the real meaning of which is obscure, it desists for the most part from the controversial points between our own and other treatises and is a composition just befitting the spirit of the age. A compilation becomes good if everything is fully described. If anything is left off, the significance of all-comprehensiveness is lost.


Astaanga-sangraha is up-to-date especially on account of the assimilation of the topics from many treatises. So what cannot be learnt from Sangraha must be an impossibility. No one can reach to the depth of Ayurveda. This treatise has the best comprehensive knowledge of the diseases and drugs in the whole universe.

Astanga-hrdaya neither too concise nor too copious. It is compiled, based on the extract of the essence of all the subjects scattered in various treatises. We wish that we could evaluate this treatise on Ayurveda for the betterment of mankind. The same principles guides the later authors in their compilations. Though each book was written on a special branch, the basic knowledge of all other branches was given in a concise form in each book.


  1. Three grades refer to very intelligent, moderate and slow type of students.
  • The Caraka Samhita published by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society, Jamnagar, India