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Sage Ātreya

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

Ātreya Punarvāsu, the teacher in the Caraka Samhitā is Kṛṣṇa Ātreya who gave instructions on surgical matters. He was an adept with the knowledge of Science of Life in its eight-fold ramifications, though he confined himself to Kāyācikitsā in his exposition to Agniveśa and other disciples. Therefore it was concluded, that there was only one teacher known with different names as Punarvāsu, Ātreya and Kṛṣṇa Ātreya.

Bhela, being a disciple of Ātreya along with Agniveśa and others, refers to Ātreya as Kṛṣṇa Ātreya in the Bhela Samhitā. Similarly, Śivadāsa in his commentary 'Tattva-Candrikā' describes Dasamulaśataphalagitā quotes from Jwaradhikāra of Cakradatta and cites, the names of Gopura Rakśita, Jatukarṇa, Caraka, Śuśruta and Kṛṣṇa Ātreya. Authors Śrikantha Datta and Śivadāsa, had raised the question of two personalities, Kṛṣṇa Ātreya, the surgeon and Ātreya, the physician. The commentator Śivadāsa holds the view that Kṛṣṇa Ātreya and Punarvasu are one. The commentator Cakrapāṇi confirms that Candrabhāgi was Punarvāsu.

There is a treatise on Salakya or 'Surgery of the supra-clavicular parts of the body' ascribed to Kṛṣṇa Ātreya. Therefore it is led to believe that there were two persons of same name. Ātreya was also known as Candrabhāgi or Candra-bhagin. The 13nth chapter of Sutrasthāna in Caraka refers to the teacher named Ātreya. Punarvasu is mentioned as seated amidst the Sankhya philosophers whom Agniveśa approaches for instructions and in the end of the chapter, the teacher is referred to as Candrabhāgi.

Derivation of the Name Ātreya[edit]

Derivations of the name Ātreya could be, because of the following reasons:

  • He is the son of Candrabhāga
  • A resident of the region named Candrabhāga.
  • A tributary of the Indus was also known as Candrabhāga, as a resident on its banks.
  • The sister compilation to that of Agniveśa,[1] the Bhela Samhitā, supports that Ātreya, Punarvāsu and Candrabhāgi are one and the same person.

Thus one can derive that sage Ātreya, who was the teacher of medicine and preceptor of Agniveśa, Bhela and other disciples, was also known with other names of Kṛṣṇa Ātreya, Punarvāsu and Candrabhāgi. All these names are referred to in the Caraka, Bhela and Kaśyapa Samhitā as Ātreya. The same names are referred to him in similar context in the Mahābhārata. The verse in the Bhela Samhitā is very significant as it combines the names of Candrabhāga and Punarvāsu in reference to the teacher of medicine. Nagnajit, the saintly king of Gāndhara, grasped the feet of Candrabhāgi Punarvāsu in obeisance and inquired regarding medical science. These references provides us with a confirmation of the identity of Candrabhāga with Punarvāsu and also offers a clue regarding the period of Ātreyas existence, period of his disciples and the king of Gāndhāra named Nagnajit. Caraka Samhitā mentions Vāmaka, the king of Kāśi and Nimi, the king of Videha as his contemporaries who participated in the discussions on various medical topics.

Different Epithets for Punarvāsu[edit]

Sometimes other synonyms like Punarvāsu, Candrabhāga or Kṛṣṇa Ātreya are used thus making it clear that Bhagawān Ātreya was also known by his other names. It is possible that the epithet Punarvāsu may be significant of Ātreya due to being born during the dominance of the constellation of that name. Such method of nomenclature was very common during ancient times. For e.g. warrior Arjuna of the Pandavās was also called Phālguna from the constellation of that name as he was born under that confluence.

We find that in later days the royal physician of Śri Harṣa was known as Rasāyaṇa Paunarvasāva. This appellation may mean that he was either a descendant of Punarvāsu, or one versed in the science of medicine propounded by Punarvāsu. Considering that those versed in surgery were known as Dhanvantariyās, Dhanvantari being the first propounder of the Surgical Science, it is probable to conclude that the experts in the science of medicine propounded by Punarvāsu were known as Paunarvasāvas.

  • The names Ātreya and Punarvāsu are used together as synonyms at the end of the chapters in the Caraka Samhitā. These names also occurs in the Astānga Sañgraha of Vāgbhatta.
  • 'Punarvāsu' is used as a substitute of Ātreya at the beginning of a chapter.
  • It is also mentioned as the preceptor of Agniveṣa.
  • The epithet of bhagawān is also given to Punarvāsu.
  • Kṛṣṇa Ātreya is the most popular appellation.
  • The Mahābhārata refers to Kṛṣṇa Ātreya as the famous teacher of medicine.
  • In the Caraka Samhitā, Ātreya is often called Kṛṣṇa Ātreya.
  • Many of the proven recipes are named after him as highly favored by Kṛṣṇa Ātreya.
  • In the chapter XI of Sutrasthāna, Ātreya is mentioned in the initial lines and in the end he is referred to as Kṛṣṇa Ātreya.

Thus Bhagawān Ātreya, Punarvāsu, Ātreya and Kṛṣṇa Ātreya are the names of one single individual sage who is the teacher of the medical science in Caraka Samhitā.

Period of Ātreya[edit]

It is therefore natural to surmise that the time of Ātreya coincided with the time when general tendency in Indian life and thought became rational, when inquiry into the original causes of diseases were initiated and pursued i.e. in the Upaniṣadic or the Brāhmana period, that succeeded the age of revelation and intuition to which the Veda belongs.

Thus in the heyday of Indian speculative thought, Ātreya taught theories of drug and disease and ushered in the age of scientific medicine. He gave it a framework of metaphysics of medicine, a basement of theory that could sustain the elaborate edifice of pathology and therapeutics so minutely evolved and completed at a time when humanity in general was still cradled in its infancy with regards to scientific thoughts and practices.

Ātreya was a successor of Bhāradwāja, who brought down the beneficial lore of medical science from the king of the gods. He was a supreme among the teachers of the Science of Life, a teacher conspicuous for sweet reasonableness, breadth and comprehensiveness of wisdom and vision and clarity of definitions and above all, expert in the correlation of drug to disease. Thus he was supreme as a therapist and had earned the title as an originator of medicine.

Research of the era when Ātreya existed is an interesting point of study. Ātreya was the teacher of Jivaka. Stories about Jivaka are found in the literary works of various countries where Buddhism flourished. Tibetan, Burmese and Sinhalese versions differ in many pouts as follows:

  • In the Tibetan Tales, we find that Ātreya of Takṣaśilā was the preceptor of Jivaka.
  • The Burmese version says that Jivaka went to Kāśi and not to Takṣaśila for studies. They, however, differ on the point of Ātreyas preceptorship to Jivaka. They say that Jivaka's preceptor was Diśapramukha or Manakācārya or Kapilākśa.
  • In the Tibetan stories where Ātreya is mentioned as the preceptor of Jivaka, we do not find any other epithet of Ātreya. In one book the epithet Pingala is used for Ātreya. Jivaka has never mentioned Ātreya as his preceptor nor Agniveśa as his fellow-student. In the same way, Agniveṣa did not mention Jivaka in his whole treatise. Jivaka went to study head surgery according to a Tibetan story, while Punarvasu Ātreya was primarily a physician.

Ātreya's Period with Reference to Takṣaśilā[edit]

Takṣaśilā is mentioned in reference to Jivaka. There is no mention of Takṣaśilā in Caraka, Bhela and Kaṣyapa Samhitā though we find the names of Gāndhāra, Pāncāla, Kamalya, Kāśi, Pancagangā etc. This inevitably leads us to the conclusion that Takṣaśilā might not be a center of learning in Ātreya's period. Ātreya must have flourished before Takṣaśilā had become a reputed seat of learning. Analyzing the period of Takṣaśilā will help us in concluding the period of Ātreya or atleast be somewhere near to the Ātreya's period.

  1. There is no mention of Takṣaśilā in the Vedas or in the Upaniṣads.
  2. In the Uttarakānda or the supplementary portion of Rāmāyaṇa, we find that Bharata conquers the country and his son Takśa is placed to rule over the conquered territory and hence it is called as Takṣaśilā.
  3. Janmejaya's serpent sacrifice was performed at Takṣaśilā.
  4. Takṣaśilā becomes a famous seat of learning by the Seventh century B. C.
  5. Historical records place its glorious period from 700 B.C. to 500 A.D. attracting scholars from distant cities, e.g. Rajagṛha, Kāśi and Mithila.
  6. Jivaka, Brahmadatta, Kautilya, Patanjali, Vasumitra and Aśvaghosa are the scholars of Takṣaśilā.
  7. The grammarian Pāṇini mentions Takṣaśilā.

From the above data, Ātreya seems to have flourished before the glorious period of Takṣaśilā. This period coincides with the Buddhist era which as per historians is 6th century B.C. Ātreya flourished before the Buddhist period. Thus the Buddha-period becomes the terminus ad quem.

Analysis From the period of Contemporaries[edit]

The study of the contemporaries of Ātreya in order to attempt to fix their dates is bound to yield useful results. In Caraka Samhitā, we find from various references that Marica, Kaśyapa, Varyovida, Marici and Kaśyapa were the contemporaries of Ātreya. Marica and Kaśyapa are mentioned as Ṛṣis who attended the Himalayan conference along with Ātreya. Ātreya, Marici and Varyovida met in the same assembly. In this assembly, Marici gave an authoritative statement about the action of Pitta while Varyovida establishes the actions and qualities of normal and abnormal Vāta. This shows that all these were contemporaries.

  • Marici Kaśypa is quoted by Ātreya as the propounder of theory that 'spirit is unthinkable as it is not the entity of direct observation'.
  • Varyovida is mentioned as the authority on Vāta or Vāyu. He advocated the theory of nutrient fluid being the source of both man and disease. He is the contemporary of Ātreya as well as of Nimi of Videha. Varyovida attended the assembly met to discuss the categories of taste. Varyovida recommended that there are six categories of taste. He is given the epithet of Rajarśi.
  • Among others who attended this assembly were Nimi of Videha and Kankayana, the physician from Bāhlika.[2] Nimi is given the epithet of Raja.

These references in the Caraka indicates that Atreya, Marici, Kaśyapa, Varyovida, Nimi of Videha and Kankayana of Bahlika flourished during the same period. If we can fix up with accurate date of any one of them, the dates of all others can be decided by the process of synchronism. The contemporaneity of Ātreya, Kaṣyapa and Varyovida is supported by Kaṣyapa Samhitā also. Varyovida and Nimi propound their own theories about the classification of disease and Ṛṣi Kaṣyapa gives the final authoritative decision. Ātreya Punarvāsu, Bhela and Kaṣyapa met together in this assembly. Ātreya Punarvasu and Bhela gave their theory and Kaṣyapa, the master preceptor on Pediatrics, gave his decisive opinion on the subject. These references from Kaṣyapa Samhitā also support the fact that Marici, Kaṣyapa, Punarvasu Ātreya, Varyovida and Bhela were the contemporaries and the Bhela Samhitā corroborates the contemporaneity of Ātreya and Kaṣyapa.

Period as per Textual References[edit]

In trying to fix the date of Ātreya, content of the text is also one of the benchmarks. Caraka enumerates three hundred and sixty bones in a human body while Śuśruta Samhitā specifies three hundred bones only. Śuśruta was aware of the enumeration of bones to be three hundred and sixty in the works anterior to it. Ayurveda speaks of three hundred and sixty bones but books on surgical science denote only three hundred.

The commentator Dalhana says that Veda is used to signify Ayurveda and not the other way around. This proves that Ātreya is anterior to Śuśruta and the two systems differ with regards to the number of bones in the human body. This theory or fact of Ātreya's priority to Śuśruta was supported by the great scholar Hoernle, although he connected Ātreya's period to be same with Takṣaśilā's span. He tells about Śuśruta saying:

"He must have been acquainted with the doctrines of Ātreya. With reference, to the bones of the human body, he introduces his own exposition with a remark pointing out the difference between Ātreya's system and his own in respect to the total number of bones."

Besides this, there are clear indications in the Śaṭapatha Brāhmaṇa, which is a post-Vedic work, that the author was acquainted with the doctrine of both Ātreya and Śuśruta. The bones are the enclosing stones in a human structure. Marrow is known as Yajusmati bricks. Caraka denotes of having fourteen bones in breast while Śuśruta details it to be seventeen. Śaṭapatha accounts the number of breast-bones from Śuśruta. The anatomical comparisons quoted above show that at the time of Śaṭapatha, both the medical schools, of Ātreya and Śuśruta, were in existence and the author possessed some knowledge of their respective theories of the skeleton. He had derived from Śuśruta regarding the presence of seventeen bones in the breast while according to Caraka the bones were only fourteen. While he derived the total number of 360 bones of the skeleton from Ātreya, Śuśruta suggests only 300. He chose from between the two different theories whichever he determined to be convincing.

The author of the Śaṭapatha Brāhmaṇa is Yajnavalkya who is said to have flourished at the court of Janaka, the famous king of Videha and contemporary of Ajātaśatru. The latter, a celebrated ruler of Magadha, was a contemporary of the Buddha. His accession took place approximately in 554 B C. Accordingly, Yajnavalkya may be dated about 575 B. C. So the dates of Ātreya and Śuśruta must be placed some time before that period and Ātreya being anterior to Śuśruta, we can conclude him to have existed at least in the seventh century B.C.

As per Atharvaveda[edit]

Date of Ātreya is pushed back to further antiquity by the evidences found in the Atharvaveda. With an evidence of the very early date of both Ātreya and Śuśruta, we have a rather significant passage in Atharvaveda. It occurs in the tenth book, as a hymn on the creation of man, in which several parts of the skeleton are carefully and systematically enumerated in striking agreement more especially with the system of Ātreya as contained in Caraka's compendium. The date of the Atharvaveda is not exactly known, but it belongs to the most ancient or primary Vedic literature category of Indian books. It cannot be placed later than the eighth century B C. because references to it are found in secondary Vedic works such as the Śaṭapatha Brāhmaṇa.

The large portion of it which includes books I-XVIII admittedly belongs to a much earlier period, possibly as early as about 1000 B C. and the hymn in question is included in his older portion. Moreover, within that portion it belongs to a division of books VIII-XII, which bears a distinct hieratic character. It thus takes us back to that pre-historic or the semi-mythical age of the medicine man who combined the functions of priest and physician. This period as already stated, is represented conspicuously by the great sage Bhāradwāja and to him it actually ascribes the authorship of one of the hymns[3] of that hieratic division. So the period of Ātreya can be bracketed between the end of Atharva-period and the beginning of Śaṭapatha-period.

Let us see if the method of exposition and the language used are of any help to us in fixing the date. The main text of Ātreya seems to have been composed during the Sutra period or the aphoristic period which appeared at the end of the Vedic period. The rise of this class of writings was due to the need of simplifying and shortening details of knowledge and experience got during the Vedic period in the whole country to a systematic shape. Due to this compressing into a compact form, it does not impose too much burden on the memory.

The main object of the Sutras was therefore to supply a short but comprehensive survey of the sum of these scattered details. For this purpose, the utmost brevity was needed, a requirement which was certainly met in a manner unparalleled elsewhere. The name of this class of literature points to its main characteristic and chief object viz., extreme conciseness. The prose in which these works were composed is such that the wording of the most laconic expression would often appear diffuse compared to it. Some of the Sutras attain a degree of terseness that the formulas cannot be understood without the help of elaborate commentaries. A characteristically aphoristic verse which defines the nature of a Sutra is:

This is called a Sutra which has the least number of words, is unambiguous, synoptical, all-embracing, devoid of any superficial word and faultless.

The first section of Ātreya Samhitā is called Sutrasthāna. This Sutra style needed interpretation and commentaries and hence it was essential to study under a Guru who could interpret the Sutras. This is also one of the reasons why later on many commentaries on this Samhitā were written. Linguistic investigations tend to show that the Sutras are closely connected with the time of grammarian Pāṇini, some of them appearing to be even anterior to him. Hence we shall now assign 7th to 2nd century B. C. as the chronological limits within which the Sutra literature was developed.

As per Śaṭapatha Brāhmana[edit]

Another evidence which leads us to place Ātreya some time in the Śaṭapatha Brāhmaṇa period is the assembly-system so often mentioned in his treatise. The philosophical disquisitions are the characteristic feature of the Brāhmaṇa period. It was a special function of the Brāhma priest to give decisions on many disputed points that may arise in the course of a sacrifice and this he could not have done unless he was a master of ratiocination. Such decisions are found scattered in the ancient Brāhmaṇas and are collected together as the findings in the Purva Mimāñsā aphorisms of Jaimini.

These arguments form a prominent feature in the later books of Śaṭapatha Brāhmaṇa. The leader of these is Yajnavalkya who is regarded as the chief authority, like Ātreya in the Caraka Samhitā.

As per Bṛhadaraṇyak Upaniṣad[edit]

Bṛhadaraṇyak Upaniṣad forms the concluding portion of the last book named Araṇyaka of both the recensions of Śaṭapatha Brāhmaṇa. The second part of the Upaniṣad consists four philosophical discussions in which Yajnavalkya is the chief speaker. Out of these four, the first is a great disputation in which the sage proves his superiority over nine successive interlocutors. The second discourse is the dialogue between king Janaka and Yajnavalkya. The third discourse is another dialogue between them. The fourth is the discourse between Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi. In the 10nth chapter of Sutrasthāna, there is depicted a dialogue between the main speaker Ātreya and Maitreya. Ātreya gives warning at the end thus:

"One who knows the differential diagnosis between curable and incurable diseases and also the right application, will not fall into such erroneous mode of thinking as Maitreya and others did."

In the 12th chapter of Sutrasthāna the discourse is among the Rsis, Kusa Sankatyayana, Kumārasira Bhāradwāja, Kankayana Bāhlika, Badisā Dhamargava, Varyovida Rajarṣi, Marici, Kapya, and Ātreya. Each of them discusses one aspect of the subject and Ātreya, the presiding sage, links all the aspects in one integrating form. In chapter 25th of Sutrasthāna, Kaśipati Vāmaka approaches the assembly of Ṛṣis for the solution of a question. Parikśi, Maudgalya, Saraloma, Varyovida. Hiranyakṣa, Kauśika, Kuśika, Bhadrakapya, Bhārdwāja, Kankayana, Bhikṣu Ātreya, each of them propound their own theory and insists tenaciously on its acceptance. The presiding sage Ātreya exhorts all of them to be more rational and scientific and gives his authoritative decision on the subject.

Similarly, in chapter 26th of Sutrasthāna, nine sages meet and each propounds their own theory in the discourse on the categories of taste. Finally, Ātreya clarifies giving decision in this matter. In the 3rd chapter of Śarirasthāna, there is a discourse between Bhāradwāja and Ātreya. Elaborate rules and regulations about the conduction of such meetings are given in comprehensive details in the Vimāna-sthāna chapter VIII.

As per Caraka Samhitā[edit]

In the Caraka Samhitā, we find references about abdominal surgery but there is no mention of head surgery at all. Thus, the inference that Ātreya was the preceptor of Jivaka, is based on flimsy grounds and even the acceptance of Ātreya as the preceptor of Jivaka does not establish his connection with Punarvasu Ātreya.

Some scholars suggest that him to be Bhikṣu Ātreya but as we shall see that Bhikṣu Ātreya was a contemporary of Punarvasu Ātreya, even that theory is erroneous. The person referred to as Bhikṣu Ātreya in the text of Caraka is not the perceptor of Jivaka. If the preceptor of Jivaka was Ātreya, then he must be some other descendant of Ātri.

References as per Other Scriptures[edit]

In order to fix Ātreya's period accurately, one will have to establish the upper limit or the terminus a quo of Ātreya's period. In Caraka Samhitā, we find references to Kampilya and Pāncāla. The former place is well known in Śukla Yajurveda, Taittiriya Brāhmaṇa and Maitrayāniya.

Pāncāla also seems to have been equally well known in the Veda, Brāhmaṇās, Kathaka Samhitā and the Upaniṣads. So, Ātreya must have flourished during the period when Kampilya and Pāncāla were well-known places. As these places were well-known in Vedic, Brāhmaṇa and Upaniṣadic periods, we can say that Ātreya must have flourished not later than this period.

Thus, the Brāhmaṇa or the Upanisadic period is the latest time when Ātreya must have systematized and preached medical science. Having determined that Ātreya flourished before the Buddhist period and during the Upaniṣadic period, we must try to narrow down the period between the terminus ad quem as much as possible.

Influence of Ātreya[edit]

Vāgbhatta and Bhavamiśra refer to Punarvāsu or the son of Atri as approaching Indra and learning the Science of medicine from him. This Ātreya is one of the great sages, expert in the sciences and spiritual knowledge. He was given utmost importance which can be concluded from the prefixed title to his name 'Bhagawān'. This is a title that only the exquisite sages of supreme spiritual attainment may hope to obtain. The qualifications or merits that entitle one to this honor are set forth thus.

'He is to be known as Bhagawān' who is possessed of the knowledge of creation and dissolution of the world, of the birth and death, of creatures and also of science, both material and spiritual.

Ātreya was thus among the elite sages who was an adept in all the sciences and mature in spiritual wisdom and a teacher especially of the science of medicine. Though versed in all the eight branches of the Science of Life he devoted this treatise entirely to the medicine and referred his disciples to other teachers and treatises when surgical or any other special procedures were in demand. "This is the domain of the surgeons", is a remark one finds when there are indications for surgical remedies. Thus Ātreya is a specialist in Medicine[4] and especially therapeutics.

  • According to Mahābhārata, teacher of Kāyā-cikitsā or medicine is Kiṣṇa Ātreya.
  • Caraka Samhitā, one of the great literary works on medicine, purports to be the final embodiment of Ātreya's teachings.
  • Every chapter opens with the words articulated by sage Ātreya.
  • Agniveśa and other disciples are greatly attached to him and honor him to be of supreme veneration.
  • He is the first systematic teacher of the science of medicine after it was brought from Indra and imparted to the galaxy of sages by Bhāradwāja. 

Ātreya as a Teacher[edit]

Despite the absence of a specific mention of the transmission of the science from Bhāradwāja to Ātreya, the fact implied was quite strong that the authors omitted the statement of the obvious. Ātreya began to teach medicine to his disciples. Cakrapāṇi, the commentator, is emphatic on this point and contradicts the conclusion of some identifying the Ātreya with Bhāradwāja who learnt the Ayurveda from Indra. For the latter disposition, mistake is made by some for the description in Caraka in the chapter on Rasāyaṇa, where Atri is said to have received the knowledge directly from Indra. But that pertains only to Rasāyaṇa. Hence we cannot generalize it to the whole science of Ayurveda.

As a teacher of medicine, Ātreya was accounted to be of high order from the methods he adopted to instruct his disciples and the arrangement and classification of the subjects and medical concepts. All the parallel treatises such as those of Kaśyapa, Harita and Bhela refer to him as the accredited teacher and authority on medicine. It is therefore necessary that we learn the methods of instruction he pursued in achieving this supremacy as a teacher.

Teaching Method of Ātreya[edit]

At the beginning of each lesson, he categorically announced the definite subject he proposed to expound. Then, often it happened that the disciples headed by Agniveśa asked inquiring questions in order to spot-light the salient points of the subject proposed. The teacher while expounding these salient points covered the whole content of the proposed subject.

Occasionally, there were intelligent interjections by Agniveśa asking for clarification on points. For example, when the teacher commended the real physician to be against the quack, Agniveśa asked,

"How should one know the real physician from a quack?"

The most impressive delineation of the difference between the quack and a real physician was given by Ātreya.

After proposing the subject to be expounded, the various disciples or the sages and learned men who had the knowledge on that particular topic were invited to offer their individual views. A detailed discussion on the subject of Vāta and Rasa were supreme examples of this kind. After listening to the views of each learned person participating in the discussion, Ātreya summed up his opinion which was sometimes categorically offered and sometimes elaborated by arguments and illustrations.

Ātreya As a Judge of Medical Discussions[edit]

Though in later days, there was a Socratic method known as teacher-disciple dialogues yet Ātreyās did not use this method. The discussion was based more on ancient Brahmanical method of discussion. Just the difference between both the types of discussions were that it was milder in spirit and vehemence. This characterizes discussions held by the exponents like Yajnavalkya in the debates conducted under the patronage of king Janaka. It is quite evident in the discussions that there is a true spirit of inquiry and a desire for discovering and accepting the truth on a subject. These kind of discussions did not aim towards scoring a victory in debate.

In a hostile debate, one should speak the statements having logical reasons and skills. Even one should never object to the statements backed by an authority. Some serious hostile debates enraged few people. There is nothing that an enraged man may not do or say and wise men never commend a quarrel before an assembly of learned men.

Throughout, in these discussions, Ātreya conducted himself with great dignity, composure and understanding. He listened to the expositions of the different views of the scholars assembled and after duly scrutinizing them, gave his opinion which was invariably accepted as final by the assembly. Occasionally he warned his disciples against getting into any type of arguments or disputes. For example he warned his disciples and others present against falling into any arguments as done by Maitreya and others on the question of treatment and non treatment being equal in their results.

Reverence Towards Ātreya[edit]

The spirit of reverence with which his disciples approached him was too high. He was the sage who was supreme amidst sages and scholars of those times. Learned rulers of neighboring kingdoms or even foreign scholars took his advice and judgement to be as final authority. The verdict of discussions held as him being a judge were accounted of a great importance. The participants of these kind of discussions were the sages, scholars from all the parts of country. These assemblies were held in the places ranging from the northern Himalayas to the eastern part like Kailāśa and extending towards the southern plains of Kampilya. This indicates the popularity, wisdom and supremacy among his contemporaries of Ātreya as a teacher of medicine.

Commendations of Ātreya[edit]

Besides his hallmark of methodical and scientific expositions, he imparted a comprehensive data and drugs on medical lore. The stage of rational or scientific medicine began with Ātreya. Though the concept of the three controlling forces of the body and universe is contained in the Vedic literature, that medicine owes it's full elaboration of the Tridośa concept in a consistent method based on a logic of elemental combinations and physico-chemical transmutations. Whole credit of this theory goes to Ātreya. He explained the theories of taste and its influences on metabolic and physiological functions and its application in therapeutics and the concept of Rasa, Guṇa Virya and Vipaka and Prabhāva of drugs. Medicine passes from the empirical stage to a scientific stage, based and supported on the bio-physical and bio-chemical concepts.

Though Caraka and Dṛḍhabala may be given credit for the present arrangement of the various sections and the order of the chapters, yet the essential rationale running through the entire length of the treatise and the basic concepts and generalization on drug, disease-factors and methods of therapeutics belong to Ātreya. It has been kept intact. In fact, this theory has been supported by the details of illustrations by redactors.

The rational spirit of the teacher was so strong that even maladies which were admitted due to religious or demonaic origin were put down by Ātreya as to have purely physical and physiological causes. They were treated like any other disease. While describing insanity, Ātreya emphasizes that neither the gods nor the demons have anything to do with it. It happens due to reprehensible behavior and can be treated by suitable remedies. It is said, " Neither gods nor Gandharvas, neither the goblins nor the demons, nor aught else, torment the man who is not tormented of himself."

It is remarkable that Hippocrates of Greece explains 'epilepsy' which till then was named a 'sacred disease in the similar pattern. He explains that epilepsy never happens due to divine or any other sacred reasons but has a natural cause from which it originates like any other infection or disease in the body. The cause is no longer divine but human.


Reviewing the matter and manner of these discourses and the importance attached to such meetings, one feels that Ātreya's treatise must have been composed during the period when such disquisitions were a prevalent system of establishing the final truth in a matter of dispute. Thus Ātreya's period coincides with the Śaṭapatha period. Taking into view the internal and external evidence supported by historical consistency we can conclude Ātreya's period not deflecting much on either side of the 8th century B. C but certainly not later than 7th century B. C.

Ātreya is a name, immortal in Indian medicine and will remain so as long as the science of life is studied and practiced in the light and spirit of his principles and basic theory. His attachment to reason and the happy results flowing from scientific understanding as against fads and unreasoned faith, which make for ignorance, is borne out by his exemplary definition of knowledge and happiness. All suffering, with its resort in the body as well as in the mind has for its basis ignorance, while all happiness has its foundation in pure scientific knowledge.


  1. It refers to Caraka Samhitā.
  2. Bāhlika is present day Balkh.
  3. It refers to the twelfth of the tenth book.
  4. It means Kāyā-Cikitsā.
  • The Caraka Samhita published by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society, Jamnagar, India