Why Charaka And Sushruta Did Not Mention Pulse Diagnosis?

Ayurvedic pulse Diagnosis – Nadi Pareeksha is hailed as the ultimate technique of diagnosis. It involves spirituality, science and elements of astrology. But pulse reading etc is not elaborated by Acharya Charaka, Sushruta or even Vagbhata. Reason is unmissable.

Ayurvedic pulse diagnosis

I tried to write on this topic further for many times and deleted. Then I had a chance to interview Dr CR Agnives, Professor, Parassinikkadavu Ayurveda College, Kannur, Kerala. The way he broke the ice on pulse diagnosis, I can never do that. Here is the transcript of his interview.

Pulse diagnosis talk video

Pulse diagnosis is useful to know something. But not everything. For example, from the pulse reading we can know rhythm. It may be an index of cardiac rhythm which you can also understand with a stethoscope. Sometimes rhythm of the heart may be different from the pulse, if there is some problem (disease process) in between heart and pulse.

Another thing is volume. Whether it is full or weak. Another thing is rate – whether it is fast or slow. Only this much we can understand by reading pulse.

Those who say that you had a fall at the age of 12 etc by just reading pulse, they are quacks.
I will tell you a story – One of my student in Kottakkal was practicing in Bombay (Mumbai). He makes pulse examination, which we do not teach in Kottakkal. A Russian woman, who is a journalist, working in India went to this doctor with a tumor, which was very evident in her abdomen. It did not seem malignant, but the tumor is better removed, that is what is to be done.

Instead, this doctor gave her medicines for six months, extracted all the money that can be extracted and finally said that she requires a pulse reading. He asked the lady to come to clinic at 8 am without consuming food.
After half an hour of pulse examination and meditation, he says, now, in Moscow, there is a doctor called Dr Agnives, go and meet him. That is what he read from the pulse.

She came to me. I told that this is a tumor. Better to get it removed. She said she came to Ayurveda just because she did not want a surgical removal. I said, in Ayurveda, the treatment (for you) is surgical operation. She did not believe. I had to talk to her for hours. Finally I took the English translation of Ashtanga Hrudayam and made her to read the relevant portion. So then she was convinced.

So, people are utilizing this (pulse diagnosis) as something as divine. It is no better than palm reading and using a bird to tell the future etc. The bird does nothing. It just takes a card and hands it over. What is told (as future prediction) is told by the person. So, it is his imagination and observation and sometimes prior knowledge, that makes them tell fore-tell things.

Human psychology is like that. We want to know what will happen in future. We are anxious about our future. So we meet all these bird future tellers, palmistry experts etc. In palmistry, at least there are a few lines there. In pulse reading, there is nothing.

But some claim that they can predict say, renal calculi with pulse. In renal calculi, the patient will have pain and he may be having radiating pain in the groin.

Ultimately, pulse diagnosis is a way of diagnosis. But it is not the ultimate way. In Ayurveda, neither Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita or Ashtanga Hrudaya has detailed it. Only later books have detailed it, and that again after the arrival of Hakims (Unani doctors, after introduction of Unani system to India).

Pulse diagnosis in Unani –
For the Hakims, pulse diagnosis is very important because, in many cases, when the patient is a woman, you cannot even see the face of her. So, only available part to touch and examine is the hand. So, the Hakim (Unani doctor) was compelled to examine pulse and tell everything. That was his professional compulsion.

And if it was a princess, she never came out of the curtain. She was totally behind the parda and there was the curtain, a thread was tied to her wrist, and the other end of the thread, out of the curtain was given to the Hakim to predict the disease. So, that was the limitation, under which Hakims worked.

In a Veena, there are four (plus three) strings. But there are Veenas with one string also. Even with a single string Veena, some music can be made. But if you want a rich Veena recital, the one with the four strings should be used.

In the recent texts, it is said that, like the string of Veena, which produces all sounds, the arterial pulse of the hand tells about all diseases. This is a scientific error. Because, whenever science finds out something new, there will be claim that it is the next big thing. Whether it is a new drug or new investigation method, it is hailed.

When penicillin was invented,  all diseases were treated with penicillin. Now it is used quite rarely. Similarly, when the pulse science came to Ayurveda, everybody was very hopeful about diagnostics. But later the hype died off.

In olden days, patient was not a stranger. If you were practicing in a village, you knew each and every person of the village. You knew his past, present. You knew his father, you know his behavior. So, you can easily read the pulse and tell everything.

Even if we accept Unani methods, pulse (Nadi) reading is one among the eight methods of examination. There is examination of
2. Mutra – urine
3. Mala – feces
4. Jihva – tongue
5. Shabda – the various body sounds (such as crackling in case of arthritis), voice hoarseness etc.
6. Sparsha – examination by touch. – to know body temperature, local raise of temperature in a swelling etc.
7. Druk – external appearance of the person, examination by eyes.
8. Akruti – shape and built of the person.

So, pulse reading is a very important and necessary part of patient examination and diagnosis. But considering it as the whole part of the diagnosis is a wholesome blunder.
Read related: Complete Pulse Diagnosis Method As per Ayurveda Textbook

Mahesh Krishnamurthy
Please read Nadi Tattva Darshanam by Vaidya Satya Devo Vashisth. He has done a commending work on collating all works on Nadi Pariksha from the Vedas, Upavedas, Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, Rava Nadi Pariksha, Kanada Nadi Pariksha and others.

This article brings disrepute to Ayurveda and its native diagnostic technique.

Dr Amit Shukla –
With all due respect, I totally disagree on your above points Dr. Hebbar!
I truly feel, you haven’t get any chance to see or interview true nadi vaidyas!
did you ?!
I’m saying, because I am personally learning Nadi under such nadi vaidya who, not just see rhythm, volume, rate but much more in a practical way in a applied way!
even they can tell about your past illnesses(if any) without knowing/talking/meeting you before just by reading your pulse and i know few such authentic nadi vaidyas in maharashtra and tamilnadu.
i can definitely recommend their names for interview/personal observation.
i hope, then only you’ll know that they’re not quacks, as u feel so!

David Jameson –
Dr. H, .As an Ayurvedic Doctor I would expect a better article based on fact vs your opinion. I am honored and humbled to practice the divine science of life and show great respect towards the ancient modality. I find this piece not only riddled with inaccurate information but bordering offensive.

Several of your examples show assessment mistakes and yet the pulse diagnosis is discredited. A very weak attempt and not convincing to a learned colleague; but may confuse the public to see it your way.

Prof P V Panicker

It was Sarangadhara in 12th century gave importance to pulse diagnosis. A verse goes like:-
“Karasyangushta mooleya, Dhamani jeevasaksini
Tat Cheshtaya ‘sukham’ ‘dukham’
Njeyam kayasya panditaha”
meaning “the vein that is found in the root of the Palm is the symbol of life. The behavioural pattern of the same explain to an expert the body’s well being (sukham) as well as ailments (dukham) of the patient.

21 thoughts on “Why Charaka And Sushruta Did Not Mention Pulse Diagnosis?”

  1. I do not know how to diagnose BP Sugar and cholesterol with pulse diagnosis. Why bother? If I want to know BP, there is BP apparatus. For sugar, there are blood and urine tests, so also for cholesterol.

  2. While I appreciate the article, I was made to understand that there are about 108 pulse differences, like the snake, frog, so on and so forth, which difference is indicative of someting about the disease. Perhaps the subtleties are so difficult to observe but still much experience may be of some use. We know when a doctor enters a ward and finds the smell of garlic a patient with some kidney trouble is supposed to be present, which in a way is an asset for the doctor. If the vessels on the neck are bulged more some say that ii is indicative of some cardiac trouble.

  3. I once went to see a Chinese Doctor. I never met him before. I did not know anything about pulse either. He took my pulse and told me exactly an incident I had the right before. (I had an argument that made me so upset that I was crying). He even said who I possibly had the argument with. I have a very happy and joyful personality so it could not have been a calculative guess. I went to see him after 2-3 times but really cannot afford him as he is expensive. I wonder how he did what he did. The only thing he told me that my liver was very weak. And I get emotional when people make personal comment – too easily. I still find that a mystery, What do you think might have happened?

    • Usually people with Pitta body type are sensitive, emotional, tend to cry or get angry pretty easily, usually suffer with skin and liver problems, excessive sweating, flushing etc.
      I would evaluate a doctor’s performance on his ability to cure the disease of the patient, rather than predicting his future or past symptoms.

      • Good point. But I think diagnosis through pulse reading could be beneficial for a treatment. Thank you for the article though.

  4. 1. Even during Charaka, Sushruta and Vagbhata also, Ayurvedic treatment was based on (and will always be based on) studying the imbalance of Vata, Pitta and Kapha.
    2. Pulse is just a one way of knowing the Vata, Pitta and Kapha balance in the body.
    3. There are umpteen number of other ways by which the effect of Vata, Pitta and Kapha can be diagnosed, without pulse diagnosis. I would say, any Ayurvedic doctor even in a learner stage, can easily diagnose the imbalance in the body, WITHOUT the help of pulse diagnosis. That is why, when I asked Dr Agnives that some say that kidney stones can be diagnosed by pulse, he countered quickly by saying that kidney stone patient will have abdominal pain.
    4. Even in cases wherein the the disease symptoms are not fully established, I would not rely on pulse to make a diagnosis. Urine examination, feces examination etc are mentioned by Yoga Ratnakara himself, so I would extend that to laboratory tests and go ahead with diagnosis.
    5. Ayurvedic doctors treat root cause of such diseases, in some diseases wherein even Allopathic doctors fail. Agreed. The success cannot be attributed to pulse diagnosis.

  5. I and Dr Agnives are not denying that it is not a genuine way. Pulse diagnosis is a genuine way of diagnosis. But it is only one among the many other tools.
    As a doctor, why should I rely on pulse diagnosis to know about your pain, when I can plainly ask about your health problem? Why I would go on telling many other things about your past health record? You already know them. I reckon you went to the doctor to heal your complaints. If your doctor can do that, with or without pulse diagnosis, the mission is already accomplished. Ultimately, a successful doctor is the one who heals the patient, not the one, who tells about patients health history without asking.

  6. With or without pulse diagnosis, one of the key elements of treatment is the trust between the patient and the doctor.

    I always used to think that Pulse diagnosis was mentioned in the original Ayurvedic texts. So it’s quite a surprise that they are not. Very grateful for this information. Could you please mention the text(s) in which the first mention(s) of Pulse diagnosis was made? And the date/era of such reference? (And comparatively, the dates of Charaka/Sushruta Samhita)

    Thank you!

    • details of pulse diagnosis is mentioned (probably for the first time) in Yoga Ratnakara – 17th Century book – Details mentioned in that chapter – is here -https://www.easyayurveda.com/2014/07/05/complete-pulse-diagnosis-method-as-per-ayurveda-textbook/

      Chakara, Sushruta and Vagbhata are spread between 2000 AD – 1000 BC.


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