Article by Dr Manasa
Ayurveda, as all of us know is the most ancient medical science which has been serving the mankind in terms of providing a comprehensive, natural and holistic cure for many diseases related to body and mind, apart from being the best in providing basic formulas for prevention of diseases. Ayurveda has touched upon the minutest details of handling our lifestyle, diet and health so as to keep the diseases at bay. It has taught us to live in accordance to the daily changes and seasonal changes and enjoy good quantity and quality of life.
This did not happen just like that. It took a lot of effort on the part of the Acharyas (teachers and preachers) of the ancient time to have formulated, scripted, edited, written and developed this science without the availability of any modern day sophistication.
The credit also goes to the Ayurvedic teachers and preachers who came in the medieval and modern era, who translated and re-edited these treatises into simpler language and made Ayurveda easy to understand.
References of Ayurveda found in Puranas, Vedas and many other ancient scriptures point towards the unpredictable periodicity of this medical system. We have references quoting that Ayurveda has descended from the creator Brahma himself.
This gives a dimension of Ayurveda being a divine science which was created and formulated by the creator, learnt by Gods and sages, who in turn taught and preached Ayurveda for the benefit of mankind. Ayurveda has been existing from time immemorial. Ayurveda is thus the pioneer and mother of all medical sciences.
Therefore, Ayurveda is what its authors have made it to be. Among many authors who have written the treatises which have become standard references and guidelines for tonnes of generations Acharya Charaka is the most important one.
If you know and follow Ayurveda, there is no chance that you would have ignored or not heard a legendary name called Charaka, the author of the most famous Ayurveda text named ‘Charaka Samhita’
Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Sangraha are known as ‘Brihat Trayis’ (Brihat Trayees), meaning 3 great treatises or ‘greatest trio’ of Ayurveda.
Among the list of 3 great Ayurvedic treatises, Charaka Samhita has gathered utmost reverence and respect and is considered to be the best reference for learning, preaching and practicing Ayurveda. Charaka Samhita is a treatise written by Acharya Charaka.
In today’s article we shall discuss about Acharya Charaka and his contribution towards Ayurveda.
Table of Contents
Charaka Samhita is a popular Ayurvedic treatise. As the name indicates, it is a compilation of Ayurveda lessons comprising of various aspects including basic concepts (Sutra sthana), diagnosis of diseases (Nidana sthana), treatment concepts (Chikitsa sthana) etc and is written by Charaka. (Charaka Samhita means ‘treatise written by Charaka).
But actually the book is not originally written by Charaka. Acharya Charaka redacted the treatise ‘Agnivesha Tantra’ which has become popular in the name of ‘Charaka Samhita’. This means to tell that the text ‘Agnivesha Tantra’ written by Agnivesha was re-modulated by Charaka, which later came to be called as ‘Charaka Samhita’.
Charaka Samhita is the first and foremost authentic treatise of Ayurveda and is one of the ‘greatest trio’ (Brihat-Trayee).
Master Charak was so keen to help people with Ayurveda that he used to roam from one place to the other continuously. Hence he got the name Charaka.
Charati iti Charakaha – One who moves continuously.
Meaning, Time period
Meaning of the term Charaka and probable time Period of Charaka –
The term Charaka has been given many meanings.
The meaning of the word Charaka is ‘the physician who wanders from one place to the other offering medical service to the ailing people’
The term Charaka also denoted ‘messengers’
rakthapitha, gulma, prameha, doshagatha diseases, mental disorders, alcoholism,poisoning etc are mentioned here. Similarly there are many controversies about the time period in which Charaka lived.
Clear details pertaining to Charaka, information about his parents, place of birth etc are not available.
Acharya Charaka was known to be a physician in the court of King Kanishka during 2nd century AD according to the references from the Chinese translation of the Buddhist text ‘Samyukta Ratna Pitahaka Sutra’
In Vedic times a branch of Krishna Yajurveda was known as ‘Charaka’.
Vaishampayana had a disciple Charaka, who himself was known as Charaka.
In another Ayurvedic text named Bhavaprakasha, Charaka is described as a sage who was born as an incarnation of ‘Shesha’ the king of snakes and also servant of Lord Vishnu.
Other opinion was that Charaka is identified with Pathanjali, the author of Mahabhashya and Yoga Sutra. But this fact is not true.
Based on many available evidences the period of Charaka can be inferred as below mentioned –
Acharya Vagbhata has mentioned about ‘Charaka’ in his treatise (4th century AD to 6th century AD). This means to tell that Charaka lived in a period before Vagbhata.
In Yagnavalkya Smrithi (3rd century AD) many references from Charaka Samhita can be found such as the concept of Shat dhatwatmaka Purusha, Garbhavakranti, 6 types of twak or skin, 360 types of asthi or bones, anjali pramana of doshas, dhatus etc (the measure of doshas, body tissues, etc as measured by ones hands) etc
In Navanitaka (2nd century AD) we can find mentioned many medicinal formulations explained in Charaka Samhita
Many references from Charaka Samhita have been found quoted by Ashwaghosha, the contemporary of Kanishka (1st century AD)
Milinda Prasna (2nd BC) has many things similar to those explained in Charaka Samhita.
All these indicate that Charaka might have belonged to 3rd to 2nd century BC
Evidences from within Charaka Samhita –
As the Sankhya philosophy was dealt with in Charaka Samhita, which is definitely earlier than Sankhyakarika (200AD), it should have existed before 200 AD.
Many references from Puranas and Grihya Sutras are found available in Charaka Samhita
We can find references of many kings, samanta (sub-ordinate kings), maharajas (emperors) etc are found to be mentioned in Charaka Samhita.
It was the time when Buddhism was developing during the period of Mouryas and Sungas (3rd century BC to 2nd century BC). Thus on the basis of references available inside and outside the Charaka Samhita, the date of Charaka can be estimated and fixed between 3rd and 2nd century BC.
Charaka Samhita, a part of Brihat Trayi or greater trio of Ayurveda occupies a significant place in the history of world’s medical science.
Atreya Punarvasu has many intelligent students. Punarvasu was the most respected, learned Guru (teacher) and preacher of Ayurveda. Among the clan of his elite students Agnivesha was the best.
According to the directions and teachings of his teacher Punarvasu Atreya, Agnivesha recorded, documented and composed his work on Ayurveda.
It was called as Agnivesha Tantra. It was subsequently redacted by Charaka which in due course of time got popular in the name ‘Charaka Samhita’. This Charaka Samhita was further redacted by Dridhabala.
In Charaka Samhita, we can find that the justice has been done in covering all the aspects and 8 branches of Ayurveda. But the emphasis has been given in covering the concepts of Kaya Chikitsa (General medicine) in detail. That is why, Charaka Samhita is considered to be the best reference and authentic text of Kaya Chikitsa.
More than 40 commentaries are written on Charaka Samhita. It is translated into all the Indian languages. It is also translated into many foreign languages including Persian, Simhali, Nepali, Arabic etc.
Sections and chapters
Sections and Chapters of Charaka Samhita –
Charaka Samhita has been dealt with in 8 sections and 120 chapters.
Sutrasthana – Basic Principles – 30 chapters, 1952 Verses.
Nidana Sthana – Pathology – 8 chapters, 247 verses
Vimana Sthana – Specific determination – 8 chapters, 354 verses
Shareera Sthana – Anatomy – 8 chapters , 382 verses
Indriya Sthana – Sensory organ based prognosis – 12 chapters, 378 verses
Chikitsa Sthana – Therapeutics – 30 chapters, 4904 verses
Kalpasthana – Pharmaceutics and toxicology – 12 chapters – 378 verses
Siddhi Sthana – Success in treatment – 12 chapters – 700 verses
Total – 9295 verses (Sutras)
They are as briefed below –
Deals with fundamental principles of Ayurveda covered in 30 chapters
Sutra Sthana is sub-divided into Sapta Chatushkas (7 quadrates), having 4 chapters each.
Bheshaja Chatushka – quadrate on drugs
Swasta Chatushka – quadrate on regimen for the maintenance of health
Nirdesha Chatushka – quadrate on various instructions
Kalpana Chatushka – quadrate on description of therapeutic procedures
Roga Chatushka – quadrate on description of diseases
Yojana Chatushka – quadrate on administration of various therapies
Annapana Chatushka – quadrate on description of diet and drinks
Sangraha adhyaya – 2 chapters at the end of Sutra Sthana are known by the name Sangraha Adhyaya, the concluding chapters
Deals with the principles governing the bodily factors that cause diseases – drugs and medicaments covered in 8 chapters
a. In Rasa Vimana chapter, sweet, sour etc tastes, qualities, functions, effect on Dosha, oils, ghee, honey etc, their effect on health and asta vidha vishesha Ayatana are explained.
b. In Trividha Kuksheeya Vimana, GI tract, quantity of food to be taken, what happens if the food is taken excessively or in low quantities, Visuchika, Alasaka etc digestive tract disorders are mentioned.
c. In Janapadodhvamsaneeya chapter – communicable disorders, endemic diseases, reasons, preventive measures are mentioned.
d. In Trividha Roga VIshesha Vijnaneeya chapter, Pratyaksha – direct observation, Anumana, Aptaopadesha – means of knowledge, etc are explained.
e. In Sroto Vimana chapter, all the body channels, causes, symptoms and treatment of vitiation of body channels are mentioned.
f. In Roganeeka Vimana – types of diseases – mental, physical, types of Agni, Prakriti – body types etc are mentioned.
g. In Vyadhita Rupeeya Vimana – Guru, Laghu etc patient features, Krumi causes and treatment are mentioned.
h. In Roga Bhishag Jiteeya chapter, causes for diseases, sambhasha – discussion, 10 types of patient examination etc are explained.
Deals with aetiology, pathogenesis and diagnosis of diseases covered in 8 chapters.
For each disease, causative factors, prodromal symptoms, signs and symptoms, pathogenesis, prognosis are explained in detail.
Jwara, Rakthapitha, Gulma, Prameha, Kushta etc diseases are explained in detail.
Deals with embryology, anatomy and physiology covered in 8 chapters. This section gives detail discription about Human Anatomy and its application in treatment, panchamahabhutha (Basic 5 elements of earth), conception, embryology, signs of pregnancy, monthwise fetal development, manas prakruti (constitution of mind), determination of prakruti in the fetus, procedure of labour, diseases of children, bala samskara (Agewise ceremony), child nutrition and treatment of child disease.
Deals with prognostic signs and symptoms covered in 12 chapters
In this section signs and symptoms of bad prognosis, inauspicious symptoms pertaining to skin complexion, voice, odour, taste, touch, sight, sound, mind, tongue, nose, fire, hygiene, behavioural activities, memory, tolerance capacity of patient, strength, structure of body, dryness, unctuousness, heaviness, digestion of food etc
Importance of inauspicious symptoms in the origin of disease, pain, advice, shadow, dreams, to see inauspicious signs on the road, auspicious and inauspicious signs related to sense organs and its perceived senses, curable and incurable signs of disease and patients life span are mentioned.
Deals with treatment of various diseases covered in 30 chapters
This section explains in detail under Rasayana chapters – Rasayana medicines, intake procedure of rasayana, types of rasayana, rasayana properties of hareethaki and amalaki, procedure of its preparation, intake and its doses. It also deals with acharya rasayana.
Vachikarana chapters deals with – causes, types and treatment of infertility, use of vajikaran medicines, its method of preparation and intake.
Causes, signs and symptoms, types and treatment of various disease beginning from jwara, rakthapitha, gulma, prameha, doshagatha diseases, mental disorders, alcoholism,poisoning etc are mentioned here.
Deals with formulations for vamana (emesis), virechana (purgation) etc covered in 12 chapters.
This section deals with various medicinal formulations of madanaphala, jeemuthaka, dhamargava, krethavedhana, trivruth, aaragvadha, bilva, sapthala, danthi, dravathi etc, its origin, collection, types and properties are also mentioned here.
Deals with principles governing the administration of elimination therapies covered in 12 chapters
This section explains in detail – procedure of administration of elimination therapies( panchakarma), its indication and contraindications, complications developed due to improper administration of elimination therapy and its treatment. It also explains signs and symptoms produced due to excess, improper and proper administration of elimination therapy.
The three stages of Panchakarma – priliminary therapy (purvakarma), main therapy (pradhanakarma), post therapy procedures (paschathkarma) are explained orderly.
Persons indicated and contraindicated for elimination therapy and purificatory procedure for contraindicated person is also explained here.
Salient features of Charaka Samhita –
The titles of some chapters are based on the first word occurring in the chapter and others are based on the subject matter discussed in that particular chapter
4 types of Sutras are found in Charaka Samhita such as:
Guru Sutra – statements made by the teacher
Shishya Sutra – statements / enquires made by the disciple
Pratisamskarta Sutra – Statement of the redactor
Ekiya Sutra – statements made by individual scholars
Subject matter of each chapter is described as Uddeshya (brief statement and intention of chapter) followed by Nirdesha (detailed expansion of the above statement) and Lakshana (definition)
The colophons give the information of the author’s name, name of redactor, title of the section and chapter and also the serial number of the chapter
The explanation of topics like Swabhavoparama vada highlights the influence of Buddhism on Charaka Samhita
Scientific explanation of the Ayurvedic fundamental principles like Tridoshas, Pancha Mahabhutas and Rasa Panchakas etc can be seen
Importance of Roga and Rogi Pareeksha (examination of disease and the diseased) has been emphasised
At the end of each chapter, the complete contents of the chapter are enlisted
Commentaries on Charaka Samhita –
More than 40 Sanskrit Commentaries were written on Charaka Samhita. Out of them the following are available partly or in full form.
Charakanyasa – By Bhattara Harishchandra in 4th century AD
Charaka Panjika – By Swami Kumara after 4th century AD
Nirantarapada Vyakhya – By Jejjata in 6th century AD
Ayurveda Deepika – By Chakrapani in 11th century AD
Tatwa Chandrika – By Shivadas Sen in 15th century AD
Jalpakalpataru – By Gangadhar Sen in 19th century AD
Charakopaskara – By Yogendranath Sen in 20th century AD
Charaka Pradipika – By Jyotishchandra Saraswati in 20th century AD
Charaka, the highly valued
Since 4th century A.D. onwards great scholars of Ayurveda, authors, scientists, commentators etc gave utmost respect to the sage ‘Charaka’.
Famous commentators like Bhattara Harischandra, Swami Kumara, Yogendranatha Sen etc, paid their tributes to Acharya Charaka by naming their works as Charakanyasa, Charaka Panjika and Charakopaskara respectively. There are as many as 43 Sanskrit commentaries on this work.
In the beginning of 8th century AD Charaka Samhita was translated into Arabic language.
According to the Colophon, Agnivesha, on the advice of his preceptor Punarvasu Atreya, composed this work which was subsequently redacted by Charaka and Dridhabala
Charaka’s Club – It is a medical organization which was established in New York in November 1898. It was founded by a group of 4 doctors Charles. L. Dana, Joseph Colliers, Fredrick Peterson and Barnad Sachs. This club discussed a wide array of subjects involving fields like medical, medical history, literature, poetry etc.
Charaka’s one of famous statements:
One of Charaka’s most famous quotes was, “Health and disease cannot be predetermined and human life can be prolonged or increased by paying attention to lifestyle.”
Many Academic Firsts from Charaka Samhita
Charaka Sutra Sthana Chapter 1
First ever medical conference – The meeting of the sages in Himalayas could be the first ever conference held for a medical purpose, ever known to the mankind.
First representative for a medical cause – Sage Bharadwaja could well be the first ever representative selected to gather knowledge related to a medical cause from a higher authority.
Read – Essence And Purpose Of Ayurveda – Charaka Sutrasthana 30
First ever celestial medical guide who taught an earthly being – Lord Indra would well be the first ever celestial medical guide after having taught Ayurveda to an earthly being, sage Bharadwaja.
First ever instance of inter-terrain knowledge transfer in medical science – Sage Bharadwaja bringing the knowledge of Ayurveda from heaven to the earth could have marked the first event of inter-terrain knowledge transfer in medical science wherein Ayurveda came down from the celestial world to the mortal world for the benefit of mankind.
Read – Lord Dhanwantari ‘The God of Ayurveda’
First lessons of Ayurveda on Earth – Sage Bharadwaja teaching Ayurveda to his students and other sages were probably the first lessons of Ayurveda on earth.
First ever medical dictation – Sage Atreya’s teachings to his disciples including Agnivesha could be the first ever instance of dictation of notes related to a medical science, though not with that intention. Agnivesha and other students documenting the teachings gave the purpose and shape to Atreya’s dictation.
Read – Acharya Atreya – legacy, works, contribution to Ayurveda
First documentation of Ayurveda in a written form – Agnivesha, student of master Atreya could have been the first ever student on Earth to record and document the medical knowledge (of Ayurveda) in a written form.
First six books of an Ayurvedic library and first medical books to be written in author’s name – Below mentioned are the first six books of an Ayurvedic library, any medical science in fact. These are also the first medical treatises which were written and published in the author’s name. This reflected the trust the teachers had on their students and the liberty and loyalty given to the students to publish their works in their name. This also reflected the goodness, selflessness and humbleness of the Ayurvedic teachers.
Read – Acharya Agnivesha – Legend, Works, Samhita
- Agnivesha Tantra (which became Charaka Samhita in future) – by master Agnivesha
- Bhela Samhita – by master Bhela / Bheda
- Jatukarna Samhita – by master Jatukarna
- Parashara Samhita – by master Parashara
- Harita Samhita – by master Harita
- Ksharapani Samhita – by master Ksharapani
Read – Acharya Vagbhata: Work, Text Books, Legacy, Amazing Facts
First ever submission of completed medical works and first ever approval of the same – Agnivesha and his five friends submitting the completed works of Ayurveda documented and edited by them to their master Atreya Punarvasu and other teachers was probably the first evidence of completed medical works being submitted to their teacher. The acknowledgment of master Atreya and other sages could have been the first ever approval of medical works.
Read – An Insight On The Ayurvedic Book Vaidyasara Sangraha Of Karnataka
First ever convocation and graduation – The appraisal given to Agnivesha and his friends by master Atreya, the great sages, Gods and divine sages was the first ever celebration of completed works in medical science, the first evidences of convocation and graduation.
First ever ‘standardized and approved medical reference books’ – In Charaka Samhita it is given that the Gods and sages, including master Atreya gave approval to the treatises written by their students Agnivesha and others. This marks the declaration of first standard and approved ‘medical reference books’ which are authenticated references even till today and would be even in future.
Read – Acharya Sushruta: Work, Samhita, Legacy, Amazing Facts
First ever redactions of already published medical book – Charaka Samhita was the first redaction of a standard reference book which had already been published in Ayurveda. Master Charaka takes the credit for reediting and redacting Agnivesha Tantra and shaping it into Charaka Samhita. Master Dridhabala takes the credit of re-redaction and for adding the lost chapters of Charaka Samhita in later years.
Read – Acharya Charaka – Work, Samhita, Legacy, Chapters, Description
First ever ‘point of reference’ and due credits given to the main author / authors in a medical treatise – Charaka Samhita would be the first treatise in which the point of reference and due credits are given to the main author at the end of each chapter, apart from the treatise bearing the name of the author. At the end of each chapter of Charaka Samhita we can find quoted – ‘Thus ends the chapter originally written by the main author Agnivesha and redacted by master Charaka’.