Acharya Vagbhata: Work, Text Books, Legacy, Amazing Facts

Article by Dr Manasa
Acharya Vagbhata is the author of the famous Ayurveda text named ‘Ashtanga Sangraha’
Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Sangraha (or Hrudaya) are known as ‘Brihat Trayees’, meaning 3 great treatises or ‘greatest trio’ of Ayurveda.  

Acharya Vagbhata

Vagbhata was the son of Simhagupta. His grandfather too was known by the same name i.e. Vagbhata.
Vagbhata is said to belong to the region of river Sindhu. His father and grandfather, both were great Ayurvedic scholars.
Vagbatta is said to be the disciple of Avalokita – the chief monk of Mahayana Buddhism.
Vagbhata was the author of 2 great treatises of Ayurveda namely ‘Ashtanga Sangraha’ and ‘Ashtanga Hridaya’.
Vagbhata is famous for having presented Ayurveda and its essence in an easy, simple, comprehensive and understandable way.

Manuscript

Ashtanga Sangraha and Ashtanga Hridaya have glimpses of influence of Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. Both Ashtanga Sangraha and Hridaya were written by Vagbhat. Ashtanga Hridaya is the easiest one among the 2 in terms of comprehensive understanding. The language used by Vagbhatta is worth appreciating. It is reachable to almost everyone who reads it of course with a good knowledge of Sanskrit. The translated versions can be understood by common people also.

The author himself says, ‘By churning the great ocean of medical science, a great store of nectar by name Ashtanga Sangraha was obtained. From that store of nectar has arisen Ashtanga Hridaya for the benefit of less intelligent people’. This shows that Vagbhata has taken excerpts and material from the pre-existing Ayurvedic treatises and has given it another shape, easier one. He simplified Ashtanga Sangraha and wrote Ashtanga Hridaya.

In Ashtanga Sangraha, the name of the author was specifically mentioned as Vagbhata. But later commentators, Jejjata and Indu used the term ‘Bahata’ in place of Vagbhatha. Bahata is a Prakrit variant of the term Vagbhata. So there lie no controversies. Both these terms denote the same person, Vagbhata.

The author of a treatise ‘Chikitsa Kalika’, Acharya Tisata quotes that he is the son of ‘Vagbhata’ in the colophon at the end of the book. On the other hand, ‘Chandrata’, the son of ‘Tisata’ wrote commentary on ‘Chikitsakalika’, but has not mentioned Vagbhata in his book. Based on various evidences, present day scholars clarify the period of Tisata and Chandrata to be 10th and 11th century AD respectively. Hence it is difficult to believe, in fact impossible to believe that Tishata was the son and Chandrata was the grandson of Vagbhata.

Nilamegha, in his work Tantrayukti Vichara has mentioned that both Jejjata and Indu were the disciples of Vagbhata.
In Ashtanga Sangraha we have a lot of references relating to Hinduism and Buddhism. This suggests that Vagbhata was born in a Hindu Brahmin family and in the later part of his life he adopted Buddhism.
Based on various evidences, Vagbhata’s date can be estimated to have been between 4th and 5th century AD
Vagbhata has stated that his work is based on and is influenced by Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita etc. This gives a clear idea that Vagbhata lived much later to Charaka and Vagbhata.
Ravi Gupta, author of Suddhasara belonged to a period much later to Vagbhata, around 650 AD

Ashtanga Sangraha

The author of Ashtanga Sangraha was Acharya Vagbhata. Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita are self-authentic works which were independently created. They are called Akara Granthas. Ashtanga Sangraha on the other hand was not self-authentic, it was written by quoting the references from the other texts, moreover had references from Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. Therefore it is called Prakarana Grantha.

Ashta means 8, anga means branches and sangraha means compilation or collection. Thus Ashtanga Sangraha means ‘compilation of 8 branches of Ayurveda’. The 8 branches dealt with in Ashtanga Sangraha are as below mentioned:

Kaya – general medicine
Bala – child and woman care (paediatrics)
Graha – treatment of idiopathic diseases (diseases whose causes cannot be precisely tracked, infectious diseases are considered under this branch, bacteria, virus etc can be clubbed under the term graham)
Urdhwanga – management of ear, nose, throat, head related diseases
Shalya – surgery
Damshtra – toxicology and forensic medicine
Jara – immunology
Vrisha – aphrodisiacs

Acharya Charaka, in his Charaka Samhita is found to have given more importance to the study of general medicine i.e. Kaya Chikitsa. Sushruta, in his Sushruta Samhita has laid emphasis on the detailed study of surgical science i.e. Shalya tantra. But Acharya Vagbhata has given importance to all the 8 branches of Ayurveda and composed Ashtanga Sangraha. In this treatise we get to know about all the 8 branches. He has covered everything in brief and in a sweet and understandable manner, thus making Ayurveda learning an easy process. Vagbhata will always be praised in the world of medicine (Ayurveda) for having presented Ayurveda in a simple, yet precise way.
Read related: Acharya Charaka: Work, Samhita, Legacy

Divisions, specialities

Divisions and Specialties of Ashtanga Sangraha –
Ashtanga Sangraha comprises of 7 divisions and 150 chapters. They are as enlisted below –
Sutra Sthana – In this section the basic principles of Ayurveda, preventive measures, dietetics, classification of diseases and methods of treatments etc are detailed. It comprises of 40 chapters
Shareera Sthana – In this section, concepts and details of Ayurvedic embryology, anatomy, physiology etc are discussed. This section comprises of 12 chapters.
Nidana Sthana – In this section discussion of the aetiology, pathology, signs and symptoms, prognosis of diseases etc are dealt. These topics are dealt in 16 chapters.
Chikitsa Sthana – In this section, the line of treatment of many diseases, medicines and diet towards healing of those diseases, patient care etc are dealt in detail. Chikitsa Sthana has 24 chapters dealing these topics.

Kalpa Sthana – In this section formulations and methods pertaining to elimination therapies, principles of pharmacy, weights and measures etc are dealt. Elimination therapies or shodana treatments are Vamana (therapeutic emesis), Virechana (therapeutic purgation), Vasti (herbal enemas, decoction and oil) and Nasya (nasal medication). Kalpa Sthana comprises 8 chapters.
Uttara Sthana – This is the last section which deals with many chapters dedicated to the discussion of other 7 branches (all the above said sthanas dealing with Kaya Chikitsa). Uttara Sthana comprises of 50 chapters and is dedicated to 7 branches of Ayurveda as below mentioned:
Bala Roga (Paediatrics, child care) – covered in 5 chapters
Graha – 5 chapters
Urdhwanga Chikitsa – In this, 10 chapters are dedicated towards discussion of Netra Roga (eye diseases), 2 chapters towards Karna roga (ear diseases), 2 chapters towards Nasa Roga (nose diseases), 2 chapters towards Mukha roga (oral diseases) and 2 chapters towards Shiro Roga (diseases of the head).
Shalya Chikitsa – 11 chapters covering discussion of surgical aspects
Damshtra Chikitsa – 9 chapters covering discussion of toxicology
Jara – 1 chapter covering immunology
Vrisha – 1 chapter covering aphrodisiacs

The subject matter presented in the text by Vagbhata is devoid of irrelevant, elaborate, objectionable statements and repetitions. Ashtanga Sangraha has been composed by Vagbhata basing on the Triskandha viz –
Hetu Skandha – Causative factors
Linga Skandha – Signs and Symptoms
Oushadha Skandha – Therapeutics
Ashtanga Sangraha is devoid of self-contradictory statements.
Acharya Vagbhata wrote Ashtanga Sangraha without adding or deleting anything to the ancient treatises from which he was inspired or from where he sought compilation of material.

Commentaries

Commentaries on Ashtanga Sangraha –
Shashilekha – written by Indu, only available commentary on Ashtanga Sangraha
Indu has not explained about himself, he is said to have lived between 9th and 10the century by the available evidences. He is said to have lived in Kashmir region and belonging to Hindu Brahmin family. He also wrote a commentary on Ashtanga Hridaya named ‘Indumati’.

Ashtanga Hridaya

Ashtanga Hridaya was also written by Acharya Vagbhata
According to some opinions, Ashtanga Sangraha and Ashtanga Hridaya were written by 2 different people, 2 different Vagbhatas. Ashtanga Sangraha was supposedly written by Vriddha Vagbhata and Ashtanga Hridaya was supposedly written by Laghu Vagbhata.

Sections, specialities

Sections and specialties of Ashtanga Hridaya:
Ashtanga Hridaya is a more simplified version of Ashtanga Sangraha. It comprises of 6 sections and 120 chapters.
Sutra Sthana – In this section the basic principles of Ayurveda, daily regimen (dinacharya), seasonal regimen (ritucharya), diet and dietetics, etc are explained. It comprises of 30 chapters
Shareera Sthana – In this section, concepts and details of Ayurvedic embryology, anatomy, physiology etc are discussed. This section comprises of 6 chapters.
Nidana Sthana – In this section discussion of the aetiology, pathology, signs and symptoms, prognosis of diseases etc are dealt. These topics are dealt in 16 chapters.

Chikitsa Sthana – In this section, the line of treatment of many diseases, medicines and diet towards healing of those diseases, patient care etc is detailed. Chikitsa Sthana has 22 chapters dealing these topics.
Kalpa Sthana – In this section formulations and methods pertaining to elimination therapies i.e. Panchakarma are dealt. Elimination therapies or shodana treatments are Vamana (therapeutic emesis), Virechana (therapeutic purgation), Vasti (herbal enemas, decoction and oil) and Nasya (nasal medication). Kalpa Sthana comprises 6 chapters.
Uttara Sthana – This section deals with chapters dedicated to the discussion of other 7 branches (all the above said sthanas dealing with Kaya Chikitsa). Uttara Sthana comprises of 40 chapters and is dedicated to 7 branches of Ayurveda as below mentioned:

Bala Roga – 3 chapters
Graha – 4 chapters
Urdhwanga Chikitsa – 17 chapters
Shalya Chikitsa – 10 chapters
Damshtra Chikitsa – 4 chapters
Jara – 1 chapter
Vrisha – 1 chapter

Ashtanga Hriday was translated into almost all Indian languages. It was also translated into Arabic during the reign of Harun-al-Rashid (773-808 AD), into Tibetan language during the reign of king Krhrison-dehu (755-797 AD) and into German by Luise Hilgenberg and Willibald Kirfel in 1941.

Commentaries

Commentaries on AshtangaHridayam –
More than 30 commentaries were said to be written on Ashtangahrudayam, most of them are either lost, partly available or remaining M.S.S in the libraries. Only 6 are available partly or fully in printed form.

Sarvanga Sundari – only fully available best commentary on Ashtang Hruday, written by Arunadatta, son of Mriganka Datta belonging to Bengal region. His date is estimated to be around 12th or 13th century AD
Ayurveda Rasayana – written by Hemadri (not available completely), lived around 1260 – 1310 AD
Padartha Chandrika – written by Chandranandana (10th century AD)
Hridaya Bodhika or Hridaya Bodhini – written by Sridasa Pandita (14th century)
Tatwa Bodha – written by Shivadas Sen, commentary for Uttara Tantra (1457 – 1474 AD)

Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita and Ashtanga Sangraha / Ashtanga Hridaya are the pride of Ayurvedic literature. They form the foundation for comprehensive medical practice and guides for total health. Vagbhata should be given a whole hearted applause for having brought the essence of Ayurveda in Ashtanga Sangraha and Ashtanga Hridaya and for having made Ayurveda easy to learn. In the beginning year of Ayurveda studies one has to thoroughly master over Vagbhatas treatises in order to emerge as a good doctor in future. Understanding Vagbhatas works make the understanding of other Ayurveda treatises easy. Salutes to Acharya Vagbhata!

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