Ayurveda in Chanakya’s Arthashastra

By Dr Manasa BAMS
It is not only the history but all of us who know the history who mark and acknowledge Chanakya as one of the best administrator, king-maker, strategist and economist that the mankind has ever known. He was known for his unpredictable brilliance and cunning tactics which would keep the enemies and counter-strategists guessing.


He was known to have accomplished the task even before the opponents had made a basic plan. His thoughts and plans were 1000 folds ahead of the thinking capacities of his contemporaries. He aroused terror and fear in the hearts of opponents due to his aggressive behaviour and short temper. He was also a good teacher. He along with his student Chandragupta Maurya were the first ever to dream about ‘Akhanda Bharata’ i.e. undisputed and undivided India.


Chanakya was an adviser and a prime minister to the first Mouryan Emperor, Chandragupta Mourya. He lived between 350-283 BC. He was the chief architect of the Mouryan dynasty, which later went on down the lane to become one of the most prestigious and powerful dynasties the history books have ever known and recorded. He was also the chief person behind identifying a shepherd boy who belonged to the tribe which raised peacocks, training, fine-tuning and moulding him into an emperor who was later known by the name Chandragupta. Chandragupta rose to power guided by the brilliance of Chanakya.

He was also known by the names Koutilya and Vishnugupta (birth name).


Chanakya was the author of 2 famous books –

  1. Arthashastra – (Artha=finance, money, Shastra=science), Arthashastra was the science of economy. The treatise discusses monetary and fiscal policies, welfare, international relations, and war strategies in detail. This was and is a book of reference for ‘administrative strategies’.
  2. Nitishastra – (Niti=ideologies of life, Shastra=science), Nitishastra was the science of ‘how to live’. It was a treatise on ideal way of life. It depicts Chanakya’s in depth study of the Indian way of life.
Chanakya quote

Ayurveda in Arthashastra

Arthashastra is not only a book on ‘detailed administrative strategies’ but is also a valuable document on cultural data including the status of medicine and physicians. Arthashastra has given references to Ayurveda and herbal medicines. The treatise is comprised of 15 adhikaranas, 180 prakaranas and 6000 shlokas (verses)
Some of the references regarding Ayurveda and health aspects as found in Arthashastra –
Along with political science and public administration, stress has been laid on medical practice.
Arthashastra covers details relating to ‘regulation of public health and hygiene’.
The ‘then government’ had framed certain rules and regulations for the practice of physicians.
Physicians were given top regard, respect and also Royal privilege in those days.

Description of physicians and medicines – Arthashastra describes in detail:

  • The classification of physicians
  • Duties and responsibilities of the physicians
  • Maintenance of hospitals and dispensaries
  • Plantation of medicinal plants
  • Line of treatment for various diseases
  • Facilities to be provided to the patients etc

Payment to the physicians – Physicians were highly paid in those days.

Military expeditions – They were expected to accompany the military expedition duly equipped with the required medicines and instruments.

Submission of medical reports – The physicians were expected to the Government regarding the infectious diseases and epidemics as soon as possible, failing which they were subjected to severe punishment.

Punishment for physicians – Physicians were not spared for medical negligence. Severe punishment and penalty was imparted on the physicians in case of carelessness, suppression of facts and administration of adulterated medicines. Error of treatment causing death was more severely punished. A surgeon had to lose a limb, for causing a patient to lose it by his negligent operation.

Abortions were crime – In those days induced abortions (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) and foeticide was considered as severe and punishable crime.

Classification of physicians – Physicians were classified into 5 types during those days. They are as below mentioned:

  • Kaya chikitsak – Experts in general medicine
  • Visha chikitsak – Experts in toxicology
  • Stree roga evam prasuti vaidya – Experts in Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Sena chikitsak – Military surgeons
  • Pashu vaidhya – Veterinary doctors

Well furnished hospitals – The towns were provided with hospitals and medical stores furnished with sufficient quantity of medicines

Reference of Dinacharya – In Arthashastra one could find the references related to preventive measures to be taken for the maintenance of positive health

Care about community health (swastha vritta) and pollution – During those times, the temples, royal palaces, water ponds, roads and the environment should be kept clean. Persons causing pollution were arrested and severely punished.

Visha Prayoga (poisoning) – In those days, poisoning was one of the highly practiced methods of killing the enemies. The food, water, vessels, massage oils, umbrellas, foot wears, seats, bedding etc could be readily poisoned by cooks, attendants, masseurs, barbers and water fetchers. Hence Royal physicians were highly cautious towards the suspected persons and the food was tested on animals, birds and prior to be served to the kings.

Concept of ideal diet – The references regarding ideal, wholesome and nutritious food and diet has been mentioned in Arthashastra. This shows that the people were food conscious and knew about good and bad foods in relation to maintenance of health.

Forensic and Medical jurisprudence – Medical jurisprudence was highly practices in those days. In case of a suspected death, post-mortem was conducted to know the cause of death. The persons known or caught for causing or planning deaths were severely punished.

Dhatu varga – Description of metals like gold (suvarna), silver (rajata), cinnabar (hingula), precious Gems (mukta etc) are mentioned in Arthashastra. The references regarding the methods of preparing gold from base metals is also explained in Arthashastra. This gives us a clue that these metals were in practice in those days. The medicines prepared from these metals were also in practice.

Reference of medicated alcoholic preparations – Various types of medicated alcoholic preparations have been described in Arthashastra such as Madaka, Prasanna, Asava, Arishta, Maireyaka, Madhu etc. The same have been used in Ayurveda practice from ages.

Tantra Yukti – Tantra Yuktis are the keys to learn the shastras (science) in true terms. Chanakya has mentioned 32 Tantra Yuktis in the first chapter of Arthashastra.

Census – Even during those times, the census of population was taken. A register of Births and Deaths was mentioned. The causes of death were also registered.

Diseases mentioned in Arthashastra – A number of diseases have been mentioned in Arthashastra. This shows that those diseases were prevelant during that time. Some examples of the diseases mentioned are:

  • Kushta – leprosy, skin diseases
  • Unmada – Mental disorders, insanity
  • Prameha – Urinary diseases, Diabetes
  • Shotha – Inflammation, Swelling, Oedema
  • Vishuchika – Cholera
  • Jwara – Fever etc

Medicinal plants – Different types of medicinal plants are mentioned in Arthashastra. The method of cultivating those plants is also mentioned.

Classification of plants – The plants were classified as below mentioned:

  • Sara Daru Varga – Example Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna), Teak etc
  • Venu Varga – different type of bamboos
  • Valli varga – different types of creepers and climbers Ex, Nagavalli (betel leaf)
  • Valka Varga – different types of barks of trees, Ex, Murva (Marsdenia tenacissima)
  • Patra Varga – different types of leaves, Example, Talisa (Abies webbiana), Bhurja (Betula utilis) etc
  • Pushpa Varga – different types of flowers, Ex, Palasha (Butea monosperma), Kusumbha (Carthamus tinctorius) etc
  • Oushadha Varga – Different types of tubers, roots and fruits
  • Visha Vara – Different types of poisonous plants, Ex, Vatsanabha (Aconitum ferox)

All these types of plants and their parts were used as medicines

Summing up –
Chanakya’s Arthashastra is a mirror reflection of the ‘reign of Maurya Dynasty’. The above said references show that even in the period of Chandragupta Mourya, Ayurveda was in practice and many basics related to Ayurveda including use of herbal and mineral medicines, the diagnosis of diseases and treatments were followed. The Government of Mourya dynasty had taken utmost care regarding the public health and was also aware of its duties and responsibilities very similar to the present era. These were the kingdoms under the reign of which Ayurveda flourished.

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