Ashtanga Ayurveda – The Eight Branches of Ayurveda

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Ashtanga Ayurveda means eight limbs or eight branches of Ayurveda.
Each branch is specialized in its own way. Thus Ashtanga Ayurveda are specializations of Ayurveda. 

The description of Ashtanga Ayurveda shows the existence of the ‘knowledge of branches of a science’ in the olden days. It also depicts the art of studying and graduating in different branches of the same science under different teachers, in a separate or the same campus and also going on to specialize in a branch in which one would really be interested in (or attracted towards). Now days we have post graduations and PhD’s in these branches.

Ashta = Eight
Anga = Limbs, Branches

Classical reference

8 branches of Ayurveda

The 8 elite branches of Ayurveda according to Vagbhata – 

  1. Kaya (Kaya Chikitsa) – General medicine, treatment of metabolic errors and disorders and systemic disorders
  2. Bala (Kaumara Bhritya, Bala Chikitsa) – Paediatrics or treatment of children and health problems and diseases occurring in children
  3. Graha Chikitsa – Demonology, Treatment of idiopathic disorders (infections), diseases caused by unknown and unidentified causes like spirits, demons etc are included under Graha Chikitsa. Likewise psycho-somatic diseases are also included in this (psychiatry).
  4. Urdhwanga Chikitsa (Shalakya Tantra) – Treatment of diseases afflicting ear, nose, tongue, throat, head, eyes (ENT, Ophthalmology)
  5. Shalya Tantra – Surgery, treatment of diseases using blunt and sharp instruments (yantras and shastras), sutures (sevana), methods like excision, incision etc, use of alkalis (kshara), fire (agni) and bloodletting (raktamokshana) etc
  6. Damshtra Chikitsa (Agada Tantra, Visha Chikitsa) – Toxicology, treatment of diseases or conditions occurring due to bites and stings of animals, insects etc and effect of various types of poisons and toxins
  7. Jara Chikitsa (Rasayana) – Geriatrics, treatment of old age related problems and diseases, anti-ageing medicine, immune-modulators, rejuvenation treatment
  8. Vrisha (Vajikarana) – Aphrodisiacs, medicines and methods used to increase sexual capabilities, potency, virility

The chronology given by Sushruta is little different from that of Vagbhata. Since Sushruta was a surgeon (chiefly) and due to the want and demand of surgical interventions during Sushruta’s time period (due to ongoing wars resulting in injuries etc), he has mentioned Shalya Tantra as the first branch and also has emphasized it as the most important branch.

Sushruta’s chronology

Sushruta’s chronology of Ashtanga Ayurveda –

  1. Shalya Tantra – surgery
  2. Shalakya Tantra – Ear, Nose, Throat and Eyes
  3. Kaya Chikitsa – General medicine
  4. Bhuta Vidhya (same as Graha Chikitsa mentioned by Vagbhata) – Psychiatry
  5. Koumara Bhritya (same as Bala Chikitsa mentioned by Vagbhata) – Pediatrics
  6. Agada Tantra (same as Damshtra Chikitsa mentioned by Vagbhata) – Toxicology
  7. Rasayana Tantra (same as Jara Chikitsa mentioned by Vagbhata) – Geriatrics
  8. Vajikarana Tantra (same as Vrisha mentioned by Vagbhata) – Aphrodisiac therapy

Kaya Chikitsa

The branch or section of Ayurveda which elaborates the diseases afflicting the entire body of the likes of Jwara (fever), Raktapitta (bleeding disorders), Shosha (emaciation, phthisis, consumption), Unmada (insanity), Apasmara (memory disorders, epilepsy), Kushta (skin diseases, leprosy), Prameha (urinary disorders, diabetes), Atisara (diarrhea) etc and their remedies is called Kaya Chikitsa.

Kaya means entire body. Chikitsa means treatment. Therefore Kaya Chikitsa means treatment given to all the diseases afflicting the entire body.

Kaya also means agni or antaragni (the fire within the physical body which is responsible for all types of metabolism, transformations and conversions, present in the belly and all tissues and cells). When the agni is intact, all the activities in the body will run smoothly. When this agni is disturbed (increased or decreased), it leads to many diseases like jwara etc which have been mentioned in the above said paragraph. Therefore the agni should be treated first. Treating the agni and hence the diseases like jwara etc is called Kaya Chikitsa.

To sum up –
Kaya Chikitsa is a branch of Ashtanga Ayurveda which deals with –

  • Treating the generalized body diseases (systemic diseases) like Jwara (fever), Atisara (diarrhea) etc
  • Correction of metabolic fire (agni) and treating the diseases caused by metabolic errors

Bala Chikitsa

Bala Chikitsa or Koumara Bhritya
The branch or section of Ayurveda which deals with or explains in depth about the nourishment and nutrition of the children (infants and children), methods of purifying the milk of dhatri (wet nurse), diseases occurring in the infants and children due to consumption of contaminated breast milk and grahas (spirits etc) and also the treatment of diseases occurring in infants and children is called Koumara Bhritya.

Bala is a term used to describe infants and children. Therefore Bala Chikitsa, which is also a synonym of Koumara Bhritya means treatment of children (diseases occurring in children).

To sum up –
Koumara Bhritya or Bala Chikitsa is a branch of Ashtanga Ayurveda which deals with –

  • Treating the diseases occurring in children and infants
  • Planning the nourishment and nutrition of infants and childrens
  • Methods of purifying the milk of wet nurse
  • Treatment of diseases and conditions caused due to consumption of contaminated breast milk
  • Treatment of children and infants who are afflicted by bad spirits, omen etc

Graha Chikitsa

Graha Chikitsa or Bhuta Vidya
The branch or section of Ayurveda which describes the diseases caused by many grahas (spirits, unseen supernatural forces) like Deva (god), Daitya (monster), Gandharva (heavenly beings, skilled singers from heaven), Yaksha (demigods, spirits usually benevolent but sometimes mischievous and sexually aggressive, caretakers of natural treasures hidden in Earth and tree roots, protectors or forests, wealth and virility), Rakshasa (demon or evil spirit), Pitru (ancestral forefathers), Pisachi (flesh eating demons, devils), Naga (semi-divine beings, half man-half snake, dragons) etc and remedies for these disorders through implementation of Shanti Patha (measures and methods to calm or pacify the above said grahas), Balidana (sacrifices), Havana (fire sacrifice and other rituals) etc is called Graha Chikitsa or Bhuta Vidhya.

To sum up –
Graha Chikitsa or Bhuta Vidhya is a branch of Ashtanga Ayurveda which deals with –

  • Treatment of diseases caused by many spirits and unknown supernatural forces like deva, daitya, gandharva, yaksha, rakshasa, pitru, pisachi, naga etc
  • Planning and implementation of treatments and remedial measures in the form of shanty pata, balidana, Havana etc to the diseases caused by various grahas, as and when required.

Urdhwanga Chikitsa

Urdhwanga Chikitsa or Shalakya Tantra
The branch or section of Ayurveda in which the diseases and remedies related to the parts of the body above the level of the color bone (head and neck), i.e. eyes, ears, mouth, , nose etc, the shapes and sizes of different Shalaka yantras and their utility have been elaborated is called Shalakya Tantra.

Since this branch of Ayurveda also deals with treating the diseases of the organs and parts of the upper region (Urdhwanga, Urdhwa=Upper, Anga=Organs) of the body, it is also called as Urdhwanga Chikitsa.

To sum up –
Urdhwanga Chikits or Shalakya Tantra is a branch of Ashtanga Ayurveda which deals with –

  • Treatment of diseases of the eyes
  • Treatments of diseases of the ears
  • Treatment of the diseases of the nose
  • Treatment of diseases of the oral cavity (mouth), teeth and gums
  • Treatment of diseases occurring in the throat
  • Study of shalakas (instruments and equipments used to examine, diagnose and treat the diseases occurring in the head (and it structures, sense organs) and neck

Shalya Tantra

Shalya means foreign objects. They may be inside or outside the body. The branch or section of Ayurveda in which the methods of extraction (removal) of many types of shalyas (foreign objects) from the body including shalyas like Trna (grass), Kashta (stick, piece of wood), Pashana (stone, gravel), Pamshu (dust particles), Loha (metals or metal pieces), Loshta (mud, mud balls), Asthi (bones), Bala (hairs), Nakha (nails), Puya (pus), Srava (discharge), Dushta Vrana (bad wounds, contaminated wounds), Anta Shalya (foreign substances inside the body), Garbha Shalya (obstructed fetus, impacted fetus, breech presentation, dead fetus) etc is called Shalya Tantra.

Shalya Tantra also elaborates the description of various kinds of Yantras (instruments), Shastras (sharp surgical instruments), Kshara (alkalis, alkali cauterization) and Agni karma (fire cauterization).

Apart from this different types of wounds and ulcers i.e. Ama vrana (immature wounds), Pachyamana Vrana (wounds in the process of maturation, suppurated wounds) and Pakva Vrana (mature wounds) are elaborated along with their treatments through various surgical methods in Shalya Tantra.

To sum up –
Shalya Tantra is a branch of Ashtanga Ayurveda which deals with –

  • Removal of various types of foreign bodies from the surface of the body and also from within the body
  • Study of Yantras, Shastras, Kshara karma and Agni Karma
  • Study of many types of Vrana and their treatment etc.

Damshtra Chikitsa

Damshtra Chikitsa or Visha Chikitsa or Agada Tantra
The branch or section of Ayurveda which elaborates the methods and tests to diagnose the bites and stings of various poisonous insects, snake, spiders, rats etc along with the treatment of the same is called Damshtra Chikitsa or Visha Chikitsa. This branch also explains various types of poisons, combinations of poisons, Swabhavika Visha (natural poisons), Kritrima Visha (artificial poisons) and Samyoga Vishas (combinations of poisons), their identification and treatment of conditions (effect of poisoning) caused by poisoning through these poisons.

To sum up –
Damshtra Chikitsa or Visha Chikitsa or Agada Tantra is a branch of Ashtanga Ayurveda which deals with –

  • Identification of different poisons
  • Identification and diagnosis of bites and stings of many insects, reptiles and animals
  • Identification of many types of poisons and combinations of poisons, their impact on body and mind
  • Treating the conditions of poisoning

Jara Chikitsa

Jara Chikitsa or Rasayana Tantra
The branch or section of Ayurveda that teaches the methods and materials used for vaya sthapana (establish and maintenance of youth for long periods, prevention of ageing, anti-ageing), and elaborates the methods used for enhancing ayu (life span), medha (intelligence, power of retention of knowledge) and bala (strength and immunity) and which is capable of eradicating the diseases naturally and to provide long-standing immunity is called Rasayana Tantra.

Jara means old age or senility. Since Rasayana is used for preventing premature ageing and also to treat the diseases occurring in the old age and also to prevent the diseases which might occur in the old age, Rasayana is called Jara Chikitsa (i.e. treatment of diseases occurring in the old age).
Read related: 13 Important Benefits Of Rasayana Treatment

To sum up –
Jara Chikitsa or Rasayana Tantra is a branch of Ashtanga Ayurveda which deals with –

  • Treatment, methods and measures to prevent ageing and establish youth for long periods
  • Treatments, methods and measures to enhance life span, intelligence, strength and immunity
  • Treatment of diseases occurring in old age
  • Prevention of diseases in old age

Vrsha Chikitsa

Vrsha or Vajikarana Tantra
The branch or section of Ayurveda which elaborates the methods and measures used to strengthen or nourish (apyayana), fortify or cleanse (prasadana), increase the quantity (upachaya) and produce (janana) of shukra (semen) in those who have alpa shukra (scanty semen), dushta shukra (contaminated semen), ksheena shukra (decreased semen) and shushka verya or shukra (dry semen, devoid of unctuousness and moistness) is called Vrishya or Vajikarana Tantra.

Vajikarana also helps in Praharshana i.e. enhances sexual drive or interest in sex (exhilaration, excitement).

To sum up –
Vrisha or Vajikarana Tantra is a branch of Ashtanga Ayurveda which deals with –

  • Methods and measures to strengthen, fortify, increase the quantity and produce semen
  • To treat people suffering from deficiency, scanty, contaminated and dryness of semen
  • Enhancing sexual exhilaration
  • Treating infertility and sterility,
  • Increasing virility

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