Tapa Sweda – Meaning, Inclusions, Health Benefits

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Tapa Sweda is a procedure in which heat is provided to the body. According to the actual meaning of Tapa Sweda, the materials selected for providing swedana or sudation are heated and directly applied on the afflicted body parts.
Tapa Sweda is one among the 4 types of Swedana or sudation therapies explained by Acharya Sushruta and Acharya Vagbhata. 

Related Reading – 4 types of swedana according to Sushruta and Vagbhata

Meaning of Tapa Sweda

तापनं तापः॥डल्हण
Tapa means – heat, heating, temperature or warmth
Sweda – means inducing sweating by providing sudation (heat or steam)

When in all types of swedana heat is given in one form or the other it looks confusing why heat is specially mentioned to be provided in Tapa Sweda. The reasons may be as below mentioned –

  • Tapa means direct contact of the afflicted body parts with heated materials. Therefore in Tapa Sweda, tapa means application of direct heat to the body or body parts.
  • Alternatively, tapa means direct exposure to large quantity of heat coming from big quantity of fire (according to Dalhana’s commentary wherein he includes Jentaka, Karshu, Kuti, Kupa and Holaka Sweda in Tapa Sweda). It is that in this method probably more heat is administered in comparison to other forms of swedana (i.e. severity of heat is more or sudation is given in high temperatures).

Thus, ‘Tapa Sweda is a form of sudation in which the patient is exposed to direct contact of heated materials (like pani, kamsya, kanduka, kapala etc) or directly to large quantity of heat coming from large quantity of fire (as in jentaka sweda etc)’.

Salient features

Tapa Sweda is direct application of heated materials to the body or part of body to be given with swedana

Tapa Sweda is a sudation therapy in which materials selected for giving sudation (mentioned below) are heated and directly applied over the afflicted body parts. Example, materials like pani (hands) kamsya (white copper), kapala (earthen material) etc are heated on fire and directly applied on the body parts.

Tapa Sweda is exposure to large quantities of heat or hot air (Dalhana)

Alternatively tapa sweda is a sudation in which sweating is induced in a patient by exposing him or her to direct and excessive heat. Example, sudation given in Jentaka Sweda (Sudatorium sudation), Karshu Sweda (Trench sudation) etc are types of Tapa Sweda according to Dalhana (commentator of Sushruta Samhita).

Solid materials (Ghana padartha) are used in Tapa Sweda –

In this type of swedana solid materials are used to provide heat. The dravyas or materials (herbs, medicines) used in this tapa sweda are probably made up of and enriched with the below mentioned qualities –

  • Guru (heaviness),
  • Khara (rough),
  • Kathina (hard),
  • Sthula (stout, big) and
  • Sanghatakara (cause obstruction)

Materials used

Materials used to provide Tapa Sweda

  • Hands – made warm by exposing them to the warmth of fire
  • Kamsya – copper, white copper, bell metal, mixture of copper and tin
  • Kanduka – ball like material, vessel or metal pan used to prepare apupa or pancakes
  • Kapaala – piece of earthen material
  • Valuka – sand
  • Vastra – cloth
  • Loha patra – iron pieces or plates of iron or iron vessel
  • Phala – flat pans made up of iron or cast iron
  • Kashta – wood
  • Ghata – earthen pots etc

One or more of the above mentioned materials are heated on the fire or burning coal of wood of plants like Khadira (Acacia catechu) etc are used to provide heat (sudation) to the body or body parts of the patient who has been given abhyanga (herbal oil massage) and is lying on a cot.

Tapa Sweda is dry in nature
Tapa Sweda is predominantly a Ruksha Sweda (dry form of sudation) because the materials selected for providing sudation are heated on fire and heat is given to the afflicted parts of the body with no fluids or liquids involved in the process.

Inclusion of other Swedas

Inclusion of other types of Sweda in Tapa Sweda
Acharya Dalhana, the commentator of Sushruta Samhita has included 5 of the 13 Saagni Swedas (sudation therapies done with the help of fire or heat induced through fire). They are –

  • Jentaka Sweda (Sudatorium Sudation)
  • Karshu Sweda (Trench Sudation)
  • Kupa Sweda (Pit Sudation)
  • Kuti Sweda (Cabin Sudation)
  • Holaka Sweda (Under-Bed Sudation)

There is no doubt that they all are dry (ruksha) form of sudation but in these, the heat or heated materials are not brought into direct contact with the body or afflicted body parts. In all these 5 types, sudation is given by exposing the whole body of the patient to the dry hot air (or humid air or vapor). Thus technically they do not satisfy the definition and meaning of ‘tapa’ i.e. direct contact with the body. But since Dalhana has included these types in Tapa Sweda it makes sense in discussing them in this context and including them in the category of tapa sweda.

Actually they fit into the category of Ushma Sweda which is one among the chaturvidha swedas (4 types of sudation explained by Vagbhata and Sushruta). Dalhana himself has defined Ushma as ‘Ushmaa Bashpa’ i.e. Ushma means vapors.

Sushruta, after mentioning all the materials (mentioned above) for conducting tapa sweda explains a method wherein tapa sweda should be done by placing the burning coal of woods of plants like Khadira under the bet (cot) of the patient. This procedure resembles Karshu Sweda, Holaka Sweda etc. This explanation of Sushruta probably led to include similar such sudations i.e. the 5 types he has mentioned (mentioned above) under Tapa Sweda.

Health benefits

Separate health benefits of Tapa Sweda have not been mentioned in Ayurvedic treatises. In this context,

  • Most conditions mentioned in the ‘swedana yogya’ i.e. indications (candidates eligible for swedana or sudation therapy) should be considered as ideal candidates for Tapa Sweda.
  • Indications for Jentaka Sweda, Karshu Sweda, Kupa Sweda, Holaka Sweda and Kuti Sweda also shall be considered.

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