Rasashastra Itihasa (History of Rasashastra)

Rasashastra is a specialized branch of Ayurveda, which deals mainly with “Rasa” or mercury and also other metals and minerals. Though Rasashastra is a sub-division of Ayurveda, it is not included under Ashtanga Ayurveda – The Eight Branches of Ayurveda.

Introduction

A variety of sources like manuscripts, books etc. help in the study of history of any science. Rasashastra was developed as a separate science and then slowly over a period of many hundred years, merged with Ayurveda. It is necessary to look back from Vedic periods till modern times to learn the history of Rasashastra. Parada or mercury is the main component of Rasashashtra and according to Mythology, Parada has its origin from Lord Shiva.

Due to continuous invasion of foreigners into India, much of the treasure-house of knowledge has been lost, making it difficult for exact predictions about the History of Rasashastra. The history of Rasashastra can be divided into 6 parts –

  1. Pre-Vedic period
  2. Vedic period
  3. Post Vedic period
  4. Samhita period
  5. Sangraha period and
  6. Modern period.

Pre-Vedic Period

Pre-Vedic period is approximately 6000 B.C. Vedas are the oldest literature of this world. Vedas explain that the Almighty created ‘Hiranya Garbha’ as the first step to create the universe. From the viewpoint of Rasashastra, it can be said that the origin of Gold occurred at the very beginning step of the origin of the universe. Lord Shiva is considered as the Lord of Rasashastra and he is considered as the first Vaidya among the Gods and Goddesses. Rasaratna Samuccha explains Lord Shiva as the first preacher of Rasashastra. According to mythology, Parada originated from Lord Shiva and Gandhaka from Goddess Parvati. Hence it can be said that the origin of Rasashastra occurred at pre-vedic period only.

Vedic Period

  • Extensive details of Rasavidya are found in Rigveda and Atharva Veda. In a reference – Atharva Veda 8/50, Parada is compared to a bird. When the human body is diseased, Parada makes the body disease-free and when the human body is healthy, Parada makes the body strong and helps in long living.
  • Different Samskaras of human beings are explained in Vedas, where gold is used. It is mentioned that Gold helps to improve immunity.
  • Wearing of Ratnas and their benefits is explained in Vedas.
  • In Rigveda, (2000 B.C.), reference about various Dhatus such as gold, iron etc. is found.
  • Atharva Veda explains about gold, silver, iron, Shankha, tin and lead.
  • Many of these were used in making utensils, cooking, etc.

Post-Vedic period (3000 B.C.)

In this period, based on the Knowledge of Vedas, Sutras and Sangrahas were written. In the Indus civilization, gold, silver, iron, lead, bronze, tin, orpiment,  Ratnas like Vaidurya, Akika, Rajavarta,  etc are mentioned.

Mahabharata explains about artificial and real gold, which Lord Krishna uses to make a ring to gift to Subhadra.

Samhita period

Charaka has explained many of the Rasadravyas.

Sangraha Period

  1. Ratnavarga: Manikya, Mukta, Pushparaga, Pravala, Heeraka, Vaidurya, Suryakanta, Sarpamani, Sphatika, Shankha, Shukti etc
  2. Dhatuvarga: Swarna, Rajata, Tamra, Loha, Vanga, Naga, kamsya, Pittala and Mandura etc
  3. Other minerals: Shilajatu, Haratala, Manashila, Tutha, swarnamakshika, Roupyamakshika, Gandhaka, Anjana, Rasanjana, Pushpanjana, Srotranjana, Souveeranjana, Swarnagairika, Samanya Gairika, Sphatika etc and usage of Parada is also found in Charaka Samhita.
  4. In Chikitsa sthana, for the purpose of bringing back the naturl skin colour (Savarneekarana), Kaleeyaka, Agaru, Amrasthi, Nagakeshara, Manjishta and Parada are mentioned.
  5. In Charaka Chikitsa sthana 16th Chapter, Manduravataka is explained for Kamala treatment.
  6. Charaka also mentioned Ayaskriti.
  7. Sushruta explains Swarna, Rajata, mani, Mukta, manashila etc in the category of Parthiva Dravya. Sushruta also explains about Parada but encourages only the external use of Parada.
  8. The reference about Dhatus is much clearer in Sushruta samhita than in Charaka. During the time of Sushruta, the following Rasadravyas were clearly used for therapeutic purposes. – Saindhava, Sourvarchala, Audbhida Lavana, Sphatika, Haratala, Shilajatu, Tutha, Loha, kaseesa, Kamsya, Kuruvinda, Gandhaka, Tankana, Makshika, tara, Teekshna Loha, Trapu, manashila, Parada, Pravala, Varata etc.
  9. Ashtanga Sangraha also mentions different types of Loha. The text also mentions about Samudraphena, Tutha, Shankha, Swarna, Rajata, tamra, kamsya, Trapu, Seesa, Krushnaloha, Teekshnaloha, Padmaraga, Pushparaga, Mukta, Manashila, Haratala Anjana and their qualities are found scattered in Ashtanga Sangraha.
  10. In the context of usage of Swarna, different Anupanas are mentioned. For the purpose of longevity, Anupana is Shankhapushpi, For intelligence, Anupana is Vacha, For overall prosperity, Kamalakeshara, For aphrodisiac effect, Vidarikanda.
  11. The reference of Loha is also found in many places. Triphala kalka is to be pasted in a Loha vessel for 24 hours and to be consumed with Madhu and water. In the context of Akshiroga, Parada reference is found.

During this period, collection and compilation work were taken up based on the Samhitas. Among these, Sharangdhara, Bhavaprakasha are main text books. Abundant references of Visha, Upavisha, Shodhana, Marana etc are found in Bhavaprakasha. Sharangdhara mentions different formulatiosn using Parada, Loha, Abhraka, Gandhaka, Tamra, Mandura etc. Parpatis are mentioned. Yogaratnakara mentions in detail about Rasadravyas. The texts written during this period explain in detail regarding the therapeutic application of Rasadravyas.

Apart from these, many authentic works of Rasashastra were written during this period. Varahamihira, Brihatsamhita, Kubjika Tantra, etc, written during the 5th century mention Parada Pinda. As per the historians, during this period, Raseshwara Tantra, was written by Nagarjuna, parts of which are available now.  Rasendra Mangala, RasaRatnakara, Kakshaputa, etc were written in the 8th Century. Rasarnava, Rasahrudayatantra, Goraksha Samhita, Rasendra Chudamani, Rasaprakshasudhakara, Rasarata Samucchaya, Rasa Ratnakara, Anandakanda, Raseshwara Darshana, Raseshwara Sidhanta, Rasa Rajalakshmi etc were written during this period, where abundant and detailed explanation about Rasadravyas, Shodhana, Marana and therapeutic usage is mentioned.

Modern Period

Historians have determined 15 – 16th Century onwards  to current times. During this period, many advances in the Rasashastra field took place, on a scientific basis. The Guru Shishya school of thought was replaced by college and schools. Rasashastra got a modern outlook with the invention of modern technologies. During this period, Rasedra Sara Sangraha, Rasendra Chintamani, Dhaturatnamala, rasa Kaumudi, Rasa Pradeepa, Rasa Kamadhenu, Dhatuprakasha, Ayurveda Prakasha, Rasayana Sara, Parada Vijnaniya, Rasayoga Sagara, Rasajalanidhi etc textbooks were written on Rasashastra.In the 20th century, the research is concentrated upon

  • Safety and efficacy of Rasadravyas,
  • Application of instruments, replacing the traditional method of Shodhana and Marana.
  • Animal experimental and clinical trials of Rasa dravyas.
  • Microscopical, chemical and analytical studies to understand the structure, chemical composition, particle size etc of the Rasadravyas.

Growth of Rasashastra

Knowledge of the history of any science is very important to know the science in totality. The Rashashastra originated for the purpose of attaining salvation. The Shaiva followers believe that – The human body is mortal but for the purpose of doing good deeds, to acquire knowledge, for the purpose of attaining salvation,  there is need to preserve the human body for a long period of time. This can be achieved by the usage of Parada. Hence scientists of yester centuries concentrated on Parada and conducted many research experiments and came to a conclusion that Parada is the only substance which can help humans to have long life.  They also came to a conclusion that apart from Parada, Vayu has the power to make the body steady. For the purpose of attaining Mukti, Parada and other accessory Dravyas such as Abhraka, Gandhaka etc were used in different procedures to come up with many Parada formulations, which ended up in the science to convert lower metals into higher metals. They stated that the substance which can convert lower metals into higher metals can also convert the diseased body into a strong and healthy body.

A few believe that the Rasashastra was developed to make Swarna but it is not true. Previously the knowledge of Rasashastra was passed on to the next generation by means of the Guru Shishya method. Due to decline in the quality of students and continuous foreign invasion the complete knowledge of Rasashastra is not available today.

During the early periods, Rasashastra was used for the purpose of obtaining salvation. Hence the science of Rasashastra was kept secret. Raseshwara Darshana explains that the main purpose of Rasashastra is to achieve salvation.

After the initial stages of development, in the successive periods of Vedas, Samhitas and Sangrahas, wide use of Parada and Rasa dravyas for therapeutic purposes is seen. Mohammed Ghazni invaded India in the 11th Century and brought Alberuni with him. Alberuni stayed in India for 33 years and studied many Indian languates including Sanskrit. He translated many of the Indian textbooks into Arabic language.

Lord Shiva is the God of Rashashatra. In Raseshwara Darshana, Siddhas are classified into four types. 

They are –

Devarasa Siddha – Shiva, Parvati, Brahma, Vishnu, Kartika, ganapati, Bhairava, Veerabhadra, Nandeeshwara, Bruhaspati and Chandrama are the Gods and Goddesses of this category. It is said that they have written about one crore verses regarding Rasashastra. This reference is found in Goraksha Samhita. 

Daityarasa siddha – Shukracharya, Bali, Lankesh, Banasura, etc fall under this category. Their residence is said to be Patala Loka.

Muni Rasa siddha: Agasthya, Kapila, Balakhilya, Bhaluki, Mandavya, Vyadi, Dattatreya etc. who lived in Himalaya’s Girnar, Vindhyachal and South Indian mountain regions. They did extreme spiritual practices for the wellness of the world. Agastya Samhita is available in South India. Bhaluki muni reference is available in Rasaratna Samucchaya.

Manava Rasa Siddha.

Manavara Rasa Siddha is further classified into four –

Maharasa Siddha, Rasa Siddha, Nagasiddha and Dravida Rasa Siddha.

Among these, Nagarjuna is the main person. He was expert in both Dehasiddhi and Lohasiddhi.

In the previous times, the Vaidya used to prepare medicines for patients, and the knowledge was passed on to the next generation through Guru Shishya practice. But nowadays, the knowledge is passed on by means of schools and colleges. The medicines are manufactured on a large scale, on a commercial basis. Under such circumstances, it is very important to come to a balance between the age-old principles and the ever-growing modern technological advancements.

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