¿Quién era Dhanvantari? ¿Por qué es importante en Ayurveda?

Dhanvantari.jpg

"Extiendo mis deseos a Dios Dhanvantari, quien es adorado por dioses y demonios. Él destruye el envejecimiento, las enfermedades, el miedo y la muerte. Él nutre este mundo y posee conocimiento sobre varias plantas medicinales" — Dr. Amritpal Singh Dhanvantari-Nighantu

Lord Dhanvantari es una personalidad sobresaliente en la historia de Ayurveda. Era el médico de los dioses (tanto en los Vedas como en los Puranas) y un excelente cirujano. En el hinduismo, los fieles le rezan a Dhanvantari en busca de sus bendiciones para una buena sanación. En su encarnación como rey de Kashi, Divodasa, fue abordado por un grupo de sabios (incluido Susruta, el gran cirujano indio) con el pedido de enseñarles la ciencia del Ayurveda. Dhanvantari declaró que Brahma compuso el Ayurveda incluso antes de crear a la humanidad, formando uno de los upangas del Atharvaveda en 100,000 versos organizados en 1,000 capítulos, lo que no fue fácil para la inteligencia restringida de los hombres para aprender dentro de sus cortos períodos de vida. Entonces Dhanvantari cumplió con la petición de los sabios, remodelo el Ayurveda de Brahma en 8 divisiones (shalya, shalakya, kayachikitsa, bhutavidya, kaumarabhrtya, agadatantra, rasayanatantra, vajikaranatantra) y comenzó a enseñar en el marco de pratyaksa (percepción), agama (escritura autorizada), anumana (inferencia) y upamana (analogía).

En otras versiones de los orígenes del Ayurveda, se ha dicho que Dhanvantari fue delegado por Lord Indra para llevar la ciencia del Ayurveda a los mortales. También debe de tomarse en cuenta que Dhanvantari es visto como un avatar de Vishnu en el hinduismo. La historia contada con más frecuencia sobre Dhanvantari es que cuando el océano de leche fue batido por dioses y demonios en busca del elixir de la vida, Dhanvantari salió de allí sosteniendo un tazón de néctar en sus manos.

"Los médicos de la Escuela de Atreya refirieron los casos quirúrgicos a los cirujanos pertenecientes a la Escuela de Dhanvantari, pero no hay evidencia de que los médicos de la Escuela de Atreya refirieran los casos médicos"

SIGNIFICADO DEL NOMBRE DHANVANTARI

"La palabra dhanus es solo indicativa (upalakshna). Denota la ciencia de la cirugía. El que ha visto el final (anta) de él es Dhanvantari.

La palabra dhanvan significa desierto. (Compárese con RigVeda [V.36.1] dhanvachara, que significa, el que se mueve en el desierto). Hay un mantra en el Veda: dhanvan iva prapaasi (¡Oh Señor!, tú eres como el lugar donde se distribuye el agua a los viajeros en un desierto). Así Dhanvantari, la encarnación del Señor Vishnu, con una olla de néctar en la mano es como prapaa (oasis) en el desierto de la existencia mundana “.

Historia de Dhanvantari

Bhagavata Purana declara que Dhanvantari emergió del Océano de la Leche y apareció con la olla de amrita (néctar) durante la historia del Samudra (o) Sagara Mathana mientras el océano estaba siendo batido por los Devas y Asuras, usando la montaña Mandara y el serpiente Vasuki. La olla de Amrita fue arrebatada por los Asuras, y después de este evento aparece otro avatar, Mohini, y le quita el néctar a los Asuras.

También se cree que Dhanvantari promulgó la práctica del Ayurveda. De acuerdo con Charaka Samhita, el conocimiento del Ayurveda es eterno y se revela en cada uno de los ciclos de creación del universo. Cuando es necesario, Lord Vishnu se encarna como Lord Dhanvantari y restablece la tradición de Ayurveda en el mundo para ayudar a aliviar parte del sufrimiento de la humanidad.

Lord Dhanvantari es conocido como el padre del Ayurveda, ya que fue la primera encarnación divina en impartir su sabiduría entre los humanos. Apareció por primera vez durante la gran agitación del océano cósmico de leche para liberar amrit (ambrosía o néctar divino) a los semidioses. La agitación del océano de leche es un episodio famoso en los Puranas que representa el esfuerzo espiritual de una persona para lograr la autorealización a través de la concentración de la mente, la retracción de los sentidos, el control de todos los deseos, las austeridades y el ascetismo. Se celebra en la India cada doce años en el festival sagrado conocido como Kumbha Mela.

La siguiente historia es del Srimad Bhagavatam

Indra, el gran líder de los semidioses, cabalgaba sobre su elefante cuando se encontró con el sabio Durvasa Muni. Al ver al gran semidiós, Durvasa le ofreció una guirnalda especial que había sido bendecida por Sri, otra manifestación de Laxmi, la Diosa de la Abundancia. Indra aceptó la guirnalda despreocupadamente y la colocó en el tronco de su elefante, que la arrojó al suelo. Durvasa Muni estaba muy molesto por esta muestra de falta de respeto, y en su ira maldijo a Indra y a todos los semidioses, que estaban desprovistos de toda fuerza, energía y fortuna en ese mismo momento.

Aprovechando esta situación, los Asuras (demonios) atacaron a los semidioses, matando a muchos de ellos y ganando lentamente el control del universo. Indra y los otros semidioses corrieron a Brahma en busca de ayuda. Brahma sugirió llevar su situación al Señor Vishnu, quien a su vez les aconsejó buscar alianza con los Asuras para batir juntos el océano de leche y obtener el néctar de la inmortalidad. Los semidioses acordaron solo porque el Señor Vishnu les dijo que se aseguraría de que ellos solos obtuvieran el néctar y recuperarían su fuerza y oder para vencer a los demonios.

Usando la montaña Mandara como la vara y Vasuki la serpiente como la cuerda, ambos semidioses y demonios procedieron a batir el océano de leche. Todo tipo de hierbas fueron echadas en ella. La agitación fue tan ardua que Lord Vishnu tuvo que aparecer en muchas formas para ayudarlos con este proceso y evitar que no vaya a ninguna parte. Incluso apareció como el propio Lord Vishnu sentado en la cima de la montaña para infundir energía a Indra y sus acompañantes.

El batir del océano de leche primero produjo un veneno mortal (halahala) que solo Lord Shiva podía tragar sin ser afectado por él. Y así lo hizo, excepto que su acompañante Parvati presionó su cuello mientras tragaba, para que el veneno no llegara a su estómago, y el halahala permaneció en la garganta del Señor Shiva, cambiando el color de su cuello a azul debido a su potencia. Esta es la razón por la cual al Señor Shiva también se le llama Neelakantha, o el de cuello azul.

Mientras el batido continuaba, Lord Dhanvantari apareció. Era joven y fuerte, su pecho era muy ancho y su tez de un negro azulado. Tenía brazos fuertes, ojos rojizos y se movía como un león. Estaba vestido de amarillo brillante, su pelo rizado estaba untado con aceite y llevaba brillantes aretes hechos de perlas. Al salir, sostenía una caracola, sanguijuelas, hierbas curativas, un chakra (una de las armas divinas del Señor Vishnu) y el ansiado olla de ambrosía. Los asuras, codiciosos después de todo, se dieron cuenta enseguida de que el contenedor estaba lleno de néctar y se lo arrebató.

Nuevamente llenos de codicia y orgullo, los demonios comenzaron a discutir acerca de cuál de ellos bebería primero el néctar, agarrándose de la olla y comportándose como ladrones. Al ver lo ocupados que estaban luchando entre ellos, Lord Vishnu no perdió la oportunidad de engañarlos. Apareció como Mohini, una bella mujer que fascinaba a los demonios, les quito el néctar  y lo distribuyó solo entre los semidioses. Tan pronto como los semidioses lo bebieron, se fortalecieron con energía y derrotaron a los demonios. Después de adorar al Señor Vishnu y Shri Laxmi, volvieron a su posición en los cielos.

En el momento del batido, Lord Vishnu predijo que Lord Dhanvantari aparecería nuevamente en el mundo para enseñar la ciencia del Ayurveda. Y así lo hizo, después de que Lord Indra, al ver a la humanidad tan afligida por el dolor y la enfermedad, suplicó a Lord Dhanvantari que descendiera al mundo material y le enseñara Ayurveda a la raza humana.

Está escrito en las Escrituras que, "Alguien que recuerda el nombre de Dhanvantari puede ser liberado de toda enfermedad". Lord Dhanvantari es adorado en toda la India como el Dios de la Medicina.

Lord Indra, después de ver a la humanidad tan afligida por el dolor y la enfermedad, le suplicó a Lord Dhanvantari que descendiera al mundo material y le enseñara Ayurveda a la raza humana. Dhanvantari, uno de los muchos avatares (encarnaciones divinas) del Señor Vishnu, es conocido como Adi-Dhanvantari.

El rey Dirghatamas de Kashi (Benares) estaba realizando severas austeridades y se las estaba ofreciendo a lord Dhanvantari con la esperanza de que estuviera satisfecho con ellas y le otorgara un hijo. Y feliz con la devoción del Rey nació en el en la casa real de Kashi. Enseñó Ayurveda oralmente a los sabios y rishis (videntes) que se convirtieron en sus discípulos. Sus enseñanzas están registradas en el Agni Purana, así como a través de las enseñanzas de Sus discípulos Susruta, Pauskalavata, Aurabha, Vaitarana y otros.

DHANVANTARI JAYANTI - CELEBRACIONES DE CUMPLEAÑOS

En el día de Dhanteras, las celebraciones de cumpleaños de Dhanvantari, el Dios de la salud, tienen lugar en un ambiente entusiasta y encantador. Dhanvatari Jayanti es celebrado en toda la India por los practicantes de Ayurveda, la medicina tradicional india.

En el sur de la India, principalmente en Tamilnadu y Kerala, algunos templos están dedicados a Lord Dhanvantari. En estos templos, Dhanvantari Jayanthi se celebra con la máxima devoción. En la oficina de Ayurveda Maha Sammelan, Dhanwantari Bhavan en Delhi, los practicantes de Ayurveda adoran la gran estatua del Señor Dhanvantari.

Fuentes de información: 

An Overview of Madanpāla, Rāj, and Soḍhala Nighaṇṭus

“A physician without the knowledge of Nighaṇṭu is like a scholar without grammar, a soldier without weapons.” — Soḍhala Nighaṇṭu

The ancient texts of Ayurveda can be classified into two categories, one related to treatment (chikitsā) and the other related to information regarding diet and herbs. The Nighaṇṭu texts fall into the second category, serving as the materia medica texts which describe and categorize various plant, animal and mineral substances used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Throughout history, various authors have attempted to categorize and organize this vast body of knowledge, creating their own nighaṇṭu texts. Here, we summarize three of the prominent nighaṇṭu texts known as Madanpāla Nighaṇṭu, Rāj Nighaṇṭu, and Soḍhala Nighaṇṭu.

Madanpāla Nighaṇṭu

Madanpāla Nighaṇṭu was written by King Madanpāla of the Tika dynasty in 1374 A.D. This text was a reference text for later works like Rāj Nighaṇṭu and Bhavaprakasa.

The style of this text has some resemblance to Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu but contains information about more medicinal substances totaling 577, 510 of which are vegetable, 56 metallic, and 11 animal. Each chapter begins with a prayer to Lord Krishna. When written, the intention of this text was to be thorough without being too concise, nor too elaborate.

“Hence, I attempt to write this lexicon in such a manner as to expand the concised aspects and to edit the elaboration by means of well-known nomenclature and through clear descriptions of their properties as well as actions for the benefit of wise vaids.”

Contrary to other Nighaṇṭu texts in which medicinal substances are grouped according to varga, Madanpāla Nighaṇṭu is arranged as follows:

Ch. 1-5 - Herbs/medicinal plants
Ch. 6 - Fruits
Ch. 7 - Vegetables
Ch. 8 - Liquid diet
Ch. 9 - Cane sugar products
Ch. 10 - Pulses and cereals
Ch. 11 - Processed foods
Ch. 12 - Meat/non-vegetarian diet
Ch. 13 - Various aspects related to daily and seasonal regimen

Rāj Nighaṇṭu

The author of Rāj Nighaṇṭu is Narhari Pandit, from the Kashmir region. From his writing in various parts of Rāj Nighaṇṭu, we know that he was the king of kashmir, as well as a scholar, writer, physician, administrator, poet, and warrior. He worshipped Shiva, and could speak eighteen languages, a skill which proved quite useful in the writing of his Nighaṇṭu.

Rāj Nighaṇṭu was written in the later part of the Nighaṇṭu period, sometime in the second half of the 15th century CE or the first half of the 16th century CE. Scholars date the text based on references within the text; there is no specific date given. Because it was written after a body of Nighaṇṭus had already been established, Narhari was able to study and make reference to many earlier works, including Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu, Madanpāl Nighaṇṭu, Halāyudha Nighaṇṭu, Viswaparakāsha Nighaṇṭu, Amar Kosa, and BhojRāj Kosa, among others.

The layout of Rāj Nighaṇṭu generally follows that of Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu, which he also quotes in several places. It also includes some new chapters that do not exist in other Nighaṇṭus, such as Ānūpādi, Dharanyādi, Manusyādi, Rogādi, and Shatvādi.

Rāj Nighaṇṭu is an important text for several reasons. It includes almost all the drugs of classical literature and additionally includes some herbs from the Materia Medica of Greek, Arabian, and Chinese Medicine which were in use at that time. Narhari also includes many synonyms for the different plants and substances he describes, including common names in languages such as Kannada, Marathi, Telegu, Sanskrit, Prakrit, Apbhransha and other local tribal dialects. This was not common practice in previous Nighaṇṭus, and it subsequently provided a very helpful resource for the identification of classical plants and substances.

Rāj Nighaṇṭu is not perfect, however. In several entries, Narhari includes a plant or substance with very little description, making its subsequent identification in modern times quite difficult. In several places, the number of synonyms that he states does not align with the number of synonyms that he actually lists in the text. And occasionally, he will make mention of a particular herb in the opening description of a chapter, and subsequently, fail to include it in the main section of that chapter.

Rāj Nighaṇṭu includes a total of 1483 substances, divided into vargas according to the table below:

Rāj Nighaṇṭu.png
 

Soḍhala Nighaṇṭu

The text of Soḍhala Nighaṇṭu is delivered in a poetic style (kavatmaka/padyatmaka) and comprised of 2039 verses called slokas. The text begins with seven primary groups called vargas, each one providing different insights into Ayurvedic treatment. The contribution of Lakṣmaṇādi Varga is unique to Shodhala, while most of the other vargas are named similarly to those in previous Nighaṇṭu texts. Soḍhala goes on to discuss several more vargas, making a total of 26. Here we discuss the primary seven:

Vargas:

  1. Guḍūcyādi Varga: Eliminates doshas located in urdva and adho bhaga (the upper and lower parts of the body) and is useful to alleviate all kinds of diseases -- including, kapha jwara, raktapitta, and raktavata, as well as pitta, kapha, or tridoshic diseases.  This varga also groups herbs based on specific panchkarma therapies such as: vaman, virechan, nasya, and vasti.

  2. Śatapuṣpādi Varga: Categorizes medicinal substances into two subgroups.  The first subgroup contains substances that are used as ingredients for making medicated ghee (grtm). The specified grtms are said to alleviate diseases of yoni, urinary tract and physical pain, in addition to increasing fertility and eliminating digestive disorders. The substances of the second subgroup generally act as kayagni dipan to stimulate gastric power in the body and hrdya to stimulate the heart.  The ingredients are in the form of powder mixed with sugar and promote appetite, strength, and complexion.  They are also vātānuloman (dispelling gas) and cleansing to the throat and tongue.

  3. Chandanādi Varga: The first subgroup within this varga (containing 40 herbs) emphasizes medicated oils, which can be used to massage the body or taken internally to promote youth, semen production, and fortune.  The second subgroup consists of 16 herbs, which are then cooked into cow’s urine and mustard oil. This combination is especially useful when applied externally to alleviate skin diseases (e.g. wounds and itch) and krumi.  The third subgroup, which contains 30 herbs, is beneficial in the treatment of eye diseases.

  4. Karavīrādi Varga: Contains 4 subgroups; the first subgroup contains 13 herbs, which are macerated into a paste and applied externally to eliminate ringworm among other diseases primarily of the skin.  The second subgroup has 6 herbs, which are used for eliminating krumi. The third subgroup consists of 16 herbs, which are combined with goat’s urine as an antidote to poison, in addition to being utilized for nasya and fumigation (dhūpa) to ward off bhutas. The fourth subgroup, containing 14 herbs, is used to alleviated ailments caused by the aggravation of rakta and pitta dosha.

  5. Āmrādi Varga: The first of three subgroups emphasizes fruits, which promote body strength and skin complexion while providing cardiac support.  The next subgroup consists of medicinal barks that are useful in alleviating pain, burning, and elimination. The last subgroup contains flowers to be worn for virility and pleasant odor.

  6. Suvarṇādi Varga:  This group is said to alleviate garadosha (food poisoning), kustha (skin diseases), and udararoga (abdominal swelling).

  7. Lakṣmaṇādi Varga: This group contains many subgroups, one of which is a list of herbs to be taken with milk to increase potency, another is a group to be decocted for kaphajvara.  There is also a subgroup for substances which induce sleep and promote digestion.  Many of these drugs are considered to be ambiguous and lesser known, leaving this group open to further study.

The Nighaṇṭu texts of Ayurveda serve as a rich and elaborate library of medicinal plants. These important texts will continue to be treasured for their unique contribution to the field of botanical medicine.

Sources:

  1. Dr. J.L.N. Sastry. 1st ed. Madanpāla Nighaṇṭu. Varanasi, India. Chaukhambha Orientalia; 2010.

  2. Dr. Satish Chandra Sankhyadhar. (Dr. Deepika Sankhyadhar, ed.). Rāj Nighaṇṭu. Varanasi, India. Chaukhambha Orientalia; 2012.

  3. Acharya Sodhala. 1st ed. (R.R. Dwivedi, ed.). Soḍhala Nighaṇṭu. Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Krishnadas Academy; 2009.

Ayurveda Under the British Raj

“By the twentieth century, Western medicine though established itself in South India, it was still considered antithetical in the eyes of native population.” (2)

As the British and Indian governments sought to define the appropriate balance between modern and traditional medicine, efforts to regulate medical practice in India became increasingly prevalent.  During this time, an abundance of extensive documents and reports were created, assessed, and often disagreed upon. The Usman Report (1923) and The Bhore Report (1946) were two of the most critical compilations to spread their influence prior to Indian Independence.  These reports opposed one another deeply. The Chopra Report (1947), on the other hand, was compiled just after independence in an effort to convey a more balanced tone.

The Usman Report, 1923

In 1921, Sir Mahomed Usman was invited to prepare a report for the Madras Government Committee on the indigenous systems of medicine in practice in India. The Usman report would be the first major health report to be published in India. The objective of this report was as follows:

“. . . to afford the exponents of the Ayurvedic and Unani systems an opportunity to state their case fully in writing for scientific criticism and to justify State encouragement of these systems.” (Usman 1923: i.154)

This report took into consideration the tension between the practitioners of the indigenous and Western systems of medicine, noting that practitioners who had mastered both systems could supply the “scientific criticism” called for in the aforementioned objectives.

The 50-page report contains 4 main parts, but the appendices and evidence expand it into 500 pages contained within two separate volumes. Within this large compilation, there are many features that are of note.

First, appendix I, A Memorandum on The Science and the Art of Indian Medicine, by G. Srinivasa Murti, is a book-length study written on Ayurveda, Siddha and Unani medicine. The objective of this memorandum was to study these traditional systems “from the two standpoints from which every system of medicine has to be judged,” 1) as a science, 2) as an art. Murti’s conclusions are stated at the outset of the book:

“(1) As a Science — The Indian systems are undoubtedly scientific ; their general principles and theories (both in subjects of preliminary scientific study like physics, physiology and the like, as also in the subjects of medical science proper, like pathology, medicine and so on) are quite rational and scientific.

(2) As an Art — As practiced at present, Indian systems are not self-sufficient. If we divide Medical Science broadly into two sections, medicine and surgery, the Indian systems are, in the main, self-sufficient and efficient in medicine, while in surgery they are not.

In both Science and Art, there are points which Indian and European systems can well learn from each other with immense profit to both ; that they may so fraternise and learn is a consummation devoutly to be wished, not only in the best interests of science but also of what is even more important than science itself, viz., suffering humanity.”

Secondly, of note is part II of the report is a compilation of the testimonies of many Hakims and Vaidyas in which they describe, in their native tongue, the Ayurvedic and Unani medical traditions, their importance, and their basic tenets.

The Madras Government Committee prepared a detailed questionnaire which was translated into various languages and distributed widely. 183 written replies were received from all over the country, forty representatives were orally examined, and a three-member subcommittee traveled throughout the country visiting important centers and meeting with prominent leaders and promoters of indigenous medicine. Despite being commissioned and published in Madras, the Usman report, therefore, represented an all-inclusive survey of India. 

The Bhore Report, 1946

The next government committee of major importance, the Health Survey and Development Committee, was convened over twenty years later under the chairmanship of Sir Joseph Bhore (Bhore 1946). The committee produced The Bhore Report, which served to guide the Indian government’s post-Independence health system. Compared to Usman, Bhore’s appointment to the head of the committee was more politically motivated than academically motivated, and represented a shift away from the idea that any form of indigenous medicine could make an important contribution to the nation’s health.

Bhore’s committee was writing at a time before any central national medical authority existed, and was thus charged with surveying the current conditions of health and health organizations in British India and providing recommendations for their future development. The terms were broad enough to allow the committee to examine all aspects of the nation’s health and medical establishment. The committee itself was comprised of 24 members, most of whom had trained in medicine in Britain and were predominantly involved in the world of British state medicine. The report they produced was longer and more detailed than the Usman Report, spanning four volumes in total.

Though the report focuses mostly on allopathic medicine, it does also address indigenous medicine as well, and its view is unreservedly negative. The possibility of growth or expansion of indigenous medical practices is not entertained in any way. The committee viewed Indian medicine and culture as a whole as static and unchanging, which put it at odds with “scientific medicine”. They did not recognize any past efforts made to incorporate new knowledge and/or practice in indigenous medical practice, and believed that a system of medicine that did not do so could not provide adequate care. They also did not acknowledge any knowledge or practices in various specialties such as obstetrics, gynaecology, or advanced surgery.

They did recognize that indigenous medicine has accumulated knowledge of the medicinal use of plants, minerals, and animal substances, “which is of some value”. They also recognized the contributions that indigenous medicine had made to the development of medicine in other countries, but this is framed in the context of the people’s attachment to and pride in indigenous medicine, running up as an obstacle against the establishment of allopathic medicine in India. The overall tone of the committee’s report is that of disdain and impatience, wanting to leave indigenous medicine behind in the pursuit of establishing health policy in india.

Some of the key recommendations that came from the report included limiting the use of the title “doctor” to those trained in western medicine, and limiting the use of any drug in the British pharmacopeia to those trained in western medicine. While several members of the committee wished to create ways of licensing vaidyas and hakims through the government, the majority of the committee and Bhore himself were against this idea.

There were a few areas where the report made some room for indigenous medical practices. One was in the recommendation of the establishment of a professorial chair in medical history at the All-India Medical Institute, one of whose functions would be to study the indigenous medical systems to discover “the extent to which they can contribute to the sum total of medical knowledge”. The committee also left it up to the provincial government to decide what part, if any, should be played by indigenous medicine in Public Health and Medical relief, acknowledging the people’s existing ties to traditional practices and their lower cost compared to allopathic medicine.

The Chopra Report, 1948

With the extreme influence of The Bhore Report underway, others soon stepped up in opposition to demonstrate the value of an approach which would be more inclusive of indigenous medicine. In 1948, immediately following India’s Independence from the British Raj, The Chopra Report was enacted/presented.  Sir Ran Nath Chopra, who the report was named for, was a prominent health reform figure in the 1940s. His interest in indigenous medicine may have been the disqualifying factor that led to his exclusion from the Bhore Committee. Instead, the Chopra Committee was formed to create their own report under the view that, “if the aim of all (systems) was the maintenance of health and prevention and cure of diseases they should all be properly investigated and integrated in the form of a single system which should be capable of the suitable alteration of adaptation in accordance with the time and other conditions.”  The report itself suggests a merging of traditional and allopathic medicines based on the view that science itself will eventually reveal the truth of indigenous medicine to the allopathic doctor. Within this perspective, is it thought that modern medicine will be able to absorb principles of traditional medicine into its practice.

While The Usman Report favored Ayurvedic tradition and The Bhore Report favored Western modern medicine, The Chopra Report ultimately proposed complete equality of traditional and modern physicians in training and in practice.  Despite the timing of their efforts, The Chopra Report was rejected by the Indian government.  Later a number of committees would come together (in the 1950s) to discuss the potential of implementing select recommendations from the report.  To this day, these committees still struggle to understand whether Ayurveda should be integrated within more modern practices of medicine, or kept “pure” through teachings and practice based solely in accordance with tradition.

Sources

  1. The Evolution of Indian Government Policy on Ayurveda in the Twentieth Century. Modern and Global Ayurveda.
  2. Shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in. (2018). Report of the Committee on the Indigenous Systems of Medicine. [online] Available at: http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/5235/14/14_chapter%205.pdf [Accessed 11 May 2018].
  3. Murti, G. (2018). Full text of "The Science And The Art Of Indian Medicine". [online] Archive.org. Available at: https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.206755/2015.206755.The-Science_djvu.txt [Accessed 11 May 2018].

Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu

Dhanvantari Nighantu.jpg

When and Where Was it Written?

The Nighaṇṭu Period (approximately 700 C.E. to 1498 C.E.) witnessed the development of several compendia on the identification and therapeutic properties of medicinal substances. The Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu is believed to have been written towards the latter part of the Nighaṇṭu Period, around the 13th century C.E. and after. It is often confused with the 10th century C.E. work Dravyavali (this text is no longer available) because it too starts with a salutation to the Lord Dhanvantari. The earlier works of the Nighaṇṭu Period focused more on the identification and synonyms of drugs, while the later works seem to have dived into greater details like therapeutic properties of the drugs. Academics believe that the content of Dravyavali has been absorbed into the current version of Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu: the portions that list synonyms of drugs are assumed to be from Dravyavali, while the portions that deal with properties and actions of drugs are from the original Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu.

The exact location within India where the Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu was written is not known.

source  

About the Author or Lack Thereof

One of the difficulties one encounters when attempting to assign authorship of texts like Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu is that the authors specifically wished not to be identified. It was considered preferable for the text to be attributed directly to Lord Dhanvantari himself, composed before time was time, than to be the work of a mere mortal. As it is, Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu is considered the most ancient of the nighaṇṭu texts according to Pushpan et al, and its human author is unknown.

How Is It Organized?

The plants are divided into seven groups, called vargas, named for the star herb in that group.  Each varga has a distinct set of medicinal properties. There is short mention of each herb, with the Sanskrit name, the Latin name, other common names, a list of taste and qualities, and what medicinal properties the herb provides. There is no more than a paragraph for each herb. The first group, the Guduchyadivarga, is named for the herb guduchi, and is used for curing diseases of the upper and middle parts of the body. The Shatapushpadivarga is named for the herb shatapushpa, or dill. They are used as appetizers (to stimulate digestion), as tonics and to freshen the breath. The Chandanadivarga is named for the herb chandan, or sandalwood. They are aromatic herbs and are of use for those with lavish budgets, and include female infertility and many skin diseases. The Karaviradivarga is named for the herb karavira. It’s used for the treatment of various diseases, including skin diseases, poisoning and parasitical infections.  The Amaradivarga is named for amra, the mango, and is used for boosting strength, complexion and appetite, as well as curing specific conditions. The majority of plants are used for their fruit, bark or flowers. The Suvaranadivarga is named for suvarna, gold. It includes metals, mercury and coral ash preparations, as well as grains like barley and meats, and treats many conditions. The Mishrakadivarga includes classical herbal mixtures and formulations like trikatu, which contains black pepper, pippali and dried ginger.

What Makes it Different From Other Nighantu Texts?

Among the Nighaṇṭu texts, Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu stands out in that it is is one of the oldest and most referenced texts, providing a distinctive categorization of 373 drugs. Moving beyond earlier works such as Astanga Nighaṇṭu, Nidana or Rogaviniscaya, Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu deals with the unique properties, actions, incompatibilities and safety of individual drugs in addition to listing synonyms. In addition, while 88 of the drugs listed are of plant origin, Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu was among the first texts to list drugs of non-plant origin: 2 are of kshara (alkali preparation) and 2 are lavana (salts) followed by 11 drugs of mineral origin, 24 drugs are of animal origin, 9 belong to alcoholic preparations and 4 belong to jala varga. Other examples of differences include drugs listed in prior texts but not in Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu and vice-versa. The numbers of synonyms in prior texts versus in Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu also differ.

This Nighantu As it Relates to Present day Ayurveda

As Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu was the first of its kind, it set the gold standard; it is the primary source of information on Ayurvedic herbs.  Its use is invaluable in the education of Ayurvedic practitioners and indispensable to the practicing physician, despite several more comprehensive glossaries that have been compiled since.

Nowadays people have taken it upon themselves to write a lot of herbology books, those books are secondary or tertiary sources.  Where did people get the information for those books? What was the first nighaṇṭu that started putting in information above and beyond synonyms? Dhanvantari Nighaṇṭu. Nighaṇṭu are so important, that’s why we have a whole class about it. We want to create experts in nighaṇṭu.

- Alakananda Ma, Alandi Ayurveda Gurukula.

Sources

  1. Singh, Amritpal [Tr]. Dhanvantari-Nighantu. Chaukhambha Publishers: Varanasi, 2008.
  2. Anagha Ranade, Rabinarayan Acharya (2015), CONTRIBUTION OF DHANWANTARI NIGHANTU TOWARDS DRUG SAFETY: A CRITICAL REVIEW, Global J Res. Med. Plants & Indigen. Med., Volume 4(2): 20–29
  3. Sharma, P. V. (1970), THE DATE OF DHANWANTARI NIGHANTU. Department of Dravyaguna, Postgraduate Institute of Indian Medicine, Banaras hindu University, Varanasi 5

Agni, A Divine Epiphany

“The most appropriate Vedic symbol for the lordship of the Lord is perhaps the figure of Agni, the friend of Man, the mediator, the sacred and sacrificial fire, and at the same time the fire that is in the sun, in burning things, and in the heart of Man, everywhere the same and yet everywhere different, having varied and even almost contrary effects. The devotion to Agni does not represent nature worship, much less pantheism; it is the recognition of an underlying polymorphic reality that softens wax and honey but hardens mud, dries up plants, may bring life or death, and always transcends all our powers, mental as well as physical."

“Om agnim ile purohitam yajnasya devam rtvijam hotaram ratnadhatamam”

I magnify God, the Divine Fire, the Priest, Minister of the sacrifice, the Offerer of oblation, supreme Giver of treasure. RV I, 1, 1

The opening verse of the Rigveda leads with a prayer to Lord Agni, invoked in all of his glory. This rich verse presents the whole of Man’s sanatana dharma, a code of ethics and way of life which honors praise, meditation, sacrifice and commerce with the divine.

Agni is, first of all, a divine epiphany, he is leader of the Gods. He is the one who presents the sacrifice, renders it acceptable and pleasing, transforms and divinizes the gifts offered, and brings together the whole cosmos. Agni represents, in point of fact, the anthropocosmic transcendental dimension of all that is. No other symbol has this richness and this underlying unity.

In the Vedas, Agni is seen as the mouth of the Gods, the conduit between the human and celestial realms. In the three-tiered universe portrayed by the Vedas, the Gods are “up there”, hell is “down there” and we’re in the middle. As we chant “Bhur Bhuvaha Swaha,” the sacrificial fire transforms our worldly oblations into the food of the devas.

On the bodily plane, Agni vaishvanara is the metabolic fire.

Humans are nothing but a crucible of agni, constantly changing one thing into another at the micro and macro level. This ability is one thing that defines life. Try giving rice to a rock and it will become a dirty rock. Give that same rice to a person and it gets transformed into a completely different thing. What was once “not me” becomes “me.”

The creation of culture began around the fire. Our ability to harness this gift of the Gods is a unique quality of being human. It is arguable that everything we have been able to accomplish as a species has rested on our mastery of fire.

In the story of Prometheus, originally, human beings didn’t have any fire. Fire belonged to the Gods. Prometheus, who was a very kind-hearted titan looked down and saw how the human beings were living without fire. It was very dark at night, there were wild beasts, they were cold, they were having to chew on raw food, and their lives were very miserable. He thought “I should give them fire,” so he broke all the rules of the Gods and gifted humans with fire. As a result he was horribly punished, he had to pay a heavy price for what we human beings have done with fire. We stole the fire from the sun and used it for our own selfish ends.

The last stanza of the Rigveda is dedicated to the human world and is a prayer for harmony and peace among Men by means of the protection of Agni and all of the Gods. “It comes back to the simplicity of the fact of being human: a union of hearts and a oneness of spirit, the overcoming of isolating individualism by harmoniously living together..”

Last Mantra

RV X, 191, 4

samani va akutih

samanda hrdayani vah

samanam astu vo mano

yatha vah susahasati

United your resolve, united your hearts, may your spirits be at one, that you may long together dwell in unity and concord!

May we hold Agni, the God of fire, with reverence and respect.

Sources

  • Panikkar, Raimundo; Vedic Experience: An Anthology of Hinduism’s Sacred and Revealed Scriptures
  • “Agni.” Agni - New World Encyclopedia, www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Agni.
  • “Agni.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, www.ancient.eu/Agni/.

Akash & Vayu in the Vedas

Akash and Vayu in the Vedas.jpg

The five elements of Ayurveda — ether (akash), air (vayu), fire (agni), water (ap) and earth (prithvi) — are described in the context of Samkhya philosophy, one of the six classical philosophies of Indian thought (shad darshan).

According to Larson (1), the seminal text of Samkhya philosophy (samkhyakarika), was probably completed between 320-540 CE, although “it is generally agreed that Samkhya's formulation took place at the earliest after the oldest Upanishads had been composed (~800 BCE).”

This places the composition of the text itself in the Classical or “Golden” era of Indian history (320-650 CE), while the theoretical foundations are being laid clearly in the Vedic period. The Vedic era of India is considered to begin around 1500 BCE with the codification of the Rig Veda and to end around 500 BCE, around the time the last of the “early” Upanishads were composed.

The Vedas are a set of four texts mostly set in hymnal verse. Scholars throughout history have worked to interpret and decode the abstract language of spiritual song and poetry for clues about the Vedic worldview. It is notable that even today, according to Wikipedia, “a good deal of the language is still obscure and many hymns as a consequence are unintelligible.” (2)

In the thorough compendium Vedic Experience: An Anthology of Hinduism’s Sacred and Revealed Scriptures (3), which includes extensive reference to both Vedic and Upanishadic texts, the authors make a choice:

“Out of the five classical elements, and others that perhaps could have been chosen, we give here texts concerning only three, which we may epitomize thus: water as the reality before creation, earth as the creation par excellence, and wind as the dynamic of the cosmos after creation.” (p 105)

Notably absent from this list are akash and agni. This is speculation, but perhaps this choice relates to the fact that Agni is one of three primary Vedic deities (concepts worthy of worship), alongside Soma and Indra. Meanwhile, as the focus of this essay is the treatment of akash and vayu in these seminal texts, let’s explore the ways in which these two elements make themselves known.

Akasha is “the all-pervading space” (p 76)

Akasha is identified w Brahman (p 616)

Akasha is “the atmosphere or ether. Akasha is the medium of sound.” (p 618)

Akasha is “the atmosphere that produces sound” (p 308)

Akasha is “the cosmic womb” (p 506)

“All the human organs enter the elements, including the atman which goes into the akash.” (p 541)

“In the rig veda, the wind is named vata or vayu, the former being used chiefly for the element and the latter chiefly for the God…

“An ambivalent meaning is suggested by some of the sentences in these two hymns. What is said of the Wind could equally be said of the Spirit. The Wind collects, enraptures and takes away in his chariot toward the celestial heights those who are caught in his blowing, bringing them together with the same devotion and enthusiasm as that of women congregating for a holy feast or gathering for a marriage…

“This same wind is connected to the primordial waters, is called the first-born, and yet is said to be of unknown origin; for nobody knows where it goes and where it comes from; it wanders free, is heard but not seen, is invisible, can only be felt, experienced, sensed, without being comprehended or understood.”

“The wind holds the gift of eternal life; it is the bestower of the life principle, the seed of life.” (p 120)

“4. Breath of the Gods and life germ of the universe, freely he wanders. We bring him our homage, whose voice may be heard but whose form is not seen.”

Interpretation: “Hearing pierces deeper than seeing into the realm of being, though seeing may be clearer than hearing.” (p 121)

“Vayu, in his aspect of uplifter of oblation. This elevation of the heart is also worship, and thus the devas come near to faith, inspired by Vayu.” (RV 10, 151)

Sources

  1. (SOURCE) Gerald James Larson (2011), Classical Sāṃkhya: An Interpretation of Its History and Meaning, pages 42, 146-147
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rigveda accessed 3/2/18
  3. Panikkar, Raimundo; Vedic Experience: An Anthology of Hinduism’s Sacred and Revealed Scriptures

Gods of the Rigveda

Indra

Indra

The religious practices of the Vedic era form the precursors to many of the beliefs and practices of modern-day Hinduism. In the Vedas, we can see the roots of modern Hinduism, yet many deities and practices have changed significantly over the centuries. Indeed, the main trinity of Hinduism today, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, do not appear in the Rigveda in the same way or with the same importance that they are ascribed nowadays.

In the early Vedic period, there were two major groups of deities: the devas and the asuras. The devas were celestial beings or gods, worshipped and praised for their excellence. The asuras were another class of celestial beings defined by their opposition to the devas. Over time, the power and importance of the devas surpassed that of the asuras, and the asuras began to be understood as demons.

The devas were not viewed as all-powerful, and humans’ relationship with them was transactional. Through sacrifices and offerings, humans secured the aid of the gods in maintaining peace, order, and health.

The Rigveda enumerates 33 devas, some representing forces of nature and other representing moral values. Some of these are gods still known and worshipped today, some have been changed but are still part of the Hindu pantheon, while others are no longer commonly worshipped. The most important deities of the Rigveda were in fact Indra, Agni, and Soma. Varuna is a fourth god who, though not discussed as extensively as the former three, played an important role in the early days of Vedic mythology.

Indra

Indra was one of the most important gods in the religion of the Vedic era. He is the king of the gods, as well as the god of storms and war. Indra is particularly celebrated in the Rig Veda, in which there are more than 250 hymns devoted specifically to him, more than any other deity. He is sometimes paralleled to Zeus in Greek mythology, Odin in Norse mythology, or Wotan in German mythology.

There are many stories devoted in Indra, and throughout the texts he plays a variety of roles. He rules over other deities as the benevolent king of the gods, bringing peace and prosperity. As the king of rain and sthunder, he brings rain to end droughts, yet he is also a great warrior who conquers the asuras.

He is often depicted riding a white elephant, Airavata. There are also many references to Indra and Soma, the elixir of the gods to which he is very partial. There are multiple tales in which he overindulges in Soma and must be restored to his senses from its aftereffects by the goddess Sarasvati or the Ashvins.

Agni

Agni’s importance in Vedic religion is second only to Indra’s, though Agni’s function in worship surpassed Indra’s. Agni is the god of fire, and was thus was of central importance in yagnas (fire ceremonies), especially sacrificial ceremonies. He is understood to be a messenger between humans and the gods, bringing the prayers and offerings of ceremonial rites to the gods and the boons and blessings of the gods back to humanity. In this way, he functions as an intermediary force, transforming the offerings of the human terrestrial world to the subtle celestial realm of the gods.

Agni is the protector, especially of the home. He is omnipresent, and thus knows the thoughts of all people and is a witness to all important events. He is said to be able to discern between truth and lies, and this led to practices where people would be made to confess things in the presence of fire as a test of truth, “trial by fire.”

In art, Agni often has two heads, four or seven arms, three legs, and black or deep red skin. He has three or seven tongues, and black hair like leaping flames. He rides either a goat or ram (the most commonly sacrificed animals), or a chariot with seven wheels, drawn by red horses. He is usually carrying a fan (with which he builds up fires), a sacrificial ladle, an axe, and a flaming torch or javelin.

Soma

Soma refers to a god, a plant, and a ritual drink, and the distinction between the three is not always made clear in the Rigveda. There are 120 hymns devoted to the praise of soma in the Rigveda, but the most common reference is to the drink and the supernatural powers it bestowed upon those who drank it. Consequently, soma wasn’t often portrayed in any human-like form, though he was occasionally portrayed as a bull or bird.

Soma was considered a bringer of health and wealth. Soma the sacred drink is said to be a yellow-golden color, and thus soma is also often identified with light. The gods drank soma to sustain their immortality, and the drink would likewise bestow the powers of the gods upon any mortal who drank it. In this way, soma could bridge the profane and divine realms, similar to the role agni served.

Soma is especially associated with Indra, so much so that it is rare to see one referenced without the other. Soma the drink inspires and empowers Indra to perform many of his mighty deeds. Yet soma himself is also a god capable of his own feats. He is a great and heroic warrior depicted as the victor in all of his battles, capable of repelling all enemies.

Varuna

Though Varuna is not praised as much in the Rigveda as Indra, that does not accurately represent his importance in the early Vedic era. The Rigveda places special emphasis on the Agni and Soma ritual, and Indra is thus frequently involved due to his connection with Soma.

However, even though Varuna does not have as many hymns devoted to him in the Rigveda as Indra, Soma, or even Agni, he was a god of great importance whose role changed over the course of the Vedic period. At the early part of the Vedic era, he was the god of universal law and moral order, the supreme, omniscient, and omnipresent ruler who controls the actions of man and the cosmos. He was thus placed at the head of the Vedic pantheon.

Varuna was originally a kind of solar deity. He presided over the night sky, representing the dark aspect of the sun as it makes its journey from west to east during the night before rising again. He was also the King of Heaven and Earth, and his power to oversee all of the moral behavior of humanity was symbolized in depictions in which he was said to have a thousand eyes, often likened to the stars in the night sky. He is otherwise not usually depicted in anthropomorphic form, perhaps as a way of highlighting his supreme transcendence.

Eventually, his role became less significant, and he was replaced by Indra as the head of the vedic pantheon. In later Vedas, Varuna's role as the overseer of human morality gradually diminished, and his jurisdiction was restricted to the celestial waters and the ocean, which is how he is more commonly understood today.

Conclusion

Though we have discussed only 4 gods of significance, there are many others, including gods representing the other four elements, goddesses representing the rivers, and other gods representing aspects of nature and morality. All of these gods would continue to develop and evolve throughout the ages, eventually leading to the millions of gods known in Hinduism today. This vast array of deities shows the infinite manifestations of divinity throughout the cosmos, which any person can realize through their own forms of devotion and spiritual practice.

Sources

Ancient University: TakshaShila

TakshaShila, the ancient world’s first international university (c. approx. 400-500 BCE to 550 CE), was named after “Taksha’s Cut-Rock City” in ancient northern India. Situated strategically on a branch of the Silk Road that linked China to the West, TakshaShila was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980 and is located near Rawalpindi in modern-day Pakistan.

At the time, TakshaShila was described as the wealthiest city in India. The campus attracted students from faraway places like China, Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Babylonia and Greece.  It is believed that students started their studies at Takshashila at around age 16, after they had completed their primary education at home, and secondary education in the Ashrams.  Education was considered sacred; an ancient Sanskrit quote says “स्वगृहे पूज्यते मूर्खः स्वग्रामे पूज्यते प्रभुः। स्वदेशे पूज्यते राजा विद्वान्सर्वत्र पूज्यते॥” (A fool is worshiped at his home. A chief is worshiped in his town. A king is worshiped in his kingdom. A knowledgeable person is worshipped everywhere). Education was accordingly undeniable to even the poorest students. Admissions were based on merit and financial support was often provided by the community or through work-study arrangements.

The university accommodated a student body that numbered upwards of 10,000 with two out of three applicants rejected. The campus had 300 lecture halls plus laboratories, an observatory and a huge library that spanned 3 buildings. The university thrived for approximately 9 to 10 centuries, with a resurgence under the rule of King Kanishka, until its destruction in the 6th century CE.

Curriculum

During its time TakshaShila attained recognition as an important center of learning for Vedic and Buddhist studies, as well as for mastering various arts and sciences. Nearly 2,000 master-teachers taught an array of at least 68 topics at the ancient university. Courses covered the fields of science, mathematics, medicine, politics, warfare, astrology, astronomy, music, dance, religion, vedas, grammar, agriculture, surgery, commerce, futurology, and philosophy. Among the more curious subjects were the art of discovering hidden treasure, decrypting encrypted messages, the Vedas and the Eighteen Arts, archery, hunting, and elephant lore. TakshaShila University was specialized in the study of medicine, as it was a place in which Ayurvedic medicine and surgery could be studied for up to seven years before graduation.

The process of teaching was very thorough. Until a unit was mastered completely, the student was not allowed to proceed to the next. The curriculum for any given subject was considered complete when the teacher was satisfied with the student’s level of achievement. True knowledge, not examinations, was considered essential to complete one’s studies. It was understood that knowledge was its own reward. Thus, no convocations were held upon completion, and no written degrees were awarded.

Remarkably, no external authorities like kings or local leaders sought control over the curriculum at TakshaShila. In fact, in most cases, the schools were located within the teachers’ private houses. With complete autonomy in their work, teachers had the freedom to teach who and what they liked, without conforming to a centralized syllabus or doctrine. With each master teacher able to form his own institution, a variety of paradigms and perspectives could be heard. In exchange for their knowledge, the teachers were exempted from taxes, and they were given generous sums of money during various sacrifices and rituals throughout the year.

Alumni

Charaka, the famous ancient Ayurvedic physician was an alumnus of TakshaShila. He simplified an older Ayurvedic work called Agnivesha Samhita into the Charaka Samhita and also incorporated his research into the region’s flora and fauna. He is ascribed the famous quote “A physician who fails to enter the body of a patient with the lamp of knowledge and understanding can never treat diseases.” Jivaka, the great physician to Gautama Buddha and an expert in pulse reading studied Ayurveda in TakshaShila University for seven years. He specialized in panchakarma, marma and surgery. He cured the Buddha’s nadi vran, worked with the great classic beauty Amrapali to retain her youthful countenance via many amazing operations on her using marma points and surgical procedures, and invented a cure for filariasis. Panini, the famous Sanskrit grammarian and author of Ashtadhyayi, to whom Professor Noam Chomsky attributes the origin of linguistics, was also a product of TakshaShila. Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Maurya Empire, was another famous alumnus of TakshaShila. Chanakya (a.k.a. Kautilya, Vishnugupta), the prime minister of the Mauryan Empire and mentor to Chandragupta Maurya (and the third most famous management consultant in India after Krishna and Shakuni) is believed to have composed the Arthashastra (which consists of 15 books) while studying at TakshaShila circa 300 BCE. This work was deemed by social and economic historian Max Weber as one of the greatest political statecraft books of the ancient world, covering the topics of economic policies, state intelligence systems, administrative skills, military strategy, political duties and statecraft. TakshaShila University’s famous researchers and teachers also include Vishnu Sharma, the author of the great book that teaches the art of political science in the form of simple beautiful stories called the Pancha Tantra, Jotipala, commander-in-chief of Banaras, with great proficiency in archery and military science and Prasenajit, the enlightened ruler of Kosala.

Sources

Ancient University: Nalanda Mahavihara

Nalanda Mahavihara.jpg

There were two types of education in ancient India, the gurukulas, or Vedic schools, and the viharas, or Buddhist monasteries. The gurukulas mainly focused on primary education, whereas the viharas were institutions of higher education. Mahavihara was the term used for a group of monasteries. Nalanda coordinated the curriculum for all four main mahaviharas: Nalanda, Vikramasila, Odantapuri and Valabhi, for nearly one thousand years, becoming renowned and drawing students from places as far as China and Persia.

Located between the two capitals of the Magadhan Empire—Rajgriha and Patliputra, Nalanda began as a small town in what is now the Indian state of Bihar. The earliest data on objects and structures found at Nalanda are from the Gupta period, which lasted from approximately 300-550 CE. It is believed that the Gupta monarch Shakraditya, or Kumaragupta (415-455CE) founded Nalanda. This is based on the discovery of a coin with his seal on it that was found at the complex. The Gupta Dynasty provided financial support for the blossoming university, and this continued under Kumaragupta’s successors, Buddhagupta, Baladitya, Tathagatagupta and Vajra.

Much of what we know about Nalanda is from the detailed writings of two Chinese monks, Xuanzang and Yijing (or I-tsing), who traveled to Nalanda during the 7th century CE and stayed for 2 and 14 years, respectively. When Xuanzang returned to China, he carried 657 Buddhist texts, 74 of which he subsequently translated. When Yijing returned to China in 695, he brought 400 Sanskrit texts, which were translated.

Surrounded by fertile farmland and relatively near to more densely populated city centers, conditions were favorable for Nalanda’s growth. The local communities provided foodstuff for, traded with and supplied novices to the large institution.  Scholars believe that Nalanda was home to 10,000 monks, 1500 of whom were teachers. Others believe the number of residents was closer to 4,000.

The curriculum at Nalanda was a skillful marriage of secular and religious knowledge, a blend of the theoretical and the practical. It included language and grammar, arts, medicine, logic and philosophy, as well as exhaustive study of the works of the eighteen sects of Mahayana Buddhism, Mahasastra, Atharvaveda, Vinaya texts and Sutras, and even metal-casting and astronomy. Part of Nalanda’s mission was to bring Buddhism to the world, so in order for graduates to defend the Buddhist worldview against other views, they must first understand other viewpoints and systems. Nalanda was famed for its learned professors, or upajjhaya.

One of the things that set Nalanda apart from other schools of the time was that it took international students from countries like Korea, Japan, China, Tibet and other parts of Asia. Famous characters from Buddhist history like Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Vasubandhu, and Asanga, were reported to have studied there.

Sources

  1. The Ancient Nālandā Mahāvihāra: The Beginning of Institutional Education
  2. Dutt, Sukumar. Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Their Contribution to Indian Culture
  3. https://www.culturalindia.net/monuments/nalanda.html  

Cultural Life at Nalanda University

Nalanda was the original mahavihara. Vihara refers to a seat of religious and academic learning; adding the prefix maha- signifies a collection of such seats. Nalanda was located in Bihar, which derives its name from vihara. (1) The viharas have their origin during the life of the Buddha. They were also called sangharama, which literally translates to “the resting place of the community of monks.” The Buddha himself said that “to give viharas to the sangha, where in safety and peace, to meditate and think at ease, the Buddha calls the best of gifts.” (2)

Nalanda was, from the beginning, oriented toward study of Buddhist scripture and observation of Buddhist ritual ceremony. These practices were institutionalized as part of the daily schedule. However, the cultural life of the university shifted according to the interaction of Buddhism with Brahmanism, the two most prominent spiritual perspectives of ancient India. As Brahmanical influence grew over time, the simple Buddhist rituals evolved into more complex ceremonies including “image worship, enormous offerings, tantra-mantra, etc.” (2)(p.101)

Academic and religious studies were intimately intermingled. The very architecture of the mahavihara consisted of 14 temples and 13 monasteries all facing one another, so that there need be no delay between waking and worship, study and worship, eating and worship, sleeping and worship.

Here is an image of the excavated site of Nalanda

Here is an image of the excavated site of Nalanda

The Chinese observers from whom we have most of our subjective knowledge of Nalanda report that there were specific ceremonies for receiving visitors “such as teachers, pupils, disciples, strangers [and] friends”. They also note that occasions such as “the installation of a new image, selection of a new teacher, victory even in a religious discussion and so on could lead to happy moments in the campus life followed by many rituals.” This reveals a deeply devotional, celebratory atmosphere, which is interesting to this writer given the way modern American Buddhism has been mostly stripped of its devotional aspects.

Kumar (2) reports that life at Nalanda was “highly disciplined, strict, moral and spiritual” and while “there was no place for loutishness and violence,” the place was nonetheless “full of love and mercy.” In this way, Nalanda succeeded in offering an education with broad appeal, at least when compared to the highly ritualized and thus more exclusive Brahmanic schools.

The primary greatness of Nalanda is evidenced by its ability to train its students to speak accurately and convincingly on a wide range of topics. In order to properly propagate Buddhism, it was necessary for aspirants to be well-versed in other philosophical systems, so that they might be prepared to argue effectively on Buddhism’s behalf. Scholars from Nalanda were world renowned for their mastery in debate, and many went on to perform important tasks in translation as well.

To this day, the name Nalanda continues to be associated with higher education and translation of important texts. Naropa University, the first and only Buddhist university in the United States, named one of their three Boulder, Colorado-based campuses Nalanda. The founder of Naropa, one Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, also founded The Nalanda Translation Committee in 1975 with the mission “to create fresh and authentic translations of Tibetan practice texts.” (3)

Sources
 

  1. http://www.universityworldnews.com/article.php?story=20131106162837921

  2. https://www.academia.edu/9071353/Cultural_Life_at_Nalanda_University

  3. www.nalandatranslation.org

  4. The Ancient Nālandā Mahāvihāra: The Beginning of Institutional Education

  5. Studies in Medicine at Sri Nalanda Mahavihara: An Introduction

  6. Ancient Universities in India

Who was Dhanvantari? Why is he important in Ayurveda?

Dhanvantari.jpg

“I extend my wishes to God Dhanvantari who is worshipped by gods and demons.  He destroys aging, diseases, fear and death. He nourishes this world and possesses knowledge about various medicinal plants”  - Dr. Amritpal Singh Dhanvantari-Nighantu

Lord Dhanvantari is an outstanding personality in the history of Ayurveda. He was the physician of the Gods (in both the Vedas and Puranas) and an excellent surgeon. In Hinduism, worshipers pray to Dhanvantari seeking his blessings for sound healing. In his incarnation as king of Kashi, Divodasa, he was approached by a group of sages (including Susruta, the great Indian surgeon) with the request to teach them the science of Ayurveda. Dhanvantari stated that Brahma composed the Ayurveda even before he created mankind, forming one of the upangas of the Atharvaveda in 100,000 verses arranged in 1,000 chapters, which was not easy for the restricted intelligence of men to learn within their short life spans. So Dhanvantari complied with the sages’ request, recast Brahma’s Ayurveda into 8 divisions (shalya, shalakya, kayachikitsa, bhutavidya, kaumarabhrtya, agadatantra, rasayanatantra, vajikaranatantra) and began teaching within the framework of pratyaksa (perception), agama (authoritative scripture), anumana (inference) and upamana (analogy).

In other versions of the origins of Ayurveda, it has been said that Dhanvantari was deputed by Lord Indra to take the science of Ayurveda to the mortals. Also to be noted, Dhanvantari is seen as an avatar of Vishnu in Hinduism. The most frequently told story about Dhanvantari is that when the ocean was churned by the gods and demons in search of the elixir of life, Dhanvantari came out of it holding a bowl of nectar in his hands.

“Physicians of the School of Atreya referred the surgical cases to surgeons belonging to the School of Dhanvantari, but there is not evidence of referring the medical cases by the above surgeons to the physicians of the School of Atreya”  C.S. Introduction

Meaning of the Name Dhanvantari

“The word dhanus is only indicative (upalakshna). It denotes the science of surgery. The one who has seen the end (anta) of it is Dhanvantari.

The word dhanvan means desert. (Compare RigVeda [V.36.1] dhanvachara meaning, he who moves in a desert). There is a mantra in the Veda: dhanvan iva prapaasi (O Lord! You are like the place where water is distributed to travellers in a desert.) Thus Dhanvantari, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, with a pot of nectar in his hand is like prapaa (oasis) in the desert of worldly existence.”

Story of Dhanvantari

Bhagavata Purana states that Dhanvantari emerged from the Ocean of Milk and appeared with the pot of amrita (nectar) during the story of the Samudra (or) Sagara Mathana whilst the ocean was being churned by the Devas and Asuras, using the Mandara mountain and the serpent Vasuki. The pot of Amrita was snatched by the Asuras, and after this event another avatar, Mohini, appears and takes the nectar back from the Asuras.

It is also believed that Dhanvantari promulgated the practise of Ayurveda. According to the Charaka Samhita, the knowledge of Ayurveda is eternal and is revealed in each of the cycles of creation of the universe. When needed, Lord Vishnu himself incarnates as Lord Dhanvantari and reestablishes the tradition of Ayurveda in the world to help relieve some of humanity’s suffering.

Lord Dhanvantari is known as the father of Ayurveda, since he was the first divine incarnation to impart its wisdom amongst humans. He first appeared during the great churning of the cosmic ocean of milk to deliver amrit (ambrosia, or Divine nectar) to the demigods. The churning of the ocean of milk is a famous episode in the Puranas that represents the spiritual endeavor of a person to achieve Self-realization through concentration of mind, withdrawal of the senses, control of all desires, austerities and asceticism. It is celebrated in India every twelve years in the holy festival known as Kumbha Mela. The following story is from the Srimad Bhagavatam.

Indra, the great leader of the demigods, was riding on his elephant when he came across the sage Durvasa Muni. Seeing the great demigod, Durvasa offered him a special garland that had been blessed by Sri, another manifestation of Laxmi, the Goddess of Abundance. Indra accepted the garland nonchalantly and put it on the trunk of his elephant, who tossed it on the floor. Durvasa Muni was very upset by this display of disrespect, and in anger cursed Indra and all the demigods to be bereft of all strength, energy and fortune right then and there.

Taking advantage of this situation, the Asuras (demons) attacked the demigods, killing many of them and slowly gaining control of the universe. Indra and the other demigods rushed to Brahma for help. Brahma suggested to bring their predicament to Lord Vishnu, who in turn advised them to seek alliance with the Asuras to churn the ocean of milk together for the nectar of immortality. The demigods agreed only because Lord Vishnu told them that he would make sure they alone would obtain the nectar and recover their strength and power to defeat the demons.

Using the mountain Mandara as the rod and Vasuki the serpent as the cord, both demigods and demons proceeded to churn the ocean of milk. All kinds of herbs were cast into it. The churning was so arduous that Lord Vishnu had to appear in many forms to help them with this process and prevent it from going nowhere. He even appeared as Lord Vishnu himself sitting on top of the mountain to infuse Indra and his companions with energy.

The churning of the ocean of milk first produced a deadly poison (halahala) that only Lord Shiva could swallow without being affected by it. And so he did, except that his consort Parvati pressed his neck as he was swallowing, so that the poison would not reach his stomach, and the halahala stayed in Lord Shiva’s throat, changing the color of his neck to blue due to its potency. This is why Lord Shiva is also called Neelakantha, or the blue-necked one.

As the churning continued, Lord Dhanvantari appeared. He was young and strongly built, his chest was very broad and his complexion bluish black. He had strong arms, reddish eyes, and moved like a lion. He was clad in bright yellow, his curly hair was anointed with oil and he wore shining earrings made of pearl. As he emerged, he was holding a conch, leeches, healing herbs, a chakra (one of the divine weapons of Lord Vishnu’s), and the long sought pot of ambrosia. The asuras, greedy after all things, realized right away that the container was full of nectar and snatched it from him.

Again filled with greed and pride, the demons started quarreling about which of them would drink the nectar first, grabbing the pot from one another and behaving like thieves. Seeing how busy they were fighting with each other, Lord Vishnu didn't miss the opportunity to trick them. He appeared as Mohini, a beautiful woman who fascinated the demons, recovered the nectar from them, and distributed it only amongst the demigods. As soon as the demigods drank it, they were invigorated with energy and defeated the demons. After worshipping Lord Vishnu and Shri Laxmi, they resumed their position in the heavens.

At the time of the churning, Lord Vishnu foretold that Lord Dhanvantari would appear again in the world to teach the science of Ayurveda. And so he did, after Lord Indra, seeing humanity so afflicted by pain and disease, pleaded with Lord Dhanvantari to descend into the material world and teach Ayurveda to the human race.

It is written in the scriptures that, “One who remembers the name of Dhanvantari can be released from all disease.” Lord Dhanvantari is worshipped all over India as the God of Medicine.

Lord Indra, after seeing humanity so afflicted by pain and disease, pleaded with Lord Dhanvantari to descend into the material world and teach Ayurveda to the human race. Dhanvantari, one of the many avatars (divine incarnations) of Lord Vishnu’s, is known as Adi-Dhanvantari.

King Dirghatamas of Kashi (Benares) was performing severe austerities and offering them to Lord Dhanvantari in the hopes that he would be pleased with them and grant him a son. And happy with the devotion of the King was born in the in the royal household of Kashi. He taught Ayurveda orally to the sages and rishis (seers) who became his disciples. His teachings are recorded in the Agni Purana, as well as through the teachings of his disciples Susruta, Pauskalavata, Aurabha, Vaitarana, and others.

Dhanvantari Jayanti – Birthday Celebrations

On the day of Dhanteras, birthday celebrations of Dhanvantari, the God of health, take place in an enthusiastic and delightful atmosphere. Dhanvatari Jayanti is celebrated throughout India by the practitioners of Ayurveda, the Indian traditional medicine.

In South India, mainly in Tamilnadu and Kerala some temples are dedicated to Lord Dhanvantari. In these temples, Dhanvantari Jayanthi is celebrated with utmost devotion. In Ayurveda Maha Sammelan office, Dhanwantari Bhavan in Delhi, the Ayurvedic practitioners worship the big statue of Lord Dhanvantari.

Sources

Water and Earth in the Vedas

The Bodhi Tree.jpg

Water / Ap

“The Waters are the foundation of all this universe.”  — SB XIV, 3, 2, 13

Water, known as ap in Sanskrit, is said to be of the same age of the Universe itself, having been contained in an egg from which everything else emanated. The world is spoken of as having been “originally water without light” (Salilam apraketam; Rig Veda X.29.3). Therefore, water is considered Divine by the Vedas, and it was thought to bring peace, happiness, wealth, long-life and good health.

Rig Veda attributes several Gods to water. Apas, who is addressed in four Suktas, is the God of waters. Indra, Varun, Parjanya are also in directly or indirectly related to water in the texts. Parjanya, who’s name means “the clouds causing the downpour of rains”, represents water in the form of rain, which sustains life on earth. Parjanya is therefore deified in the Rig Veda.

Because water is said to be the primeval element, it is still a common practice in everyday life in India to immerse idols (murtis) and utensils in the sacred rivers, and to anoint oneself with water. This is also why many people in India are returned to the waters when they pass on. All of this symbolizes purification through the return to the origins.

Earth / Prthivi

The Vedic attitude toward the Earth springs from mankind’s primordial experience of being on the one hand a guest, and on the other an offspring, of the Earth. Indeed she occupies a special place among the Gods, having been praised as as Divine Mother. Worship addressed to the Earth was not adoration of an idol or creature as an absolute. Rather, worship involved the veneration of the highest value in the hierarchy of existence, for “undoubtedly this earth is the firstborn of being.”

To the Vedas, the Earth was an object of worship and not of exploitation. She was a subject of awe and not of curiosity, and investigation of the earth was thought to be of the same nature as personal introspection. Naturally, this means that to harm the earth was considered a masochistic vice. Perhaps this is why the Vedas were some of the very first environmentalists, having wisely stated early on:

  1. "Do not cut trees because they remove pollution." (Rig Veda 6:48:17)

  2. "Do not disturb the sky and do not pollute the atmosphere. (Yajur Veda 5:43)

  3. "Don't destroy forests with tigers and don't make forests devoid of tigers. Forests can't be saved without tigers and tigers can't live without forests because forests protect tigers and tigers protect forests." (Virat Parrva 5:45-46).

  4. "One should protect the habitation." (Rig Veda Samhita VI:71:3)

The famous Hymn to the Earth is considered to be one of the most beautiful hymns of the Vedas. The Earth is here called bhumi rather than prthivi. The hymn depicts the universal mother, dispenser of every sort of good.

Hymn to the Earth

Bhumi Sukta

19

AV XII, 1

1. High Truth, unyielding Order, Consecration,

Ardor and Prayer and Holy Ritual

uphold the Earth; may she, the ruling Mistress

of what has been and what will come to be,

for us spread wide a limitless domain.

2. Untrammeled in the midst of men, the Earth,

adorned with heights and gentle slopes and plains,

bears plants and herbs of various healing powers.

May she spread wide for us, afford us joy!

3. On whom are ocean, river, and all waters,

on whom have sprung up food and ploughman’s crops,

on whom moves all that breathes and stirs abroad--

Earth, may she grant to us the long first draught!

4. To Earth belong the four directions of space.

On her grows food; on her the ploughman toils.

She carries likewise all that breathes and stirs.

Earth, may she grant us cattle and food in plenty!

111

5. On whom the men of olden days roamed far,

on whom the conquering Gods smote the demons,

the home of cattle, horses, and of birds,

may Earth vouchsafe to us good fortune and glory!

6. Bearer of all things, hoard of treasures rare,

sustaining mother, Earth the golden-breasted

who bears the Sacred Universal Fire,

whose spouse is Indra--may she grant us wealth!

7. Limitless Earth, whom the Gods, never sleeping,

protect forever with unflagging care,

may she exude for us the well-loved honey,

shed upon us her splendor copiously!

8. Earth, who of yore was Water in the oceans,

discerned by the Sages’ secret powers,

whose immortal heart, enwrapped in Truth,

abides aloft in the highest firmament,

may she procure for us splendor and power,

according to her highest royal state!

9. On whom the flowing Waters, ever the same,

course without cease or failure night and day,

may she yield milk, this Earth of many streams,

and shed on us her splendor copiously!

10. May Earth, whose measurements the Ashvins marked,

over whose breadth the foot of Visnu strode,

whom Indra, Lord of power, freed from foes,

stream milk for me, as a mother for her son!

11. Your hills, O Earth, your snow-clad mountain peaks,

your forests, may they show us kindliness!

Brown, black, red, multifarious in hue

and solid is this vast Earth, guarded by Indra.

Invincible, unconquered, and unharmed,

I have on her established my abode.

12. Impart to us those vitalizing forces that come,

O Earth, from deep within your body,

your central point, your navel; purify us wholly.

The Earth is mother; I am son of Earth.

The Rain-giver is my father; may he shower on us blessings!

13. The Earth on which they circumscribe the altar,

on which a band of workmen prepare the oblation,

on which the tall bright sacrificial posts

are fixed before the start of the oblation--

may Earth, herself increasing, grant us increase!

14. That man, O Earth, who wills us harm, who fights us,

who by his thoughts or deadly arms opposes,

112

deliver him to us, forestalling action.

15. All creatures, born from you, move round upon you.

You carry all that has two legs, three, or four.

To you, O Earth, belong the five human races,

those mortals upon whom the rising sun

sheds the immortal splendor of his rays.

16. May the creatures of earth, united together,

let flow for me the honey of speech!

Grant to me this boon, O Earth.

17. Mother of plants and begetter of all things,

firm far-flung Earth, sushined by Heavenly Law,

kindly and pleasant is she. May we ever

dwell on her bosom, passing to and fro!

18. As a vast abode, Earth, you have become great.

Great is your movement, great your trembling, your quaking.

The Lord all-powerful ceaselessly protects you.

O Earth, grant us to shine like burnished gold,

and let no enemy ever wish us ill!

19. Agni resides on earth, within the plants.

The Waters contain Agni; in the stones is he.

Agni abides deep in the hearts of Men.

In cattle and in horses there are Agnis.

20. Agni blazes and flashes from the height of heaven.

To the God Agni belong all airy spaces,

Agni it is whom mortal men enkindle,

conveyer of offerings, lover of the clarified butter.

21. May she who is clothed with Fire, whose knees

are blackened, grant me sharpness of wit

and furnish me with splendor!

22. May Earth on which men offer to the Gods

the sacrifice and decorous oblations,

where dwells the human race on nourishment

proper to the requirements of its nature--

may this great Earth assure us life and breath,

permitting us to come to ripe old age.

23. Instill in me abundantly that fragrance,

O Mother Earth, which emanates from you

and from your plants and waters, that sweet perfume

that all celestial beings are wont to emit,

and let no enemy ever wish us ill!

24. Your fragrance which has entered into the lotus,

wherewith the immortal Gods at the Sun-daughter’s wedding

were redolent, O Earth, in times primeval--

113

instill in me abundantly that fragrance,

and let no enemy ever wish us ill!

25. Your fragrance which adheres to human beings,

the good cheer and the charm of women and men,

that which is found in horses and in warriors,

that which is in wild beasts and in the elephant,

the radiance that shines about a maiden--

O Earth, steep us, too, deeply in that fragrance,

and let no enemy ever wish us ill!

26. Earth is composed of rock, of stone, of dust;

Earth is compactly held, consolidated.

I venerate this mighty Earth, the golden-breasted!

27. Her upon whom the trees, lords of the forest,

stand firm, unshakable, in every place,

this long-enduring Earth we now invoke,

the giver of all manner of delights.

28. Whether we stand upright or sit,

whether we stay quite still or walk,

whether we walk with right foot or left,

never may we stumble upon Earth!

29. O purifying Earth, I you invoke!

O patient Earth, by Sacred Word enhanced,

bearer of nourishment and strength, of food and ghee--

O Earth, we would approach you with due praise!

30. Pure may the Waters flow over our bodies!

That which defiles--I fling it upon our foes!

I cleanse myself, O Earth, as with a filter.

31. Your regions, Earth, to eastward and to northward,

southward and westward, may they receive me kindly,

whenever on their paths I travel. Never,

when standing on your surface, may I totter!

32. Do not thrust us aside from in front or behind,

from above or below! Be gracious, O Earth.

Let us not encounter robbers on our path.

Restrain the deadly weapon!

33. As wide a vista of you as my eye

may scan, O Earth, with the kindly help of Sun,

so widely may my sight be never dimmed

in all the long parade of years to come!

34. Whether, when I repose on you, O Earth,

I turn upon my right side or my left,

or whether, extended flat upon my back,

I meet your pressure from head to foot,

114

be gentle, Earth! You are the couch of all!

35. Whatever I dig up of you, O Earth,

may you of that have quick replenishment!

O purifying One, may my thrust never

reach right unto your vital points, your heart!

36. Your circling seasons, nights succeeding days,

your summer, O Earth, your splashing rains, our autumn,

your winter and frosty season yielding to spring--

may each and all produce for us their milk!

37. This cleansing Earth, who trembles before the Serpent,

who guards the fires that dwell within the waters,

who castigates the god-insulting demons,

has chosen for her mate Indra, not Vrtra,

surrendering herself to the powerful one, the potent.

38. On her are erected the platform and the sheds of oblation;

on her is reared the sacrificial post.

On her the brahmins, knowers of the rites,

recite their hymns, intone their melodies.

On her the priests set forth the sacrifice,

that Indra may drink Soma.

39. On her those sages of old, the Seven Seers

who fashioned these worlds, performing the sacrifice

by dint of holy rite and creative Fervor,

sang hymns and lo! the cows came to birth!

40. May Earth afford us all that copious wealth

for which we long! May Bhaga play his part

and Indra go before to show the way!

41. May Earth, the stage where mortals sing and play

with varied shouts and noises, which resounds

with cries of war or beatings of the drum,

drive far my foemen and rid me of all rivals!

42. Earth is the source of food, of rice and barley;

from her derive the five tribes of men.

To rain-steeped Earth, the Rain-giver’s wife, be homage!

43. Her castles are built by the Gods, her plains

the arena in which men wage war. The matrix

of all things is Earth. May the Lord of life

dispose for our enjoyment all her regions!

44. May the Goddess Earth, bearer of many a treasure

and of wealth stored up in diverse hidden places,

the generous sharer of riches, impart to us,

in addition to gold and gems, a special portion of her favor!

45. May Earth who bears mankind, each different grouping

115

maintaining its own customs and its speech,

yield up for me a thousand streams of treasure,

like a placid cow that never resists the hand.

46. The snake and the scorpion which viciously bite,

which, chilled by winter, lie slothfully hidden,

the wriggling worm, all that stirs in the rains--

may it, creeping, not creep on us! Instead,

may you grant us the blessing of all that is wholesome!

47. From your numberless tracks by which mankind may travel,

your roads on which move both chariots and wagons

your paths which are used by the good and the bad,

may we choose a way free from foes and robbers!

May you grant us the blessing of all that is wholesome!

48. She carries in her lap the foolish and also the wise.

She bears the death of the wicked as well as the good.

She lives in friendly collaboration with the boar,

offering herself as sanctuary to the wild pig.

49. The creatures of your forests, dwellers in woods,

lions, tigers, man-eaters that prowl about,

hyena and wolf, misfortune stalking around,

demons both male and female, chase them far!

50. All evil spirits, male and female alike,

drive far from us, O Earth, the ones that grab

and the ones that devour, all vampires and all demons!

Drive each and every one to distant realms!

51. Over the earth the winged bipeds fly,

swans and falcons, eagles, birds of all kinds.

On her the wind comes rushing, Matarishvan,

raising the dust, causing the trees to tremble

and dragging in his victory train the Fire.

52. May she in whom the bright and also the dark,

the day and the night, associate, though separate,

the far-flung Earth, ofttimes by rain made fertile,

graciously settle each one in his well-loved abode!

53. Heaven and Earth and the space in between

have set me in a wide expanse!

Fire, the Sun, the Waters, the Gods,

have joined to give me inspiration.

54. Behold me now, victorious!

My name is the highest in all the earth.

Ruling in all regions, I subdue all! I conquer!

55. When at the Gods’ command, O Goddess,

you unfurled yourself, revealing your grandeur,

116

then you were imbued with beauty and charm.

You shaped and fashioned the world’s four regions.

56. In village or forest, in all the places

where man meets man, in market or forum,

may we always say that which is pleasing to you!

57. Just as a horse scatters dust, so Earth,

when she came into being, scattered the peoples--

Earth, gracious leader and protectress of the world,

who holds in firm grasp both trees and plants.

58. The words that I speak are sweet as honey!

My glances meet with fair glances in return.

Vehement am I, swift and impetuous!

Those who gnash their teeth I utterly vanquish!

59. Peaceful and fragrant, gracious to the touch,

may Earth, swollen with milk, her breasts overflowing,

grant me her blessing together with her milk!

60. The Maker of the world sought her with oblations

when she was shrouded in the depth of the ocean.

A vessel of gladness, long cherished in secret,

the earth was revealed to mankind for their joy.

61. Primeval Mother, disperser of Men,

you, far-flung Earth, fulfill all our desires.

Whatever you lack, may the Lord of creatures,

the First-born of Right, supply to you fully!

62. May your dwellings, O Earth, free from sickness and wasting,

flourish for us! Through a long life, watchful,

may we always offer to you our tribute!

63. O Earth, O Mother, dispose my lot

in gracious fashion that I be at ease.


 

Even for Hindus today the Earth is sacred as the very manifestation of the Divine Mother. She is Bhumi Devi, the Earth Goddess. One of the reasons that Hindus honor cows is that the cow represents the energies and qualities of the Earth, selfless caring, sharing and the providing of nourishment to all.

 

In the Vedas there was much contemplation on the idea that, while humans are from the Earth and part of the Earth, it seems that we are not only of the Earth, not just Earthly beings.

 

SOURCES

  • International Journal of Social Science & Interdisciplinary Research, Vol.1 Issue 8, August 2012, ISSN 2277 3630

  • Panikkar, Raimundo; Vedic Experience: An Anthology of Hinduism’s Sacred and Revealed Scriptures

Indus Valley Civilization — Religion

Proto-siva

Proto-siva

The exact belief system of the Indus Valley Civilization is difficult to define because the written language has not yet been deciphered, and there were no direct successors, nor colonialists, to interpret and record prevailing beliefs. Furthermore, the civilization left behind little physical evidence of their beliefs, and that evidence that has been unearthed is open to a wide range of interpretation. We are therefore left to speculate the belief system by ascribing meaning to the physical evidence left by the archaeological record, in order to understand the ideologies of these ancient people. That being said, the belief system of the Indus Valley people is important to consider because it is likely to have contained many precursors to deities and religious practices of religions that developed later in the region.

Despite the fact that no temples have been found dating back to the Indus Valley Civilization, the religion is said to have believed in the otherworld as well as in gods and goddesses. In 1931, John Marshall identified a number of prominent features of the Indus religion, namely the Great Mother Goddess (female sexuality is deeply ingrained in Indus religion and ideology), a Great Male God and veneration of animals. Also among the important depictions are the symbolic representation of the phallus (linga) and vulva (yoni), and the importance of bath and water in religious practice.

Many images found in Harappan sites are thought to be the predecessors to Vedic ideology. A stone seal known as the “Proto-siva”, which depicts a male character sitting on a dias in a yogic position surrounded by animals, was thought by Marshall to be a forerunner of Shiva, the well-known Hindu deity. While other scholars have purported that this figure is actually a “Proto-Brahma”/ “Brahma-Bull” (the great creator) or other god, the general consensus is that the figure is a precursor to later belief systems in India and beyond. Other figures in yoga postures, Shiva-like Gods, fire altars and swastikas may provide further evidence of the connection.

Sources

  1. Miller, D. Ideology and the Harrapan Civilization. Journal of Anthropological Archeology. 4. 34-71. (1985)
  2. Possehl, Gregory. The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. Altamira Press. 2002.
  3. Frawley, D. Underworld: Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age, A Vedic and India Perspective. https://grahamhancock.com/archive-review2/

 

The Horse Theory

SpokedWheel Aryan Horse Theory.png

One of the most often cited examples of evidence both for and against the Aryan Invasion Theory (AIT) is the presence of horses.  Supporters of the AIT postulate that horses were domesticated by Aryans and brought to India during the invasion (or migration). Along with the horse, the chariot and spoked wheel (and thus a means to conquer) were also introduced to India around the fall of the Harappan Civilization.

Author R.S. Sharma (1995), an eminent historian and academic of Ancient and early Medieval India, whose 1977 Ancient India was banned by the Janata Party government in 1978, among other things for its criticism of the historicity of Krishna and the events of the Mahabharata epic, maintains that the Aryan and Harappan cultures were in fact separate and not co-mingled “it is significant that the Rig Vedic culture was pastoral and horse-centered while the Harappan culture was neither horse-centered nor pastoral” (source).  Since the time of Sir John Marshall, British Archaeologist, the absence of the horse has been the mainstay of the belief that the speakers of the Vedic language must have succeeded the Harappan civilization: “in the lives of the Vedic-Aryans the horse plays an important part… to the people of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa the horse seems to have been unknown” (Marshall 1931, 111 source).

Hans Hock, Ph.D. in linguistics from Yale University, currently teaches general historical linguistics, Indo-European linguistics, Sanskrit, diachronic sociolinguistics, and the history of linguistics. About the horse, he summarizes the problem very well: "no archaeological evidence from Harappan India has been presented that would indicate anything comparable to the cultural and religious significance of the horse (...) which can be observed in the traditions of the early IE peoples, including the Vedic Aryas. On balance, then, the 'equine' evidence at this point is more compatible with migration into India than with outward migration." (1999:13 source)

Soma: The Nectar of the Gods

Photo:  source

Photo: source

Night to the Soma-drinker come, for his enjoyment, these pure drops,
The Somas mingled with the curd.
Thou, grown at once to perfect strength, wast born to drink the Soma juice, Strong Indra, for preeminence.
O Indra, lover of the song, may these quick Somas enter thee:
May they bring bliss to thee the Sage.

— Rig Veda, HYMN V. to Indra

In Vedic times, Soma was a plant given as an offering to the gods.  There was great mysticism and spiritual power surrounding the plant.  So much so that it was considered a deity in its own right leading many to search for the true identity of this revered plant.

In the Rig Veda, Soma is mentioned as existing in all plants (RV X.97.7) and many different types of Soma are indicated. Water itself, particularly that of the Himalayan rivers, is a kind of Soma (RV VII.49.4). In Vedic thought, for every form of Agni or Fire, there is also a form of Soma. In this regard, there are Somas throughout the universe. Agni and Soma are the Vedic equivalents of yin and yang in Chinese thought.1

Many scholars believe the plant ephedra (Ma huang in Chinese herbalism) was the main Soma plant.  Ephedra grows commonly in Afghanistan and Iran, and was the main Soma plant of the Persians. Ephedra is common in different places in India even today, and is sometimes called Somalata. While ephedra may have been commonly used, it was not the only plant, nor does it resemble the Soma plants described in the Rig Veda.

The Atharva Veda (AV XI.6.15) mentions five great plants of which Soma is the best, including marijuana, barley and darbha (kusha or durva), showing that many plants had Soma-like qualities. Here Soma is again connected with another type of reed (darbha, Saccharum cylindricum), which could have easily been pressed to get a juice, much like sugarcane. Soma is also connected with marijuana, suggesting that mind-altering plants were regarded as different types of Soma. In other places, Soma is connected with kushta (Saussurea lappa), a kind of spicy nervine, and with the Ashvattha fig tree and said to grow in the Himalayas in the Atharva Veda (AV XIX.39.5, 6).1

There where the broad-based stone raised on high to press the juices out, O Indra, drink with eager thirst the droppings which the mortar sheds. [01-028] HYMN XXVIII Indra.

In the Vedas, the juice of Soma was extracted by stone grinding or cooked with grains such as barley (yava), milk (go) or curds (dadhi). Soma was often used with ghee (ghrita) and honey (madhu) and soma was often called madhu (honey or mead). Special herbal honey preparations and herbal ghee preparations were additional types of Somas. Soma is also connected to lotuses and other flowering aquatic plants.1

The great Ayurvedic doctor, Sushrut, mentions 24 Soma plants, growing mainly on Himalayan lakes. He mentions 18 additional plants, which are mainly nervine herbs. Soma, therefore, was likely part of an entire science of sacred plant preparations and not just one plant in particular.1

In yogic and spiritual practices, Soma is a nectar secreted from the pineal gland during deep states of meditation.  This amrita is thought to drip down and mingle with the heart chakra, aligning the heart and mind. Soma at a yogic level refers to the crown chakra, which is opened by Indra (yogic insight) and releases a flood of bliss throughout the body. This inner Soma is the main subject of the Vedic hymns, though outer Somas were also important.1

Soma was an important part of vedic rituals, spiritual practices and shamanic medicine.  Given its transformative nature, it is no surprise that Soma took on many different forms. While we may never know which plants were actually used, we can be certain of the reverence that Soma merited in ancient times. 

Sources

  1. https://www.vedanet.com/the-secret-of-the-soma-plant/
  2. Rig Veda
  3. https://www.britannica.com/topic/soma-Hinduism

Who is Sushrut?

Sushruta.jpg

Sangraha Period 400 CE - 700 C

Sushruta, often referred to as the “Father of Indian Medicine” or the “Father of Plastic Surgery,” was an influential physician in ancient India.  Although he likely lived around the 7th or 6th century BCE (some even speculate as early as 1000 BCE), Sushtruta is still revered today for his influence in the critical development of Ayurvedic surgical procedures. [2]

While several different persons of the name Sushruta are mentioned in various Sanskrit sources, only one is described to have learned from a pupil of a Dhanvantari (an incarnation of Surya) and composed a treatise called Kalpaveda, which became the model of Sushruta’s Sushrutatantra, a medical work in one hundred chapters.  The same Sushruta is mentioned in the Agnipurana and Gaudapuranaas, again as a medical authority and pupil of Dhanvantari. [1]  It should also be mentioned that most scholars do not accept the claim that the physician Sushruta is associated with the Sushruta mentioned in the Mahabharata, the son of the sage Visvamitra. [2]

Sushruta’s work shares a wealth of medical techniques, but his own life and background still remains somewhat of a mystery; not even his birth name is known! The name “Sushruta” is actually an epithet meaning “renowned.”  Nonetheless, he is known to have practiced medicine in northern India along the banks of the Ganges River, near what is now Varanasi. As a revered healer and sage, his gifts are often believed to have come from the gods. It is worth noting that Sushruta may have been a contemporary of the also infamous Charaka, if not a successor.

THE SUSHRUTA SAMHITA

The Sushruta Samhita is the oldest known text of Ayurveda, and holds a place among the important trilogy of classic Ayurvedic texts along with Charaka Samhita and Ashtanga Hridayam. Its importance and distinction lies not only in its age, but in its content. (2) It is the only remaining text that describes shalya tantra, the practice of surgery. In fact, it is the oldest known document on surgery not only specifically within Ayurveda, but in the world. (3)

The author Sushruta is known as the “Father of Surgery”, and his work has been studied throughout the centuries, from the students of Ayurveda in ancient times all the way through to its more recent study by scholars of medicine in the Western world. Sushruta’s achievements in surgery as described in the text have been acknowledged and admired as great scientific achievements of the ancient world. (3)

The work of Sushruta in writing the Sushruta Samhita standardized and established the knowledge of surgical practices at the time. While Charaka Samhita outlines established medical knowledge and practices of the time, Sushruta Samhita includes detailed descriptions of how surgeries should be performed, from start to finish. Many of the chapters of the text are devoted to this, going through more than 300 surgical procedures, including plastic surgery reconstruction and the removal of cataracts. He also describes over 120 surgical instruments and more than 1,120 diseases, injuries, and conditions. He discusses treatments as well, including descriptions of over 700 medicinal herbs and their application and properties. (2)

SUSHRUTA’S CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE EVOLUTION OF AYURVEDA

Sushruta’s skill as a physician and teacher greatly advanced the practice of surgery. His contributions were numerous, significantly advancing the understanding of the human body. He developed different surgical techniques and tools, and, most notably, invented the practice of cosmetic surgery.

He advocated for and brought into practice the dissection of the human cadaver, enabling him to describe different parts of human anatomy such as the skin, muscles, bones, blood vessels, tissues, and special spots of surgical importance. Without refrigeration and preservatives, Sushruta accomplished dissection by placing the corpse in a cage to protect it from animals and immersing it in cold water, such as a running river or stream. He and his students would then check on it as it slowly decomposed layer by layer. [2]

Sushruta refined the practice of surgery through the fabrication of a wide variety of surgical instruments, naming each after the particular animal that the tool resembled, a practice which is still being adopted to this day. He was the first to introduce tubular instruments for the diagnosis of disease, the precursor of the “endoscopic instruments” of modern day medicine. He describes, in detail, the benefits and challenges, care and maintenance, and proper use of all instruments in the Sushruta Samhita.

Sushruta Rhinoplasty.jpg

His surgical specialty was rhinoplasty, the reconstruction of the nose. His master piece, the Sushruta Samhita, provides instructions on exactly how a surgeon should perform this revolutionary surgery:

The portion of the nose to be covered should be first measured with a leaf. Then a piece of skin of the required size should be dissected from the living skin of the cheek and turned back to cover the nose keeping a small pedicle attached to the cheek. The part of the nose to which the skin is to be attached should be made raw by cutting the nasal stump with a knife. The physician then should place the skin on the nose and stitch the two parts swiftly, keeping the skin properly elevated by inserting two tubes of eranda (the castor-oil plant) in the position of the nostrils so that the new nose gets proper shape. The skin thus properly adjusted, it should then be sprinkled with a powder of liquorice, red sandalwood, and barberry plant. Finally, it should be covered with cotton and clean sesame oil should be constantly applied. When the skin has united and granulated, if the nose is too short or too long, the middle of the flap should be divided and an endeavor made to enlarge or shorten it. (Sushruta Samhita, I.16)

The development of rhinoplasty in India was especially important due to the common practice of rhinotomy, the amputation of the nose, as a form of punishment. Sushruta’s timely development of this particular reconstructive surgery gave hope to those whom had been deformed, offering the possibility of returning to a life of normalcy.

Even if we may not know exactly who Sushruta was, his impact on Ayurveda and medicine at large is significant. He offered detailed insight into the historical practice of Ayurveda and laid the foundations for surgical techniques that are still in use today.

SOURCES

  1. A History of Indian Medical Literature

  2. https://www.ancient.eu/sushruta/

  3. K. R. Srikantha Murty’s Translation of Sushrut Samhita

Indus Valley Civilization — Livelihood

Harappan Tiles

Harappan Tiles

Historians believe that the economy of the Indus Valley Civilization was based on agriculture and the import of raw materials from other lands for use in local workshops. As is the case everywhere, the cities were connected with rural agricultural communities, and there is evidence that they grew sesame, wheat, barley, mustard, millet, cotton and field peas. They may have been the first civilization to grow cotton for clothing. source

It’s believed that agricultural goods: grain and other foodstuffs, lumber, cotton and livestock were traded, and that they were the mainstays of commerce. This is supported by the discovery of granaries. According to Gregory Possehl’s book, The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective, he posits that based on evidence of trade goods like carved seals for stamping (possibly for signing contracts), ornate beads, pottery, metal tools and carved gemstone handicrafts found as far afield as Mesopotamia, Central Asia, China, Iran, Afghanistan and Oman, it appears that Harappans were part of a vast maritime trade network, on which the economy depended. This theory is backed up by the discovery of a massive, dredged canal at Lothal, which is assumed to be a docking facility. source

One standard brick size was found in several cities, and Harappans used fired bricks for the extensive water collection and delivery systems they had, as well as for baths and underground sewage systems. They may have been the first civilization to create urban sanitation systems and to use wheeled transport. It appears that the far-flung communities participated in some kind of taxation system, based on standardized weights that were found. source Since we don’t understand the written language, it is impossible to know details about how the system worked, and historians can only speculate.

How did the Indus Valley Civilization End?

Mohenjo-Daro:  The room with the so-called massacre victims is on the west side of the street (at the right edge of the photo).

Mohenjo-Daro: The room with the so-called massacre victims is on the west side of the street (at the right edge of the photo).

Gregory L. Possehl in The Indus Civilization - A Contemporary Perspective summarizes various theories forwarded by previous authors on why and how the Indus Civilization ended, leading to the period from 1900 BC to the Iron Age (around 1000 BC), when there was essentially no habitation in Mohenjo-daro, Harappa and other urban centers, there was a disruption in the economy, luxury items like long barrel-cylinder beads, etched beads and inscribed stamp seals disappeared, the art of writing was no longer practiced, long-distance trade was reduced, and the distribution of human population shifted (reduction of population in the Sindh areas and an increase in population in the areas from Punjab to Rajasthan).

Theory 1: Wheeler’s Aryan Army

Rigveda conflicts can be viewed as between newly arrived Aryan warriors and the indigenous Indus peoples. Climatic, economic, political deterioration may have weakened it, but its ultimate extinction is more likely to have been completed by deliberate and large-scale destruction – a Late Period of Mohenjo-daro men, women and children appear to have been massacred there (Mackay 1937), but it has also been argued that the remains found are not of massacre victims but actually hasty interments.

Theory 2: Wearing out the Landscape

Ecological basis. Millions of tons of firewood went into baking millions of baked bricks for building and rebuilding Mohenjo-daro. This implies a widespread deforestation of the surrounding region. Contrary views argue that only 400 acres of gallery forest would have been needed for rebuilding Mohenjo-daro every 140 years.

Theory 3: Avulsion of the Indus River

Natural cause of dramatic shift in the course of the Indus River – led to abandonment of Mohenjo-daro, and by domino effect the rest of the Indus Civilization was eclipsed.

Theory 4: The Raikes/Dales Dam

A natural dam near Sehwan impounded the waters of the Indus River and caused heavy flooding (to a degree beyond normal behavior of a river), leading to disruption of Mohenjo-daro and other sites. This view is critiqued by the opinion that a natural dam could not have been formed by the sediments of the Indus Civilization because of its low structural integrity. It is also opposed by the view that an impounded Indus River was not sufficient to end the civilization.

Theory 5: The Lost Sarasvati

The waters from the Sarasvati and Drishadvati Rivers dried up, the Himalayan waters instead created the Yamuna river, possibly supported by tectonic upheaval – this happened at the expense of the greater Indus system. Alongside, a sociocultural cause was assumed to be occurring (like renewed settlement in northern Rajasthan with evolved technology), and together led to the demise of the Indus Civilization.

Theory 6: Climatic Change

Changing salinity in lakes would have affected agriculture, but because it would not necessarily imply changes in rainfall and because it was a dry-crop region, this theory does not hold much water.

Theory 7: Allchins’ Approach

Economic factors (decline of Mesopotamian trade), steady deterioration in climate (reduction in rainfall) and environment, uplift of the Himalayas due to tectonics causing change in course of the Indus system rivers. This view is countered by opinions that the foreign trade did not really get interrupted, alternatively that the trade decline wasn’t the cause but effect of the Indus Civilization decline; an additional argument against the Allchins’ approach is that Mohenjo-daro;s agriculture was geared towards and thrived in a desert climate, so that a reduction in rainfall was not an impactful natural cause.

“There is a historical awkwardness on two counts: There is a period of eclipse with a growth of human habitation; and a proposed aridity at a time when archaeological data indicate widespread dry cropping.”

Author Gregory L. Possehl’s forwards his hypothesis that the cause of the decline of the Indus Civilization was at its heart, its ideological core: nihilism, urbanization and sociocultural complexity (iconographic themes of ideology like figurines, pottery seals and other glyptic items, wasserluxus (construction of brick-lined wells, metropolitan drainage system and bathing platforms including the Great Bath)) and technological prowess  (baked-brick architecture, drainage systems, seal cutting, etching carnelian, drilling long carnelian bead stoneware bangles).  “Too much of a good thing” in an ideologically perfect, free-of-conflict sociocultural system can also be counterproductive, even destructive.

Source

Possehl, Gregory. The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. Altamira Press. 2002

Indus River Valley Civilization — Societal Structure

Indus River Valley - Societal Structure.jpeg

While there is some debate over the existence of a caste system in ancient Harappa, many archaeologists theorize that there was a hierarchical social structure in place.  This view is supported by the architectural layout found in the walled cities.  “Within Harappa, walls separated one section of the people from another, which clearly shows how the caste system existed way back,”  said archaeologist, and Indologist. Dr. Jamkhedkar. source

The caste system is a hierarchy and it existed in India as far back as the Harappan civilization according to Dr. Jamkhedar.  The caste system had four main groups: the Brahmins consisting of priests and kings; the Kshatriyas, the warriors and aristocrats; the Vaishyas, cultivators, artisans and merchants; and the Shudras or peasants and serfs.  In addition, was the concept of Varna, which depended upon the person’s chosen profession. People from different varnas could live within a single family, while the caste system was hereditary and depended upon birth. The people of those times, he said, were free to choose their own varna which depended upon the education they pursued. He explained how the educated class, Brahmins had different kinds of sub-castes. Those who were to become kings had to fight to protect their kingdoms and ended up as Kshatriyas, the fighting class.  

Indus rulers appear to have governed their cities through the control of trade and religion rather than military might. There is no evidence of monuments built to commemorate the rulers and there is no indication of warfare and weapons. The rulers carried seals with animal symbols and wore ornaments of rare material. Each larger city was probably organized as a city-state. There is little evidence of hereditary monarchies. Numerous large buildings and public spaces in the lower town seem to indicate the presence of several distinct elite groups. Local leaders would have been responsible for the maintenance of well-planned streets and housing, wells and drainage facilities. source  Like so many of the mysteries of this society, the extent to which religion was a factor in the political rule of the Indus remains unclear.  

Commentaries on Charaka Samhita

Commentaries on Charaka Samhita.jpg

Classical Period (450 BCE - 400 CE)

Introduction to Charaka Samhita

Many consider Charaka to be a redactor; restoring, rewriting, and filling in the gaps of the Agnivesa Samhita (46,000 verses), which is no longer in existence. (2) In this lineage, Agnivesa transcribed the teachings of Atreya Punarvasu and turned them into a text that would later be made available to the world thanks to Charaka. The Agnivesa Samhita is said to have been on the verge of perishing, or maybe just falling into disuse, at the moment that Charaka took on the great task of redaction. (1)

Charaka is believed to have flourished anywhere between the 2nd and 6th century BCE. (1, 2) Speculation still revolves around his existence as a singular person, or its existence as a collaborative effort. Commentators such as Vijnana Bhiksu, Sivadasa, and Bhavamisra (the author of the Bhavaprakasha), subscribe to the opinion that Charaka and author of Mahabhasya on Vyakarana Patanjali, are one and the same person. (1)

Who exactly the author is, or if, in fact, Charaka represents the work of a "school of thought," is unknown. It is possible that a group of scholars — maybe even followers of a man named Charaka — collaborated to complete this comprehensive work. (2)

Regardless, Charaka Samhita remains one of the most crucial (and highly studied) authoritative contributions to Ayurvedic medicine today. The work itself summarizes medical care in health and in disease by offering etiology, symptomatology and treatments. (1) This divine piece of Sanskrit writing is presented in the form of poetry, with meter and melody, to enhance one’s ability for memorization. It presents most of the theoretical foundations of Ayurveda while focusing on kayachikitsa (internal medicine). Charaka never discusses the upadoshas of pitta or kapha, but does describe the 5 sub-types of vata. (2)

Commentaries on Charaka Samhita

The practice of writing commentaries on the classical texts of Ayurveda began during the Sangraha period. This was the age of the reign of the Gupta Kings, often considered the golden age of Indian history. During this time many treatises of different disciplines were reexamined and redacted to update them for the new era.

Previously, many volumes of text had been written focusing on different specialties in medicine. With such a large body of work, it was difficult for students and practitioners to thoroughly learn and incorporate this knowledge through studying the texts. Thus, the practice of creating concise “handbooks” began. These were commentaries on the classical texts that covered the essentials of all of the eight branches of Ayurveda. This tradition of creating compilations of information from the classical Ayurvedic texts is believed to have begun with Vagbhata, who wrote his treatises Ashtanga Hridayam and Ashtanga Sangraha during this time. Both texts incorporate the writings of Charaka and Sushruta in a new layout meant to be easier to use for practitioners at the time.

Charaka Samhita has over 60 different known commentators, in addition to some anonymous commentators. The various commentators of the Charaka Samhita compiled commentaries based in their own education and personal bias. Some authors wrote word for word translations, analyzing each compound in comparison to other commentators, while others picked through the verses and selected information which they perceived to be genuine to be included in the commentary.

Here, we describe some of the more well-known commentators and their commentaries.

Bhattara Harischandra wrote Charakanyasa, which is the oldest commentary on Charaka Samhita. It was written around the turn of the 4th century, C.E. This commentary is well regarded in the medical world, and is also praised for its prose in the literary world. Many scholars consider it the best commentary, but unfortunately the complete text is not available.

Swami Kumara’s commentary is known as Panjika, and is believed to have been written around the 5th century C.E. Only a small portion of the text was preserved, and little is known about the author, other than that he was Shaiva based on the invocation... in his commentary. (He starts with an invocation to Lord Shiva).

He is a good example of how many of the commentators are intertwined. Before writing his commentary, he consulted Hariṣcandra’s commentary, which he also quoted frequently throughout his writings. He was later quoted by Jejjata in his commentaries. These connections help historians to place authors in their context in the timeline of Indian history.

Shivadas Sen wrote the commentary called Tatvachandrika or Tattvapradīpikā in the 15th century C.E. Again, the full text is not available. We know that he was trained in Ayurveda and other sciences by his father to whom he repeatedly refers in the Sūtrasthāna of Charaka Samhitā , and may have been a devotee of Vishnu. At the end of his third commentary Shivadas Sen wrote of his long lineage dating back to Sāisena, a famous poet who lived at the court of Śikharevśara.

Jejjata wrote the commentary Nirantarapada Vyakhya. His background is not entirely clear; some mention Mahajanupati as his teacher, while others identify his teacher as Vagbhat. It is debated whether his was Hindu or Buddhist.

His is the most popular commentary on Charaka Samhita after Charakanyasa. It was written in the 6th century C.E., and only a few sections of the work are still available. In his commentary, Jejjata is especially concerned with determining which verses of Charaka Samhita can be regarded as genuine, and actually rejects those verses that he does not perceive as genuine.

Chakrapanidutta is quite famous among the commentators of Charaka Samhita. Indeed, his work on his commentaries of both Charaka and Sushruta Samhita earned him the honorifics 'Charaka Chaturanana' and 'Susruta Sahasranayana'.  His commentary is called Āyurveda Dīpikā, and is one of the few that is still available in its complete form. Historians have determined the date of writing to be in the 11th century C.E.

In his commentary, Chakrapani is not interested in psychopathology because in his opinion the text is devoted to internal medicine (kayachikitsa). He does not admit blood as a dosha and expresses doubt regarding the relationship between pitta and agni. He understood the concepts of poshya or sthayi and poshaka or asthayi dhatu, gave a limited role to samprapti, and made an important remark regarding the clay-like color of the stools in obstructive jaundice. He was of the opinion that animals may be killed if required for the preservation of health or the curing of disease.

Chakrapani’s philosophical views were aligned with the later stages of Nyāya, Vaiśheṣhika, and Saṃkhya. Because of this, it is apparent that in his commentaries, he is critical of Charaka and attempts to reconcile statements found in Charaka Samhita with Nyāya doctrines. One example of this is that Chakrapani did not accept yukti as a separate pramāṇa like Charaka did.

Yogendranath Sen is one of the more recent commentators on Charaka Samhita. He was born in 1871, and his commentary Charakopaskāra was originally published in incomplete form in 1920. He studied Ayurveda under his father, who was a pupil of Gangadhara, and eventually became known as one of the foremost Ayurvedic physicians of India.

His commentary covers only the first chapter of the Sutrasthana to the 13th chapter of the Chikitsasthana. Unlike many of the other commentaries, it was written in simple sanskrit, and it follows Charaka word for word while analyzing each compound of each word. He also sometimes agrees with and comments on some of the writings of Chakrapanni and Gangadhara, sometimes synthesizing their views or offering his own view.

Kaviraj Jyotishchandra Sarasvati was a Bengali author who wrote the commentary is called Charaka Dīpikā, and was published only up to the sutrasthana. Throughout his commentary, he repeatedly refers to the views of Gaṇāthasena and contradicts Kaviraj Gananath Sen.

Some of the best pearls of these commentaries can be found in the last two volumes of P.V. Sharma’s English translation of Charaka Samhita.

Reference

  1. Narayanaswamy, V. Origin and Development of Ayurveda. College of Indian Medicine, Madras - India. Ancient Science of Life, Vol. 1, No. 1. July 1981. Pp 1-7

  2. https://www.ayurveda.com/resources/articles/the-ancient-ayurvedic-writings

  3. A Handbook of the History of Ayurveda (Revised and Illustrated), by Dr. R. Vidyanath and Dr. K. Nishteswar

  4. A History of Indian Medical Literature by G. Jan Meulenbeld

Ancient Leftovers: The diet and agricultural practices of the Indus Civilization

Pre-Vedic (2600–1900 BCE)

The_Gujarati_Thali.jpg

“The ability to produce and control agricultural surpluses was a fundamental factor in the rise of the earliest complex societies and cities.” (4)

The Indus Society

The Indus Valley Civilization, or Harappan Civilization was one of the great early complex societies of the bronze age.  The Indus dominated a land area larger than either ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia, covering much of today’s northeast Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India. Between 3300–1300 BCE, it was the most widespread of three early cradles of civilisation of the Old World. (3) Harappa, one of the largest Indus cities, was located in modern day Pakistan. (3)

The Indus society began to flourish around the same time that the ancient Egyptians built their pyramids and Mesopotamians constructed the first great cities.(3) During its peak, between 2600–1900 BCE, Indus cities are believed to have maintained a population of some 40,000 within large and carefully planned urban centers.(1) The Indus cities are noted for their urban planning, baked brick houses, elaborate drainage systems, water supply systems, and clusters of large  building non-residentials. The expansive region across which Indus settlements were distributed was both geographically and culturally variable, creating equally similar variations in Indus subsistence practices. (4)

Diet Overview

The foods and cooking of the Indus civilization laid the groundwork for the modern-day “curry” dishes of South Asia. The Harappans incorporated a variety of foods into their diet, including grains and pulses, vegetables, fruits, and animal products, as well as a variety of seasonings and spices still used in South Asia today. (2) Current research suggests that diet and agriculture focused primarily on the raising of cattle, goat, and sheep, supplemented by cultivation of wheat and barley supported by winter rains. (3)

Of legumes and pulses, the Harappans were known to grow and cultivate lentils, chickpeas, peas, green gram (mung beans), and black gram (urad dal). (2) Their staple grains included wheat and barley; millet was also cultivated in certain regions, especially Gujarat. They used wheat and barley to make breads, and they may have also cooked them in water as a gruel or porridge.

Though rice is a modern staple in this region, its status as a staple grain during this time is unclear. Researchers previously thought that rice farming did not take prevalence until the end of the Indus era; rather, rice farming was developed in China and brought to the region around that time. (1) There is evidence that during this time, wild rice was cultivated as animal fodder. (2) However, in some areas researchers have found large quantities of rice, enough to suggest that it was preferred over wheat or barley. (3) This also suggests that rice farming may have developed in tandem with rice cultivation in China, rather than afterward. (1)

6375109417_af2fb998bc_o.jpg

Regarding this, Dr. Jennifer Bates notes, "We found evidence for an entirely separate domestication process in ancient South Asia, likely based around the wild species Oryza nivara. This led to the local development of a mix of 'wetland' and 'dryland' agriculture of local Oryza sativa indica rice agriculture before the truly 'wetland' Chinese rice, Oryza sativa japonica, arrived around 2000 BC." (1)

It is believed that the Harappans ate a variety of local fruits, including dates, jujube, grapes, figs, and possibly mango. Cultivated vegetables include a variety of brassica and brown mustard greens, and possibly okra and capers. A variety of herbs, spices, and seasonings were also available and likely cultivated, though evidence is lacking. Notably these include coriander, sugarcane, garlic, turmeric, ginger, cumin, and cinnamon. (2) Ginger, garlic, and turmeric are considered to be key ingredients in cooking. (3)

The Harappans raised cattle for meat, but they also raised chickens, buffaloes, sheep, and goats. They also hunted game, namely a variety of wildfowl, deer, antelope, and wild boar. Their diet also included fish and shellfish from local rivers and lakes and the sea. Fish were eaten fresh, or sometimes dried or salted, as evidenced from the discovery of marine fish remains far inland. (2)

For oil, sesame was used, and possibly flaxseed oil as well. (2) Excavation of Indus sites has resulted in the discovery of tandoori-style ovens used for cooking.(3) This is an extraordinary discovery showing the roots of modern-day Indian cuisine in the Bronze Age. Tandoori ovens are used in many popular dishes such as tikka masala and for the traditional preparation of naan. They have spread across the world with the Indian diaspora, and thus can be found even in small towns in the UK and United States.

Agricultural Practices

In 2016, a public release from the University of Cambridge confirmed new archaeological findings about the Indus Civilization. The research reveals ways in which Indus populations utilized complex strategies for multi-cropping based on season, which also involves a critical awareness of varying watering regimes.  Before other other civilizations were varying their crops seasonally, the Indus people were favoring rice, millet and beans in the summer; and wheat, barley and pulses in the winter. Radiocarbon dating even shows evidence of horsegram crops as far back as 2580 BC, and rice as far back as 2430-2140 BC. Not only were these agricultural practices increasing dietary variety, but also providing the opportunity for organization of labor and provisioning throughout the year.  Beyond the benefits to an individual community, this variety of crops may have been responsible for the establishment of ancient urban cities, as produce from regional growers was transported to markets for trade. (1)

Pre-Vedic India offers glimpses into the subtle wisdom of Ayurveda in its clever affinity for seasonal eating, as well as the use of a variety of grains and pulses, such as urad dhal. The notion of seasonal eating, also called ritucharya, is emphasized in the ancients texts of ayurveda (Charak Samhita, 200 BCE).

Whether perusing the classical texts of Ayurveda, opening a modern Ayurvedic cookbook or sitting down to a curry or tandoori dish in Denver or Darwin Australia, Mumbai or Birmingham UK, we are still experiencing the ingredients and cooking methods of ancient Harappa.

SOURCES

  1. Rice farming in India much older than thought, used as 'summer crop' by Indus civilization. EurekAlert! The Global Source for Science News. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-11/uoc-rfi111816.php. Published November 20, 2016. Accessed February 2, 2018.

  2. What kinds of things did the Indus people eat?. Harappa.com. https://www.harappa.com/answers/what-kinds-things-did-indus-people-eat. Accessed February 2, 2018.

  3. The Origins of Curry in the Indus Civilization. Harappa.com. https://www.harappa.com/blog/origins-curry-indus-civilization. Published May 30, 2016. Accessed February 2, 2018.

  4. Petrie C, Bates J, Higham T, Singh R. Feeding ancient cities in South Asia: dating the adoption of rice, millet and tropical pulses in the Indus civilisation. Antiquity. 2016;90(354):1489-1504. doi:10.15184/aqy.2016.210.