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The Caraka Saṃhitā (CS, Devanagari:चरक संहिता) or "Compendium of Caraka" is an early text on Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine). It is one of the two foundational texts of this field, both dating to the early centuries of the Common Era, alongside the Sushruta Samhita.
The relative chronology of the two texts is not entirely clear. The text of the Carakasaṃhitā as it survives dates to the Gupta period or roughly to 300-500 CE, which would make it contemporary to or slightly younger than the Sushruta Samhita (SuS). However, the surviving text is considered an edition by one Dṛḍhabala, based on an earlier work of the period of between 100 BCE and 100 CE, so that the bulk of the material in the CS might actually predate the SuS by a few centuries.
The extant text has aṣṭāṅga sthāna (eight sections), totalling 120 chapters. These 8 sections are
- Sūtra sthāna (30 chapters) - It deals with Healthy living, collection of drugs and their uses, remedies, diet and duties of a physician.
- Nidāna sthāna (8 chapters) - It discusses the pathology of eight chief diseases.
- Vimāna sthāna (8 chapters) - It contains pathology, various tools of diagnostics & medical studies and conduct.
- Śārīra sthāna (8 chapters) - It describes embryology & anatomy of a human body.
- Indriya sthāna (12 chapters) - It elaborates on diagnosis & prognosis of disease on the basis of senses.
- Cikitsā sthāna (30 chapters) - It deals with special therapy.
- Kalpa sthāna (12 chapters) - It describes usage and preparation of medicine.
- Siddhi sthāna (12 chapters) - It describes general principles of 'Panchkarma'.
17 chapters of Cikitsā sthāna and complete Kalpa sthāna and Siddhi sthāna were added later by Dṛḍhabala (5th century). The text starts with Sūtra sthāna which deals with fundamentals and basic principles of Ayurveda practice. Unique scientific contributions credited to the Charaka Saṃhitā include:
- a rational approach to the causation and cure of disease
- introduction of objective methods of clinical examination
- “Direct observation is the most remarkable feature of Ayurveda(आयुर्वेद), though at times it is mixed up with metaphysics. The Saṃhitā emphasizes that of all types of evidence the most dependable ones are those that are directly observed by the eyes. In Ayurveda successful medical treatment crucially depends on four factors: the physician, substances (drugs or diets), nurse and patient. The qualifications of physician are: clear grasp of the theoretical content of the science, a wide range of experience, practical skill and cleanliness; qualities of drugs or substances are: abundance, applicability, multiple use and richness in efficacy; qualifications of the nursing attendant are: knowledge of nursing techniques, practical skill, attachment for the patient and cleanliness; and the essential qualifications of the patients are: good memory, obedience to the instructions of the doctors, courage and ability to describe the symptoms.”
The most celebrated commentary on this text is the Carakatātparyaṭīkā "Commentary on the Meaning of the Caraka" or the Ayurveda Dīpikā, "The Lamp to Ayurveda" written by [Cakrapāṇidatta] (1066). Other notable commentaries are Bhaṭṭāraka Hari(ś)candra's Carakanyāsa (c.6th century), Jejjaṭas Nirantarapadavyākhyā (c.875), Shivadasa Sena's Carakatattvapradīpikā (c.1460). Among the more recent commentaries are Narasiṃha Kavirāja's Carakatattvaprakāśa and Gaṅgādhara Kaviratna's Jalpakalpatāru (1879).
Charaka Saṃhitā on nursing
"The Caraka (Vol I, Section xv) states these men should be, 'of good behaviour, distinguished for purity, possessed of cleverness and skill, imbued with kindness, skilled in every service a patient may require, competent to cook food, skilled in bathing and washing the patient, rubbing and massaging the limbs, lifting and assisting him to walk about, well skilled in making and cleansing of beds, readying the patient and skilful in waiting upon one that is ailing and never unwilling to do anything that may be ordered."
Sanskrit caraka is a term for a wandering religious student or ascetic. There are several legendary accounts of the origins of medical science in South Asia. According to one, the serpent-king Śeṣa, who was the recipient of Ayurveda(Ayurveda), once visited the earth and finding it full of sickness he became moved with pity and determined to become incarnate as the son of a Muni for alleviating disease; he was called Charaka because he had visited the earth as a kind of spy or cara; he then composed a new book on medicine, based on older works of Agniveśa and Atreya pupils (Agniveśakr̥te tantre Charaka pratisaṃskr̥te).
- Meulenbeld, G. J. A History of Indian Medical Literature (Groningen, 1999--2002), vol. IA, pp. 7-180.
- Valiathan, M. S. (2003) The Legacy of Caraka Orient Longman ISBN 81-250-2505-7 reviewed in Current Science, Vol.85 No.7 Oct 2003, Indian Academy of Sciences seen at  June 1, 2006
- Meulenbeld, op. cit., vol. IA, pp. 130-141.
- Meulenbeld, op. cit., v. IA, pp. 105-115.
- Chattopadhyāya, D. (1982) Case for a critical analysis of the Charak Saṃhitā In Studies in the History of Science in India (Ed. D. Chattopadhyāya). Vol. 1. New Delhi: Editorial Enterprises. Pp. 209-236. cited in Tiwari, Lalit “A Summary of the Late D. Chattopadhyaya's Critique of Charaka Saṃhitā” seen at  June 1, 2006
- Wilson, Bruce in The History of Men in American Nursing without sources at www.allnurses.com, seen June 1, 2006
- Monier-Wlliams (1899), s.v. caraka.
- Charak Samhita online version
- Charak Samhita Original sanskrit Text
- Devendranath Sen Gupta,Upendranath Sen Gupta, ed. (1897). The Charaka-Samhita by Mahamuni Agnibesha, Revised by Maharshi Charaka. Dhanvantari Machine Press, Calcutta.
- English Rendition Of Charaka Samhita Verses With Commentary Of Dr. Vikrama
- Syncretism in the Caraka and Suśruta saṃhitās
- Kaviratna, A.C. and P. Sharma, tr., The Charaka Samhita 5 Vols., Indian Medical Science Series, Sri Satguru Publications, a division of Indian Books Centre, Delhi 81-7030-471-7
- Menon, I A and H F Haberman, Dermatological writings of ancient India Medical History. 1969 October; 13(4): 387–392. seen at The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London  June 1, 2006
- Muniyal Ayurveda, Manipal, Sacitra Caraka Samhita - Volume 1, published by Muniyal Institute of Ayurveda Medical Sciences, Manipal. 2005 
- Wujastyk, Dominik, The Roots of Ayurveda (Penguin Classics, 3rd edition, 2003), pp. 1-50 gives an introduction to the Carakasaṃhitā and a modern translation of selected passages.
- Meulenbeld, G. J. A History of Indian Medical Literature (Groningen, 1999--2002), vol. IA, pp. 7-180, gives a detailed survey of the contents of the Carakasaṃhitā and a comprehensive discussion of all historical matters related to the text, its commentators, and its later history in the Islamic world and in Tibet.
- Sharma, P. V. Caraka-Saṃhitā: Agniveśa's Treatise Refined and annotated by Caraka and Redacted by Dṛḍhabala (text with English translation) Chaukhambha Orientalia, 1981--1994. The best modern English translation of the whole text. Volume 4 gives summaries of the commentary of Cakrapāṇidatta.
- Sharma, R. K. & Bhagwan Dash, V. Agniveśa's Caraka Saṃhitā (Text with English Translation & Critical Exposition Based on Cakrapāṇi Datta's Āyurveda Dīpikā) Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1976--2002. Another good English translation of the whole text, with paraphrases of the commentary of Cakrapāṇidatta.
- Ācārya, Yādava Trivikrama (ed.) Maharṣiṇā Punarvasunopadiṣṭā, tacchiṣyeṇĀgniveśena praṇītā, CarakaDṛḍhabalābhyāṃ pratisaṃskṛtā Carakasaṃhitā, śrīCakrapāṇidattaviracitayā Āyurvedadīpikāvyākhyayā saṃvalitā Nirnaya Sagara Press, 1941. The best current edition of the Sanskrit text. Often reprinted. Online machine-readable transcription available at SARIT.info