Bhasma (residue after incineration – calcined preparation) and pishti (powdered gem or metal) are used with herbs for the treatment of critical ailments as a medicinal preparation in Ayurveda and to some extent Unani (both Indian branches of medical science using natural curative methods). The procedures for preparing these medicines are time-consuming and complicated.
Bhasma is a calcined preparation in which the gem or metal is converted into ash. Gems or metals are purified to remove impurities and treated by triturating and macerating in herbal extracts. The dough so obtained is calcinated to obtain the ashes.^
In certain circumstances Bhasma, 'Vibhuti' (Sanskrit) and 'Thiruneeru' (Tamil) are synonymous.
Bhasmikaran is a process by which a substance which is otherwise bioincompatible is made biocompatible by certain samskaras or processes (Puranik and Dhamankar, 1964e). The objectives of samskara are:
- elimination of harmful matters from the drug
- modification of undesirable physical properties of the drug
- conversion of some of the characteristics of the drug
- enhancement of the therapeutic action(Puranik and Dhamankar, 1964e).
Various steps involved in the preparation of bhasma(or bhasmikaran) are:
- Shodhan -Purification,
- Maran - Powdering,
- Chalan- Stirring,
- Dhavan - Washing,
- Galan- Filtering,
- Putan- Heating,
- Mardan- Triturating,
- Bhavan- Coating with herbal extract,
- Amrutikaran - Detoxification and
- Sandharan- Preservation (Puranik and Dhamankar, 1964e).
Selection of these steps depends on the specific metal. Sometimes there is an overlapping of the steps, e.g., maran is achieved by puttan. Since the present thesis work is on bhasma, Bhasmikaran process is elaborated in details in the following paragraphs.
Steps of bhasmikaran
1. Shodhan: The principal objective of shodhan is to remove unwanted part from the raw material and separate out impurities( Vaiday and Dole 1996b). Metals obtained from ores may contain several impurities, which are removed by subjecting them to Shodhan process. In context of bhasma, shodhan means purifying and making the product suitable for the next step, i.e., Maran. Ayurveda classifies shodhan into a) General process and b) Specific process.
General process for shodhan:
- "The sheets of metals are heated till red hot and are successively dipped into liquids like oil, buttermilk, cow's urine etc. The procedure is repeated seven times".
b. Specific process for shodhan For some metals a specific process is described for shodhan e.g. for purification of Jasad, the molten mass is poured in cow's milk 21 times (Shastri K, 1979b).
2. Maran: Maran literally means killing. As the name suggests in maran process, a change is brought about in the chemical form or state of the metal. This makes it to lose its metallic characteristics and physical nature. In short, after maran, metal can be converted into powder or other form suitable for administration. To convert various metals into a form appropriate for human consumption, several techniques have been employed which ultimately gave birth to concept: "Bhasma prepared by using Rasa i.e. mercury is the best, whereas the one prepared using herbs are of better quality and those prepared using Gandhak (sulfur) are of inferior quality. Thus there are 3 methods given for maran. It is carried out by heating the metal in presence of 1) mercury 2) plants and 3 ) sulfur.
When various maran procedures for different metals were reviewed, it was found that mercury is mainly used. The unique property of mercury to amalgamate with many metals must have been the reason behind its maximum use in the process of Bhasmikaran. Ancient practitioners might have found it as the most suitable chemical and therefore probably have mentioned that bhasmas using mercury are superior. Plants used in maran process may be serving as catalyst in the process or the minerals in the plants may be forming complexes with the metals. However, no such explanation can be obtained for the use of sulfur.
3. Chalan: Process of stirring during heating the metal is chalan. Stirring is carried out either with iron rod or stick made from a specific plant. As we know today, iron serves as catalyst in many chemical reactions. The phytoconstituents of plant stick may be enhancing the therapeutic effect. For example, stick of Neem is used for chalan process of Jasad bhasma, which is used topically for ophthalmic diseases. We can interpret the significance of this process now. Neem is an antiseptic (Puranik and Dhamankar, 1964h). Zinc is antiseptic, astringent and has ulcer healing property (Block et al., 1982b). These effects of both the constituents may impart the final product better therapeutic activity.
4. Dhavan: In this process, several water washes are given to the product obtained in the previous stage. Perhaps this is to remove the excess amounts of agents used in shodhan or maran stage. Such agents may adversely affect the quality of final product. Hence intermediates are washed with water, thereby water-soluble constituents are removed (Puranik and Dhamankar, 1964h).
5. Galan: The product is then sifted either through a fine cloth or through sieves of suitable mesh so as to separate residual material larger in size (Puranik and Dhamankar, 1964h).
6. Puttan: The term puttan means ignition. The general term used for heating in the process of Bhasmikaran is Puta. A special earthen pot, Sharav is generally used for the process. It has two parts, each having a shape of soccer. Sharav is used for direct heating of the material. Its shallowness is useful in heating the material faster and uniformly. After keeping the material on the shallow surface, other part is used as a lid, by placing it in an inverted position. This Puttan process can be looked upon as the key step in manufacturing of bhasma. The classification of putta is primarily done on the basic nature of the process and is as under: (Puranik and Dhamankar, 1964f) 1) Chandraputta 2) Dhanyarashiputta 3) Suryaputta 4) Bhugarbhaputta 5) Agniptuta.
Modern medical science finds that mercury is inherently toxic, and that its toxicity is not due to the presence of impurities. While mercury does have anti-microbial properties, and used to be widely used in Western medicine, its toxicity does not warrant the risk of using it as a health product in most circumstances. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also reported a number of cases of lead and mercury poisoning associated with rasa shastra (The practice of adding minerals to herbal medicine) containing Ayurvedic medicines.
- Ayurvedic formulary of India , 1978a
- Major Herbs of Ayurveda, Elizabeth M. Williamson. ISBN 0-443-07203-5
- CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: Lead Poisoning Associated with Ayurvedic Medications — Five States, 2000–2003