Charaka Samhita

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Caraka Samhita or Compendium of Charaka (Sanskrit Caraka saṃhitā) is an early text on Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine).[1] Along with the Sushruta Samhita, it is one of the two foundational texts of this field that have survived from ancient India.[2]

Early forms are dated to the period of 900 BCE - 600 BCE,[3][4] while the later editions of Charaka samhitā are dated to later centuries.[5]


The extant text has eight sthāna (sections), totalling 120 chapters. These sections are

  1. Sūtra (General principles) - 30 chapters deal with healthy living, collection of drugs and their uses, remedies, diet and duties of a physician.
  2. Nidāna (Pathology) - 8 chapters discuss the pathology of eight chief diseases.
  3. Vimāna (Specific determination) 8 chapters contain pathology, various tools of diagnostics & medical studies and conduct.
  4. Śārīra (Anatomy) - 8 chapters describe embryology & anatomy of a human body.
  5. Indriya (Sensorial prognosis) - 12 chapters elaborate on diagnosis & prognosis of disease on the basis of senses.
  6. Chikitsā (Theraputics) - 30 chapters deal with special therapy.
  7. Kalpa (Pharmaceutics and toxicology) - 12 chapters describe usage and preparation of medicine.
  8. Siddhi (Success in treatment) - 12 chapters describe general principles of 'Panchkarma'.

Seventeen chapters of Cikitsā sthāna and complete Kalpa sthāna and Siddhi sthāna were added later by Dridhabala.[6] 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.”[7]


Dates of composition of the Charaka Samhita are uncertain-- ranging from sixth century BC or earlier to the first century AD or later. [8]The Charaka Samhita states that the content of the book was first articulated by Atreya, and then subsequently codified by Agnivesa, revised by Charaka, and the final text that we have before us was compiled by a Kashmiri called Drdhabala. Drdhbala states in the Charaka Samhita that he had to write one third of the book all by himself because this portion of the book had become extinct, and that he also re-wrote the rest of the book. [9]

Based on textual analysis, and the literal meaning of the word Charaka, Chattopadhyay speculates that Charaka was not one person but multiple people. [10]

Injection of Religious Ideas[edit]

D. Chattopadhyay has argued that while re-writing the Charaka Samhita in the form before us, Drdbhala injected religious ideas into the content of the book that we have before us today, and that in the form it exists the book is an amalgam of science and superstition. Drdbhala's statement that for re-writing the Charaka Samhita he had to "collect distinctive propositions from a large number of other treatises" is interpreted by Chattopadhyaya to imply that Drdbhala used non-medical works also while re-writing the text.[11]

Celibacy, Alcohol, and Sex[edit]

The Charaka Samhita endorses Brahmacharya, meaning celibacy. It declares Brahmacharya to be the optimal route towards liberation. Now, it is understood that Brahmachrarya implies abstinence from sex and alcohol. It is strange, therefore, to find in the text a lengthy chapter on vajikarana which gives methods on how to augment sexual stamina.

The chapter opens with a rather lurid description of how an exhilarating female partner best stimulates sex in the male. Elsewhere, while recommending the regulation of sexual behavior according to seasonal variation, it advises one to have as much of sex as one may like with the coming of the winter.[12]

The Charaka Samhita also describes methods for preparing eighty four different types of alcoholic drinks, and explains the health benefits of consuming these beverages. The text declares that the alcoholic drinks prescribed by it can stimulate the body and the mind, promote appetite, and cure insomnia, depression, and anorexia while inducing a feeling of exhilaration. At the same time it also appeals for moderation and discusses the ill effects of immoderate alcohol intake. The Charaka Samhita says that excessive consumption of alcohol leads to disease, whereas drinking in moderation is ideal. [13]However, besides the general recommendation for moderate alcohol intake, the Charaka Samhita recommends another method for tackling the problem of alcoholism which again comes across as heretical from the point of view of the prevailing orthodoxy. It says that the alcoholic could also seek

the aid of affectionate embraces of women's bodies full of the warmth of youth, the warm clasp of their waists, thighs and full grown breasts.[14]

Contradictory attitude towards the Cow[edit]

On a number of occasions, the Charaka Samhita endorses cow worship. It is recommended that the cow should be worshipped along with other holy beings like the Gods and the brahmins. However, in other places, the text seems to adopt a position which may be construed to be heretical. In the zoological classification conceived by the authors of the Charaka Samhita, one finds the cow's place. Here, the cow is no longer in the company of the Gods and the brahmins; it is instead placed in the category of animals called prasaha--meaning "those animals that grab and tear off their food". To this class belong also twenty nine other animals, including the ass, mule, camel, horse, panther, lion, bear, monkey, etc.Further, the consumption of cow meat is recommended for people suffering from consumption and emaciation, and people who do a lot of manual work. There thus seems to be a dual attitude towards the cow since on the one hand the text says the cow should be worshipped, while on the other hand it says the cow can be eaten.[15] When recommending beef consumption, the text also seems to be defying the prevailing religious injunctions against the eating of the cow.[16]


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[edit]

"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."[17]

Charaka Saṃhitā on nutrition and diet[edit]

Caraka Samhita dedicates Chapters 5, 6, 25, 26 and 27 to Aharatattva (dietetics), stating that wholesome diet is essential for good health and to prevent diseases, while unwholesome food is an important cause of diseases.[18] It suggests that foods are source of heat, nutritive value as well as physiological substances that act like drugs inside human body. Furthermore, along with medicine, Caraka Samhita in Chapters 26 and 27, states that proper nutrition is essential for expedient recovery from sickness or surgery.[18]

Meat as Medicine[edit]

The Charaka Samhita prescribes meat preparations for certain physical conditions. What is remarkable is that the text recognizes the fact that certain patients may experience revulsion for the meat preparations they are prescribed to the extent that they may refuse to partake the dish, and even if they agree to consume the preparation they may subsequently vomit. The text says that the patients can be induced to consume the meat preparations through the use of deception. According to the text:

For the emaciated consumptives continuing to lose flesh, the physician skilled in dietetics should prepare well cooked dishes of meats of carnivorous animals. To the consumptives must be given the peacock's flesh and--in the name of the peacock's flesh--the flesh of vultures, owls, and blue jays properly cooked in prescribed manner. In the name of partridge, give the flesh of crows; in the name of snake-fish, give the flesh of snakes; in the name of intestines of fish, give fried earthworms. In the name of rabbit-flesh, the physician may give dressed meats of fox, large mongoose, cat, and jackal cubs. For increasing the flesh in the consumptive patient, the flesh of lion, bear, hyena, tiger, and similar carnivorous animals may be given in the name of the flesh of the deer. For promoting the flesh of the patient, the meats of elephant, rhinoceros, and horse--well seasoned with spices--should be given. The flesh of birds and animals that have grown plump on flesh diet is an excellent flesh-increasing food. Being acute (tiksna), hot (usna), and light (laghu) it is specially beneficial. Those fleshes that are considered unpleasant by the patient because he is not used to them should be given to him with deceptive names. Then he will readily take these. But if their real nature be known, these will either not be eaten at all out of revulsion, or even if eaten, will be vomited out. Hence these must be disguised and given under a false name. [19]

Legendary character[edit]

In 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, once visited the earth. 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).[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Meulenbeld, G. J. A History of Indian Medical Literature (Groningen, 1999-2002), vol. IA, OCLC 165833440pp. 7-180.
  2. ^ 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 [1] June 1, 2006
  3. ^ Leonore Loeb Adler, B. Runi Mukherji. Spirit Versus Scalpel: Traditional Healing and Modern Psychotherapy. Greenwood. p. 76. 
  4. ^ Praveen K. Saxena. Development of Plant-Based Medicines: Conservation, Efficacy and Safety. Springer. p. 48. 
  5. ^ Walter Sneader. Drug Discovery: A History. John Wiley & Sons. p. 15. 
  6. ^ Anthony Cerulli (2011). Somatic Lessons: Narrating Patienthood and Illness in Indian Medical Literature. SUNY Press. p. 37. 
  7. ^ 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. OCLC 558191693 cited in Tiwari, Lalit “A Summary of the Late D. Chattopadhyaya's Critique of Charaka Saṃhitā” seen at [2] June 1, 2006
  8. ^ Debiprasad Chatopadhyaya (1978). Science and Society in Ancient India. p. 24. 
  9. ^ Debiprasad Chatopadhyaya (1978). Science and Society in Ancient India. pp. 29–32. 
  10. ^ Debiprasad Chatopadhyaya (1978). Science and Society in Ancient India. pp. 29–30. 
  11. ^ Debiprasad Chatopadhyaya (1978). Science and Society in Ancient India. pp. 14–17,34. 
  12. ^ Debiprasad Chatopadhyaya (1978). Science and Society in Ancient India. p. 16. 
  13. ^ Debiprasad Chatopadhyaya (1978). Science and Society in Ancient India. pp. 16–17. 
  14. ^ Debiprasad Chatopadhyaya (1978). Science and Society in Ancient India. p. 394. 
  15. ^ Debiprasad Chatopadhyaya (1978). Science and Society in Ancient India. pp. 15–16,383. 
  16. ^ Debiprasad Chatopadhyaya (1978). Science and Society in Ancient India. pp. 15–16,386. 
  17. ^ Wilson, Bruce in The History of Men in American Nursing without sources at, seen June 1, 2006
  18. ^ a b Caraka Samhita Ray and Gupta, National Institute of Sciences, India, pages 18-19
  19. ^ Debiprasad Chatopadhyaya (1978). Science and Society in Ancient India. p. 389. 
  20. ^ Monier-Williams (1899), s.v. caraka.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kaviratna, A.C. and P. Sharma, tr., The Charaka Samhita 5 Vols., Indian Medical Science Series, Sri Satguru Publications, 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 [3] June 1, 2006
  • Muniyal Ayurveda, Manipal, Sacitra Caraka Samhita - Volume 1, published by Muniyal Institute of Ayurveda Medical Sciences, Manipal. 2005 [4]
  • 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

External links[edit]