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In early ayurvedic medicine, rasāyana (Pali and Sanskrit: रसायन, "path of essence") is the practice of techniques for lengthening lifespans and invigorating the body. It is one of the eight areas of medicine in Sanskrit literature. In Vedic alchemy, "rasa" also means "metal" or "a mineral".
The 11th-century Persian scholar Abū Rayhān Bīrūnī noted an Indian science named Rasāyana, akin to alchemy, focused on restoring health and rejuvenation through plant-derived medicines. Nagarjunacharya conducted experiments in his laboratory called "Rasashala" and authored Rasaratanakaram, detailing alchemical transformations of metals.
Rooted in Vedic alchemy, it utilized alchemical processes involving substances like mercury and cinnabar. This practice extended beyond metals, incorporating the preparation of medical tinctures from plants. Rasāyana's goals included longevity, health, cognitive enhancement, virility, and extraordinary abilities. Its historical influence was evident in the Ajanta and Ellora cave paintings, the Vishnustambha monument, and the Kondivade caves' processed wood sample.
In contemporary times, rasāyana remains relevant through modern formulations combining herbal wisdom and scientific knowledge, reflecting an enduring pursuit of well-being and vitality.
The more general name for the Indian science of alchemy or proto-chemistry is Rasaśāstra (रसशास्त्र in Sanskrit), or "The Science of Mercury," in Nepali, Marathi, Hindi, Kannada and several other languages.
Early Indian alchemical texts discuss the use of prepared forms of mercury or cinnabar (see samskaras). However, there is also ample mention of the preparation of medical tinctures in the early science of Indian alchemy.
[the Indians] have a science similar to alchemy which is quite peculiar to them. They call it Rasâyana, a word composed with rasa, i.e., gold. It means an art which is restricted to certain operations, drugs, and compound medicines, most of which are taken from plants. Its principles restore the health of those who were ill beyond hope, and give back youth to fading old age...
Two famous examples were Nagarjunacharya and Nityanadhiya. Nagarjunacharya, was one of the most prominent chemists in the history of Indian alchemy. He ran many experiments in his laboratory known as the "Rasashala". His book, Rasaratanakaram is a famous example of ancient Indian medicine, in which he describes the procedure of transmuting base metals like mercury, into gold. Due to his great contributions and insight in chemistry, he was appointed as chancellor in the university of Nalanda. From the 14th century onwards, many materials from rasāyana and rasaśāstra were translated and integrated in the Persian texts written by Muslim scholars in South Asia.
Aim and types
Rasayana therapy enriches rasa with nutrients to help one attain longevity, memory, intelligence, health, youthfulness, excellence of luster, complexion and voice, optimum development of physique and sense organs, mastery over phonetics, respectability and brilliance.
The historical aims of rasāyana were diverse, but the effects attributed to a treatment were typically either longevity, health, intellect, sexuality or magical abilities.
- Lifespan and ageing
- Lengthen the lifespan
- Stay young; stop and reverse ageing and its signs, like wrinkles and greying
- Renew or retain functions and senses of the body
- Overcome diseases, particularly serious and challenging diseases associated with old age
- Cognitive power
- Remember more
- Get smarter
- Understand more
- Boost sexual stamina
- Get stronger
- Become more fertile
- Special powers
- Gain magical powers to manipulate the world
- Gain supernatural abilities in strength, agility, constitution and longevity
In essence, rasāyana promotes aspects of vitality.
Types of rasayana
- Kamya Rasayanas are promoters of normal health. These boost body energy levels, immunity and general health.
- Pranakamya – Promoter of vitality and longevity
- Medhakamya – Promoter of intelligence.
- Srikamya – Promoter of complexion.
- Naimittika Rasayanas help to fight a specific disease.
In pursuit of these matters, herbal prescriptions with many herbal substances, preserved in ghee and honey are given. Chyawanprasha is one of the traditional rasayanas. Specific adaptogenic herbs are also included in rasayanas including haritaki, amla, shilajit, ashwaganda, holy basil, guduchi and shatavari. Several rasayana herbs have been tested for adaptogenic properties.
This section may require copy editing for capitalization. (August 2023)
Puri has given detailed account of Classical formulations such as Amrit Rasayana, Brahm Rasayana, Jawahar Mohra, Kamdugdha Ras, Laxami Vilas Ras, Laxman Vilas Ras, Madanoday Modak, Makrdhawaj vati, Manmath Ras, Mukta Panchamrit Rasayana, Nari Kalyan Pak, Navjeevan Ras, Navratna Ras, Navratnakalp Amrit, Panchamrit Ras, Paradi Ras, Ramchuramni Ras, Rattivalbh Pak, Shukar Amrit Vati, Smritisagar Ras, Suvarn Malini Vasant, Suvarn Vasant Malti, Swapanmehtank, Vasant Kusmakar Ras, Visha Rasaayana, Vrihda Vangeshwar Rasa.
These classical Rasayan formulas, contain a large number of ingredients, including minerals, pearl, coral and gems, and include a specially processed mercury (the word ras indicates mercury as an ingredient). Because of negative publicity and cost factor, the use of the classical rasayana formulas has declined considerably, and most of the preparations available now have herbal ingredients with a couple of mineral and animal products. The non-availability and wild life protection act has made the use of musk, amber, and parts of wild-life animals nearly impossible.
The current Rasayan formulas are based on such ingredients as amla (Emblica officinalis) which, if fresh, has high content of vitamin C, Terminalia belerica, Terminalia chebula, Shilajit, Long pepper, Black pepper, Ginger, processed Guggul, Guduchi, Ashwaganda, Shatavari and similar ingredients.
- A History of Hindu Chemistry, a two-volume book by Prafulla Chandra Ray published in 1902 and 1909
- History of metallurgy in the Indian subcontinent
- Siddha medicine
- Wujastyk, Dagmar; Newcombe, Suzanne; Barois, Christèle (31 December 2017). "Transmutations: Rejuvenation, Longevity, and Immortality Practices in South and Inner Asia". History of Science in South Asia. 5 (2): i–xvii. doi:10.18732/hssa.v5i2.33. ISSN 2369-775X.
- Wujastyk, Dagmar (31 December 2017). "Acts of Improvement: On the Use of Tonics and Elixirs in Sanskrit Medical and Alchemical Literature". History of Science in South Asia. 5 (2): 2. doi:10.18732/hssa.v5i2.26. ISSN 2369-775X.
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- Puri, H. S. (2006). Ayurvedic Minerals, Gems and Animal Products for Longevity and Rejuvenation. Delhi: India Book Store. Scientific details of all the ingredients other than herbs used as rasayana in ayurveda are given.
- Tillotson, Alan Keith; Tillotson, Nai-shing Hu; Abel, Robert Jr. (2001). The One Earth Herbal Sourcebook: Everything You Need to Know About Chinese, Western, and Ayurvedic Herbal Treatments. Kensington press. ISBN 978-1-57566-617-4.
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- Winston, David; Maimes, Steven (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Healing Arts Press. Contains monographs and information on health benefits for rasayana herbs that are identified as adaptogens.