The Suśrutasamhitā is an important Sanskrit text on medicine, considered to be one of the earliest major works related to detailed study of medicine and surgery. Written by Sushruta, it is commonly dated to the period of the 6th century BC.
The Sushruta Samhita, in its extant form, is divided in 184 chapters and contains descriptions of 1,120 illnesses, 700 medicinal plants, 64 preparations from mineral sources and 57 preparations based on animal sources. The text discusses surgical techniques of making incisions, probing, extraction of foreign bodies, alkali and thermal cauterization, tooth extraction, excisions, and trocars for draining abscess, draining hydrocele and ascitic fluid, the removal of the prostate gland, urethral stricture dilatation, vesiculolithotomy, hernia surgery, caesarian section, management of haemorrhoids, fistulae, laparotomy and management of intestinal obstruction, perforated intestines, and accidental perforation of the abdomen with protrusion of omentum and the principles of fracture management, viz., traction, manipulation, appositions and stabilization including some measures of rehabilitation and fitting of prosthetics. It enumerates six types of dislocations, twelve varieties of fractures, and classification of the bones and their reaction to the injuries, and gives a classification of eye diseases including cataract surgery.
The text was translated to Arabic as Kitab-i-Susrud in the 8th century.
Dated to the period of 6th century BCE, it was written by Sushruta. Later this work was updated by the 2nd century Buddhist scholar, Nagarjuna. The Sushruta Samhita is divided into two parts, the Purva-tantra and the Uttara-tantra. Together, the Purva-tantra and Uttara-tantra (apart from Salyya and Salakya) describe the sciences and practices of medicine, pediatrics, geriatrics, diseases of the ear, nose, throat and eye, toxicology, aphrodisiacs and psychiatry.
- The Purva-tantra is dedicated to the four branches of Ayurveda. It is divided into five books and 120 chapters. These five books are:
- The Sutra-sthana.
- The Nidana-sthana, dedicated to aetiology, the signs and symptoms of important surgical diseases and those ailments which have a bearing on surgery.
- The Sarira-sthana covers the rudiments of embryology and human anatomy, along with instructions for venesection, the positioning of the patient for each vein, and the protection of vital structures (marma). It also includes the essentials of obstetrics.
- The Kalpa-sthana is mainly Visa-tantra, dealing with the nature of poisons and their management.
- The Chikitsa-sthana describes the principles of management of surgical conditions, including obstetrical emergencies and chapters on geriatrics and aphrodisiacs.
- The Uttara-tantra contains the remaining four specialities, namely Salakya, Kaumarabruthya, Kayacikitsa and Bhutavidya. The entire Uttara-tantra has been called Aupadravika, since many of the complications of surgical procedures as well as fever, dysentery, cough, hiccough, krmi-roga, pandu, kamala, etc., are briefly described here. The Salakya-tantra portion of the Uttara-tantra describes various diseases of the eye, the ear, the nose and the head.
The Samhita is dedicated to other disciplines as well. Sushruta emphasizes that unless students possess enough knowledge of relevant sister branches of learning, they cannot attain proficiency in their own subject of study. The Samhita represents an encyclopedic approach to medical learning, with special emphasis on Salya and Salakya, and can be thought of as a comprehensive treatise on the entire medical discipline.
Surgical procedures described
Sushruta has pointed out that haemorrhage can be arrested by apposition of the cut edges with stitches, application of styptic decoctions, by cauterisation with chemicals or heat. That the progress of surgery and its development is closely associated with the great wars of the past is well known. The vrana or injury, says Sushruta, involves breakdown of body-components and may have one or more of the following seats for occurrence, viz., skin, flesh, blood-vessels, sinews, bones, joints, internal organs of chest and abdomen and vital structures. Classically vrana, the wound, is the ultimate explosion of the underlying pathological structure. It is, in Sushruta's words, the sixth stage of a continuous process, which starts with sotha (inflammation). Sushruta says that in the first stage, the ulcer is unclean and hence called a dusta-vrana. By proper management it becomes a clean wound, a suddha-vrana. Then there is an attempt at healing and is called ruhyamana-vrana and when the ulcer is completely healed, it is a rudha-vrana. Sushruta has advocated the use of wine with incense of cannabis for anaesthesia. Although the use of henbane and of Sammohini and Sanjivani are reported at a later period, Sushruta was the pioneer of anaesthesia.
Sushruta describes eight types of surgical procedures: Excision (chedana) is a procedure whereby a part or whole of the limb is cut off from the parent. Incision (bhedana) is made to achieve effective drainage or exposure of underlying structures to let the content out. Scraping (lekhana) or scooping is carried out to remove a growth or flesh of an ulcer, tartar of teeth, etc. the veins, hydrocele and ascitic fluid in the abdomen are drained by puncturing with special instrument (vyadhana). The sinuses and cavities with foreign bodies are probed (esana) for establishing their size, site, number, shape, position, situation, etc. Sravana (blood-letting) is to be carried out in skin diseases, vidradhis, localised swelling, etc. in case of accidental injuries and in intentional incisions, the lips of the wound are apposed and united by stitching (svana).
To obtain proficiency and acquiring skill and speed in these different types of surgical manipulations, Sushruta had devised various experimental modules for trying each procedure. For example, incision and excision are to be practised on vegetables and leather bags filled with mud of different densities; scraping on hairy skin of animals; puncturing on the vein of dead animals and lotus stalks; probing on moth-eaten wood or bamboo; scarification on wooden planks smeared with beeswax, etc. On the subject of trauma, Sushruta speaks of six varieties of accidental injuries encompassing almost all parts of the body.
Sushruta also gives classification of the bones and their reaction to injuries. varieties of dislocation of joints (sandhimukta) and fractures of the shaft (kanda-bhagna) are given systematically. He classifies and gives the details of the six types of dislocations and twelve varieties of fractures. He gives the principles of fracture treatment, viz., traction, manipulation, appositions and stabilisation. Sushruta has described the entire orthopaedic surgery, including some measures of rehabilitation, in his work.
As war was a major cause of injury, the name Salya-tantra for this branch of medical learning is derived from Salya, the arrow of the enemy, which in fights used to be lodged in the body of the soldiers. He emphasises that removal of foreign bodies is fraught with certain complications if the seat of the Salya be a marma.
Sushruta also discusses certain surgical conditions of ano-rectal region, he has given all the methods of management of both haemorrhoids and fistulae. Different types of incision to remove the fistulous tract as langalaka, ardhalangalaka, sarvabhadra, candraadha (curved) and kharjurapatraka (serrated) are described for adoption according to the type of fistula.
Sushruta was well aware of the urinary stones, their varieties; the anatomy of urinary bladder along with its relations is well recorded in the chapter on urinary stones. Varieties of stones, their signs and symptoms, the method of extraction and operative complication are given in detail. Apart from the above, surgery of intestinal obstruction (baddha-gudodara), perforated intestines (chidrodara), accidental injuries to abdomen (assaya-bhinna) in which protrusion of omentum occurs are also described along with their management.
A number of Sushruta's contributions to medicine are listed below:
|Angina pectoris, mention and treatment of||The concept of Hritshoola—literally heart pain—was known to Sushruta. Dwivedi & Dwivedi (2007) hold that: 'It embodies all the essential components of present day definition, i.e. site, nature, aggravating and relieving factors and referral. According to him angina is chest pain which is precordial, temporary, exertional, emotional, burning like and relieved by rest. He also linked this kind of pain to obesity (medoroga).'|
|Circulatory system, description of||The knowledge of circulation of vital fluids (such as blood or rakta dhatu and lymph or rasa dhatu) through the body was known to Sushruta. He also seems to possess knowledge of the arteries, described as 'channels' by Dwivedi & Dwivedi (2007).|
|Diabetes, mention and treatment of||Sushruta identified diabetes and classified it as Madhumeha. He further identified it with obesity and sedentary lifestyle, advising exercises to help cure it.|
|Hypertension, mention and treatment of||Sushruta also explains hypertension in a manner which matches the modern symptoms of the disease.|
|Leprosy, mention and treatment of||Writing in the Encyclopedia Britannica 2008, Kearns & Nash (2008) state that the first mention of leprosy is described in the Indian medical treatise Sushruta Samhita (6th century BCE). The The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Paleopathology (1998) holds that: "The Sushruta Samhita from India describes the condition quite well and even offers therapeutic suggestions as early as about 600 B.C."|
|Obesity, mention and treatment of||Obesity was known to Sushruta who also related it with diabetes and heart disorder. He recommended physical work in order to help cure it and its side effects.|
|Stones, mention and treatment of||The earliest operation for curing stones is also given in the Sushruta Samhita. The operation involved exposure and going up through the floor of the bladder.|
The samahita lays down the basic principles of plastic surgery by advocating a proper physiotherapy before the operation and describes various methods or different types of defects, viz.
- release of the skin for covering small defects,
- rotation of the flaps to make up for the partial loss and
- pedicle flaps for covering complete loss of skin from an area.
He has mentioned various methods including sliding graft, rotation graft and pedicle graft. Reconstruction of a nose (rhinoplasty) which has been cut off, using a flap of skin from the cheek, has been described. Labioplasty too has received attention in the samahita.
Suśruta (Devanagari सुश्रुत, an adjective meaning "very famous") is commonly attributed as the author of the treatise. He is said to have been a physician originally of Kerala active in Varanasi. His period is usually placed between the period of 1200 BC - 600 BC. One of the earliest known mention of the name is from the Bower Manuscript (4th or 5th century), where Sushruta is listed as one of the ten sages residing in the Himalayas. Texts also suggest that he learned surgery at Kasi from Lord Dhanvantari, the god of medicine in Hindu mythology.
Rao (2005) speculated that there may be an original "layer" to the text which might indeed date to the "elder Sushruta" (Vrddha Sushruta) which was redacted "by another Sushruta in the first century A.D.", with still later additions and redactions by Nagarjuna leading to the extant text; a redaction by one Nagarjuna is explicitly mentioned by Dalhana, the author of the primary commentary on the Sushruta Samhita.
Medieval and modern reception
Both the Sushruta and the Charaka Samhita were translated into Arabic during the 8th century. The translator of the Sushruta Samhita was Ibn Abillsaibial. The work was known as Kitab Shah Shun al-Hindi in Arabic, or alternatively as Kitab i-Susurud. The 9th-century Persian physician Rhazes was familiar with the text.
In India, a major commentary on the text, known as Nibandha-samgraha, was written by Dalhana in ca. 1200 CE.
The Arabic translation was received in Europe by the end of the medieval period. In Renaissance Italy, the Branca family of Sicily and Gasparo Tagliacozzi (Bologna) became familiar with the techniques mentioned in the Sushruta Samahita.
The editio princeps of the text was prepared by Madhusudan Datta (Calcutta 1835). A partial English translation by U. C. Datta appeared in 1883. English translations of the full text were published by A. M. Kunte (Bombay 1876) and Kunja-lal Bhishagratna (1907-1911; reprinted 1963, 2006). An English translation of both the Sushruta Samhita and Dalhana's commentary was published in three volumes by P. V. Sharma in 1999.
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- I M Ruthkow (1961). Great Ideas in the History of Surgery. Baltimore: The Williams & Wilkins Company. p. 57.
- Loukas, M; Lanteri, A; Ferrauiola, J; Tubbs, R. S.; Maharaja, G; Shoja, M. M.; Yadav, A; Rao, V. C. (2010). "Anatomy in ancient India: A focus on the Susruta Samhita". Journal of Anatomy 217 (6): 646–50. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7580.2010.01294.x. PMC 3039177. PMID 20887391.
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- Kearns & Nash (2008)
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- Lock etc., page 836
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- Amaresh Datta, various. The Encyclopaedia Of Indian Literature (Volume One (A To Devo)). Sahitya academy. p. 311.
- David O. Kennedy. Plants and the Human Brain. Oxford. p. 265.
- Singh, P.B.; Pravin S. Rana (2002). Banaras Region: A Spiritual and Cultural Guide. Varanasi: Indica Books. p. 31. ISBN 81-86569-24-3. [unreliable source?]
- Kutumbian, pages XXXII-XXXIII
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- Lock etc., page 607
- New Scientist Jul 26, 1984, p. 43
- Susruta-Samhita: With English Translation of Text and Dalhana's Commentary Along with Critical Notes, 3 Vols. Vol. I: Sutrasthana, Vol. II: Kalpasthana and Uttaratantra, Vol. III: Nidana, Sarira and Cikitsasthana; Chowkhamba Visvabharati; Varanasi, India; 1999; First Edition; 1983 pages.
- Dr. Rudolf Hoernle. Medicine of India.
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- Chari PS. 'Sushruta and our heritage', Indian Journal of Plastic Surgery.
- Rana RE and Arora BS. 'History of Plastic Surgery in India', Journal of Postgraduate Medicine.
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- Aufderheide, A. C.; Rodriguez-Martin, C. & Langsjoen, O. (1998). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Paleopathology. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-55203-6.
- Dwivedi, Girish & Dwivedi, Shridhar (2007). History of Medicine: Sushruta – the Clinician – Teacher par Excellence. National Informatics Centre (Government of India).
- Kearns, Susannah C.J. & Nash, June E. (2008). leprosy. Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Kutumbian, P. (2005). Ancient Indian Medicine. Orient Longman. ISBN 81-250-1521-3.
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-  Full text in English in several formats
- Sushruta Samhita (English Translation)
- Syncretism in the Caraka and Suśruta saṃhitās