For thousands of years, Ayurveda evolved through a process of scientific inquiry involving the loka (communities or societies). Within communities, scientific knowledge was created by an interchange of information between patients, physicians, and researchers. Teachers would pass their wisdom – updated with this scientific inquiry and application of their own learnings- to their students in an interactive manner, through what was called as the Guru-Shishya tradition. This knowledge was documented in the Brihatrayi , of which the Charak Samhita is considered the most important and definitive. However, with time, Ayurveda went through its period of stagnation, or dark ages. There were no new updates or revisions to the Charak Samhita, or any other Ayurvedic text, for centuries. With the advent of western scientific thinking with a greater focus on disease management and the evolution of modern medicine, Ayurveda was relegated to relative obscurity.Today, as leading thinkers are searching for more effective definitions of health, Ayurveda is again in the spotlight. The new edition of the Charak Samhita, with updated inferences and applications, is one step in reinitiating that process of interaction between teachers and scholars, and helping thinkers in their quest for more effective solutions to problems of health.
In the last two thousand years, the popularity of Charak Samhita spread beyond the frontiers of the Indian subcontinent, when it was translated into Arabic (8th century CE) and Persian (10th century CE). With the spread of Buddhism, it got translated into Tibetan and subsequently, Mongolian languages. Approximately 43 commentaries in Sanskrit were written through centuries – of which, Chakrapanidutta’s Ayurveda Deepika (or the Light of Ayurveda) is considered the most authoritative.
In terms of its contents, while the Samhita addresses eight specialized branches of medicine, including Internal Medicine (Kayachikitsa), Supraclavicular/Ear, Nose and Throat (Shalakya), surgery (Shalya), toxicology (Vishagarvyrodhikachikitsa), demonology including psychiatry (Bhutavidya), pediatrics (Kaumarabhritya), science of rejuvenation (Rasayana), and science of infertility medicine and aphrodisiacs (Vajeekarana), it is Kayachikitsa that is considered the prime area of focus of the Charak Samhita. In terms of its contents, it could have the unique distinction of being the only texts available worldwide on restorative science, emphasizing on the promotion of health and prevention of disease as the actual solution for controlling diseases, which is especially relevant in modern times. Further, it also seriously dwells upon the concept of longevity and healthy aging, as described in its chapters on Swasthavritta Chatushka and four padas of Rasayana Adhyayas.
In terms of its structure, the Charak Samhita consists of 120 chapters broken into eight sections, or Sthana. The text is written partly in the form of verses, or shloka, and partly in prose. In the last chapter of the last section of the Charak Samhita (Siddhi Sthana, 12/52), it has been indicated that there are 12000 verses in the text. However, the extant versions of the treatise seem to have 8419 verses and 1111 prose paragraphs. Thus, some 2000 verses seem to have been lost in the course of its existence. The treatise’s first section – Sutra Sthana – lays the foundational principles of Ayurveda in 30 chapters.
Concepts such as the mahabhuta (fundamental elements that make the human being as well as the universe around him, viz. earth, fire, air, ether, and water), doshas (body humors), dhatus (tissues), and other critical concepts have been laid here. The subsequent sections build upon the concepts laid in this section to explain human physiology, etiology of diseases, clinical sciences, etc. The final section is titled Siddhi, underscoring the key objective of the book – to help the reader attain emancipation through health.
Quite like any body of scientific knowledge, the Charak Samhita used to be a living document before it got into a “dark age” of relative stagnation. The world has changed since the originally redacted edition of the Charak Samhita came about. A team of Ayurvedic scholars, biomedical researchers, modern medicine physicians, content managers, business consultants, and language editors have been working on a new edition of the Charak Samhita. True to its tradition of a dialog between a teacher and a student, it is aimed to be a “living and interactive” text, planned and redacted online to allow for a broader outreach and to serve as an online source of reference on Ayurveda.
The new Charak Samhita has the same sequence of sections (and their chapters) as the original text (though a planned Uttar Tantra section would be added subsequently), with the same logical progression starting with the Sutra Sthana, covering the basic but generic principles of Ayurveda, right up to Siddhi Sthana, covering the specifics of Panchakarma (five therapeutic procedures for body purification).
In the last century, modern medicine or allopathy has made significant strides in the area of disease management. However, in spite of the significant breakthroughs that it has witnessed, modern medicine continues to be primarily an offense strategy for managing ailments. The incidence of occurrence of disease continues to rise and healthcare costs are rising exponentially. It has become crucial to prevent the occurrence of diseases. Ayurveda primarily utilizes the defense strategy in health management as detailed and described in the treatise, the Charak Samhita. Through the subsequent Uttar Tantra section, the new edition of the text will provide the clinician guidelines for using offense and defense strategies to win the war against human suffering from illness and create better health.
Thus, the new edition of the Charak Samhita is a work in progress. It has four sections:
1. Sanskrit shlokas (verses) and transliteration into English
2. Translation from Sanskrit to English
3. Fundamental guiding principles, known as Tattva, are extracted from the treatise and recorded as inferences in Tattva Vimarsha.
4. Medical and surgical treatments and procedures change with advancements in science. Old treatments and procedures still effective are being retained and new ones are being added and commented in the Vidhi Vimarsha section. This section requires the help of specialists in various areas of health science. Currently Vidhi Vimarsha in most of the sections is either incomplete or absent and requires the help of volunteer scholars to complete.
Future additional resources of the new edition of Charak Samhita will include:
5. Video recordings of selected discussions between clinicians on the classic texts and their application in the modern world
6. A widely useful glossary of Ayurvedic terms in the biomedical language.
7. Illustrations will be added wherever necessary.
8. A recompiled Uttar Tantra section. The Uttar Tantra is thought to have existed and believed to have been destroyed or lost from the older editions of the Charak Samhita. The newly introduced disease and their management, as well as modern terminologies for diseases enlisted in the Charak Samhita, will be included. This section will be recompiled to contain modern treatment of diseases in which the offense/defense or Allopathy/Ayurveda strategy for better treatment of disease is utilized.
Board of Editors, FHED (India) Trust