Charak Samhita New Edition
Ayurveda, the Science of Life, traces back its origin to the Vedic ages in India. Considered a supplement to the Vedas, Ayurveda is a comprehensive system of health that focuses on leading a healthy life, helping an individual do his righteous duties (dharma), acquire wealth (artha) and gratification of desires (kama), and attain emancipation (moksha).
For thousands of years, Ayurveda evolved through a process of scientific inquiry involving the communities or societies (loka). Within communities, scientific knowledge was created by an interchange of information between patients, physicians, and researchers. Teachers would pass on their wisdom – updated with this scientific inquiry and application of their own learnings- to their students in an interactive manner, called as the Guru-Shishya (teacher/student) tradition. This knowledge was documented in the Brihatrayi (three major treatise), of which the Charak Samhita is considered the most important and definitive. However, due to suppression by foreign invaders and rulers of India for several centuries, Ayurveda went through its period of stagnation, or dark ages. There were no new updates or revisions to Ayurvedic text, for centuries. With the advent of modern medicine with focus on disease management, 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 re-initiating that process of interaction between teachers and scholars to help researchers in their quest for more effective solutions to problems of health.
Tradition of knowledge transfer
As mentioned earlier, the Charak Samhita epitomizes one of the finest examples of classical Vedic teacher-student (Guru-Shishya) interactions ever recorded, either in ancient or modern times. Though literally meaning the “Compendium of Charak”, it was actually authored by Agnivesh, an ancient physician of renown. Charak redacted the text called the Agnivesha tantra, believed to have been written circa 1000 BCE by Agnivesha, a disciple of the legendary Vedic sage, Punarvasu Atreya. There are no chronological records marking the evolution of the body of knowledge that is Ayurveda, but it is speculated that Charak lived sometime in the 8th century, BCE. A scholar named Dridhabala (300 CE) redacted and also worked on to restore some lost portions of the text.
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.
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 included. The principles and applications to explain human physiology, etiology of diseases, clinical sciences, etc. are emphasized. The final section is titled Siddhi, underscoring the key objectives of the book – to help the reader attain emancipation through health.
In terms of its contents, the Samhita addresses eight specialized branches of medicine, including Internal Medicine (Kayachikitsa), Ear, Nose and Throat (Shalakya), surgery (Shalya), toxicology (Vishagarvyrodhikachikitsa), demonology and psychiatry (Bhutavidya), pediatrics (Kaumarabhritya), science of rejuvenation (Rasayana), infertility medicine and aphrodisiacs (Vajeekarana). It is Kayachikitsa that is considered the prime area of focus.
The Samhita comprises 120 chapters categorized 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 Siddhi Sthana (verse 12/52), it is mentioned that there are 12000 verses in the text. However, the present available edition of treatise has 8419 verses and 1111 prose paragraphs. Thus, some 2000 verses seem to have been lost in the course of its existence.
- Sutra Sthana (30 chapters) covers basic principles of Ayurveda with seven groups of tetrads (logical groupings of four chapters, or Chatushka) including medicaments (Bheshaja Chatushka), preventive and promotive medicine (Swastha Chatushka), directions of utilizing Ayurveda principles (Nirdesha Chatushka), preparations useful for treatment (Kalpana Chatushka), Disease categories and classification of diseases (Roga Chatushka), Management principles of disease (Yojana Chatushka) and dietary principles (Annapana Chatushka). The last two chapters are called Sangraha Adhyaya including important aspects of Prana (vital energy) and summary of topics discussed in the entire Samhita.
- Nidana Sthana (8 chapters) discusses the etiopathogenesis and important clinical diagnostic tools for eight major diseases.
- Vimana Sthana (8 chapters) contains specific information about diet, dietary rules, epidemics, teaching and learning methods, various types of examinations.
- Sharira Sthana (8 chapters) describes details about the composition of the human body, its origin, the importance of body, mind and soul co-ordination, embryology and anatomical aspects of a human body.
- Indriya Sthana (12 chapters) explains diagnosis and prognosis of disease with bad prognostic features and dreams on the basis of senses.
- Chikitsa Sthana (30 chapters) gives treatment protocols and specific remedies for various ailments.
- Kalpa Sthana (12 chapters) contains usage and preparation of medicine.
- Siddhi Sthana (12 chapters) describes principles of Panchakarma (five therapeutic procedures for body purification) and preparations useful for these procedures.
Importance of new edition
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. A team of Ayurvedic scholars, biomedical researchers, modern medicine physicians, content managers, business consultants, and language editors have been working on this new edition project. 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 edition has the same sequence of sections (and their chapters) as the original text, 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). Uttar Tantra section would be added subsequently.
Value added features
In the last century, modern medicine or allopathy has made significant strides in the area of disease management. Despite significant breakthroughs that it has witnessed, the incidence 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 described in the treatise. 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:
- Sanskrit shlokas(verses) and transliteration into English
- Translation from Sanskrit to English
- Fundamental guiding principles, known as Tattva, are extracted from the treatise and recorded as inferences in Tattva Vimarsha.
- 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 included 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 under process of updating and requires help of volunteer scholars to contribute.
Future additional resources of the new edition will include:
- Video recordings of selected discussions between clinicians on the classic texts and their application in the modern world
- A widely useful glossary of Ayurvedic terms in the biomedical language.
- Illustrations will be added wherever necessary.
- A recompiled Uttar Tantra section will include the newly found diseases and their management, as well as modern terminologies for diseases enlisted and explanation of various Ayurvedic concepts.
Board of Editors, FHED (India) Trust