Nama Rupa Vijnana


Nama- Rupa vijnana, is a science that deals with the identification and classification of various entities, including diseases, medicinal plants, and therapeutic processes. Nama rupa vijnana is not only a naming and formulating science, but also a way to understand the interconnectedness of things in the universe. It can be understood as science of nomenclature and identification of different herbs, diseases etc. The nama refers to the name of the entity, while rupa refers to its appearance or description. This technique was adopted in the Samhita and nighantu period to denote the salient features of the herbs.
Binomial nomenclature, established by Carl Linnaeus, plays a pivotal role in systematically cataloguing and comprehending plants. This standardized naming convention ensures global clarity and precision in scientific discourse, facilitating accurate identification and classification. For example, the binomial name "Ocimum sanctum Linn" uniquely identifies the revered Indian medicinal plant Tulasi, known for its numerous health benefits in traditional Ayurvedic medicine. Through binomial nomenclature, researchers worldwide can efficiently access information, aiding in the conservation and utilization of medicinal flora. This structured framework fosters interdisciplinary collaboration, advancing fields such as herbal medicine, pharmacology, and ecology, ultimately benefiting society's health and well-being.

Section/Chapter/topic Concepts/Dravyaguna/Nama Rupa Vijnana
Authors Bhojani M. K. 1
Joshi Sumedh2
Joglekar Aishwarya3
Reviewers & Editors Basisht G.4
Deole Y.S.5
Affiliations 1 Department of Sharir Kriya, All India Institute of Ayurveda, New Delhi, India
2 Department of Dravya-Guna, All India Institute of Ayurveda, New Delhi, India
3 Department of Samhita Siddhant, All India Institute of Ayurveda, New Delhi, India
4 Rheumatologist, Orlando, Florida, U.S.A.
5 Department of Kayachikitsa, G. J. Patel Institute of Ayurvedic Studies and Research, New Vallabh Vidyanagar, Gujarat, India
Correspondence emails
Publisher Charak Samhita Research, Training and Development Centre, I.T.R.A., Jamnagar, and Symbiohealth Foundation, India
Date of publication: March 15, 2024
DOI 10.47468/CSNE.2024.e01.s09.161

Samhita-based references of namarupa vijnana

The origins of namarupa vijnana can be traced back to both the Charak Samhita and Sushruta Samhita. Both the texts emphasize the importance of understanding nama rupa (name and form) for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
It is mentioned by Charak to adopt the science of nama-rupa from goat-herds, shepherds, cowherds, and forest dwellers acquainted with names and identification of various medicinal herbs and plants. [Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana 1/120]
Charak also further evaluates that just by knowing the names and forms of herbs no one can claim to have a perfect knowledge of the medicinal uses of the plants. One who merely understands the morphology of the herbs is termed a pharmacologist, but a physician should understand the medicinal properties and utility of herbs as a whole. [Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana 1/121-122]
Thus, it is of immense importance to understand any herb through the means of all name (nama), pharmacogenetic characters (rupa) and properties (guna) for purpose of successful treatment and avoidance of complications. [Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana 1/125]. Thus, the understanding of taxonomy, morphology and clinical utility is of utmost importance to achieve success in treatment. [Chakrapani on Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana 1/125]
Similarly, one who has the proper knowledge of herbs (Dravya dnyana) is considered to be a well-versed physician. [Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana 2/16]
Sushruta also mentions the utility of expertise of cattle breeders (gopala), monks (taapasa), those living in forest areas (vanavasi), hunters (vyadha), vanacharina (those visiting the forest areas) for understanding the morphology and utility of different herbs. [Su. Sa. Sutra Sthana 36/10]

Concept of basonym and synonym

The basonym is defined as the earliest validly published name of a taxon.[1] Whereas the word synonym is defined as one or more words or expressions of the same language that have the same meaning in some or all senses.[2] Considering the aspects of nama rupa vijnana, basonym is the original name of the plant which is termed as nirukta (etymological root) or moola nama. The synonym is termed as ‘paryaya’. There are no references and documentation of plant nomenclature during pre-vedic and vedic periods. Some references are observed regarding the names of plants similar to the names of Gods such as Mahabala and Muchakunda. This supports the opinion that synonyms are important tools in the field of dravyaguna vijnana (materia medica of ayurveda) that aid in the classification, identification, and usage of medicinal plants.[3] Synonyms of plants are coined based on various considerations, including morphology, utility in treatment, historical background and place of origin of the drug, and others. This article is an attempt to discuss synonyms and the glory they offer to the scholars of Ayurveda, particularly in the field of identification and medicinal aspects. Plants were named based on their mythological background.
There are references regarding the usage of synonyms during this period. There were 2 kinds of synonyms used i.e., Naighantuka and Ekapadika. ‘Naighantuka’ refers to the number of synonyms attributed to a single plant, whereas Ekapadika refers to the single synonym used for many plants[4]. Acharya Priyavrat Sharma (2000) has tried to prove the identity of 150 plants on the basis of synonyms, which is quite a new presentation.[5] Dr.Pandey has stated about 25000 names classified into 57 groups on different aspects and has given the root meanings of about 600 plant names .Dr. Shastri has made available the etymology of 498 plants along with 2000 synonyms.[6]

Table: Basonyms and synonyms in Ayurvedic classical texts[7]
Sr. No. Name of classical text Total number of basonyms of herbs listed Total number of synonyms listed
1.       Charak Samhita 240 1270
2.       Sushrut Samhita 370 1100
3.       Ashtanga Hridaya 240 1150

Different examples of nomenclature according to modern science and Ayurveda

According to the contemporary approach, it can be stated that the plants can be named based on various factors like shape, habitat, morphology, taste, smell, appearance, touch, sound, leaf, flower, fruits, historical names, therapeutic description, and disease producing, resembling body parts and resembling animals. Some examples of these are illustrated in the table as follows:

Table 1: Examples of synonym of herbs and their context
Factor on which name is based Example Context
Shape of plant or plant part Shrungi (Aconitum heterophyllum) Horn shaped root
Chakralakshanika (Tinospora cordifolia) Transverse section of stem resembling the appearance of wheel
Habitat Magadhi (Pipper longum) Found in Magadha Desha (Pippali- Piper longum)
Kutaja (Holarrhena antidysentrica) Grows in kuta i.e., in hilly regions
Upakulya (Pipper Longum) Grows near water bodies
Taste Rasona (Allium sativum) deficient of one rasa
Swadu phala (Vitis vinifera) fruit with sweet taste`
Smell Ugragandha (Acorus calamus) intense smell
Madagandha (Alstonia scholaris) Flowers with intense intoxicating smell
Appearance Raktachandana (Pterocarpus santalinus) Barks appears red in colour
Chitrabeeja (Ricinus communis). Seeds with mottled surface
Touch Lajjalu (Mimosa pudica) sensitive to touch
Kharapatra (Nyctanthus arbor-tristis) rough leaves
Leaf Saptaparna (Alstonia scholaris) pinnate leaf with 7 leaflets
Tarmapallava (Saraca asoka) young leaves are coppery
Flower Shankapushpi (Convulvulus pluricaulis) Conch shell shaped flowers
Raktapushpi (Butea monosperma) Red coloured flowers
Fruits Kathinaphala (Feronia limonia) hard fruit
Brihatphala (Benincasa hispida) big fruit
Historical background Bodhidruma (Ficus religiosa) tree under which Gautama Buddha was enlightened
Devadhupa (Commiphora mukul) used as an incense to worship God
Therapeutic usage Ashmantaka and Kushtavairi (Hydnocarpus laurifolia) fights against skin diseases
Disease causing Kesha hantri (Prosopis cineraria) causes hair fall
Arushkara and Shophakrit (Semecarpus anacardium). which causes blisters and edema over skin
Health promotion Arogyashimbi (Sesbania grandiflora) pod that safeguards health
Abhaya (Terminalia chebula) Which eliminates fear of diseases
Pathya (Terminalia chebula) Suitable for regular consumption
Resembling body parts Amashayaphala (Artocarpus heterophyllum) fruits resembling the stomach
Hritpatree (Digitalis purpurea). leaf resembling the heart shape
Resembling animals Vyaghrapuccha (inflorescence of Ricinus communis) resembling the tail of tiger.
Matsyashakala (Picrorhiza kurroa) resembling the scales of fish

Dr K. Nishteshwar states few more factors namely[8]-

Weight, nodes, latex, spines etc. For instance-

  • Weight:Akshaphala (Terminalia bellerica)- The Fruit weighs 1 Aksha or Karsha (10 gm)
  • Granthi (Nodes): Shadgranthi- 6 nodes rhizome of (Acorus calamus) and Shatagranthi- plant with with hundreds of nodes (Cynodon dactylon).
  • Latex: Hemadugdha- with golden coloured latex (Ficus racemosa) and Payasaya i.e., with milky latex (Ipomea digitata)
  • Spines:Teekshnakantaka- sharp spines (Balanites aeygyptica) and Deerghakantaka- long thorns (Acacia arabica).

Taxonomy and nama rupa vijnana

Taxonomy is the scientific discipline dedicated to the systematic categorization, classification, and naming of living organisms. It serves as a fundamental framework for understanding and organizing the immense diversity of life on earth.[9] Taxonomists are the scientists specializing in this field, classify organisms based on shared characteristics and evolutionary relationships. This hierarchical system groups organisms into categories, ranging from the broadest, such as domains and kingdoms, down to more specific levels, including phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, and species. One of the most recognizable aspects of taxonomy is the use of binomial nomenclature, a standardized naming system introduced by Carl Linnaeus, which assigns each species a unique two-part scientific name. This meticulous organization enables effective communication among scientists, aids in the identification of species, and enhances our comprehension of the natural world. Taxonomy plays a pivotal role in various biological disciplines, from ecology and evolution to conservation and genetics, making it an essential tool for exploring the intricacies of life on our planet.

Relation between namarupa vijnana and taxonomy

  1. Classification and categorization:
    • Both nama rupa vijnana and taxonomy are concerned with the fundamental processes of classification and categorization. Taxonomy classifies living organisms into hierarchical groups based on shared characteristics, while nama rupa vijnana explores how objects, concepts, and ideas are categorized within the context of language and thought.
  2. Names and labels:
    • Taxonomy uses scientific names (binomial nomenclature) to label and identify species. Nama rupa vijnana, on the other hand, focuses on the interplay between names (nama) and the forms or concepts (rupa) they represent, emphasizing the significance of names in shaping our perception of the world and aiding in providing therapeutic intervention.
  3. Hierarchical structure:
    • Taxonomy employs a hierarchical system with various ranks, such as domains, kingdoms, phyla, classes, orders, families, genera, and species. Nama rupa vijnana, while less structured, still involves hierarchical thinking when objects and concepts are categorized and named within language and cognition.
  4. Interdisciplinary application:
    • Both concepts have interdisciplinary applications. Taxonomy is used in biology to understand and communicate the diversity of life, while namarupa vijnana can be applied in philosophy, linguistics, cultural studies, and other fields to explore the role of language in categorization and perception.
  5. Philosophical overlap:
    • In philosophy, nama rupa vijnana can be used to discuss how language and categorization shape our understanding of reality. This philosophical dimension overlaps with taxonomy, especially in terms of how we perceive and categorize the natural world and the implications of language on our comprehension of the biological realm.
  6. Epistemological implications:
    • Both taxonomy and nama rupa vijnana have epistemological implications. Taxonomy contributes to our knowledge of the natural world by organizing and categorizing living organisms. Nama rupa vijnana, in the context of philosophy, raises questions about how our cognitive processes and language influence our understanding of the world, including the classifications within taxonomy.

Principles of nama rupa vijnana

  1. Nomenclature and classification-
    Nama rupa vijnana involves the systematic naming and categorization of diseases, herbs, and therapeutic methods. This classification helps in organizing knowledge and streamlining treatment approaches.
  2. Understanding dosha: ayurveda identifies three fundamental dosha
    Vata, Pitta, and Kapha – that govern an individual's physical and mental constitution. Nama rupa vijnana plays a crucial role in identifying the doshic imbalances responsible for various health conditions. The different synonyms of the three dosha as well as the description of function of dosha is the application of nama-rupa vijnana for understanding the fundamental concepts.
  3. Holistic approach:
    Nama rupa vijnana extends beyond the mere identification of symptoms and conditions. It considers the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit, recognizing that imbalances in one area can affect the whole.
  4. Application in diagnosis:
    Nama rupa vijnana enables ayurvedic practitioners to diagnose illnesses by examining the patient's physical and mental attributes, including pulse diagnosis (nadi pariksha), tongue analysis (jihva pariksha), and facial features.
  5. Application in treatment:
    Once a diagnosis is made, ayurvedic treatments are customized based on the patient's unique constitution and the nama rupa of the disease. This may involve dietary modifications, herbal remedies, yoga, and lifestyle adjustments.
  6. Application in preventive healthcare:
    Nama rupa vijnana emphasizes the importance of maintaining balance in one's doshas, diet, and lifestyle to prevent illness and promote overall well-being. It offers guidelines for daily routines (dinacharya) and seasonal practices (ritucharya).

Contemporary relevance

In an era dominated by contemporary medicine and technology, Ayurveda, with its reliance on nama rupa vijnana, continues to offer valuable insights into holistic healthcare. Integrative medicine approaches are increasingly recognizing the importance of considering mind, body, and spirit in healthcare, aligning with ayurvedic principles.[10]
The basis of nomenclature in ayurveda is rooted in a systematic and holistic approach to classifying and naming various elements within the natural world. Nomenclature in ayurveda plays a crucial role in understanding and effectively utilizing herbs, diseases, bodily constituents, and other components of this ancient system of medicine. Here, we will explore the fundamental principles and factors that underlie the nomenclature in ayurveda:

  1. Naming based on Sanskrit language:
    Sanskrit is the primary language for nomenclature in ayurveda. It is a classical language with a rich vocabulary that allows precise and descriptive naming. The use of Sanskrit ensures consistency and clarity in communication among ayurvedic practitioners and scholars.
  2. Naming of herbs and plants:
    Herbs and plants used in ayurvedic medicine are named according to their physical attributes, qualities, and actions. Descriptive names help in identifying the therapeutic properties of each herb. For example, "Tulasi" (Ocimum sanctum) is also known as Holy Basil. Its name "Tulasi" signifies its sacred and purifying nature.
  3. Rasa, virya, and vipaka:
    The taste (rasa), potency (virya), and post-digestive effect (vipaka) of substances are considered in their nomenclature. These qualities provide insights into how a substance interacts with the body. For instance, a bitter-tasting herb with cooling potency and a post-digestive sweet effect may be used to pacify excess heat in the body. For instance, chilly is termed as katuveerya, Picrorhizza as katuka.
  4. Classifying body constituents:
    In Ayurveda, the body is described in terms of its doshika composition and its physical and functional components, known as "dhatu" and "mala." Each of these components is named and classified according to its specific attributes. For example, "rakta" represents blood, and it is characterized by its red colour, liquid nature, and association with the pitta dosha.
  5. Nomenclature of ayurvedic therapies:
    Various therapeutic procedures and therapies in ayurveda are named based on their techniques, effects, and the substances involved. For instance, "shirodhara" involves the continuous pouring of herbal oils or liquids onto the forehead (shira) and is used for relaxation and balancing the mind.
  6. Cultural and historical significance:
    Many names in ayurveda carry cultural and historical significance. They indicate historical figures, ancient sages, or traditional practices. These names serve to connect ayurvedic knowledge to its cultural and historical roots.

In summary, nomenclature in ayurveda is a comprehensive system that combines linguistic precision, doshika considerations, qualities of substances, and clinical observations to name and classify elements within the realm of ayurvedic medicine. This systematic approach aids in effective communication, precise diagnosis, and personalized treatment, contributing to the holistic and time-tested nature of ayurveda as a healthcare system.

Key aspects of plant nomenclature in ayurveda

The basis of nomenclature of plants in ayurveda is a systematic and holistic approach rooted in the Sanskrit language, which allows for precise and descriptive naming. The nomenclature of plants in ayurveda serves several essential purposes, including identification, classification, and understanding of the therapeutic properties of herbs and plants.

  1. Sanskrit language:
    Sanskrit is the primary language used for naming plants in ayurveda. This classical language is chosen for its rich vocabulary, precision, and the ability to convey the qualities and actions of plants effectively. Sanskrit names are typically composed of various syllables that describe the plant's attributes and uses.
  2. Descriptive naming:
    Ayurvedic plant names are often descriptive, providing information about the plant's appearance, properties, or uses. This descriptive naming helps practitioners and herbalists identify herbs accurately and understand their therapeutic potential. For example:
    • Ashwagandha(Withania somnifera): "Ashwa" means horse, and "Gandha" means smell, indicating that this herb has a horse-like odor when its roots are freshly dug.
    • Amalaki(Emblica officinalis): "Amala" means sour, signifying the sour taste of this fruit.
  3. Qualities and actions:
    The qualities (guna) and actions (karma) of plants play a significant role in their nomenclature. Ayurvedic texts describe these aspects in detail, allowing for the classification of plants based on their therapeutic properties. For example:
    • Trikatu:"Tri" means three, and "katu" means pungent. Trikatu is a compound formula consisting of three pungent herbs: ginger, black pepper, and long pepper. Its name reflects its heating and digestive qualities.
  4. Taste (rasa), potency (virya), and post-digestive effect (vipaka):
    Ayurvedic plant nomenclature considers the taste, potency, and post-digestive effect of herbs. These attributes help in understanding how herbs interact with the body and mind. For example:
    • Guduchi(Tinospora cordifolia): The synonym Tikta indicates a bitter taste (tikta rasa), Amrita which corresponds to its cooling potency (shita virya) and Madhurasa indicates post-digestive sweet effect (madhura vipaka).
  5. Doshika considerations:
    Ayurveda categorizes herbs based on their influence on the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha). This classification helps in selecting herbs that balance specific doshika imbalances. For instance, Eranda (Ricinus communis) is termed as Vaatari (enemy of vata dosha) due to its potent vata pacifying actions.
  6. Historical and cultural references:
    Some plant names in ayurveda carry historical and cultural significance, often referencing historical figures, ancient sages, or traditional practices. These names connect ayurvedic knowledge to its cultural and historical roots. For instance, Pippali is termed as Vaidehi due to its abundant occurrence in Videha region.
  7. Common and regional names:
    While Sanskrit names are widely used, Ayurvedic professionals also need be familiar with common and regional names for herbs, as these names can vary across different languages and regions. Many local names are given based on some salient features like appearance, shape, size, habit, habitat, smell, taste, colour, utility, and other peculiar character, etc of the plants. These local or regional names are testament to traditional and ethnomedicinal use of such herbs for centuries.[11] For instance, Neem (in English) is termed as Nimba in Ayurveda texts while mentioned as Kadunimba in Marathi regional language

Sources for deciphering the nama rupa as per the principles of ayurveda

Nighantu were developed in the sangraha kaala to decipher the pharmacological, pharmacognostical and taxonomical basis of ayurveda dravya. The nighantu like Bhavaprakasha Nighantu, Raja Nighantu, Shiva Kosha provides main sources for understanding the pharmacological basis of Ayurveda herbs. The texts like Amarkosha help to decode the exact meaning and synonyms of any herb in ayurveda.
In conclusion, the nomenclature of plants in ayurveda is a carefully crafted system that combines linguistic precision, descriptive elements, qualities, doshika considerations, and cultural references. This system aids in the accurate identification, classification, and utilization of herbs and plants for therapeutic purposes, contributing to the effectiveness and richness of ayurvedic herbal medicine. In recent, many databases like ENVIS[6] by FRLHT are developed to understand the various aspects of plant morphology and utility. Similarly, “IMPPAT: Indian Medicinal Plants, Phytochemistry and Therapeutics” is a curated database that is resultant of digitalization of information from more than 100 books on traditional Indian medicine and more than 7000 published research articles and other existing resources.[12]

Pharmacognosy and nama-rupa vijnana

Pharmacognosy is the study of the structural, physical, biochemical and therapeutic properties of various herbs obtained from natural sources.[13] It is a broad science dealing with plethora of medicinal herbs and taxonomy along with naam rupa vijnana are parts of science of Pharmacognosy. Thus, the extensive study of naam rupa vijnana can contribute to understanding pharmacognosy of any plant mentioned in the classical texts.

Related articles

  1. In the article entitled, “Glory of Synonyms of Plants in Ayurveda with Special Reference to Nama rupa vijnanam- A Review” authors have mentioned the importance of application of knowledge of Basonyms and Synonyms in understanding the nomenclature and salient features of different herbs.[14]
  2. An Insight into ‘Charakokta Dravya-Pariksha Vidhi’ and its Applicability[15] is an article that describes the utility of nama rupa vijnana in understanding the various aspects of herbs mentioned in samhita.
  3. Ayusoft has published informative article on the pharmacognosy and ayurveda where various historical and etymological aspects of herbs are discussed along with ample examples focusing on different aspects of classification and nomenclature of herbs.[16]
  4. The article “Importance of Nama rupa vijnana & concept of basonyms and synonyms of dravya.” It describes the various aspects of understanding basonyms and synonyms for the proper description of any herb.[17]
  5. In the article ‘Role of Pharmacognosy in Ayurveda’, the authors have highlighted the role of pharmacognosy in identification and characterization of Ayurveda herbs.[18]

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