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Ayurveda is the science of life as the traditional scientific system rendering holistic healthcare to the population.[1] It has the foundation of scientific principles (siddhanta, vada) contributing to the preventive and curative aspects of the health of every individual. It is thus necessary to understand Ayurveda by establishing it through the concept of shastra mentioned across the texts. Shastra is a branch of knowledge or classic, scripture, or science. [SAT-A.24][2] The three major texts (brihadtrayee), minor texts (laghutrayee), and contemporary ayurveda texts that fulfill the criteria can also be considered shastra. This article deals with the aspects of ayurveda to establish it as shastra or science contributing to the scientific descriptions and knowledge mentioned in the text.

Section/Chapter/topic Concepts/Shastra
Authors Bhojani M. K. 1,
Joglekar Aishwarya 2
Reviewer Basisht G.2,
Editors Basisht G.2,Deole Y.S.3
Affiliations 1 Department of Sharir Kriya, All India Institute of Ayurveda, New Delhi, India
2 Department of Samhita Siddhanta, D. Y. Patil College of Ayurved and research Centre, Pune, India
3 Rheumatologist, Orlando, Florida, U.S.A.
4 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, India
Date of publication: March 30, 2023
DOI 10.47468/CSNE.2023.e01.s09.132

Etymology and derivation

Monnier Williams dictionary explains the term shastra as an instrument of directing or teaching, an order, command, rule, precept, institute ; religious or scientific treatise, any sacred book or composition of divine or standard authority (applicable even to the veda), and said to be of fourteen or even eighteen kinds, book, teaching, body of teaching.[3]
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines shastra as the sacred scriptures of Hinduism consisting of four text categories: shruti (vedic texts), smriti (codes of law handed down by memoriter or tradition), purana (a class of sacred works , sacred tales) and tantra (scientific work or doctrine).[4]
Shadbdakalpadruma elaborates the term shastra’ as ‘Shishyate anen’. It is called grantha, or vidya, and is said to be of 18 types.[5] Vishnupurana included ayurveda in 18 types of shastra, all believed to be originated from Lord Bramha. Sushruta has also rightly stated the ayurveda as upanga (section) of Atharvaveda written by Lord Bramha. [Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana 1/6]


Tarkabhasha defines shastra as a treatise or science which gives proper knowledge of pravritti (things to be followed) and nivrutti (things to be avoided).[6]
Dalhana has also enumerated a few definitions of shastra as given below: [Dalhana on Su.Sa. Sutra. Sthana 4/8]

  1. Rogan shaasati iti : Aid in or leads to the elimination of roga (diseases)
  2. Aarogya danena dharmartha kamadinam shaasanat va shastra: One which renders health and helps in achieving the dharma (righteousness), artha (wealth), kama (desires) is termed as ‘shastra’.
  3. Maranat trayat iti : One which helps to overcome mishaps can also be termed as shastra. It helps to develop abilities to combat with day to day problems helping in survival.


Ayurveda, shakha, vidya, sutra, vidya, lakshana, tantra [Cha. Sa. Sutra Sthana.30/31] [Chakrapani on Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana.30/19], veda (Ayurveda is also termed as upaveda of Atharvaveda) [Su. Sa. Sutra Sthana.1, Dalhana on Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana.1/16, Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana.30/21]
The term “Tantra” is applied to shastra. Shalya tantra (surgery) is referred to as shastra. [Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana 1/22]. Chikitsa (medicine) is also referred to as shastra. [Dalhana on Su.Sa.Uttar Tantra 65/1]

Importance of the concept of shastra

  • Scientific scriptures provide light for illumination (to remove the darkness of ignorance or to know things), and one’s intellect is like eyes. The physician who uses both scientific knowledge and intelligence does not commit mistakes during treatment. Hence, the physician should make all efforts to enrich his knowledge. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 9/24-25]
  • Bhaishajya ratnavali states that the vaidya who renders treatment without considering the teachings or learnings of shastra should be considered as ‘Yama’ or one responsible for the patient's death.[7]
  • It is important to be well versed in different sciences to have command or definite knowledge regarding any particular topic. A clinician should thus have proper knowledge of different shastra or contemporary sciences. [Su. Sa. Sutra Sthana 4/7]
  • Sushruta mentions that one who knows theory only without practical aspects of science cannot efficiently treat the patients (kevala shastradnya). The one who practices science without understanding the theory or basic knowledge behind any phenomenon does not get validation from society and authority (kevala karmagnya).[Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana.3/48-49] Both individuals are considered incompetent due to their incomplete practical/theoretical knowledge. These individuals are termed as “ardhavedadhara” similar to the bird having single wing. [Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana 4/50]
  • Sushruta also mentions that one can only be termed as vaidya if he has learned the shastra from a Guru in its entirety. It should be learned directly from the teacher (guru mukhodgeerna), inculcated the principles through self-study and hard work (upasya), and repeatedly listened to or going through the teachings of the Guru (asakruta). Those who have not acquired knowledge through the above-mentioned means should be termed as taskara (quack). [Su. Sa. Sutra Sthana 4/8]
  • Sushruta also states that aushadhi or medicines are like shastra (weapons), ashani (lightening), visha (poison). Hence it must not be prescribed by unqualified or incompetent individuals. [Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana 3/51] One who is trained in both aspects can efficiently render health to the patients, similar to a chariot with two wheels on a battle field. [Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 3/54] The proper practice and practical utility of teachings in the science is encouraged as a science learnt without the application of same leads to mere hard work just as a donkey carrying sandalwood feels only the load and is not aware of the value of the load. An unintelligent and foolish person with theoretical knowledge of various topics but unaware of actual contents and importance possess them just like a donkey. [Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana 4/4] Thus, knowledge broadens and widens when one compliments the pratyaksha dnyana (practical knowledge) with shastra dnyana (knowledge of texts). Hence, one should observe patients' physical and anatomical characteristics to make an accurate diagnosis. [Su.Sa. Sharira Sthana 5/48,51]
  • Charaka has also stated a few examples to underline the disadvantages of incomplete knowledge of physicians, like a flight of a flock of birds on sensing the signs of danger. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 30/72-73] Hence, eight types of questions should be asked to assess the knowledge of such individuals. These include the aspects of tantra and tantra-artha related with shastra pariksha. One who is well versed with 'dnyana’ as stated in the text can efficiently treat the patient by understanding the patient's psyche. [Cha.Sa.Vimana Sthana 4/12] Thus those having insufficient knowledge of shastra should always be avoided by wise persons as they represent the Yama (lord of death) itself. [A.H.Uttara Tantra 40/76]
  • Tarka (logic) based on shastra is mentioned in best practices. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 25/40]
  • While explaining the methods of scientific discussion (vadamarga), it is clearly stated that one should discuss based on shastra. [Cha.Sa.Vimana Sthana 8/67]
  • Shastra is like a weapon and its utility depends on the person who uses it. Misuse can lead to self-destruction, and wise usage can lead to wealth and fame. Hence, it should be properly implemented in practice. [Cha.Sa.Siddhi Sthana 12/49]
  • The vision to classify or understand the nuances of sciences cannot develop with a mere study of science but by practice and practical utility. [A.H.Sutra Sthana 12/56]
  • The use of sandalwood (Chandana) in treating burning sensation, or advice of fasting (langhana) in treatment of fever (jwara) are examples of preaching shastra that have become popular in the community. Thus, all the instances in practice are based on the foundation of shastra itself. [A.H.Uttar Tantra 40/71]
  • Chikitsa shastra or the samhita texts are devoid of the defects (tantradosha) and filled with qualities (tantraguna) making them universally accepted and applicable. [A.H.Uttar Tantra 40/78] Ayurveda is extensive science devoid of lacunae (nyunata dosha). [A.S.Uttar Tantra 50/75]

Criteria for exquisite literature or science (shastra pariksha)

One must properly assess and examine the treatise or literature before progressing toward learning and applying the same. This is termed ‘shastra pariksha’ or ‘tantra guna’. It involves the assessment of the following aspects:

  1. Comprehensive, detailed (sumahat)
  2. Followed by the learned, wise, and successful men (yashashvi dheera purusha sevita)
  3. With detailed descriptions (arthabahulam)
  4. Authentic, followed by authorities (aaptajanapujitam)
  5. Suitable for learners of varied intellects (trividha shishya buddhi hitam)
  6. Devoid of repetition (apagata punarukta dosham)
  7. Preached by learned sages or experienced persons (arsham)
  8. Well presented in the form of discussions-conclusions (supranita sutra bhashya sangraha krama)
  9. Well established, having a firm base of knowledge (swadharam)
  10. Devoid of inappropriate words or derogatory language (anavapatita shabda)
  11. Devoid of jargons and complicated language (akashta shabda)
  12. Extensively written with detailed description (pushkala- abhidhanam)
  13. Well arranged (kramagatartha)
  14. Reveals clear meanings and concrete conclusions (artha-tattva-vinishchaya pradhana)
  15. Dealing with relevant topics (sangatartha)
  16. Devoid of complicated terms and concepts (asankula prakarana)
  17. Easy to grasp and understand (ashuprabodhaka)
  18. Exemplary (lakshanvat udaharanavat)

The shastra with the presence of such characteristics should only be considered for the purpose of the study. [Cha.Sa.Vimana Sthana 8/3] The knowledge obtained from such shastra is considered to be enlightening. It helps to eliminate the darkness in the form of ignorance or lack of knowledge.

Knowledge of shastra as an important quality of physician

The knowledge of shastra is an important quality of physician. The terms used to denote this importance touch the aspects of pedagogy especially the cognitive and psychomotor domain. Knowledge is considered to be the most prominent characteristic of any physician as per the contemporary medical sciences.[8] The elaboration of knowledge of shastra as an important quality of physician is mentioned as given in the table below:

Table 1. Qualities of physician related to shastra

Sr. No Quality of vaidya Reference Elaboration in the commentary and meaning
1. Shrutam Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 9/6 Possessing authentic knowledge, well read
2. Paryavadatatvam Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 9/6 Vishuddha dnyana (pure knowledge) due to guru-shastra seva (serving both the teacher and science)
3. Tattvaadhigata Shastraartha Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 34/19-20 Having knowledge of topics and principles mentioned in the text.
4. Artha-shastra vida A.S.Sutra Sthana 2/6 One who has studied the shastra in detail
5. Shastra artha vidnyana Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 9 Mentioned as an important quality of pranabhisar vaidya (life saviour physician)
6. Shastradnya/ shastrayuktidnya Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 29/7 Shastrayukti means shastrayojana or having applied knowledge of the subject. This is also mentioned as quality of pranabhisar vaidya.
7. Vidnyana Chakrapani on Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 9/21 Shastrantara dnyana- having knowledge of allied texts or sciences
8. Shastravida Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 29/13 One having the knowledge of shastra through proper assessment of texts
9. Shastradnya Dalhana on Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana 3/51 One having knowledge of shastra
10. Shastra-paraga Cha.Sa.Chikitsa Sthana 1/4/51 Well trained in and well versed with the shastra- attribute of pranacharya
11. Tirtharttashastrartha A.S.Sutra Sthana 2/17
A.H.Sutra Sthana 1/28
Has received the knowledge of shastra through proper training from the guru (teacher)

Tools to understand shastra

  1. Anubandha chatushtya (four connecting factors of a literary text)
    This concept, initially put forth by Vedant philosophy, can be understood as a means to decipher different aspects of science.[9] This includes four aspects namely:
    1. Abhidheya (main topic of interest)
    2. Prayojana (purpose or end result)
    3. Sambandha (interconnectivity between concepts) and
    4. Adhikari (having capacity to study or learner)
    Chakrapani has briefly mentioned this concept in the commentary on the first verse of Charaka Samhita. (Chakrapani on Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana.1/1).
    The abhidheya can be explained as the main topic of discussion, for example, in hita or ahita ayu. (beneficial or non-beneficial life)
    Prayojana is main goal or aim the science is directed towards for instance dhatusamya while sambandha is the connection between the terms. Adhikari refers to man or individual proficient in the shastra, physician or vaidya. He further states that abhidheya and prayojana are essential for the pravritti or implementation of shastra. Unless one is aware about the ultimate goal of understanding shastra one cannot implement the principles of shastra.
  2. Vakyashaha- vakya-arthashaha, artha-avayavashah (method of learning of text)
    This refers to “read the quotation first” and then meaning, interpretation and explanation of the different verses and concepts given in the text. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 30/19]
  3. Pada- padam- shlokam (study of each part of text)
    Sushruta mentions this method to understand the verses mentioned in the text correctly. [Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana 3/54]This is an essential aspect of learning the ayurveda texts as it is majorly presented in the poetry form. This methodology helps to properly understand the meaning of every term mentioned in the text.
  4. Trividha dnyanopaya/ shastra upaya (three steps in understanding the science or text)- adhyayana (self learning), adhyapana (teaching), tadvidya-sambhasha (discussion)
    Three methods for correct understanding or implementing the principles of shastra (shastra drudhatartha) are described. Adhyayana refers to method of studying; adhyapana refers to the teaching method, while tadvidya sambhsha deals with scientific debates and interactions. These can also be considered essential components of pedagogy and help facilitate the teaching and learning process. [Cha. Sa.Vimana Sthana 8/6]
  5. Tantrayukti (tricks to understand the text)
    Tantrayukti is the most critical tool to understand the applied aspects and hidden meanings of teachings mentioned in the shastra. These guide in understanding the application of varied terms and verses mentioned in the text. The one who can understand the proper method to learn even one kind of shastra or the one who develops the temperament to understand the nuances of single shastra can also decipher the contents of other shastra. [Cha.Sa.Siddhi Sthana 12/47] One who studies the shastra without understanding the tantrayukti cannot understand its practical utility. [Cha.Sa.Siddhi Sthana 12/48] For instance, with the help of adhikarana tantrayukti, we can understand the main subject of discussion of a particular text e.g. Ashtang Hridaya deals with description of eight branches of ayurveda. [Arundatta on A.H. UttaraTantra 40/80]

Eternal qualities of ayurveda as a shastra

Three eternal qualities of ayurveda proving its relevance and applicability in every aspect of science are described in Charak Samhita. Anaditwa (It has no beginning), swabhavasansiddha lakshanatwa (its characteristics are self-evident) and bhava-swabhavanityatwa (eternal) are characteristics that make ayurveda an eternal science. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 30/27]

Anaditwa depicts that it was always perpetually present.
Swabhavasansiddhatwa states that the traits are self-evident.
Bhavaswabhavanityatwa refers to the eternity of principles mentioned in the text.
Sushruta has mentioned ayurveda as shashvata (eternal), punya (good deeds), swargya (divine, blissful), yashasya (progressive), ayushya (rendering longevity), vrittikara (helps in sustainence of life), underlining its immense scope and applicability. [Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana 1/19]

Inclusivity of ayurveda as a shastra- sarvaparishadam shastra

Ayurveda is considered sarvaparishadam or knowledge base/ connection with different contemporary sciences. It is inclusive of related principles mentioned in other sciences. For instance, ayurveda has imbibed the principles of Sankhya and Vaisheshika darshana for understanding different concepts of srishti utpatti (evolution of universe), pramana (epistemology) etc. [Chakrapani on Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 8/3].
Sushruta also states that one should refer to related or contemporary sciences as an individual can't understand the critical aspects of every science. Hence it is necessary to have ample knowledge regarding other sciences.[Su.Sa. Sutra Sthana 4/6] While mentioning the classification of diseases, Sushruta has rightfully described the term “Sarvatantrasamanya” to state the inclusivity of Ayurveda. [Su.Sa.Sutra Sthana 24/4] Charaka suggests that varied shastra persist worldwide. Hence one should properly examine any shastra before proceeding with the treatment process. [Cha.Sa.Vimana Sthana 8/3] Dalhana has also mentioned other shastra like vyakarana, sankhya, vaisheshika, and jyotish (astrology) as contemporary to ayurveda and necessary for a proper understanding of Ayurveda.
The related contemporary shastra to Ayurveda can be enlisted as given below:

Table 2. Ancient shastra contemporary to Ayurveda

Branch of science Major subject matter Topics relevant to ayurveda
Dharmashastra Code of conducts, religious matters, rites and rituals Sadvritta
Jyotisha Astrology Graha chikitsa, kaala
Vyakarana- Panini Sutra Grammar, semantics Pada- pada shloka understanding, tantrayukti etc. understanding
Sankhya philosophy Trividha dukkha nivarana Prakriti- purusha relation
Srishti utpatti
Trividha dukkha
Concept of triguna
Yoga Chitta-vritti nirodha Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama
Vaisheshika Logic  Padartha
Nyaya Epistemology Pramana
Vedanta Spiritual, knowledge of ultimate factor Atma, moksha
Sudashastra Cooking, culinary practices Cooking, dietetics, knowledge of recipes in text.
Kamasutra / Kamashastra Sexuality, erotism, fulfilment Reproduction, conception etc.

Aaptodesha and shastra

Aaptopadesha pramana precisely depicts the skeleton of shastra according to ayurveda. It describes the findings of intellectual persons based on the teachings of veda and apta. Thus the scientific hypothesis put forth on Aaptopadesha pramana is termed ‘shastravada’. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana11/27]

Current understanding of medical science

The term science is defined as knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific methods.[10] It can be observed that this definition of science is similar to the concept of shastra as mentioned in the ancient ayurveda texts. The history of current medical science is quite vast and finds its origins in Egyptian medicine (around 3000 BC) and Greek medical sciences where the medicine was practiced and preached traditionally.[11] Hippocrates is considered as the father of modern medicine (around 450 BC). The surgical practices evolved during the medieval period. However the mainstreaming of the formal eduction related to medicine started around 12th- 13th century in Italy. Advancement in research related to genetics, radiology, introduction of the germ theory of disease leading to invention of antibiotics are considered to be the landmarks of modern medicine. The contemporary medical science is largely evidence based facilitating the introduction of modern technologies and advancements both surgical and medicinal fields.[12] The timeline of medical history depicts the revolutionary changes from the 9th century onwards itself.[13] The term science denotes the way of thinking used to develop explanations of natural phenomena using evidence and logic. Authentic science is the term coined to distinguish and separate the scientific ways of thinking from classroom science activities that do not, in fact, reflect the spirit and behavior of science.[14] The science develops from theories which can be inductive or deductive leading to establishment of new concepts.
As mentioned earlier the current medical science is largely evidence based which involves the conscientious, explicit, judicious and reasonable use of modern, best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.[15] It involves the clinical based practice based on the available and updated information. Earlier the medical science was largely based on previously established theories, which seldom paved way for empirical and personalised medicine. However the evidence based medicine facilitates the personalised or individualised approach to the practice of medicine.
Ayurveda on the other hand has always focused on the individualised and personalised approach based on the doshika constitution, prakriti etc. of the individual. Ayurveda as a science was preached through the generations in form of poetry, which contemplated into written form as Samhita or classical texts. Thus, the shastra of ayurveda is ancient, yet based on various basic principles which find their relevance even in day to day practices. Ayurveda is based on the fundamental principles, that can be assessed on scientific grounds to prove their validity in todays era.

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