Lecture Note: “Salient Features of Ayurveda Textbooks (Samhita)” (Part-1)


Salient Features of Ayurveda Textbooks (Samhita)

 Dr. Murlidhar Paliwal

Transcript done by
Dr. Kashish
Junor resident 1 Department of Samhita and Sanskrit,
Faculty of Ayurveda, BHU, Varanasi
Dr Varsha More

based on the lecture available at
“Salient Features of Ayurveda Textbooks (Samhita)”

Ayurveda, the system of medicine and, moreover, the science of life, is eternal. Ayurveda, Shakha, Vidya, Sutra, Gyana, Shastra, Lakshana, and Tantra are synonyms. It is the Upveda of Atharva Veda and punyatama-veda, as quoted by Acharya Charak in Charak Samhita. Ayurveda is considered Pancham-veda, as per Acharya Kashyapa, and the glory of Ayurveda is because of rich and authentic knowledge. The source of this rich and authentic knowledge is none other than Ayurveda Samhitas.

There are two sets of Samhitas popular in Ayurveda. The first one is Brihattrayi (greater trio), which includes Charaka Samhita, Sushruta Samhita, and the Samhitas of Vagbhata. The second set is Laghutrayi (lesser trio), which includes Madhava-Nidan, Sharngadhara-Samhita, and Bhavaprakasha.

Meaning of term Samhita:

  • संहिता – सम् + धा+क्त , हि  आदेश: = संहित

  संहित + टाप् = संहिता1

  • पर: सन्निसर्ष: संहिता |

  वर्णानामतिशयित: सधि: संहितासंज्ञ: स्यात् ||

There are many other meanings of the word Samhita. These include union, collection, compilation of laws, rules of any subject, hymns of Vedas following a particular sequence, systematically arranged verse, or prose. The word Samhita means Sandhi, Paramatma in the context of grammar. Samhitas are systematically arranged, comprising Ashtanga Ayurveda, rules of any subject.

According to Acharya P.V. Sharma, as mentioned in his book “Vaigianik etihaas,” Samhita includes all the specialties of the subject, and the specialties in Ayurveda are Ashtanga Ayurveda. Ashtanga Ayurveda refers to clinical specialties or broad clinical specialties in Ayurveda.

Shalyatantra or surgery, Shalakyatantra or ENT ophthalmology, Kaya Chikitsa or internal medicine, Bhutavidya or the science of demonology, Kaumarbhritya or pediatrics, Agadatantra or toxicology, Rasayantantra or the science of rejuvenation, and Vajikaran are the specialties that come under Ashtanga Ayurveda.

All the major Samhitas includes the subject matter of these 8 broad clinical specialties of Ayurveda.

Salient features of Samhitas:

Ayurveda Samhita means a compendium having systematically arranged text comprising Ashtanga-Ayurveda. These are endowed with peculiar characteristic features that are advocated for the ideal medical text. The text should be followed by great, illustrious, and wise physicians (sumahāyaśasvīdhīrapuruṣāsevītam). It should have an abundance of subject matter and be complete (artha-vahulam). The text should be respected by reputed personalities (āptajanapūjitam). The text should be conducive to the intellectual growth of three types of disciples (trividha-śiṣyabuddhihitam). The text should be free from the defects of repetition (apagatapunarukta-doṣam). The text should be written by seers and sages (ārṣam).

Samhitas of Vagbhata are not written by seers and sages. Ashtang Hriday and Ashtang Sangrah were not written by seers and sages. These books were written by Vagbhat. The text should consist of well-placed aphorisms together with commentaries in proper sequence (supraṇītasūtrabhāṣyasamgrahakramam). The text should consist of elegant ideas to convey (svādhāram). The text should be free from vulgar and different words (anavapatitaśabdamakaṣṭaśabdam). The text should have clear and unambiguous subject matter (puṣkalābhidhānam). The text should convey the subject matter in proper order (kramāgatārtham).

Along with all these features, Ayurveda Samhitas possess the following salient features also.

Specific style of dialogue and interpretations:

  • Description of Ashtanga-Ayurveda
  • Ideal Guru-Shishya Interaction: Charak-Samhita as an Example
  • Organization of Different Seminars and Symposia
  • Placement of the Views of Other Scholars and Their Logical Acceptance or Rejection
  • Description of the Text Following the “Samas-Vyas Shaili” i.e pattern of brief and detailed Description.
  • Unique Pattern of Proposition of the chapter, discussion, summary, and colophon: In each chapter of the Samhita, the first line relates to the “PRATIGYA Vakya” or proposition. Subsequently, a discussion between either the teacher and students or between different seers and sages ensues. Finally, the chapter concludes with a summary or “tatra shloka,” and at the end, the colophon or “aadhyaant pushpika” is given, which is quite unique compared to modern-day texts.
  • Close Interrelationship of the Subject Matter: It is a specific feature of Samhita that the subject matter is related to each other. Not only is one chapter related to another, but even within a chapter, one line or one quotation is related to another. This means that the previous verse has relativity with the succeeding verse.
  • Absence of Doubts and Ambiguity in Samhitas.

Scientific way of discussions

  • Each and every topic in Samhitas is described rationally.
  • Not only the topic but every statement in Samhitas is followed by valid logics.
  • Due respect is given to the views of different scholars. It shows scientific temperament, meaning a willingness to listen to the views of others and then come to a conclusion.
  • Abundance of questioning and friendly discussions (Sandhaya-Sambhasha): Abundance of questioning can be observed in Charak Samhita, reflecting efforts to maintain a scientific temperament. Friendly discussion can be observed in the form of seminars or during classroom teaching.
  • The basic nature of science involves an abundance of experiments, observations, and examinations, and these aspects are well observed in all the Samhitas. There must be many experiments in relation to the preparation of medicine for its clinical applications.

Valid fundamental doctrines

Ayurveda Samhitas advocate the fundamental doctrines which are time tested and valid through the ages. These are as follows

  • Triguna siddhanta
  • Panchamahabhuta siddhanta
  • Tridosha siddhanta
  • Dosha, dhatu and mala siddhanta
  • Agni, koshta and prakriti siddhanta
  • Loka-pursha samya siddhanta
  • Vyadhi siddhanta
  • Dwividhi-upakrama siddhanta
  • Shadupakrama siddhanta

Unique approach in Vyadhi Siddhanta: If we compare it with modern medicine, they discuss only the diseases that originate due to any particular cause in the form of bacteria, viruses, or fungi. In Ayurveda, we discuss two types of diseases; some of them are Doshaja, which can be considered under the cause-oriented diseases, and we also consider Karmaja vyadhi, which are idiopathic and unique in comparison to modern medicine. This Karmaja type of Vyadhi is a unique or salient feature of Ayurveda or Ayurveda Samhita.

Broader aspect & unique approach

Ayurveda Samhitas possess broader view in all aspects such as:

  • Concept of Ayu where Chaturvidha Ayu has been described.
  • There is a fact that everybody talks about Sukha Ayu and Dukha Ayu, but Ayurveda describes or advocates four types of Ayu, i.e., Sukha Ayu, Dukha Ayu, Hitha Ayu, Ahita Ayu, and advises to attain both Sukha Ayu and Hitha Ayu. Sukha Ayu is related to individual happiness or individual well-being, whereas Hitha Ayu is related to social value.
  • The concept of health has been in multidimensional form, like physical health, mental health, spiritual health, and so on.

  • Concept of disease has been described in broader aspect.

In Ayurveda, three modes of healing are narrated, viz., Daiva-Vyapashraya, Yukti-Vyapashraya, and Sattvavajaya Chikitsa. Contemporary medical treatment includes rational therapy and psychotherapy, which seems parallel with Yukti-Vyapashraya and Sattvavajaya. Daiva-Vyapashraya, considered as Divine therapy, is a unique approach in Ayurveda, making our view broader than the counterpart of modern medicine. ‘Laukiki-Chikitsa’ a treatment modality providing immediate relief, is preferred by Ayurveda as well as contemporary medical science. In addition to this, Ayurveda also adopts Naishthiki Chikitsa. The other system, particularly modern medicine, talks about the present life and does not concern itself with life beyond that. However, Ayurveda discusses the benefits of this life as well as life beyond.

Foundation of Ayurveda:

  • Samhitas are the initial written documents of the Ayurveda. Ayurveda Samhitas are the base or can be considered as foundation of Ayurveda.
  • These are considered significant similar to root of the plant, means Ayurveda Chikitsa is developed and flourished on the base of Samhitas such as-

Charak-Samhita mainly deals for Kayachikitsa. Sushrut-Samhita deals mainly for Shalya-tantra. Kashyapa-Samhita deals with Ashtanga-Ayurveda mainly for Kaumarbhritya. Nimi-tantra mainly for Shalakya tantra. Similarly, there are number of Samhitas which serve the purpose of foundation for the development of any particular specialty of the Ayurveda.

Inculcate the idea – “Sarvapāriṣadamīnda śāstram”

  • Ayurveda Samhitas includes the useful subject matter of different disciplines which makes Samhitas “Sarvapāriṣadamīnda śāstram”

Particularly in Brihattryi, we can find the useful subject matter of different streams of knowledge, e.g., astrological facts, facts related to philosophy, ethics.

It is the symbol of the observance of Vidya-Kalpana in Samhitas, which makes any text complete and beneficial. Vidya-Kalpana also states that the useful subject matter from different streams of knowledge should be accepted if it is applicable in science, and that has happened with the Ayurveda Samhitas. Samhitas are endowed with the subject matter of Veda, Upanishad, Puranas, Smriti Granthas, Philosophy, Astrology, Vyakarana, and many other texts along with Chikitsa.

Nature based approach

  • Consideration of nature of the human, diet, and medicines is observed.
  • Natural entities such as sunrays, air, water, milk and different natural objects are advised in the treatment.

 Body resist to many diseases by Vyadhikshamatva. Vyadhikshamatva shows that each and every individual is having particular grade of immunity and accordingly his or her disease resist to the disease and that can be considered as the nature-based approach or nature cures the diseases and the physician help by mentioning or advising the treatment or diet.

Swabhavavad and Swabhavoparamavad can be considered under the nature-based approach. In certain questions related to the body, Sushruta raised the query that when the body is decreasing day by day, despite that, the nails and the hairs of the body grow. So, what is the reason? The answer is Swabhavavad—by nature, the hairs and nails increase in a person even if their body tissue is decreasing. Thus, it is due to Swabhavavad, and that Swabhava can be considered as innate, occurring naturally, that is, increasing.

Proper emphasis on individualized medicine

Modern medicine paying attention to individualized medicine since one or two decades, whereas in Ayurveda it has been discussed thousands of years ago.

  1. Charaka-Samhita declares very firmly that only the medicine considered individually can be the best.
  2. Prakriti-based Chikitsa in Ayurveda is one of the examples of individualized medicine.
  3. Individualized medicine is discussed considering factors such as Doshaja, Bheshaj, body strength, season, Sharir, Vaya, Satmya, etc. Satmya means something is suitable for someone but the same thing is not suitable for another, so the concept of Satmya is also consider while advising the diet or medicine.
  4. The amount of diet and exercise is not prescribed as a fixed measure in any Ayurveda texts. The individual power of digestion varies from person to person; therefore, the quantity of diet to be consumed also varies from one person to another, which shows the individualized approach. Similarly, the duration of exercise has not been fixed because different individuals have different types of body strength. Depending on the body strength and requirement, the exercise has to be done. Thus, the time period is not fixed, which is an example of an individualized approach in relation to exercise in Ayurveda.

Rationality in all the context

  • Ayurveda Samhitas are endowed with rationality in all context.
  • Different rules of diet and life style for healthy and diseased persons shows the rationality.

In the “Rasa Vimana Adhyaya” of Charaka Samhita, specific guidelines for dietary habits are outlined, known as “Aahar Vidhi Vishesh Aayatan.” It has been mentioned that these rules are primarily intended for healthy individuals. However, in the case of diseased persons, some alterations may be necessary. For instance, in the “Rasa Vimana” chapter, under the “Ashta Aahar Vidhi Vishesh Aayatan,” the acharya states that one should consume Ushna (warm food). However, this recommendation may not be suitable as Pathya (beneficial) for individuals suffering from conditions related to Rakta (blood), Pitta (bile), bleeding tendencies, or diseases caused by the dominance of Pitta. Therefore, adjustments need to be made. In the same chapter, under the “Astha Aahar Vidhi Vishesh Aayatan,” the acharya advises the consumption of Snigdha (unctuous) food. However, snigdha ashniyat may not be beneficial for patients with an elevated lipid profile, increased cholesterol, or elevated triglyceride level. Treatment is advised according to the stage of the disease. Indication and contra indication changes even in same disease according to stage of disease.

 For instance, according to the general rule, Vaman (therapeutic vomiting) is contraindicated in Gulma Roga. However, in a specific stage where Kapha is increased, leading to a decrease in digestive fire, and the patient experiences anorexia and nausea, if the quantity of increased Kapha needs elimination, Vaman is indicated in that particular condition. This illustrates the rational approach of the acharya, falling under exceptional instructions. These exceptions are provided based on the stage of the condition, demonstrating the rationality in clinical practice. General and exceptional instructions available in Samhitas show the rationality.



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