By P. V. Sharma
Published by Chaukambha Orientalia, Varanasi - 2014
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Written by Tel Asiado
Charaka Samhita is one of the most ancient, comprehensive and authoritative works of ayurveda. It is considered the original reference book of holistic ayurvedic medicine. In Sanskrit, the term "charaka" could also mean a wandering religious student, scholar, or ascetic.
The Caraka Saá¹ƒhitÄ ("Compendium of Caraka") is an early Ayurvedic encyclopedia on medicine. Charaka is often transliterated from Sanskrit as Caraka. The "c" was changed to "ch" to aid in the correct pronunciation in these cases. Of the three surviving ancient great treatises of Ayurveda, namely, the Charaka, Sushruta, and Vagbhata, Charaka is believed to be the oldest and the most important ancient authoritative writings on Ayurveda. Along with the SuÅ›ruta Saá¹ƒhitÄ ("Compendium of SuÅ›ruta"), it is an important source of medical and life understanding and medicine practice in antiquity.
Charaka Samhita explains the logic and philosophy on which this system of medicine is based. According to Charaka, science is dependent upon a quality of the intellect that enables it to perceive phenomena brought into existence by a multiplicity of causes. Much of this treatise is in the form of a symposium wherein groups of Ayurvedic scholars take up a series of topics for discussion. This gives indication that the science of Ayurveda is a product of constant verification, fine-tuning and authentication by an active community of physicians.
It concentrates on the branch or section called kayachikitsa (internal medicine). This is largely the theory of the internal fire or the digestive function of the body - or internal medicine, in modern terms. From a greater perspective, this work represents a certain value of consciousness as it gives notion that life is fundamentally a field of intelligence and pure knowledge. Charaka lays emphasis on health and longevity, to strike a balance between one's corporeal and spiritual being, a reason why it goes detail into the diagnosis of a disease's origin.
Contents of Charaka Samhita
Its language was written in Sanskrit in poetic format, with meter and melody. Poetry was known to serve as a memory aid. The valuable information in this work is scattered over thousands of sutras or verse statements in the manuscript. In ancient times this style helped aspiring students to memorize the sutras. Charaka Samhita's extant text has aá¹£á¹Äá¹…ga sthÄna (eight sections), totaling 120 chapters containing 8,400 metrical verses, which are often committed to memory by modern medical students of Ayurveda. Seventeen (17) chapters of CikitsÄ sthÄna and complete Kalpa sthÄna and Siddhi sthÄna were added later by Dá¹›iá¸habala (5th century).
The Charaka Samhita starts with SÅ«tra sthÄna which deals with fundamentals and basic principles of Ayurveda medicine practice. Unique scientific contributions credited to the Charaka Saá¹ƒhitÄ include a rational approach to the causation and cure of disease, and introduction of clinical examination's objective methods. The eight chapters are:
SÅ«tra sthÄna (30 chapters)
NidÄna sthÄna (8 chapters)
VimÄna sthÄna (8 chapters)
ÅšÄrÄ«ra sthÄna (8 chapters)
Indriya sthÄna (12 chapters)
CikitsÄ sthÄna (30 chapters)
Kalpa sthÄna (12 chapters)
Siddhi sthÄna (12 chapters)
Chronology of Charaka Samhita
The detailed biography of the author of this treatise, that is, sage Charaka, is not certain, or, if this represents the work of a "school of thought." Interestingly, it is not an original writing of a single person, rather, like all Vedic knowledge it is a continuation and renewal of that ancient knowledge system. Therefore, it could have come from a group of scholars or followers of a man known as Charaka if not an original composition from a single person named Charaka. In fact, Charaka had redacted the work of Agnivesa Samhita (46,000 version), which is no longer extant. The available form of Charaka Samhita was again worked upon by Dridhabala (living in about 400 AD) long after sage Charaka.
Originally composed by Agnivesha (Sanskrit: AgniveÅ›a), one of the six students of Atreya.
Agnivesa Samhita did not survive in its original form.
Years later Charaka compiled and revised the brief sutra style of Agniveshaâ€™s work with annotations and interpretations. His contributions in this respect were so remarkable that the original treatise in its new form began to be known as the work of Charaka.
Centuries later, the latter one third of the Charaka Samhita is believed to have been compiled by another physician Dridhabala (or Drbhabala) who also revised portions written by Charaka.
The name of the compendium remains as Charaka Samhita.
For practical purposes, Charakaâ€™s compendium represents Atreyaâ€™s system of medicine as handed down by his student Agnivesha. Passages on the qualitative and quantitative aspects of food in Charaka Samhita are contained in the earlier portions composed by Charaka.
The popularity and continuity of Ayurveda tradition lies in its approach to heal a person in its totality - the healing the body, mind and spirit - all in one go. Its unique understanding of the similarities of natural law and the working of the human body, as well as its holistic treatment methods, help it to strike a balance between the two.
Charaka followed the Atreya School of Physicians, which predominantly deals with treatments through internal and external application of medicine. Its focus is on healing the body, mind and soul of a patient in a minimally invasive manner, hence, the placed emphasis on the diagnostic part of the treatment, as well as on the timing and manner of the collection of medicinal plants.
Like the other treatises of Ayurveda, Charaka Samhita has different translations. The P.V. Sharma translation comes in four volumes, two of original text and two of commentary about the original work. Sharma's English version is said to be a scholarly and relatively faithful work, with numerous appendices and an extensive index. The B. Dash / R.K. Sharma version lacks these features but does have extensive commentary incorporated in with the original text.