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Did You Know?
By D.P. Agrawal

Question: Did you know where the famous Bower manuscript was found and what is its importance for Ayurvedic Studies?

The Bower Manuscript (mss), which is named after its discoverer, Lieutenant H. Bower, was found in 1890, in Kuchar, in Eastern Turkestan, on the great caravan route of China. It was then sent to Colonel J. Waterhouse, who was then the President of Asiatic Society of Bengal. On reaching Calcutta in February 1891, it was taken over by the famous epigraphist and indologist Hoernle who was at that time the Philological Secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. After the completion of its editing, Hoernle returned it to Bower in 1898.

The Bower Manuscript in reality is a collection of seven distinct manuscripts, or it may be called a collective manuscript of seven parts. The total of the existing leaves of the Bower Manuscript is fifty-one. But unfortunately the more important portion of it, Parts I- III, which deals with medicine, is incomplete.

Detailed studies of the mss indicated to Hoernle that the writers of Parts I- III and Parts V-VII were Indian Buddhist monks. The mss is written in Indian Gupta script. The use of birch-bark for writing shows that they must have come from Kashmir or Udyana. Hoernle thinks that they passed the mss into the hands of the writer of Part IV, who would seem to have been a native of Eastern Turkestan, or perhaps of China. But the ultimate owner of the whole series of manuscripts, Yasomitra, must have held a prominent position in that monastery. For this collective manuscript was contained in the relic chamber of the memorial stupa at the Ming-oi of Qum Tura, built in his honour.

The large medical treatise called Navanitaka forms the second part of the Bower mss. As the date of that mss falls somewhere in the second half of the fourth century A.D., and as the Navanitaka quotes numerous formulae from the Cikitsita-sthana of Charaka's Compendium, it seems obvious that none of the chapters of the latter, from which quotations occur in the Navanitaka, can have been written by the famous physician Drdhabala, who lived several centuries later, probably in the ninth century A.D. The date of the composition of the Navanitaka is probably much earlier than that of the writing of the Bower mss, in which it has been preserved for us. "That the latter is not the autograph of the author of the Navanitaka, but is a copy of a pre-existing work, is proved by various marks in the mss." Hoernle holds the view that the Navanitaka being later in date than the Caraka-samhita, and of the latter work (in the form in which it at the time existed, before its revision and completion by Drdhabala) having been one of the sources drawn on by the author of the Navanitaka.


Hoernle, A. F. R. 1909. The Composition of the Caraka-Samita in the Light of the Bower Manuscript. Reprinted in Studies in the History of Science in India. 1982. Vol. I. (Ed) Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya. New Delhi: Editorial Enterprises. Pp. 141-174.

Hoernle, A. F. R. 1909. The Bower Manuscript. Reprinted in Studies in the History of Science in India. 1982. Vol. I. (Ed.) Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya. New Delhi: Editorial Enterprises. Pp. 116- 140.

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