The Date Of Caraka, The Famous Ancient Physician
by D.P. Agrawal
Tradition says that the Carakasamhita was originally compiled by Agnivesa
under the guidance of his preceptor Atreya several millennia ago. Then it
was presented to a congregation of sages who held it to be of a very high
standard and praised its author. With the passage of time, it suffered emendations
and interpolations. It is said that in 800 BC the scholar-physician Caraka
revised the Carakasamhita in the light of new knowledge. Today, the
Carakasamhita is held in high esteem as the most authentic of all the
extant works on the Ayurevedic system of medicine. The term Caraka is derived
from the root cat meaning "to move about." Caraka propagated
his knowledge and gave relief to patients by moving from place to place.
It became famous all over the world. At the beginning of the 8th century
AD this work was translated into Arabic. Caraka's name appears as "Sharaka
Indiansus" in the Latin translations of Avicena, Razes and Serapion.
Fihrest (finished in 987 AD) mentions that Carakasamhita was translated
from Sanskrit into Persian and from Persian into Arabic. Al-Beruni's chief
source of medicine was the Arabic edition of Caraka.
There is however, considerable confusion about the age and identity of Caraka
as this name was borne by several ancient scholars. In the white branch of
the Yajurveda, Caraka is described as an evil god. Al-Beruni has described
the term Caraka to mean an intelligent person. According to Kasikavrtti,
Vaisampayana, a disciple of Vyasa is known as Caraka. The name Caraka is
associated with Vedic, post-Vedic, and even pre-Vedic sages. This is either
their personal name or the name of the clan or school to which they belong.
The propagator of the science of medicine and redactor of the Carakasamhita
appears to be different from them. So much so that some modern scholars hold
the view that Caraka and Patanjali are the names of one and the same sage.
But it is obvious that Caraka preceded Patanjali.
The Carakasamhita, however, does not provide any clues to answer the
questions of where and when Caraka lived. However, some clues to determine
his date do exist:
Caraka preceded Patanjali (200 BC);
He probably preceded Buddhism (500BC) as there is no mention of Buddha and
his philosophy in Carakasamhita
The prose style resembles that of the Brahmanas (c. 800BC)
On the basis of these clues, many scholars believe that Caraka redacted this
work in the 8th Century BC. But P.V.Sharma places him at the third or second
century BC, at the juncture of Maurya-Sunga periods. According to Mukhopadhyaya,
Prof. Goldstucker has conclusively proved that Panini could not have flourished
later than the sixth century BC. Panini wrote special sutras for Agnivesa
and Caraka (Panini. Iv. 3. 107; iv.1. 105). These names must have
been famous before Panini's time, otherwise he would not have written special
sutra for them.
The Carakasmhita consists of 120 chapters which are distributed in
8 sections: Sutrasthana, Nidanasthana, Vimanasthana, Sarirasthana, Indriyasthana,
Chikitsasthana, Kalpasthana, and Siddhisthana. The nomenclature of the chapters
of Caraka is based on the subject discussed within them and at times, on the
first word or phrase of the chapter. The important topics covered in this
text are sarira or anatomy, vrtti or physiology, hetu
or etiology, vyadhi or pathology, karma or therapeutics, kartr
or the physician, karana or medicaments and appliances, and vidhi
or rules and regulations for diet, drugs, and regimen.
Caraka's discussion of matter bears a close identity with that of the Nyayavaisesika.
Caraka believed that the human body is composed of innumerable cells. They,
in turn, are composed of five mahabhutas, viz, prithvi,
ap, tejas, vayu, and akasa. Since Akasa is
all-pervasive, only remaining four mahabhutas are derived from the
previous body. Four mahabhutas each from the sperm of the father,
ovum of the mother, and nutrient fluid supplied during pregnancy period are
added to the new being. Thus, the body is composed of 16 types of mahabhutas
derived from four different sources. Of all the body’s constituents, the
three dosas, vata, pitta, and kapha (which are
often wrongly rendered as wind, bile and phlegm respectively) play a vital
role in normal as well as abnormal functions of the body and in the treatment
of diseases. Their equipoise gives positive health, while any disturbance
in their equilibrium results in disease and decay of the body. They regulate
the functions of the mind also.
Caraka believed that foods and drugs are composed of the same five mahabhutas
as the body. Body tissues are consumed during the process of work. These
are to be replenished. Caraka has described agn,i or the enzymes required
for digestion and metabolism, to be responsible for the increase in life-span
along with the growth of complexion, vitality, energy, plumpness, ojas,
and muscular strength.
Caraka knew that blood circulates and gives life to different organs of the
body. The heart is described as the controlling organ. The body is composed
of innumerable channels, large and small. They not only supply nutrition
to tissues, but also remove waste from there. Caraka describes sperm and
ovum to be composed of parts, and each part is again sub-divided. Different
organs of the living being are represented in a latent form in these sub-divided
parts. If there is any defect in any of these sub-parts, then the corresponding
organ of the child will also be affected.
Caraka prescribed three important pursuits of life: longevity, wealth, and
wellbeing which includes salvation in the next life.
Caraka believed that diseases are caused by: 1) Intellectual blasphemy which
includes immoral and anti-social activities due to psychic factors such as
the perversion of intelligence, patience, and memory; 2) Natural factors such
as the effects of time and the seasons; and 3) Somatic factors such as unwholesome
contact with the objects of senses. The concept of psychosomatic factors,
including the natural ones, as the cause of diseases is a unique feature of
Ayurveda. Twenty types of disease-causing germs are described in Caraka,
some of them residing outside the body while others reside inside. Various
methods have been described in Caraka for the treatment of different diseases.
They include oral medicines, eye drops, gargles, smoking, nasal inhalations,
collyriums, ointments, creams, lotions, medicated oils and ghees, suppositories,
tampons, cotton swabs, enemas, douches, fomentation, and bandages.
Carakasamhita describes 149 important diseases. The 341 plants and
plant products, 177 animal products and 64 minerals are described along with
the properties of most of them for the treatment of diseases. Poisonous plants
and animals along with the treatment of their poisoning are described in detail.
Caraka has described rejuvenation therapies to prevent the aging of healthy
individuals and to recover patients from their convalescence state. Similarly,
aphrodisiac drugs to increase virility and cure impotency are described. Caraka
has laid much emphasis on proper diet and regimen by healthy individuals as
well as patients.
The most interesting fact is that there is a description of air-conditioning
of houses – cooling in summer and heating in winter.
Caraka has completely ruled out dogmatism in the field of medicine. The following,
according to him, are the criteria for drawing correct conclusions: 1) Authentic
testimony, 2) Direct observation, 3) Inference, and 4) Logical reasoning
According to Caraka, a physician should have compassion for patients. He
should devote himself to the treatment of patients who are curable and reject
those who are incurable. Caraka suggested that the ruler of the state must
be ever vigilant to protect genuine physicians and ban practices of pseudo-physicians
or quacks who endanger the lives and properties of the people.
The rules of admission to medical sciences were strict. Before a student
was admitted for the study of the medical science, he was fully examined with
reference to his physical qualities and mental aptitude. He had to take the
oath of initiation in the presence of respectable persons of society to lead
his life in such a way that would be conductive to his study. After completion
of the study he was to be further examined before getting admission to the
There is no doubt that Caraka conceived the germ theory of the causation
of diseases, but he rejected the idea that germs are the only causative factors
for disease. On the other hand, he had advanced the theory that it is the
imbalance of dosas and vitiation of dhatus which are primary
causes of diseases, and various germs may grow in the body only when they
are provided with such a congenial environment. Both for metabolic diseases
and infective ones, correction of the imbalance of dosas and dhatus
constitutes the basic principle of all therapeutics. This is a unique feature
of the Ayurvedic concept of diseases and its management as enunciated by Caraka
in his monumental work.
Caraka is mored modern in his emphasis on the prevention of diseases than
on their cure. Similarly, the theories of immunity, digestion, and metabolism
are quite mundane. Caraka's description of the general nursing home, maternity
home, medical ethics, experimental scientific methodology, repudiation of
dogmatism, heredity, and many advanced concepts of pathogenesis and management
of diseases bears testimony to its relevance today.
Bag, A.K. 1997. History of Technology in India. Delhi: Indian National
Academy of Science.
Mukhopadhyay, G. N. 1983. On the medical authorities. In History of Science
in India ( Ed. Debiprasad Chattopadyaya). New Delhi: Editorial Enterprises.
Sharma, P.V. 1992. History of Medicine in India. Delhi: Indian National
Academy of Science.