Dravyaguna: Origin and its Development
Ancient science of making drugs
have been making medicines to cure various ailments from the prehistoric times.
During the Vedic age, there were two main categories: Osadhi (small
plants) and Vanaspati (big plants). Later on, apart from the above two
groups, two more groups Virudh and Vanaspatya were added. Besides
plants, animal and mineral products were also used as food and drugs.
their learned essay, Dravyaguna: Origin
and Development, Raghunathan and Dubey bring out some interesting aspects of
the science of making drugs in ancient India. We present a summary below.
is believed that the first attempt to organize and explain plants was made in
the Vedic period as its description is found in Osadhi-sukta
in Rgveda (10.97.1-23; also in Atharvaveda
(AVS), 8.7.1-8;11.6.16-17). In this portion of Rgveda,
the characters, habitat, classification and usage of plants are described. It is
clearly explained how the drugs after ingestion circulate in organs and joints
where they act. Plants were also used as amulets to defend against evil sprits.
This portion also tells that the physicians had an intimate knowledge of herbs
and used them for destroying the invisible destructive agents and diseases.
of Signature initially prompted the therapeutic use of drugs, which was
based on similarity of colour or form, for example, the use of lac in
haemorrhage, Manjistha (Rubia cordifolia) in various blood
disorders, twisted fruits of Helicteres isora in twisting pain in
abdomen, testicle-shaped seeds of Kapikacchu as aphrodisiac, Haridra (Curcuma
longa) in jaundice, the perennial roots of Punarnava in anaemia
and debility etc.
In AVS welfare of humans is
invoked through the plants grazed by cows, goats and sheep. It should be noted
that the grasses form the diuretic and galactagogue groups and their effects
would have been ascertained after observing them on animals.
Some animals were specially
attached to certain plants for their nutrition and protection. Not only animals
but humans also observed the effects of the plants used as food or drug.
When Susruta says that drug is known from those who used roots, he means
not only morphological characters of the plants but also the pharmacological
of basic concepts
Basic concepts that provide a reasonable
explanation of the use of the drugs are based on the law of Uniformity
of Nature. It was observed that both the drugs as well as the living body
have Pancabhautika composition in common and if the drugs are used
sensibly, they can alter the body components accordingly.
There was of course the difficulty
to identify the particular bhutika composition of the drug. Determining
the bhutika character of six Rasas solved this problem. To
taste of a drug was easy and the bhutika
character of each Rasa was determined by observing its effects on Tridosa.
For example, Madhura (sweet) Rasa settles Vata and Pitta
and makes Kapha worse. It is known to be composed of Prithivi and Ap
bhutas that are analogous to Kapha (consisting of the same bhutas)
and different to Vata (because of solidity of Prithvi) and Pitta
(because of coldness of Ap). Rasas became the index of the bhutika
composition and pharmacological action of the drug and due to this reason Rasas
occupied the most important position among the other perceptions of
But such perceptions were not able
to give satisfactory explanation of some phenomenon. For example, Pippali
is pungent in taste but exerts anabolic effect on the body, which is different
from its composition. Hence, it was inferred that the digestion also had to play
a significant role on the fate of the drug, as all drugs have to pass through
the digestive tract. The bhutika composition of the drug may persist as
it is even after digestion, but in some cases it may be altered altogether
fixing its future action. This phenomenon was explained by the concept of vipaka.
During the Vedic period, it was
believed that the action of drug was due to its inherent power, known as Virya.
With the help of the law of Agreement in
Presence and Absence, it was proved that the drug’s action relied solely
on Virya. Virya was defined as having properties that produced similar
ones in the body. At first, it was classified in to eight types on the basis of
resultant actions, but later on divided into only two broad divisions: sita
But Virya also could not
explain the specific actions of drugs like emesis, purgation etc. It also could
not explain the effects of magical charms, incantation etc. To explain the
specific action of drug and also the subtle actions of divine therapy that could
not be explained till now, a new concept known as Prabhava was developed.
According to the Prabhava
concept, the drug itself contains Guna (properties) and Karma
(action). Properties may fix the nature and degree of Karma but Karma
does not reside in Gunas but in Dravya. Drugs work on the basis of
the law of similarity and contrariety, which means that drugs increase those
body factors, that are similar in composition while decrease those that are
contrary in the same.
Although, some indications about
all the above concepts are found in the Vedas, they are more clearly established
in Ayurvedic Samhitas. The original
treatises of Agnivesa etc. had built up the base laid down in the Vedic period
but most likely it was only after the redaction of the ancient compendium by
Caraka that these concepts attained their perfect state.
Drugs were classified on a different
basis such as source, properties, action on different organs etc. Their action
on different organs and organ systems were also defined in technical terms such
as dipana, grahi etc. Caraka has defined fifty, while Susruta about thirty-seven
groups of drugs. Various aspects of administration of drugs such as, amount,
pharmaceutical forms, quantity etc. were also prescribed.
(known as the king of herbs) is described comprehensively in Rgveda. In CS
and SS (Susruta Samhita) some
other herbs that are supposed to contain divine powers (divya osadhi)
like that of Soma were included, but as a result of non-availability and
difficult access to them, these were dropped later in the Ayurvedic texts.
Although these were dropped from the Ayurvedic texts, some
other useful drugs replaced them and thus the number of drugs
considerably increased from Rgveda and Atharvaveda to Ayurvedic
Samhitas and to later Nighantus. There
are a large number of drugs that are not found
in the Vedas. Sukanasa is not found in CS, but Susrata introduced it. In
the same way, Gajacirbhata
is found in AVS but is found neither in CS nor in SS. New synonyms
were also discovered from time to time that added some extra information about
the drugs, for example, a new synonym was coined by Susruta for Iksuraka.
The synonym was Kokilaksaka that denotes the colour and the shape of the
seeds. Similarly, Vagbhata has given the synonym Kasmiraja for Kunkuma
that denotes its cultivation place Kashmir. He has also given the word Krimija
for Laksa that tells that lac is originated from insects. Drahabala has
also introduced many new drugs in CS such as Uccata that are found
only in Dradhabla’s portion of CS. Nighantus strengthed the idea
by introducing various new drugs such as Kupilu, Kumari etc. and
coining the synonyms like Caksusya, Kasturi etc., but these were
not mentioned in ancient Ayurvedic Samhitas.
ancient times, spices, aromatics and other drugs were exported from India while
other drugs like Bahlika (Hingu and Kesara), Madhuka (Glycyrrhiza)
were imported to India, as India had trade connections with the outside world
and drugs were exchanged through this route. The trade of Marica and Madhuka was
also through the land-route and this is the reason they were also known as sthalapatha.
Out of these Marica was exported and Madhuka
Literature on Drugs
The literature related to Dravyaguna
is generally known as ‘Nighantu’. Nighantu contained synonyms
that give a view about different characteristics of the entity and hence expose
the hidden meanings. Nighantus in Ayurveda were also composed that give a
description about drugs and food substances by the way of synonyms. It is
believed that the ancient samhitas had nighantu
as an appendix (in the body of their text). In the extant CS, the drugs
and food substances are dealt mainly in bhesajacatuska and aharacatuska
respectively and there is no Nighantu portion. A separate Nighantu
named as Astanganighantu by
Vagabhata came into existence on the drugs mentioned in AVH.
This tradition continues further and Nighantus
like Paryaratnamala, Dravyavali, Madanadinighantu, Sabdacandrika,
Nighantusesa, Hrdayadipaka and Sivakosa were composed.
But, these synonyms did not satisfy the
physician who wanted to know more and more about the drug action with its
rationale. As a result of this requirement, a new line of nighantus was
started that along with synonyms, also described the various properties as well
as the actions of drugs and foods. The initial form of this is seen in
Vagbhata’s work where, drugs along with their actions and properties in a
systematic order have been described under a separate heading. This tradition
also developed with the composition of Dhanwantri-nighantu,
Dravyagunasangraha, Sodhalanighantu, Madanavinoda, Kaiyadeva-nighantu,
Rajanighantu and Bhavapakasa-nighantu.
Some important ones among the
nighantus having only synonyms of drugs are described below:
1. Astanganighantu- The author is
Vahata or Vahatacarya who is dated to 8th century CE. It contained
the drugs enumerated in ganas of AVH. It also includes a section on
miscellaneous drugs (Viprakirna dravya) that are outside the ganas.
2. Siddhasaranighantu- It
was composed by Ravigupta, son of Durgagupta, a Buddhist scholar. It contains
193 verses and a dravyavali at the end. It gives a description about the
drugs coming in the ganas enumerated in the second chapter of the text. Emmerick
has fixed its date at 7th century CE.
3. Paryayaratnamala- It is
popularly known as ‘Ratnamala” and was composed by Madhava, son of
Indra Kara. According to Tarapada Choudhary the author of Madhavanidana
and Paryaratnamala is the same and thus
places him in the 7-8th century CE. But as the father of the author
of Paryayaratnamala is Indra Kara while that of the Madhavanidana is
Indukara, their identity cannot be proved. However, as Sarvanada quotes the Paryayaratnamala,
it must be placed before that. Its date has been fixed at 9th century
4. Dravyavali- This
is the source and ground material of the present Dhanvantarinighantu.
It is not published.
5. Haramekhalanighantu- This
is composed by Mahuka, son of Madhava, grandson of
Kavimandana and resident of Citrakuta. It is different from other nighantus,
as it is in prose. The date of Haramekhla is fixed as 9th
6. Madanadinighantu- It is
also known by the name of Gananighantu as it deals with the drugs
enumerated in madanadi gangs of AVH. The name of its
author is Ravinandana. Candranandana as the author of the commenatary padarthacandrika
of AVH. The following works of Candranandana are preserved in Tibetan Tanjur:
Vaidya Astangahrdayavrttu bhesajanama-paryayanama
Padarthacandrika-prabhasa nama astanghradaya-vivrti
group contains only one nighantu e.g.
the Dhanwantarinighantu. Actually, it is a revised edition of Dravyavali
that was enlarged by addition of properties and actions in description of each
drug. Its author is Mahendra Bhogika. It is quoted by Ksirasvami (11th
century CE) and as such is earlier than that. Later on some additions were made
by Ahiphena, Agnijara, Jayapala etc. and also mercurial processing that belonged
to 12-13 century CE hence, the date of Dhanvantarinighantu may be fixed
at 10-13 century CE.
K. and S.D.Dubey. 1992. Dravyaguna:
Origin and Development: In (Ed)
P.V. Sharma, History of Medicine in India. New Delhi: Indian
National Science Academy. Pp 391-397