:: Home  



      Infinity Foundation

      Mandala Of Indic Traditions

      Other Links



Roy, Mira and B.V. Subbarayappa (Eds.). 1993. Rasarnavakalpa. New Delhi: Indian  National Science Academy. Pp. 174. Text and Translation.

Brief review by

D.P. Agrawal

 Alchemy is the forerunner of chemistry and iatro-chemistry. Numerous alchemical texts were written during the medieval period between the ninth and the fourteenth centuries AD, which was a very productive period for the growth of alchemical litwerarturte. Several texts were composed. Some texts are such that the alchemical ideas form only a part of them, while some other texts are wholly devoted to alchemy, for example:

Rasahrdayatantra, Srasaratnakara, Rasarnava, Srasendracudamani, Rasaratnasamuccaya, Rasaprakasasudhakara, Rasarajalaksmi, Rasendracintaman, Rasendracintamani, Rasasara, Rasakaumudi,  Rasabhesajakalpa, Rasasamketakalika, Lohapaddhati, Kankaligrantha, Rasamuktavalina etc.

 The present work Rasarnavakalpa is a part of the Rudrayamalatantra, which describes a number of alchemical ideas and practices, the use of herbs and their extracts in the treatment of minerals and metals. Thanks to the efforts of  Mira Roy and B.V. Subbarayappa, we now have an authentic translation of this important alchemical text done by competent scientists and published by the Indian National Science Academy.

 Rasarnavakalpa is the title of the manuscript in Sanskrit, which is in the collections of the Asiatic Society Library, Kolkata. Pandit Haraprasad Shastri first noticed it in his catalogue. He had briefly described it as one containing ‘alchemical recipes and mercurial preparations’.

 The manuscript ends with a colophon and after that some lines written in a dialect ending with the name of the copyist, Sitaramabhatta and the year of copying is given as Samvat 1760. The manuscript written in Nagara script is complete with 814 verses and contains forty-five folia. The verses are divided into certain kalpas on the basis of the uses of different vegetable, mineral, and other natural products.

The Rasarnavakalpa might have been composed in the Vindhya region, on the boundary of the river Chandrabhaga.

 Probable Date  of the Text

The date of the Rasarnavakalpa is not exactly known. It appears to lie midway between the Rasaratanakara and the Rasarnava. The Rasarnavakalpa appears to mark the beginning of the flourishing period of Rasasastra texts, between the 10th and 16th century A.D. The editors assign  a date between the 10th and 12th century A.D. to the Rasrnavakalpa 

Contents of the Text

The word Rasasrnavakalpa means manifold powers of the ocean of rasa. The term rasa connotes any potent fluid, vegetable, and mercury in particular, while the term kalpa has different meanings. The different kalpas incorporated in the Rasarnavakalpa concentrates upon the powers of different substances for bringing about perfection in the form of transmutation of base metals like copper or lead into gold, and in the bestowal of psychic power on human beings, which could enable them the attainment of physical immortality.

In the Tantrik way of life this is referred to as the Kayasadhana, Dehasiddhi or Kayakalpa, a type of physical culture to become divine. This physical culture was performed by various means like the practice of yoga and asanas, and taking in of elixirs.

There are in all twenty-nine Kalpas in the text and the style of presentation of the matter is slightly different from that in the other important extant text of the Rasasastra. Two of the Kalpas deal with sulphur and arsenic sulphide. In the remaining twenty-seven kalpas, twenty-one are devoted to the plants, and the other six are related to certain types of efficacious soil and water. It can be divided into three parts as (i) Rasayanotpatti (ii) Rasaprakriya  (iii) Kalpaprabhaya. Generally, the contents of the text relate to a methodical treatment of mercury and its power, plants and their properties, transmutation processes and longevity compositions, apparatus and experimental details, as well as some important auxiliary alchemical substances.

Powers of Mercury

Mercury has peculiar qualities: it is shiny white, very heavy, fluid yet a metal, and combines readily with other substances. Naturally it fascinated the ancient people. Mercury is denoted by the general word rasa in the Rasarnavakalpa. The Rasanavakalpa describes mercury as dhaturup i.e. having metallic character and also calls it by many other names like Suta, Sutaka, Parada, Maharasa,, Rasa, Rasaraja, Rrasadhatu, Linga, Narajiva and Lokesa. According to the text, the principal function of mercury consists of the transmutation of metals (vedhana) and perfection of the body (dehasiddhi). It also states that mercurial preparations possess some magical and some miraculous powers such as levitation and invisibility.

The process of extracting mercury from cinnabar is also described in this text. The text elaborately describes Vedhana, one of the important processes.

It should be emphasized that transmutation has two facets and represents the great desire for changing the important metal into the perfect one, and the old to the youthful state. The Rsarnavakalpa stresses that the subject of preparing artificial gold or silver is to attain the four goals of life, as dharma, artha, kama and moksa, because the transmuted gold, the perfect metal, is capable of being used as a drug for the restoration of youthful state as well as curing all diseases which cause the decay of the body.


The rasavadins regard certain plants and their extracts as the most effective ingredients both for the purification of  metals and development of longevity prescriptions. The Rasarnavakalpa emphasizes that a methodical treatment of  metals or minerals with the plant extracts is a pre-requisite. In other words, plants play a vital role in the preparation of the rasayanas.

The whole vegetable kingdom is divided into two broad divisions according to their properties:

(i) Divyausadhi and (ii) Trnausadhi. The divyausadhis belong to sixty-four Kulas (families). The Rasarnavakalpa describes about one hundred plants, their attributes and uses.


The Rasarnavakalpa contains descriptions of a limited number of apparatus and their uses in the processing of metals and minerals. The apparatus include the medina, patala, tailayantra and two kinds of musa. These apparatus were used for heating mercury with mica, extraction of oil from vegetable substances and open and closed crucibles respectively.

In the Rasasastra text Dola, Bhudhara, Vidyadhara and Valuka are among the commonly used apparatus.

The Rasarnavakalpa accords prominent position to the use of plants, which possess medicinally beneficial properties. It emphasizes the use of metallic preparations, minerals and allied natural products at the same time. The text does not contain any systematic classification of the latter in the same manner as we find in the other texts.

It appears that during the medieval period, people were more obsessed with mercury,  and converting it into gold and an elixir to become immortal. This perhaps distorted the growth of alchemy into a science of chemistry.