Roy, Mira and B.V. Subbarayappa (Eds.). 1993.
Rasarnavakalpa. New Delhi: Indian National Science Academy. Pp. 174. Text
Brief review by
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:
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.
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
Probable Date of
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
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
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.
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
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
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.