By Swami Harshananda
Aṣṭāñga-hṛdaya literally means ‘the heart or the essence of the science of eight limbs’.
Ayurveda or the ‘science of longevity’ is a very ancient health science having its origins in the Veda itself. It is sometimes called ‘Aṣṭāṅga’ since it has eight limbs (aṣṭa = eight, aṅga = limb), like
Among the few texts largely used by the students of Ayurveda, the Astāñga-hrdaya (also called Astāñga-hrdaya-samhitā ) of Vāgbhaṭa occupies an eminent place. Astāngahrdaya is a basic extant work on Ayurveda.
Two Vāgbhaṭas have been known to the historians of Ayurveda, one the author of Astāñgasañgraha and the other of Astāngahrdaya. Though opinion is divided as to whether the two Vāgbhaṭas are identical or different, most of the scholars are inclined towards the view that Vāgbhaṭa II was the grandson of Vāgbhaṭa I, the son of one Simha Gupta and a disciple of Avalokiteśvara. He probably lived in the 7th/8th centuries A. D.
The work, composed in anusṭubh verses, comprises of six ‘sthānas’ or sections. These sections have been mentioned below :
- Sutrasthāna - It consists of 30 chapters and deals with many fundamental concepts of the science and preliminaries common to the other sections.
- Sarīrasthāna - It is spread over 6 chapters and deals with anatomy and physiology.
- Nidānasthāna - It comprises 16 chapters and deals with pathology.
- Cikitsāsthāna - It deals with therapeutics in its 21 chapters.
- Kalpasthāna - It has 6 chapters on toxicology.
- Uttarasthāna - It is a long section spread over 40 chapters and deals with a number of miscellaneous topics like paediatrics, mental diseases, diseases of the eye, the E.N.T., poisons and their antidotes, venereal diseases and also its verification. An elaborate discussion on the chemistry of digestion and prescription of several medicines prepared out of metals like gold, silver, copper, tin and lead is one of the specialties of this work.
As many as 36 commentaries (both in Sanskrit and in vernaculars) have been listed by scholars on this work. Out of them, 11 are not available now. Of the rest, the Sarvāñgasundari of Aruṇadatta (A. D. 1220) is best known.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore