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Caraka Samhitā - A Redacted Treatise

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

Atreya Samhitā was the brainchild which was conceptualised by Agniveśa and nurtured by Caraka. It became the medical inheritance of the race, though it underwent changes, with the accretions of the thought and experience of the succeeding centuries. According to the definition of redaction given by Dṛḍhabala, the redaction adds much that is new and deletes much that is old. Thus Caraka, although he is a redactor only, there is much that he has added as his original contribution and it would indeed be a very interesting research work for scholars to find out what exactly his contribution was.

Chapters of Caraka Samhitā[edit]

The available 79 chapters are distributed in the different sections as under:

  1. 8 sections on the General Principles.
  2. 8 sections on Pathology.
  3. 8 sections on Specific Determination.
  4. 8 sections on Human Embodiment.
  5. 12 sections on Sensory Prognosis.
  6. 12 sections on Therapeutics.

But the remaining 41 chapters end with the addition to the above quoted epilogue. These 41 chapters are distributed in the different sections as under:

  1. 17 sections on Therapeutics.
  2. 12 sections on Pharmaceutics.
  3. 12 sections on Success in Treatment.

In this, the text or portion not acquired, is not found. This indicates that the text of the 79 chapters is the portion expounded by Agniveśa and redacted by Caraka, while the text of the remaining 41 chapters is the portion expounded by Agniveśa as restored by Dṛḍhabala in the place of the unavailable portions of Caraka's redaction.

Treatise by Ātreya[edit]

According to the textual history of Ayurveda, we learn that Ātreya expounded the whole science to his six pupils. Each of them tried to write a systematic treatise according to his grasp and intelligence. The treatise of Agniveśa was the outstanding one among these and it received the sanction and authorization of the committee of the learned sages.

Out of the six treatises of the pupils of Ātreya, only two are at presently available. They are:

  1. Agniveśa Tantra - This being an outstanding work out of all the six, received the attention of the redactors who did an addition to it as the medical science advanced from time to time.
  2. Bhela Samhitā - It is available only in fragments and hence it is incomplete. It is a very short and concise form though greatly similar to Agniveśa's treatise in the treatment of subject, order of arrangement, classification, etc. This leads to the conclusion that both received their instructions from the same preceptor.

Glorious Span of Ayurveda[edit]

The period from Ātreya to Dṛḍhabala covers at least 1000 years. This was the golden period of Ayurveda and it was continually progressive. This original text of Agniveśa might have been reviewed and redacted very often to assimilate the features of progressive science and to adapt it to the circumstances of the period, but only two redactions are known at present.

A vast field for research work lies unexplored in these treatises. The subject for research were the preachings by Ātreya, description by Agniveśa, which was done by Caraka while redacting it by way of alterations and additions. Dṛḍhbala decided that what portions were to be modified or completed or reconstructed, what were the other redactions, when were these redactions made etc. The researchers had to resort to general history and records but the efforts were worth for. When properly explored this quest would not only tell about the history of medicine, but it would also enlighten us on the general history of Aryan civilization from various points of view.

Explication of Redaction[edit]

Now let us see what a redaction is. According to Dṛḍhbala, the redactor enlarges what is concise and abbreviates what is very prolix and in this manner brings an ancient work up-to-date. Redaction is also defined as under:

Redaction is the method by which an author correlates and supplements a work by corresponding facts and statements found in other treatises specially bearing on a subject.

Thus we see that in a redacted work, the terse portions in the original treatise is made lucid by elaboration and the portion treated too assiduously is abridged.

Methods of Redaction[edit]

There are two methods of redaction.

  1. Sangraha and Vigraha Method - It was defined by Dṛḍhbala. Caraka was also believed to have followed this method.
  2. Avapodwapa method - This method changes the construction and system of the whole work altogether and makes radical alterations changing the essence of the work.

Similarities between Caraka Samhitā and Bhela Samhitā[edit]

If we compare Caraka Samhitā with Bhela Samhitā we find striking similarities, all pointing to one common source.

  1. The text is divided in eight Sthanās out of which Vimāna, Indriya and Siddhi are the new words with specific meanings used only in Caraka, Kaśyapa and Bhela Samhitās and these new words are not found in Śuśruta or later medical works.
  2. The word Kalpa is somewhat used in a different meaning than the denotation used in Śuśruta or later medical works.
  3. The prevalent system in those days seems to have 120 chapters in all in medical text books. We find 120 chapters in Caraka, Bhela, Kaśyap, Śuśruta and Vāgbhatta. Vāgbatta wrote 120 chapters with the addition of an extra section Uttaratantra. Thus, though the total number of 120 is maintained, the number of chapters in each section varies in Caraka, Śuśruta and Vāgbhatta but it remains the same in Caraka, Bhela and Kaśyapa.
  4. The titles of chapters are very often the same in the Caraka and Bhela Samhitās. Caraka adopts the method of nomenclature of chapters.
  5. There are quite many similarities with regards to the subject.
  6. According to the first word or phrase in the chapter, a greater resemblance is found between the Caraka Samhitā and Bhela Samhitā which is very much evident. The first five verses are quite similar in both Caraka and Bhela. Hence, both have given the same titles to the chapters in their works. Though the first lines differ in a considerable degree yet we find that the titles of the chapters in both the works are the same.
  7. Besides this resemblance of titles, we come across many concepts and descriptions which are common to both, Caraka and Bhela.

Significance of Caraka Samhitā[edit]

There is a school of thought which ascribes the entire work to Caraka. It says that it was only a vague nucleus in the form of common medical knowledge round which Caraka reconstructed a grand edifice. But such a conclusion is precluded by the text of the colophon. Undoubtedly there is much that has been added, abridged or expanded. Yet the point that Caraka merely redacted the old work cannot be denied. Caraka never claims the authorship of the work. Internal evidence also corroborates the same view point. Even Dṛḍhabala who restored and redacted the last portions, based his work on the original treatise and its parallel treatises of that time.

Thus this treatise, best of all treatises which is replete with truth and wisdom and which has been redacted by the extremely enlightened scholar Caraka, is now available only in three quarters of the original extent. He has memorized the compendium of these twelve thousand verses which were known as the science of therapeutics, compounded by Agniveśa for the well being of the healthy and the ailing.

Thus he confirms that Agniveśa was the author of the treatise consisting of twelve thousand verses. The credit of the authorship and the popular title of Caraka Samhitā are probably due to the fact that Caraka in his missionary zeal for propagating this master piece medical work, traveled extensively for research, lectures, propagation, experimentation and gamed the nickname of Caraka which means the one who moves constantly. His name has got precedence over the original title of the work named Agniveśa-tantra and the work has ever since been named after Caraka.

Caraka's contribution[edit]

The ingenious method of redaction Caraka adopted has lent a touch of freshness and originality. Even though Caraka is technically only a redactor, he must be given credit for modifying the old work and transforming it into a work of unrivaled merits, which has stood the test of 2000 years.

Viewing the Caraka Samhitā with this orientation, we find that Caraka has contributed much that is original.

  1. The theory of Vāda-nyāya found in Caraka Samhitā reflects thought development of Caraka.
  2. In the sudation chapter, Bhela Samhitā enumerates only eight kinds while Caraka adds five more bringing the total to thirteen. In Kaśyapa Samhitā, also we find 8 kinds. This leads us to the conclusion that old works knew only eight kinds and Caraka had contributed five kinds more.
  3. Palakapya in his Hasti Ayurveda refers to Agniveśa's methods of sudation and there the additional kinds of sudation are mentioned. Thus those varieties described in Caraka Samhitā are Caraka's own contribution.
  4. Bhela Samhitā has only one chapter, Caraka also has the same chapter propounding a similar theory. But later on in Caraka's work, we find a chapter in which the subject treated shows an unmistakable flavor of later thought developments.


It is very difficult to mark out the verses of Caraka Samhitā because we do not get any clue from the index of the chapters. Although the numbers and headings of the chapters have been given, there is no mention of the number of verses in each chapter. The absence of this enumeration of verses in each chapter might have encouraged interpolators to introduce their own verses and pass them on as the original ones. This subject is a matter for deep and arduous but interesting research for future scholars.


  • The Caraka Samhita published by Shree Gulabkunverba Ayurvedic Society, Jamnagar, India