Charaka Samhita is the first written document on medicine. The currently available treatise is the teachings of Punarvasu Atreya, penned down by Agnivesha, redacted by Charaka, and completed by Dridhabala. The book which was initially called Agnivesha Tantra became popular as Charaka Samhita after it got redacted by Charaka.
Charaka and Sushruta were the two great physicians of the ancient India, latter being the celebrated author of Sushruta Samhita. Ancient India had two forms of educational systems- Shaleena and Yayavara1. Acharya Sushruta who belonged to the Shaleena system had established Gurukulas/study centre in Kashi and the students from all over would assemble and learn from the guru.
In Yayavara School, to which belonged Acharya Charaka, the Guru would be a wandering monk who along with his disciples, would go from one place to another, and impart knowledge and serve the society. Thus Charaka Samhita is also the travelogue of Acharya Charaka, who travelled across the country and documented the stories along with Ayurveda.
Punarvasu, Atreya, and Agnivesha are believed to have lived around 1000 BCE2. Charaka belonged to 200 BCE and Dridhabala to 4th Century CE 3. Commentator, Chakrapani belonged to 1040 CE 4.
The text outlines the geography of the sub-continent by the terms Jaangala, Anoopa, and Sadharana. Jaangala Desha is predominant in Aakasha Mahabhoota and has vegetation like Kadara (Acacia polycantha Willd.), Khadira (Acachia catechu L.), Asana (Bridella retusa Spreng.), Ashwakarna (Dipterocarpus turbinatus Gaertn.), Dhava (Anogeissus latifolia [Roxb. ex DC.] Wall. ex Guill. and Perr), Tinisha (Ougeinia dalbergiodes Linn), Shallakki (Boswellia serrata Triana and Planch), Saala (Shorea robusta Roth), Badari (Ziziphus mauritiana Lam.), Tinduka (Diospyros melanoxylon Roxb), Ashwatha (Ficus religiosa L.), Vata (Ficus bengalensis L.), Amalaki (Phyllanthus emblica L.), Shami (Prosopis cineraria [L.] Druce), Kakubha (Terminalia arjuna [Roxb.] Wight and Arn.), Shimshapa (Dalbergia sissoo Roxb.) and birds include Lava, Tittira and Chakora among others. The people here are generally strong.
Aanoopa has a rich vegetation of trees like Hintala (Phoenix paludosa Roxb.), Tamaala (Garcinia Morella Gaertn), Narikela (Cocus nucifera L.), Kadali (Musa paradisica L.), and various angiosperms. It is rich in water bodies like lakes and ponds and birds include Hamsa, Chakravaka, Balaaka, Nandimukha, Pundareeka, Kadamba, Bhringaraja, and Kokila. The people here enjoy the cool breeze and are delicate with Vatakapha dominance. Sadharana is the admixture of both the above. 5
Regions mentioned in Charaka Samhita–
Several regions are mentioned in the book in various contexts. They are compiled as follows.
Regions in relation to expounding the chapters-
|No.||Name of the chapter||Topic||Name of Place|
|1||Janapadoddhwamsa6||Epidemics||On the banks of Ganga, in Kampilya of Panchala province|
|2||Raktapitta Chikitsa7||Bleeding disorders||Panchganga|
|3.||Udara Chikitsa8||Ascites||Mount Kailasa|
|5||Atreya Bhadrakapyeeya10||Symposium||Chaitra ratha|
Places in relation to the origin of physicians-
Punarvasu Atreya lived on the banks of river Chandrabhaga 13 whereas Dridhabala belonged to the region of Panchanadapura 14. Chakrapani hailed from Gaudadesha 15. The text mentions about the conduct of symposiums and the presence of delegates from various places like Kankayana, the physician from Bahlika 16, and Kashipati Vamaka, the king of Varanasi 17.
Drugs indicating the regions of their origin-
Sometimes, the drug is named after the place where it is found in abundance. Few of the examples are as follows-
|Sr. No.||Name of the drug||Botanical name||Place|
|2.||Kampillaka19||Mallotus philippensis [Lam.] Muell. Arg||Kampilya|
|3.||Vatsaka20||Holarrhena antidysenterica[Roth.] DC||Vatsa|
|4.||Yavanika21||Trachyspermum ammi Sprague||Yavana|
|5.||Ashmantaka22||Bauhinia racemosa Lam.||Ashmaka|
|6.||Badara23||Zizuphus mauritiana Lam||Vadari|
|7.||Kashmarya24||Myrica nagi Thunb.||Kashmir|
|8.||Kalingaka25||Albizia lebbeck [L.] Benth||Kalinga|
Drugs popular in respective places-
Chakrapani, the commentator of Charaka Samhita mentions certain drugs as popular in specific places.
|Sl. No.||Sanskrit name||Botanical name||Region|
|1||Peelu27||Salvadora persica L||Uttarapatha|
|2||Abhishuka 28||Pistacia vera L||Uttarapatha|
|3||Aaruka29||Prunus domestica L.||Uttarapatha|
|4||Nikochaka29||Alangium lamarckii L.||Uttarapatha|
|5||Aakshoda30||Juglans regia L.||Uttarapatha|
|6.||Vatama30||Prunus amygdalus Batsch.||Uttarapatha|
|7.||Munjaataka31||Eulophia campestris Rchb.||Uttarapatha|
|8.||Bhavya32||Dillenia indica L.||Uttarapatha|
|12.||Kanchana Gairika36||Dakshina patha|
|13.||Amlika 37||Tamarindua indicus L||Kamaroopa|
|17.||Sharabha38||8 legged deer||Kashmir|
|19.||Mahashali40||A variety of rice||Magadha|
|20.||Priyala35||Buchanania latifolia Roxb.||Magadha|
Drugs having different names in different regions
Shakunahruta was famous as Vaka in Shravasti and Avanti, but in Magadha it was called as Pashaka. It was taken by swans to Uttarakuru41. The rice, Shwetashali was called as Pundarika Shali in Magadha42. Yava was considered as Sampishta in Gandhara and in rest of the country as Yavachipita43. Shivira was considered as Siddhaka in Teerabhukta region of Videha44. Kulmasha was prepared by steaming the Yavapishta in rest of the country, but in Pariyatra region, it was prepared by steaming the Mudga and Masoora36.
The food that a person is genetically accustomed should be taken, also keeping in mind the climatic conditions of the new region if the person immigrates. Different regions have different food habits. The text mentions few regions of India habituated with unique food practices. People who live in Bahlika, Pahlava, Cheena, Shoolika, Yavana and Shaka were Satmya to meat, wheat, honey and are strong to undergo surgeries. The people of Prachya were habituated to fish. Those living in Sindhu Desha were habituated to milk, and people of Ashmaka and Avantika to oily and sour food. The people of Dakshina Desha had Peya Satmya whereas those of Uttara and Pashchima had Mantha Satmya. Residents of Madhya Desha were habituated to barley, wheat and milk products 45.
Different types of salts are mentioned in the treatise depending on its place of procurement.
– Sauvarchala– obtained from the region of Sauvira
– Saindhava– obtained from the banks of river Sindhu
– Paamshuja– obtained from Poorva Samudra
– Samudra– from Dakshina Samudra 46
– Romaka– procured from the banks of Ruma 47.
Context of Atisevana
Residents of Prachya and Cheena take more of Kshara (alkaline food) and are susceptible to blindness, impotency, immature greying of hairs and baldness whereas those of Bahlika, Saurashtrika, Saindhava, and Sauvira consume more of Lavana (salty food) and are prone to immature graying of hairs, alopecia, and baldness.48
Charaka mentions different mountain ranges, and the quality of water from the rivers originating from them. The rivers of Himalayas and Malaya are similar to the divine nectar. The rivers flowing to the western sea are clear and conducive to health while those reaching eastern sea are heavy to digest except Ganga. Those originating from Vindhya, Sahya, and Pariyatra cause headache, heart diseases, skin disorders, and Shleepada (elephantiasis) 49
– The fruits such as grapes and pomegranates are said to be sweet in Himalayas and those grown elsewhere are sour.50
– Two systems of measurements are considered viz. Kalinga and Magadha. Magadha is considered superior to Kalinga. 51
Places in present day India-
Uttarapatha- Northern high road that followed along river Ganga, crossed the Indo-Gangetic watershed, and ran through the Punjab to Takshashila (Gandhara) and further to Zariaspa or Balkh (Bactria) in central Asia. Later Uttarapatha was the name lent to the vast expanse of the region which the northern high road traversed. It included the northern India, from Anga in the east to Gandhara in the northwest, from Himalaya in the north to Vindhya in the south. The Uttarapatha division probably included the territories of greater Punjab, Sindhu, Souvira, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Bactria, and parts of central Asia.52
Dakshinapatha is the region of peninsular India lying to the south of the Vindhyas53.
Madhyadesha Bauddhayana Dharmasutra mentions Madhyadesha as Aryavarta, the territory lying to the east of Adarshana (Vinashana where Saraswati lost herself in the sands near Kurukshetra, Haryana) to the west of Kalakavana (probably Prayagraj) to the south of Himavat and north of Pariyatra (western Vindhyas with Aravalli range) 54.
Panchala is modern Badaun, Farrukhabad, and the adjoining districts of Uttar Pradesh55.
Panchaganga/ Panchanadapura are the modern day Punjab.
Magadha was 833 miles in circuit, bounded by Ganges on the north, the district of Varanasi on the west, Mongir on the east and Singhbhum on the south.56
Vatsa was located on the banks of river Jamuna. Its capital Kausambhi was located near modern Prayagraj.57
Yavanas extended between Hindukush and the Indus58.
Kashmir was between Indus on the north to the salt range in the south, from Indus on the west to Ravi on the east59.
Vadari/Sauvira comprised of the whole of southern Rajputana60.
Ashmaka lay between the rivers Godavari and Manjira. It corresponds to the districts Nizamabad and parts of Adilabad, Nanded, and Yavatmal in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra61.
Saurashtra is whole of peninsular Gujarat from lesser Ran of Kutch to Khambayat. 62
Kalinga was 833 miles in circuit, united to the west by Andhra, and to the south by Dhanakakata, between Godavari and Indravati rivers.63
Kamaroopa includes modern Assam together with Kusa-Vihara and Bhutan64.
Bahlika The Iron pillar inscription by King Chandra in Dehli make a mention of Bahlikas as people living on the west side of the Indus river (Sindhu). After crossing the seven mouths of the Indus, King Chandra is stated to have defeated the Bahlikas65.
Sravasti is to the north of the present city of Ayodhya between Akaona and Balrampur.66
Avanti include Malwa, Nimar, and part of Madhya Pradesh.67
Uttarakuru lay to the north-west of Sinkiang province of China and parts of the Tian Shan.68
Gandhara is the present Peshawar district of Pakistan.69
Videha was Northern Bihar70, Gouda is modern Bengal71 and Kartikeyapura is modern day Tamilnadu.
Shoolika is identified with Kashgar area of China72
Pahlavas ruled between Afghanistan, Punjab and Sindh73
Shakas extended from Pushkalavati on the west to Takshashila on the east on both sides of Indus.57
Sindhu desha was divided into four parts: Upper (with districts Gandhava, Kalian, Shikarpur and Larkana, west from Indus; and Sabzalkot and Khairpur east from Indus), middle (a small area: Basically modern Seewan, northern parts of Haidarabad, and Umakot), lower (a delta area from Haidarabad to the sea) and Kachh (around the ancient holy city of Ketesar with its famous Siva temple) 74
Chandrabhaga is river Chenab75
Indian climate varies from region to region. Based on the amount of annual rainfall, annual range of temperature, different climatic regions are identified in the country. Most acceptable classification is given by the famous geographer, Trewartha76
|Desha||Contemporary||Rainfall (cm)||Temperature (0C)||Region|
|Jaangala||Tropical semiarid steppes
Tropical desert climate
|20-28 in Dec
32.8 in May
|Rain shadow belt from Tamil Nadu to Maharashtra
Rajasthan and part of Rann of Kutch
|Western coastal region and parts of NE India
Peninsular plateau except for semiarid zone of east sahyadris
|Sadharana||Tropical and sub-tropical steppe||30.5-63.5||12-35||Punjab-Kutch|
Though on a broader account, this regional classification can be made for Jaangala, Aanoopa, and Sadharana, the climate changes can be seen for every 100 mile.
The physicians coming from different places to attend symposiums and the native regions of the authors indicate the different centers of learning. The medicinal plants indigenous to the place will be more potent and hence to make a more potent medicine, the drug of the native region should be collected. Researches have shown that the same species of Withania Somnifera collected from two different regions of Kashmir and Nagori have different genotypes 77. Identifying medicinal trees indigenous to the region through Ayurveda would be beneficial both in enhancing the forest cover and in the therapeutic utility
Salt forms the main part of the diet. However the most widely used iodised salt has adverse effects like thyroid disorders. Classical books of Ayurveda gives an insight into the different varieties of salt and Saindhava is understood to be rock salt, white cubic crystals of superior quality. Saindhava referred to the salt produced from the hot springs across river Sindhu. Currently, there are no hot springs left. The saindhava salt imported from Pakistan currently comes from Afganistan border and the dark colour is due to the presence of petroleum. However, the salt produced in India is from the hot springs of Himachal Pradesh are whitish and may be considered as an alternate to the classical Saindhava salt.
Samudra is the sun-dried sea salt, now representing 75% of the total salt consumption in India. The evaporation of the sea water is done in large and numerous shallow mud basins on the seashore; the salt fields sometimes extend many kilometres inland.
Sauvarchala– The name Sauvarchala relates with Saurashtra. It is, however, very difficult from the scanty reports available to make any conclusions about the composition or preparation of this salt variety. The area between Kachh and Gujarat changed considerably due to the rise of the sea-bed and the subsequent evaporation of the water left behind. The extracts from certain types of salty soil could yield only such a type of salt, whose components are those of the sea salt, but in different proportions.
Romaka is understood as the salt collected from river Ruma, a tributary of Indus. The name of Romaka people is mentioned 3 times in Ganapatha Purana and from Brhatsamhita. One can conclude that the habitat of this people was at the mouth of Indus; it was probably a Roman colony somewhere near the ancient port of Barbarium. Thus, Romaka will be closely related to Saindhava Lavana, linguistically and geographically.
Pamshuja– Chakrapani specifically says the origin of Pamsuja is from Purva Samudra, that is, from the Eastern Sea. He being a Bengali may have got some information about the manufacture of Pamsuja salt from the sea on the eastern coast, that is, in the Bay of Bengal. This would make it a variety of Samudra, obtained however not from the sea water, but from the water of lowland coastal areas, where the sea water partially seeps in. This salt could also be extracted from the earth of those areas, unfit for agriculture, and for a considerable time in the past flooded with sea water. Due to selective absorption of soil particles in respect to ions of the sea water, as well as the action of certain halophytic bacteria, the chemical composition of Pamsuja would not be identical with that of Samudra, because certain components were immobilized /absorbed /transformed78.
Reconstructing the geography of Charaka Samhita is a herculean task as the frequent wars between the kings of different provinces led to redrawing the boundaries. However, in this presentation an approximate estimation of the places is made.
Charaka was a wandering physician who travelled across India and his treatise, Charaka Samhita is not just a medical book but also a travelogue. Charaka would travel to places with his disciples and teach the diseases, diagnosis, drug identification, and prognosis and heal people. In fact, the name Charaka is coined from ‘Charatiti Charaka’ which means the one who moves. Since the main objective of life was to lose identity, the sage who redacted Agnivesha Tantra became popular as Charaka, a wandering monk and a peripatetic teacher.
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17. Ibidem, Charaka Samhita, Sutra Sthana, Yajjah Purusheeyam Adhyayam, 25/5;127
18. Ibidem, Charaka Samhita, Chikitsa Sthana, Trishna Chikitsa, 22/53;570
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(The paper was presented at the Yatra Conference jointly organized by Indic Academy and Bharat Adhyayan Kendra, BHU, at BHU, Varanasi during 15th-17th November, 2019.)
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