Glory of Bharath  »  Scientists of Bharath - Part Five
Acharya Charaka

A physician who fails to enter the body of a patient with the lamp of knowledge and understanding can never treat diseases. He should first study all the factors, including environment, which influence a patient's disease, and then prescribe treatment. It is more important to prevent the occurrence of disease than to seek a cure. These remarks appear rudimentary today, but they were made by Charaka, some 20 centuries ago in his famous Ayurvedic treatise Charakasamhita. The treatise contains many more such remarks which are held in reverence even today. Some of them are in the fields of physiology, etiology and embryology.

Charaka was the first physician to present the concept of digestion, metabolism and immunity. According to him a body functions because it contains three dosha or humours, namely, bile, phlegm and wind. These dosha are produced when dhatus, namely, blood, flesh and narrow, act upon the food eaten. For the same quantity of food eaten, one body, however, produces dosha in an amount different from another body. That is why one body is different from another. Further, illness is caused when the balance among the three dosha in a human body is disturbed. To restore the balance he prescribed medicinal drugs. Although he was aware of germs in the body, he did not give them any importance.

Charaka also knew the fundamentals of genetics. For instance, he knew the factors determining the sex of a child. A genetic defect in a child, like lameness or blindness, he said, was not due to any defect in the mother or the father, but in the ovum or sperm of the parents-an accepted fact today. Charaka also studied the anatomy of the human body and various organs. He gave 360 as the total number of bones, including teeth, present in the body. He wrongly believed that the heart had one cavity, but he was right when he considered it to be a controlling center. He claimed that the heart was connected to the entire body through 13 main channels. Apart from these channels, there were countless other ones, some big and some small, which supplied not only nutrients to various tissues but also provided passage to waste products. He also claimed that any obstruction in the main channels led to a disease or deformity in the body.

Under the guidance of the ancient physician Atreya, Agnivesa had written an encyclopedic treatise in the eighth century B.C. However, it was only when Charaka revised this treatise that it gained popularity and came to be known as Charakasamhita. For two millenniums it remained a standard work on the subject and was translated into many foreign languages, including Arabic and Latin. However, there is nothing known about Charaka as a person. It is said that he was the son of a sage who traveled from place to place on foot to cure the suffering masses.

According to Charaka, science is dependent upon yukti, a quality of the intellect. Much of the treatise of Charaka Samhita is in the form of a symposium wherein various topics are discussed by groups of ayurvedic scholars. The samhita mentions about the gradual development of the fetus within the womb in minute detail,that accurately equals the modern medical version. Written in Sanskrit, the samhita contains about 8,400 metrical verses.

Charaka followed the Atreya School of Physicians, which dealt with treatments involving internal and external application of medicine. The samhita focuses on healing the body, mind and soul of a patient in the minimum invasive manner. Laying great emphasis on the diagnostic part of the treatment, Charaka identified eight stages of a disease from its inception to the culmination. Charaka also placed great importance on the timing and manner of collection of medicinal plants.

Charaka Samhitha
The extant text has a??anga sthana (eight sections), totaling 120 chapters. These 8 sections are Sutra sthana (30 chapters), Nidana sthana (8 chapters), Vimana sthana (8 chapters), Sarira sthana (8 chapters), Indriya sthana (12 chapters), Chikitsa sthana (30 chapters), Kalpa sthana (12 chapters) andSiddhi sthana (12 chapters). 17 chapters of Cikitsa sthana and complete Kalpa sthana and Siddhi sthanawere added later by Dridhabala (9th century). The text starts with Sutra sthana which deals with fundamentals and basic principles of Ayurveda practice. Unique scientific contributions credited to the Charaka Sa?hita include:
  • a rational approach to the causation and cure of disease

  • introduction of objective methods of clinical examination
"Direct observation is the most remarkable feature of Ayurveda, though at times it is mixed up with metaphysics. The Sa?hita emphasizes that of all types of evidence the most dependable ones are those that are directly observed by the eyes. In Ayurveda successful medical treatment crucially depends on four factors: the physician, substances (drugs or diets), nurse and patient. The qualifications of physician are: clear grasp of the theoretical content of the science, a wide range of experience, practical skill and cleanliness; qualities of drugs or substances are: abundance, applicability, multiple use and richness in efficacy; qualifications of the nursing attendant are: knowledge of nursing techniques, practical skill, attachment for the patient and cleanliness; and the essential qualifications of the patients are: good memory, obedience to the instructions of the doctors, courage and ability to describe the symptoms."

Charaka Samhita on nursing:
"The Charaka Samhitha states these men should be, 'of good behavior, distinguished for purity, possessed of cleverness and skill, imbued with kindness, skilled in every service a patient may require, competent to cook food, skilled in bathing and washing the patient, rubbing and massaging the limbs, lifting and assisting him to walk about, well skilled in making and cleansing of beds, readying the patient and skillful in waiting upon one that is ailing and never unwilling to do anything that may be ordered."

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