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Charaka Samhita

The Charaka Samhitā (CS, Devanagari:चरक संहिता) or ("Compendium of Charaka") is an early text on Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine).[1] Along with the Sushruta Samhita, it is one of the two foundational texts of this field that have survived from ancient India.[2]

Early forms are dated to the period of 900 BCE - 600 BCE.[3][4] While the later editions of Charaka samhitā are dated to later centuries.[5]


The extant text has eight sthāna (sections), totalling 120 chapters. These sections are

  1. Sūtra (General principles) - 30 chapters deal with Healthy living, collection of drugs and their uses, remedies, diet and duties of a physician.
  2. Nidāna (Pathology) - 8 chapters discuss the pathology of eight chief diseases.
  3. Vimāna (Specific determination) 8 chapters contain pathology, various tools of diagnostics & medical studies and conduct.
  4. Śārīra (Anatomy) - 8 chapters describe embryology & anatomy of a human body.
  5. Indriya (Sensorial prognosis) - 12 chapters elaborate on diagnosis & prognosis of disease on the basis of senses.
  6. Chikitsā (Theraputics) - 30 chapters deal with special therapy.
  7. Kalpa (Pharmaceutics and toxicology) - 12 chapters describe usage and preparation of medicine.
  8. Siddhi (Success in treatment) - 12 chapters describe general principles of 'Panchkarma'.

Seventeen chapters of Cikitsā sthāna and complete Kalpa sthāna and Siddhi sthāna were added later by Dridhabala.[6] The text starts with Sūtra sthāna which deals with fundamentals and basic principles of Ayurveda practice. Unique scientific contributions credited to the Charaka Saṃhitā 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 (आयुर्वेद), though at times it is mixed up with metaphysics. The Saṃhitā 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.”[7]


The most celebrated commentary on this text is the Carakatātparyaṭīkā "Commentary on the Meaning of the Caraka" or the Ayurveda Dīpikā, "The Lamp to Ayurveda" written by [Cakrapāṇidatta] (1066). Other notable commentaries are Bhaṭṭāraka Hari(ś)candra's Carakanyāsa (c.6th century), Jejjaṭas Nirantarapadavyākhyā (c.875), Shivadasa Sena's Carakatattvapradīpikā (c.1460). Among the more recent commentaries are Narasiṃha Kavirāja's Carakatattvaprakāśa and Gaṅgādhara Kaviratna's Jalpakalpatāru (1879).

Charaka Saṃhitā on nursing

"The Caraka (Vol I, Section xv) states these men should be, 'of good behaviour, 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 skilful in waiting upon one that is ailing and never unwilling to do anything that may be ordered."[8]

Charaka Saṃhitā on nutrition and diet

Caraka Samhita dedicates Chapters 5, 6, 25, 26 and 27 to Aharatattva (dietetics), stating that wholesome diet is essential for good health and to prevent diseases, while unwholesome food is an important cause of diseases.[9] It suggests that foods are source of heat, nutritive value as well as physiological substances that act like drugs inside human body. Furthermore, along with medicine, Caraka Samhita in Chapters 26 and 27, states that proper nutrition is essential for expedient recovery from sickness or surgery.[9]

Legendary character

In Sanskrit, caraka is a term for a wandering religious student or ascetic. There are several legendary accounts of the origins of medical science in South Asia. According to one, the serpent-king Śeṣa, who was the recipient of Ayurveda, once visited the earth. Finding it full of sickness he became moved with pity and determined to become incarnate as the son of a Muni for alleviating disease. He was called Charaka because he had visited the earth as a kind of spy or cara. He then composed a new book on medicine, based on older works of Agniveśa and Atreya pupils (Agniveśakr̥te tantre Charaka pratisaṃskr̥te).[10]

See also


  1. ^ Meulenbeld, G. J. A History of Indian Medical Literature (Groningen, 1999-2002), vol. IA, OCLC 165833440pp. 7-180.
  2. ^ Valiathan, M. S. (2003) The Legacy of Caraka Orient Longman ISBN 81-250-2505-7 reviewed in Current Science, Vol.85 No.7 Oct 2003, Indian Academy of Sciences seen at [1] June 1, 2006
  3. ^ Leonore Loeb Adler, B. Runi Mukherji. Spirit Versus Scalpel: Traditional Healing and Modern Psychotherapy. Greenwood. p. 76. 
  4. ^ Praveen K. Saxena. Development of Plant-Based Medicines: Conservation, Efficacy and Safety. Springer. p. 48. 
  5. ^ Walter Sneader. Drug Discovery: A History. John Wiley & Sons. p. 15. 
  6. ^ Anthony Cerulli (2011). Somatic Lessons: Narrating Patienthood and Illness in Indian Medical Literature. SUNY Press. p. 37. 
  7. ^ Chattopadhyāya, D. (1982) Case for a critical analysis of the Charak Saṃhitā in Studies in the History of Science in India (ed. D. Chattopadhyāya). Vol. 1. New Delhi: Editorial Enterprises. Pp. 209-236. OCLC 558191693 cited in Tiwari, Lalit “A Summary of the Late D. Chattopadhyaya's Critique of Charaka Saṃhitā” seen at [2] June 1, 2006
  8. ^ Wilson, Bruce in The History of Men in American Nursing without sources at, seen June 1, 2006
  9. ^ a b Caraka Samhita Ray and Gupta, National Institute of Sciences, India, pages 18-19
  10. ^ Monier-Williams (1899), s.v. caraka.

Further reading

  • Kaviratna, A.C. and P. Sharma, tr., The Charaka Samhita 5 Vols., Indian Medical Science Series, Sri Satguru Publications, Indian Books Centre, Delhi 81-7030-471-7
  • Menon, I A and H F Haberman, Dermatological writings of ancient India Medical History. 1969 October; 13(4): 387–392. seen at The Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London [3] June 1, 2006
  • Muniyal Ayurveda, Manipal, Sacitra Caraka Samhita - Volume 1, published by Muniyal Institute of Ayurveda Medical Sciences, Manipal. 2005 [4]
  • Wujastyk, Dominik, The Roots of Ayurveda (Penguin Classics, 3rd edition, 2003), pp. 1-50 gives an introduction to the Carakasaṃhitā and a modern translation of selected passages.
  • Meulenbeld, G. J. A History of Indian Medical Literature (Groningen, 1999--2002), vol. IA, pp. 7-180, gives a detailed survey of the contents of the Carakasaṃhitā and a comprehensive discussion of all historical matters related to the text, its commentators, and its later history in the Islamic world and in Tibet.
  • Sharma, P. V. Caraka-Saṃhitā: Agniveśa's Treatise Refined and annotated by Caraka and Redacted by Dṛḍhabala (text with English translation) Chaukhambha Orientalia, 1981--1994. The best modern English translation of the whole text. Volume 4 gives summaries of the commentary of Cakrapāṇidatta.
  • Sharma, R. K. & Bhagwan Dash, V. Agniveśa's Caraka Saṃhitā (Text with English Translation & Critical Exposition Based on Cakrapāṇi Datta's Āyurveda Dīpikā) Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 1976-2002. Another good English translation of the whole text, with paraphrases of the commentary of Cakrapāṇidatta.
  • Ācārya, Yādava Trivikrama (ed.) Maharṣiṇā Punarvasunopadiṣṭā, tacchiṣyeṇĀgniveśena praṇītā, CarakaDṛḍhabalābhyāṃ pratisaṃskṛtā Carakasaṃhitā, śrīCakrapāṇidattaviracitayā Āyurvedadīpikāvyākhyayā saṃvalitā Nirnaya Sagara Press, 1941. The best current edition of the Sanskrit text. Often reprinted. Online machine-readable transcription available at

External links