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Charaka (चरक, Caraka, fl. ca. 100 BCE - 200 CE) was one of the principal contributors to Ayurveda, a system of medicine and lifestyle developed in Indian Subcontinent. He is known as the compiler or editor (Sanskrit: प्रतिसंस्कर्ता pratisaṃskartā) of the medical treatise, the Charaka Samhita (Sanskrit चरकसंहिता Carakasaṃhitā). Charaka's location is unknown, although various assertions have been made that he lived either in Taxila or in Kapisthal (now known as Jalandhar), located between Iravati (Ravi River) and Chandrabagha (Chenab River) rivers in Panchanada (Punjab). With more probability of it being Taxila, by all accounts for being a hub of Buddhist monastery.. The treatise that Charaka compiled is one of the foundational treatises of classical Indian medicine (Sanskrit: āyurveda).
Charaka monument in the Patanjali campus, India.
100 BCE - 200 CE
Taxila, ancient India
|Resting place||Taxila, ancient India|
|Known for||Author of Charaka Samhita, written in Sanskrit|
After surveying and evaluating all past scholarship on the subject of Charaka's date, Meulenbeld concluded that,
... the author called Charaka cannot have lived later than about A.D. 150-200 and not much earlier than about 100 B.C.
Charaka and the AyurvedaEdit
The term Charaka is a label said to apply to "wandering scholars" or "wandering physicians". According to Charaka's translations, health and disease are not predetermined and life may be prolonged by human effort and attention to lifestyle. As per Ayurvedic system, prevention of all types of diseases have a more prominent place than treatment, including restructuring of lifestyle to align with the course of nature and six seasons, which will guarantee complete wellness.
Charaka seems to have been an early proponent of "prevention is better than cure" doctrine. The following statement is attributed to 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.
Charaka is generally considered as the first physician to present the concept of digestion, metabolism, and immunity. A body functions because it contains three dosha or principles, namely movement (vata), transformation (pitta) and lubrication & stability (kapha). The doshas correspond to the Western classification of humors, wind, bile, and phlegm. These doshas are produced when dhatus (blood, flesh and marrow) 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, he stressed, illness is caused when the balance among the three doshas in a human body are disturbed. To restore the balance he prescribed medicinal drugs. Although he was aware of germs in the body, he did not give them primary importance.
Charaka studied the anatomy of the human body and various organs. He gave 360 as the total number of bones, including teeth, present in the human body. He was right when he considered heart to be a controlling centre. He claimed that the heart was connected to the entire body through 13 main channels. Apart from these channels, there were countless other ones of varying sizes 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.
Agnivesa, under the guidance of the ancient physician Atreya, had written an encyclopedic treatise in the 8th century B.C. However, it was only when Charaka revised this treatise that it gained popularity and came to be known as Charaka Samhita. For two millennia it remained a standard work on the subject and was translated into many foreign languages, including Arabic and Latin.
He is the compiler or editor (pratisaṃskartā) of the Charaka Samhita which is a work of several authors beginning, Charaka says, with Agniveśa. Charaka's work was later supplemented with an extra seventeen chapters added by the author Dṛḍhabala. The Charaka Samhita is one of the two foundational text of Ayurveda, the other being the Sushruta Samhita. The Charaka Samhita contains eight parts and 120 chapters.
According to the introductory chapter of the Carakasaṃhitā itself, there existed six schools of medicine, founded by the disciples of the sage Punarvasu Ātreya. Each of his disciples, Agnivesha, Bhela, Jatūkarna, Parāshara, Hārīta, and Kshārapāni, composed a medical compendium. The Agnivesha Samhitā was later revised by Charaka and it came to be known as Charaka Samhitā. The Charaka Samhitā was itself later supplemented by Dridhbala. It contains the following eight parts:
- Sutra Sthana
- Nidan Sthana
- Viman Sthana
- Sharir Sthana
- Indriya Sthana
- Chikitsa Sthana
- Kalpa Sthana
- Siddhi Sthana
There were 8 main chapters in this book. There had been 120 sub chapters of which they all in total had 12,000 verses and description of 2,000 medicines. There were cures for diseases related to almost every body part of human body and all medicines had natural elements to cure the diseases.
- Meulenbeld, Gerrit Jan (1999). "10. Caraka, his identity and date". A History of Indian Medical Literature, Vol. 1A, Part 1. Groningen: E. Forsten. p. 114. ISBN 9069801248. OCLC 42207455.
- Martin Levey, Early Arabic Pharmacology: An Introduction Based on Ancient and Medieval Sources, Brill Archive (1973), p. 10
- P. N. K. Bamzai, Culture and Political History of Kashmir - Volume 1, M D Publications (1994), p.268
- S.K. Sopory, Glimpses Of Kashmir, APH Publishing Corporation (2004), p. 62
- Krishan Lal Kalla, The Literary Heritage of Kashmir, Mittal Publications (1985), p.65
- Agarwal, D.P. "About The Date Of Caraka, The Famous Ancient Physician". www.infinityfoundation.com. Archived from the original on 1 July 2002. Retrieved 14 June 2016.
No doubt Caraka conceived the germ theory of the causation of diseases, but he rejected the idea that germs are the only causative factors for disease. On the other hand, he had advanced the theory that it is the imbalance of dosas and vitiation of dhatus which are primary causes of diseases, and various germs may grow in the body only when they get such a congenial environment. Both for metabolic diseases and infective ones, correction of the imbalance of dosas and dhatus constitutes the basic principle of all therapeutics. This is a unique feature of the Ayurvedic concept of diseases and their management as enunciated by Caraka in his monumental work.
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