I am not sure how many of us are aware of the book called Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita written by Vagbhata in the fifth century AD. Though I grew up with some knowledge in Ayurvedic Science I never learned what this treatise really is. I have heard of this name in connection with many illnesses as referred to by my grandmother. But ignorance epitomized, I never thought of asking her what it was.

Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita is a systematized text of human illnesses and is a third major treatise in Ayurveda. Astanga Hridaya focuses more on the physiological aspect of the body rather than the spiritual aspects of it. Perhaps through Buddhism Ashtanga Hridaya found its way to Tibet through Nepal. Hence the name Tibetan name”yan lag brgyad pa.” As the name suggests (Ashta = 8; Anga = organ) it deals with the 8 angas or organs of the body. namely:

  1. Kaya chikitsa (treats the body)
  2. Baala chikitsa (pediatrics)
  3. Griha chikitsa (psychiatry)
  4. Urdhvanga chikitsa or shalakya tantra (eye, ear, nose and parts above neck)
  5. Salya tantra (surgery)
  6. Damsthra chikitsa (toxicology like treating snake venom)
  7. Jara chikitsa or rasayana chikitsa (rejuvenation therapy)
  8. Vrishya chikitsa or vajeekarana chikitsa (aphrodisiac therapy)

Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita is written in Sankrit in the form of simple and easily understood poetic verses.It contains around 7000 slogas with collected knowledge from various sources compiled learned Ayurvedic scholars. Hence it contains the salient features of the texts written by Charaka and Sushruta as well as the essence of Ashtanga Samgraha.

Other than the classifications of medicines and treatment methods, Ashtanga Hridaya provides in exhaustive knowledge on the root causes of illness,longevity, personal hygiene, influence of seasons and time on the human organism, the significance of the sense of taste and more. It also offers significant information on Panchakarma therapy, the possible complications which may occur while undergoing a therapy and the necessary precautions and medications.

In Kerala (South India), Ashtanga vaidyas are highly respected and believed in. Ashta Vaidyas were Ayurvedic practitioners well-versed in all the eight different branches of Ayurvedic treatment. Kerala is now known for its Ayurvedic centers mainly because of the Ashta Vaidyas.

V M Kuttikrishna Menon, the son of Rama Varma Appan Thampuran, a royal patron of Ayurveda, translated the six main chapters of Ashtanga Hridaya to the layman’s language. ‘Kriya kaumudi’ is a book written by Menon depicting Damstra chikitsa.

-Aparna K V