Ayurveda In Puranas And Upa Puranas: Description of References

Article by Dr Manasa, BAMS
Puranas are Hindu religious texts of ancient times and are parts of Vedas. They contain narratives related to the history of the Universe from creation to destruction and the genealogies of kings, heroes, sages and demigods. They were primarily composed in Sanskrit, but also in regional languages, several of these texts are named after Hindu

deities such as Vishnu, Shiva and Devi. The Puranas genre of literature is found in both Hinduism and Jainism. Puranas are related to Ayurveda, the most ancient medical science known to the Earth.

The 4th century would be definitely considered as a turning point for the Indian History. The popularization of Vedas and Hindu philosophy was accelerated through the publication of a number of Puranas and the epics. The object of Puranas is to represent natural descriptions from Vedas and some historical events in the form of stories. The compilation of Puranas was attributed to Vyasa, the author of Mahabharata.

There are more than 180 Puranas existing in Hindu literature. Among them the following 18 can be considered as ‘Maha puranas’ and are categorized as under:

Brahma Puranas:
Brahma Purana
Bhavishyat Purana
Agni Purana
Brahmavaivarta Purana
Brahmanda Purana
Padma Purana

Vaishnava Puranas:
Vishnu Purana
Narada (Naradiya) Purana
Vamana Purana
Matsya Purana
Garuda Purana
Srimad Bhagavata Purana

Shaiva Puranas:
Shiva Purana
Linga Purana
Kurma Purana
Markandeya Purana
Skandha Purana
Varaha Purana

Upa Puranas – Upa Puranas are considered to be subtypes of the main 18 Puranas or can be categorized as minor treatises which are valued as good as Maha Puranas. The 18 Upa Puranas are as below mentioned –

  • Sanatkumara Purana
  • Narasimha Purana
  • Brihannaradiya Purana
  • Shivarahasya Purana
  • Durvasa Purana
  • Kapila Purana
  • Vamana Purana
  • Bhargava Purana
  • Varuna Purana
  • Kalki Purana
  • Samba Purana
  • Nandi Purana
  • Surya Purana
  • Parasara Purana
  • Vashishta Purana
  • Devibhagavata Purana
  • Ganesha Purana
  • Hamsa Purana

Ayurveda and Puranas –
The propagation of the study of Ayurveda medicine was attempted through Puranas only. The benefits of establishing free hospitals were praised in many Puranas. This shows the importance of medical care and the facilities towards them available in those times. In those days, we can learn that along with the medicines, food also was freely supplied to the patients.

The progression of Ayurveda was steady in those days.
Ayurveda was taught as a compulsory subject along with the studies of Vedas and Shastras.
Read related: References Of Vata Disorders In Vedas, Upanishad, Puranas

Brahma Purana
Origin of Jwara – In Brahma purana Jwara or fever is said to have its origin from RudraKopa or anger of Lord Shiva. This explanation holds in line with the famous ‘Daksha Yagna’ a fire sacrifice conducted by King Daksha, the father-in-law of Lord Shiva and father of Sati. Daksha doesn’t call Lord Shiva to the privileged event, Sati gets upset on her husband being ignored, goes to the fire sacrifice in spite of being denied by Shiva, questions her father about the discrimination, insulted by her father and Sati jumps into the fire giving her life. Shiva being upset by the loss of Sati sends his servant called Rudra to destroy the Daksha Yagna. Fever or Jwara was supposed to have its origin from the anger of Lord Rudra. The same concept has been explained in Ayurveda in ‘Jwara Prakarana’ or the chapter that deals with fever and its treatment.

Soma has been explained as the king of herbs. The same medicine has been highlighted to have medicinal properties in Ayurveda

The religious importance of Ashwattha tree was also realized in Brahma Purana. The same tree has been given religious and medicinal importance in Ayurveda.

In this Purana, it is said that the power of amulets, mantras etc are beyond the perception of human beings. Ayurveda has also used these amazing and mystic things in healing many diseases and have classified their inclusion under ‘Daiva Vyapashraya Chikitsa’ or the ‘treatments under the control of divine power’.

Padma Purana
Padma Purana is the second biggest Purana after Skandha Purana. It contains 55,000 shlokas (verses).

Herbs mentioned in Padma Purana – Many herbs or plants have been described in Padma Purana in many contexts. Some of the herbs mentioned in this Purana are:

  • Plaksha (Ficus lacor)
  • Nyagrodha (Ficus benghalensis)
  • Kadali (Plantain)
  • Tulasi (Holy Basil)
  • Amalaki (Emblica officinalis)
  • Guggulu (Commiphora mukul)
  • Kusa (Desmostachya bipinnata)
  • Kasa (Saccharum spontaneum)
  • Durva(Cynodon dactylon)
  • Yava (Barley)
  • Vrihi (rice)
  • Pundarika (Red variety of Nymphaea lotus) etc

Basic principles of Ayurveda – Many principles on which the Ayurveda medical system works have been mentioned in Padma Purana also. Some of them are as below mentioned –

Pancha Mahabhutas
Tridoshas
Derangement of doshas causes diseases
Jwara is mentioned as a common disorder

Diseases like Kushta (skin diseases, leprosy), Swithra (leucoderma), Kshaya (emaciation, tissue destruction, consumption, tuberculosis, phthisis), Shwasa (dyspnoea, shortness of breath), Kasa (cough, bronchitis), Apasmara (memory related diseases, epilepsy), Shula (colic) etc are mentioned in Padma Purana

By worshiping the Surya or Sun God, a number of diseases such as Kamala (jaundice), vishama jwara (malaria etc fevers), ashmari (urinary stones) etc can be cured. By disrespecting Surya, Kushta or skin diseases occur. Deva gharshana (disregarding the Gods) has been mentioned as one of the causative factors of Kushta in Ayurveda also.

Preservation of dead body in Taila Droni (oil filled tubs) has been explained
Concept of development of foetus (garbha vriddhi) has been explained as in Ayurveda
Food and regimen (ahara-vikara) of the pregnant woman (garbhini paricharya) is also described in Purana
Dinacharya (daily regimen) and Sadvrittha (ethics of human beings) were also described in Padma Purana
Read related: Ayurveda in Chanakya’s Arthashastra

Vishnu Purana
The below mentioned aspects resembling the material found in Ayurveda texts has been explained in Vishnu Purana –
Ayurveda Avatarana (origin of Ayurveda),
Emergence of Dhanwantari
Genealogy of Divodasa
Mention of herbs such as Nyagrodha (Ficus bengalensis), Kadali (Plantain), Kusa (Desmostachya bipinnata), Kasa (Saccharum spontaneum), Plaksha (Ficus lacor) etc

Elaborate explanation of Dinacharya (daily regimen), Ritu Charya (Seasonal regimen) and Sadvritta (practices of goodness, ethics and code of living, comprehensive living, lifestyle) etc
Diet and dietetics are explained; Dietetic preparations like Saktu, Apupa and Payasa etc have been explained

Diseases have been classified as Shaareerika (diseases pertaining to body or physical diseases) and Manasika (diseases of mind, psychological or mental disorders) rogas
Somatic diseases mentioned in Vishnu Purana are:

  • Jwara (fever)
  • Siraha Shula (headache)
  • Pratishyaya (rhinitis, cold, running nose)
  • Shula (colic)
  • Gulma (abdominal tumours)
  • Arshas (piles)
  • Shwayathu (swelling, inflammation, oedema)
  • Shwasa (dyspnoea, shortness of breath),
  • Chardi (vomiting)
  • Atisara (diarrhoea)
  • Kushta (skin disorders) etc

Brahmavaivarta Purana
This Purana is divided into 4 sections namely Brahma, Prakriti, Ganesha and Krishna

Origin of Ayurveda according to Brahmavaivarta Purana:
In Brahmavaivarta Purana it is found that Daksha Prajapati taught Ayurveda to Brahma and he, in turn, taught it to Bhaskara or Sun God. Surya taught Ayurveda to Dhanwantari and other 16 disciples. They all wrote separate samhitas (texts or treatises) on their names and spread the medical knowledge to the next generations. In this way the origin of Ayurveda differs from the other Ayurvedic texts wherein Brahma or the creator himself was the first person to create Ayurveda and propagate it. The other characters who are explained in the descent of Ayurveda are almost the same who have been mentioned in Ayurveda.

Rasayana was considered to be the best medicine among all the oushadhis (medicines). It is inferred that mercury and its preparations (rasa shastra) might have been the medicines of choice of the physicians of that time.
Various plants and parts used for medicinal uses were also clearly mentioned in the Purana

Tantric practices – were prevalent and richly practiced in those days
The unqualified physicians were not honoured

Skandha Purana and Ayurveda
The following topics explained in Skandha Purana mimic the explanation of the same topics found in Ayurveda –

  • Description pertaining to the types of physicians
  • Qualities of an ideal physician
  • Various types of instruments and equipment required for the practice of medicine
  • Suitable place for construction of a hospital
  • Plan of the hospital
  • Duties, responsibilities and ethics of medical profession

Helping the diseased was considered as the best religious act in those days

Agni Purana and Ayurveda
Agni Purana is a text of encyclopaedic character. It contains materials pertaining to all the branches of Indian tradition and culture including medicines. The below mentioned topics dealt in Agni Purana have resemblance with the similar topics dealt in Ayurveda treatises –

Origin of Ayurveda and its branches
Description of Pancha Mahabhutas, Pancha Gnanendriyas, Trigunas, Tridoshas, Sapta Dhatus etc
Explanation of development of foetus, anatomical structures and constitution of the body according to the dominance of Tridoshas
Factors that cause psycho-somatic disorders, signs and symptoms and the treatment for the same

Example: Shadanga Paneeya in Pitta Jwara, Nasal administration of Durva Swarasa in Raktapitta or epistaxis, Use of Guduchi Swarasa in Vatarakta etc

The explanation of the concept of dravyas (medicinal herbs), their gunas (properties and qualities) and the kalpanas (various types of pharmaceutical preparations using those herbs)

Types of Visha (poisonous substances), their symptoms and the treatment for poisoning
Diseases pertaining to horses, elephants and their treatment
Use of parada (mercury) and other inorganic substances like swarna (gold), rajata (silver), tamra (copper), ayas or loha (iron), kamsya (brass), Naga (lead) and Vanga (tin) etc
Identification of ratna varga (precious gems) and their uses

Matsya Purana and Ayurveda
In Matsya Purana we can find the details pertaining to selection of soil for building houses, the rules of hygiene, construction of houses, swimming pools and playgrounds

Garuda Purana and Ayurveda
It is one of the highly praised Puranas. It consists of 3 divisions, namely – Achara Khanda, Preta Khanda and Brahma Khanda.
Among the 3 sections Achara Khanda is the section which discuses medicine in elaboration. It has 240 chapters. Most of them comprise of subjects including medicine.

Below mentioned medical topics have been discussed in Garuda Purana which resemble those explained in Ayurveda –
Basics principles of Ayurveda – Tridoshas, Sapta Dhatus, Trimalas, their places, causes of their vitiation, signs and symptoms have been elaborately explained. Different rasas (tastes), their guna (qualities), Rasa Panchaka are also explained. The four limbs of treatment namely Vaidhya (doctor), dravya (medicines), Upastha (care takers, nursing staff) and rogi (patient) and their qualities have been described in detail. Description of Prakriti (body constitution) is explained in a similar way as found explained in Ayurvedic treatises.

Swasthavrittha – Dinacharya (daily regimen) is described in a separate chapter along with Sadvritta.
Visha vignana – Toxicology also has been dealt in detail in Garuda Purana. The branch of knowledge of poisons and their treatment is available in Garuda Purana. Kashyapa Tantra was an authority in those days, and well versed in both types of treatment such as Mantra (holy hymns) and Oushadhis (herbal medicines).

Vikriti Vignana (Pathology and General Medicine) – Causative factors, pathogenesis, and the treatment of many diseases were dealt elaborately in a number of chapters. The diseases mentioned are –

  • Jwara (fever)
  • Raktapitta (haemorrhagic diseases)
  • Kasa (cough)
  • Shwasa (dyspnoea, shortness of breath)
  • Hikka (hiccough)
  • Yakshma (tuberculosis, wasting diseases)
  • Arochaka (anorexia)
  • Hridroga (heart diseases)
  • Madatyaya (intoxication)
  • Arshas (piles, haemorrhoids)
  • Atisara (diarrhoea)
  • Grahani (inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, sprue)
  • Mutraghata (urinary obstruction)
  • Prameha (urinary disorders, diabetes)
  • Vidradhi (abscess)
  • Kushta (skin disorders)
  • Vata roga (vata disorders) etc

Garbha Sharira (Embryology) – Development of foetus and the formation of body are described in detail.
Dravya and ratna – Many medicinal plants and gems are also explained with their medicinal values at various places in the Purana.

Summing up
 Going through the historical and mythological evidences, we learn that Ayurveda existed and was practiced through many centuries. It either had an impact on other systems and civilizations or was influenced by other sciences. Vedas and the Puranas are authentic references of Indian culture and tradition which existed in ancient times and which influenced the civilizations to come. Knowing that references pertaining to Ayurveda are found embedded in these treatises and that Ayurveda was used to heal many souls in those times is really a matter of pride for Ayurveda physicians and followers!


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