Cosmos ,Sanatan Dharma.Ancient Hinduism science.
Ved means knowledge. Atharva ved describes ancient medicine that came from sears and sages through first from one source of light-God-
The fourth and last Veda of Hindu literature the Atharvaveda contains medical
information in its various stages of evolution and contains the most primitive as well as
some of the most highly developed stages of therapy. AV mentions a large number of
diseases both major and minor. AV is also known as ‘Bhaisajyaveda’ because its hymns
represent Ayurveda of Vedic period and the name Atharvan is almost synonymous with
Bhesaja i.e. medicine. Aetiological factors, origin, method of treatment of diseases
especially the “Yaksma (consumption)” are being discussed in this article.
I Etiological factors and origin of diseases
a) Krimi and krmi (worms, germs & insects) as causative factors
There are two distinct words Krimi and Krmi mentioned in AV. Krmi means
insect and whereas Krimi means worm/germ (V.23.3,6), which multiplies, enters
human bodies and they are visible or invisible. For example,
1. Trisersanam – Round worms or thread worms – V.23.9
2. Aglandun – Ascaris (?) – (II.32.2-3)
3. Salunan – A type of oxyuris –
4. Kururu – Thigh borer (Thread worm) – II.31.2
According to AV some germs are everywhere i.e. in trees, mountains, waters
and in living beings (II.31.4). Some of them are parasites of man. For example,
1. Sirsanyam – Which causes mania and lunacy
2. Parsteyam – The germ which can cause disease in ribs.
In one stanza AV describes the parasite with a floating head (having three
projections round the mouth), which is colourless (V.23.9). The description resembles
the description of the roundworm or the threadworm. AV also mentions germs found
in eyes, nose and teeth (V.23.3).
b) Witchcraft as the cause of disease:
AV believes human sorcery causes diseases (I.28, IV.28.V.30.2) and evil eye
produces diseases where as witchcraft cures them (II.7, VI.96.2,3 refer to Sapatha
as the cause). There is one more reference to evil eye, which causes disease
c) Bhutas (demons) as causes of disease :
According to AV and its hymns, magic and witchcraft form the most important
subject. Like wise a disease is caused by demon (a disease itself is a demon). AV
believes that particular demon causes a particular disease. The same idea has been
taken by Ayurveda. Now Bhutavaidya is one of the branches of Ayurveda and it
establishes direct connection with AV. There are number of demons listed in AV. Viz.
Araya Khalaja etc.
Viskanda & Samskanda are also thought to be demons. Four main groups of
demons are mentioned in AV viz.
Group Nature Reference
1. Pisaca Preys on flesh V.29.5
2. Raksasa Steals away the senses, II.9.1
3. Atrin Preys on flesh II.32.3
4. Kanva Preys on foetus in the womb II.25.3
In addition to above Gandharva (IV.37.11) and Apsarasas are also have been
mentioned. Apsarasas bewilder the mind (II.25; IV.37; XIX.36.6) and causes insanity.
According to AV there were also some benevolent spirits which fought with the evil
one for example, Pinga which preserves the babe at birth (VIII.6.25) and chases the
amorous Gandharvas away. AV also believes that lightning stroke as a cause of disease
d) Heredity and infection as causes of diseases
AV at one place refers that sin committed by parents and is in all probability
hinting at the origin of the disease by heredity (V.30.2-3).
The spread of diseases through infection is expressed by the AV as sores and
pustules fly away as the eagle from the nest (VI.83.1). The germ of Yaksma
(consumption) arising from excessive cohabitation, flys like a bird from one place to
the other and enters the body of a man (VII.76.4).
Seasonal variations were also mentioned as causes of diseases, epedemic of
Takman (fever) is at a high level in the rainy season hence it is known as Varsika; it is
known as Graisma and Sarada because it occurs in summer and autumn seasons
respectively (V.22.13). Takman which occurs thoughout the year is known as ‘Hayana”
e) Dosas (humours) as the causes of diseases
AV refers to Tridosa (Vata, Pitta & Kapha) theory in the context of treatment of
Yaksma (I.12.3). Diseases are believed to be caused by cloud (water), wind and
lightening (fire or heat) examples are Asrava (diabetes inspidus) is caused by wind
(VI.44.2) and Takman (fever) is originated by Agni (fire) (VI.20.1). It seams AV
recognizes only four types of Vayu Viz. Prana, Apana, Vyana and Samana (X.2.13).
Amongst them Prana, means breathing-in and Apana means breathing-out. Hence
they are also requested not to leave the body, but to bear the limbs till old age (III.11.6).
The idea of Trigunas is also found in the AV (X.8.43). There is a prayer to Prana vayu
and Apana vayu to protect the man from death (II.16.1).
f) Role of Gods in the development of diseases
AV believes that gods inflict diseases. They send diseases as punishment for sins
committed by sinners. Gods like Rudra, Soma, Varuna, Vastospati, Aditya, Marut etc
have the power of causing diseases as one of their numerous attributes. For example,
Disease God involved Reference
1. Takman (fever) Son of Varuna I.25.3; VI.96.2
2. Jalodara (Ascites) Varuna I.25.3; VI.96.2
According to AV Rudra is the best physician, he possesses healing remedies, he
is the first divine physician, he can cause the diseases and performs the cure as well.
AV also treats lightning strokes as causes of diseases.
II. Diagnosis of diseases
The word for disease in the AV is “Yaksma”. The word “Roga” also occasionally
appears (I.2.4; II.3.3; III.28.5; VI.44.1,2; 120.3; IX.8.1-5, 21, 22). There was no strict
criteria mentioned in AV for diagnosis of diseases. Atharvan knew about a number of
diseases through their symptoms. A large number of symptoms were given to Takman
or of any other disease and those were found common to a large number of diseases.
From this we can draw the inference that there was no clear cut diagnosis, no definite
relation between cause and effect established between a disease and its superficial
Every disease is generally thought of as caused by enemy, witchcraft or gods.
In some cases the symptoms given clearly bring home to us the disease with its real
nature. For example Jalodara (ascites) was connected to Varuna. He inflicts this disease
as a punishment to one who tells lies (I.10.3).
The hymns are prayers, addressed to the gods or the diseases or to the remedies.
Through which one can know the cause of the disease, symptoms of the disease and
remedy as well. The following are some examples.
a) Hymns addressed to Gods
God/Goddess Disease/Condition Reference
a) Rudra Against Aksata VI.57
b) Rudra Against Internal Pain VI.90
c) Garutman Against Visa IV.6
d) Saraswathi Against Krimi in children V.23
e) Agni, Soma & Varuna Against Takman V.22
f) Indra, Parjanya Against Asrava I.2
b) Hymns addressed to diseases
a) Apachit VI. 83; VII. 76. 1,2
b) Jayanya VII. 76. 3, 4, 5
c) Takman V. 22. 2, 6, 7
d) Balasa VI. 14
e) Kasa VI. 105
c) Hymns addressed to remedies (medicines)
Drug Disease Reference
a) Rohini For the healing of fracture IV.12
b) Silaci For the healing of wounds V.5
c) Pippali For the cure of Ksipta VI.109
d) Kustha For the cure of Takman V.4
e) Visanaka For the cure of Asrava VI.44
III Classification of disease
AV mentions a large number of diseases both minor and major, known and
unknown in clear terms or vaguely. AV at IX.8.1-21 refers a large number of diseases,
for example, Sirsamaya (diseases of head) diseases of heart, rectum, back, other parts
of the body, blood, bones etc. Regarding the number of diseases AV also mentions that
there are one hundred deaths / diseases (I.30.3 ; III.11.1 & VIII.2.27). Yaksma is the
regular Atharvan term for disease.
Classification of the diseases into various groups is not found in AV as in Caraka
and Susruta Samhitas, because during the Vedic period pathology and diagnosis,
therapeutics and toxicological aspects were not clearly settled. Jolly, the author of Indian
Medicine and others have admitted a close relation between the Vedic and latter names of
diseases (except of course, Takman)
AV deals prominently with the following diseases.
Disease Equivalent Reference
1. Aksiroga Eye diseases VI. 16
2. Amiva Feminine demon VIII.8.2,28; XIX.44.7
3. Apachit Scrofula VI.25; 57,83; VII.74, 76, 12
4. Asrava Polyurea I.2; II.3; VI.44
5. Asthibhagna Fracture of bone IV. 12
6. Balasa Skin disease VI. 14; VI.127
7. Grahi Epilepsy VI.112; 113
6 Bull.Ind.Inst.Hist.Med.Vol.XXXII – 2002
8. Harima Chlorosis I.22
9. Hrdhyota Heart disease I.22
10 Jalodara Ascites I.10; VII.83; VI.22, 24,96
11 Jayanya Tuberculosis VII.76.3,4,5
12 Kasa Cough VI. 105
13 Kilasa (Kustha) Skin disorder I.23, 24
14 Krimi Worminfestation II.31.1
15 Ksetriya (?) Demon causing II.8, 10, III.7
16 Ksipta — VI 109
17 Mutravarodha Urinary obstruction I.3
18 Rudhirasrava Bleeding I.17; VI.127, IX.8.1, XII.4.4
19 Sirsakti Headache IV.12
20 Slesma Phlegm I.12,12,VI.105
21 Sula Pain VI.90
22 Takman Fever I.25, V.22, VI.20, VII.116,
23 Trsna Thirst II.29
24 Unmada Insanity VI. 111
25 Viskandha Tetanus (?) I.16. II.4. 4; III.9;
V.30.8,9; IX.8.5, 13-19,
26 Yaksma Consumption VIII.7.15; XII.2.1
In addition to above the following diseases are also mentioned in AV but are
treated as minor diseases due to their severity. They are,
1. Ajnatayaksma 2. Aksata 3. Alaji 4. Angabheda
5. Angajwara 6. Apva 7. Jambha 8. Karnasula
9. Lohita 10. Palita 11. Paman 12. Papayaksma
13. Pratyamaya 14. Udyuga 15. Vidradha 16. Visalpaka
17. Visarika 18. Visucika
IV Practice of medicine
The Atharvan priest was the medical practitioner with par excellence. He knows
the names of the plants and their properties. Priest was the chief character on the Atharvan
stage. There are details and professional exhortation of a medical man in AV (V.30). The
best physician was he who cured the disease and prepared the medicine. According to
AV the physician as such was the potential amulet (II.9.5). About a patient AV tells “He
hath attained attainments, he hath attained the strong hold of the living for, a hundred
physicians are his, also a thousand plants (II.9.3).
“Satham Hyasya Bhisajah, Sahasramuta Virudhah” – II.9.3.
All together, in the AV many diseases, medicines, origin of diseases and specific
medicines for particular diseases were given.
Prognosis of the diseases has also been discussed in AV as Adbhutani and Aristani.
It has not only mentioned such medical Aristas as ‘Delirium’ in Takman, ‘Excessive
urine-secretion’ in diabetes but has also given a number of Adbhutani which foretell
death of a person. For example, Hymn no:XIX. 33.1-3 is a performance where evil
influence over a person on whom stars seem to fall is mitigated; and hymn number
XX.8.1 is a “Sakuna Santi”. Many of such parisistas of the AV are entirely devoted to the
treatment of Aristas and Adbhutas and even the Santikalpa attached to AV does the same
thing for the medical and non-medical benefit of a person.
V Method of treatement
According AV method of treatment was very simple. There are medicinal charms
in which some symptoms are occasionally given, the disease is either mentioned or not
mentioned, its cause is vaguely supposed to be some enemy – witchcraft or the wrath of
some god or some such, thing And some plants are mentioned which are to be used as
an amulet or employed otherwise. For example, Anjana plant was used as ointment,
amulet for bathing and in a drink (XIX.45.4).
AV also discusses some non pharmacological methods in the treatment of
diseases. For example, Harima (jaundice) and Hrdhyot (heart disease) depart, when sun
rises (I.22.1). Which indicates, sunrays are helpful in treating these diseases. In addition,
‘amulet, agni (fire), water etc are considered useful non-pharmacological items for these
diseases. The sun dispels diseases and sickness and there were references in AV regarding the germ killing power of sun rays (II.32.1 & V.23.6). In this context we should recall the fact that Sun was the father of the divine physicians, Aswins AV is primarily a charm system in which the charm system was systematically accompanied by an ‘Amulet’.
Thus there were number of charms to cure number of diseases.
AV considers amulet as a living force better than a thousand medicines like
Jangida (XIX.34.7). Agni (fire) was thought of as the best physician (I.28.1) and he
makes men strong and he also knows immortality. He cures all diseases and confers
long life. (V.28.1).
In AV water gets first place as a curative medicine (medicinal water
to be understood). Water gives strength, it is remedial, it expels diseases (I.4;5;6; III.7.5;
AV is seen recommending only one plant to be used with charm for one disease.
There are special hymns dedicated to the praise of herbs like Jangida (Oroxylum indicum
Vent), Kustha (Saussurea lappa C.B. Clarke), Rohini, Apamarga (Achyranthes
aspera Linn.) etc.
Atharvan medical practices are of semi religious nature in which fire is kindled
and oblations are offered. Even in them a distinction is made as “Paustikavidhi’ (beneficial
rites) and Ghoravidhi (witchcraft rites). The latter of course, are undertaken to chase
away the demons of diseases. Symbolism is the soul of these quasi-religious medical
performances. Here the shooting of the arrow stands for the release of the checked
wine; the loosening of the joints stands for the loosening of the foetus in the womb; the
turban of the ‘Munja grass’ if put down means in depositing of the disease (head ache);
the diseases can be transferred to birds and frogs; the Ksetriya can be buried in the fields;
the burning of the chaff burns up the diseases; the shaking of the pebbles chases away
the demon of diseases.
In the beginning the AV and Ayurveda (the medical tradition of the Vedic age)
cured diseases by charms and incantations together; with the use of a single medicinal
plant. Later on in addition to charm method the drug method was introduced. The charm
system was the holier of the two and hence the drug system was the secular part.
Conditions like Krimi (worm infestation) (II.31; 32, V.23), heat stroke (VI.52)
are treated during Atharvan time. Where as for growth of hair also there is one treatment
mentioned in AV (VI.136;137). There were number of references available in AV for
cure of all types of diseases (II.9.33; III.31; IV.13; 28; V.9; 30; 91; VI.26; 85; IX.8 etc)
Preventive aspects of medicine i.e. for longer life span several hymns were also
ascribed (I.30,35; II.9,13, 28, 29; III.1; V,30; VI.41.53; VIII.2)
VI Agadatantra (Toxicology)
AV contains many charms against poison of snakes, scorpions, insects, plants
and arrows. At one place, AV mentions that there is poison in fire, in the sun, in the earth
and in the plants. Where as poisonous plants are found in mountains. According to AV
ants like ‘Upajika’ (termites or white ants) and particularly water excreted by them is an
effective antidote. As mentioned above there are references about some poisonous snakes,
plants and antidotes (IV.6;7; V.13; VI.12; VI.56; VI.100;VII.88.8; X.4). For example,
Snakes like Kasarnila, Svitra, Asita, Ratharvi, Prdaku, Aghasva, Svaja, Adyavanta,
Tiraschiraji, Darvi, Karikrata, etc are poisonous. Some of them live in grass and poison
of the snakes is either in their top, middle or bottom. There are references about scorpions.
Kankaparvan, Sarkota, Vrschika and Babhru were the terms used for scorpion in the AV.
Its poison is in its tail (VII.56.8) Kandavisa seems to be some poisonous root (X.4.22).
There was a clear reference regarding the usage of the poisoned arrow in AV (IV.6.5).
The plants useful as antidotes for snake poison were Soma, Taudi, Ghrtachi
Durbha grass, Asvaivara, Parusavara, Sweta, Paidva etc. (X.4. 1-24). AV also mentions
water treatment for poison (VI.12). Cure of poison of scorpion sting, sting of poisonous
insects etc has been dealt in AV with the use of Madhula plant and water produced by
Upajika ants (VII.56). Thus the treatment for poison has been mentioned in AV at number
of places, for example IV.6,7 ; V.13; VI.12.52,56, 88,90,93, 100; VII.56; 88 X.4.
VII Rasayana (rejuvenation therapy)
Originally ‘Rasa’ means water only. Vedic texts consistently use ‘Rasa’ in the
sense of water. ‘Apam rasah’ is a frequently appearing phrase in the Atharvan (IV.4.5).
Similarly in the AV there was frequent praise of water and its virtues such as conferring
luster, putting away old age, resisting of diseases and bringing of immortality are
emphasized. (I.4.4; I.5.4; I.6.2; III.7.5.). Waters contain medicine, they are immortalizing,
they cure all diseases, they do away with deformities, they make body and skin healthy
(I.4.5, 6;33, III.7.13; IV.33; VI.22; 23;24). AV tells us indirectly that water contains
nectar, the mythological divine drink which makes gods unageing and immortal.
Thus in the vedic age water was regarded as Rasayana and it is said to fulfil all
the functions of the later Rasayana Viz. conferring of immortality and dispelling of diseases.
AV feels that water is as skilled physician (VI.24.2; III.7) and even the herbs are medicinal
because they are products of water (VIII.7.3). But references of clearcut definition, of
Rasayana, drugs & procedures for Rasayana are not found in AV as mentioned in Ayurveda.
VIII Vajikarana (aprhodiziac therapy)
The AV contains special charms to promote virility (IV.4;VI.72, 101; VII. 90).
AV recommends juice of Vrsa, which creates an urge, enhances semen and
protects man. Ucchusma / Kapikacchu (Mucuna prurita Hook) as highly efficacious
and potent for nourishing semen (aphrodisiac). Due to the mention of Ucchusma as
aphrodisiac, it may be inferred that the Vedic people knew the use of aphrodisiacs.
Too much use of aphrodisiacs brought about impotency and the Atharvan perhaps knew
it (VI.138.2) Vajikarana and Klibatva are the ultimate results of the proper and
excessive usage of Vajikarana drugs respectively. But definition, principles etc. were
not referred clearly in AV.
Yaksma (consumption / tuberculosis)
AV mentions that it is the general internal disease found both in humans and
cattles(VIII.7.15; XII.2.1)It is characterized by entering and possessing each and every
part of the body (VI.85.1; IX.8.7,9). It causes disintegration of the limbs, fever in the
limbs, pain in heart and in all parts of the body (V.30.8,9; IX.8.5, 13-19,21,22). Majority
of writers on Vedic literature believe that Yaksma referred to a class of diseases whose
principal characteristics were those of consumption. Yaksma is the general term used
for a disease in AV. R.Muller, considers that, in the eyes of the Vedic people, Yaksma was
simply a demon or external force who, when entering the body, caused malady. It appears
from the point of view of the ancient Indian that Muller is quite correct; but one cannot
overlook the similarities between the description of Yaksma and those of consumption,
or more generally, those of any disease which brings about a general condition of bodily
decay. The hymns or charms of AV speak of many Yaksmas, which are classified as
speaking like a child and like an adult, suggesting that their victims were both children
and adults (IX.8.10-12; XIX.36.3). Specifically, there is the “Ajnatayaksma” (unknown
Yaksma) and the “Rajayaksma” (Royal Yaksma or Yaksma of kings or king among the
diseases) (VI.127.3; III.11.1; XI.3.39; XII.5.22). In one important verse it is mentioned
that, the Yaksmas have their origin in the relatives of the bride and to follow the wedding
procession (XIV.2.10) and more particularly Yaksma is said to be divinely sent and caused
by sin (VIII.7.3). There is reference in AV that, the Yaksma can attack the stomach,
lungs, navel and heart (IX.8.12).
The word “Jayanya” mentioned in AV also resembles consumption and it breaks
ribs, settles in the lungs, harbours in the back and springs from excessive sexual intercourse
(VII.76.3). According to AV the germ of consumption arising from excessive cohabitation,
flies like a bird and enters the body of a man. It is of two kinds, chronic and the transient
Management of Yaksma :
The principal cures for a patient afflicted by Yaksma included the recitation of
spells, of which the most efficacious was the hymn II.33., along with use of herbs like
Kustha (Saussurea lappa C.B.Clarke)/Cipudru (Pinus longifolia Roxb.?) and Arundhati
(Sida cordifolia Linn.) (V.4.9; VI.127.1,3; VI.59.2)
One Amulet which is helpful in dispelling the Yaksma is also mentioned in AV
(XII.2.1,2,14). Anjana has the power to remove it from the limbs (XIX.44.1-2). Some
of the divinities helpful for eradication of Yaksma include, Sun, Agni, Savitri, Vayu and
Aditya (V.29.13; IV.25.5; IX.8.22). Charms, blessings of the gods, other plant materials
were used to prevent attacks from the Yaksmas. Varuna, (Crataeva nurvula Buch) and
Satavara-amulet protects from the Yaksmas. At one place the scent of the burning Gulgulu
plant (Guggulu-Balsamodendron mukul Hook Stocks) is said to disperse Yaksma (VI.85;
Charms II.33; VI.85; XIX.36,38 are devoted specially to the removal of Yaksma.
Amongst above charms II.33 appears to have been very popular and very effective. The
healer in AV desires that the venom of all Yaksmas to be discharged with urine and
exercises the poison of all the Yaksmas from the patient (IX.8.10).
AV charms out of the patient, the every head disease; because of that, the Yaksma
flows forth from the ear, from the mouth (IX.8.3). The Yaksma has also been charmed
out of the patient because it can crawl along the two thighs and enter the two Gavinikas
(ureters ?) (IX.8.7).
It is therefore quite natural for us to look upon the Vedic Samhitas as a channel
through which this continuous tradition of Indian Medical Science has reached down to
the earliest systematizers. Hence it doesn’t come as a surprise if the Vedic Samhitas
contain ample material bearing on diseases and medicines. Therefore we are required to
look upon Vedic medicine as a part of the tradition from which very probably Ayurveda
was gradually evolved. To conclude, Ayurveda has been rightly referred as Upaveda or
Upanga of AV by some scholars.
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From- General Medicine in Atharvaveda – Prasad