Historical development of basic concepts of Ayurveda from Veda up to Samhita


Staff member


Glimpses of the concepts expounded in Ayurvedic Samhitas have been given. Whether their roots are found in earlier works and whether they have been revised and improved in subsequent periods is worth examining, so that a clear picture of the stage-wise historical development may emerge. Our earliest literature is the Vedas. Shivadasa Sen, a commentator on Charaka, has aptly explained the meaning of the word Veda. He says that Veda denotes knowledge which has two forms— Shabdarupa Veda and Artharupa Veda, one is in verbal form and the other is in object form. The Veda in the form of words is contained in Mantras (and other subsequent literature). Veda in the form of objects is the whole universe i.e. the objects in whole universe are denoted by the word ‘Veda’ or the meaning of the word Veda is reflected in or represented by the whole universe.

Ayurveda is an Upaveda of Atharva or Rigveda according to some schools or is a Panchama Veda. It is also considered as Upanga of Atharva Veda i.e. it is not imposed or added from the exterior but is a part and parcel of the main body of the Vedas. If so, the basic of these discourses and commentaries, it should exist in Mantras and Brahmanas. We find that the present samhitas are in the form of Vyakhyana— discourses or commentaries. The basis of these discourses and commentaries should either be Mantras or some Sutras. Though there is mention of Rishis as Sutra Kara, none of the work in Sutra form is mentioned or found anywhere. The Brahmanas, Upanishads are considered as literature meant for explaining the procedures described in the Mantras, and later works like the Mahabharat, Ramayana, and Puranas are also considered as a collection of explanatory notes with illustrative cases or episodes. Ayurvedic samhitas fall somewhere between these two chronological landmarks. The method of exposition is of question-answer type followed in the Upanishads. Similarity of non-technical and easy flow of language is seen in Ayurveda samhitas. The Rishis mentioned in samhitas are in majority, authors of different sutras of Darshan and are also mentioned in Adi Parva of Mahabharat. Therefore they may be considered of post-Upnishad and pre-Mahabharat period.

Review and Discussion​

It is interesting to note that the concept of a living person as a man living in a city with nine gates and as a lamp of life shining within a luminous case is given in Atharva Veda (Brahma puri navadwara devanama pooh ayodhyapuri hiranmayakosho deepah). The word Purusha is defined in this way. One who resides in pura is called Purusha. The same idea is expressed in connection with Swasthavritta. In Charaka Samhita, we can find the words Kshetra and Kshetrajna and kachakoshastha deepa, which similes to express the intimate relationship by words Nagar and Nagari (synonyms of Pura and Purusha).

Imperishable Atma and perishable Panchabhautik body are the two main constituents of the Purusha. They are mentioned in Yajurveda in question-answer manner as “combining and mutually supporting during life and disintegrating and uniting with elements of the universe at the time of death.” The same concept is established more clearly as Shad-dhatuka Purusha and Pancha mahabhoot Shareeri Samavayh Purusha, and Panchatwa prapti at death by Charaka and Sushruta respectively.
Similarly, description of physiological concepts, viz. Tridhatu i.e. Tridosha and Sapta Dhatus, five divisions of Vayu, or its twin forms are also mentioned in the Vedas succinctly or by name clearly— Ye Tri-saptah (Atharvaveda), Prnaya Swana apanaya Swaha etc. (Yajurveda), Tri Dhatu Sharma (R.K.l-7/34/6).
We also come across a reference wherein the word Vayu is replaced by Ayu and Commentator Uvata explained that here the letter V of Vayu is to be understood as ‘apostrophe.’ A reflection of this is found in Charaka Samhita in Chikitsa sthana, 28th chapter- “Vayayurayur balam Vayur- Vayurdhata Shareerinam.”
Sapta Dhatus- Seven dhatus are also mentioned in a covert and overt manner as Sapta sayas staying in the body and also categorically as Twacha, Lohita, Mamsa, Asthi, Majja and Shukra. Hemchandracharya of the 11th century in his Abhidhan Chintamanikosha cited the names of Rishi Bharadwaja etc. as synonyms of respective Dhatus.

Tridoshas and seven dhatus are mentioned as supporting agents of all living creatures in the mantra “Ye Tri Saptah Vishwa Roopani Bibhratah” of the Atharvaveda and Sayan the commentator explains them as Tridosha and Sapta Dhatus. Both the Samhitas, Charaka and Sushruta have also called them Dhatus and compared with supportive pillars “Tri-Sthuna ”. Kashyapa too uses the same terms to describe them (Yajurveda-17-6-25-7 and Atharva 9-1-2-27,12-9-1-3).
The concept of Agni-Soma as pervasive forces equally controlling Loka and Purusha by creating bisexual creation is enunciated in Prashnopanishad. Ayurveda has applied the same in the description of Loka and Purusha, both being agni somiya characterize identity of Shukra and Shonita in human and Dwividha veerya in drugs viz. Sheeta and Ushna with these twin forces of universe.

Similarly, Kala in the form of Samvastsar with its clear-cut six seasons and assignment of two months to each one of these seasons is mentioned in the mantras of Yajurveda and it is incorporated in the Samhitas of Ayurveda in the same order beginning with Vasanta Ritu and Madhu and Madhava, the two months assigned to it. The rest of the Ritus and pairs of months assigned to them come in the same succession in Yajurveda and Ayurveda. The concept of Sat Ritu begin with pravrit as a division of Samvastara, needful for the application of Panchakarma as described in both Charaka and Sushruta Samhita, seems to be a later development conceived in the samhita period.

Concept of Sharira (body)​

Concept of body configurations which are condemnable was originally mentioned in Yajurveda a.30. In connection of Purusha medha, it is stated as those who are unfit for homa are analabhya. The same eight are mentioned as condemned body configurations in Charaka Samhita in the same order.
As regards the four constituents of Purusha, the first and most obvious factor is Shareera or Deha. Its description is given in Samhitas under two heads—structures and functions. Twacha, Loma, Lohita, Mamsa, Asthi, Majja and Shukra i.e. seven dhatus are mentioned clearly in Yajurveda; and Sheersha, bahu, uroo, pada, nabhi, hridaya, kloma, yakrit, pleeha, basti, vanisthu, matasna, antrani, puritat, chakshu, shrotra, mukha etc. organs, limbs and viscera too are referred in Purushasukta and other contexts. Prana, Vak, sravana, darshana, swapna, jagarana, etc. functions are also mentioned briefly in the Vedas.
The second component of purusha is indriyas. They are located in shareera at specific sites (adhishthana) and are invisible and only are inferred by their respective functions. The buddhindriyas- shrotra, chakshu, twacha etc. and karmendriyas- pada, hasta, payu, vak, upastha, are also mentioned in connection with ashwamedha, pashumedha, and purushamedha.

The third component of purusha, manas, is still more subtle than the two inert ones referred above and is the instrument of Atma to communicate with the outer world, indriyas and body and to conceive the ideas of the past and future. Its dimensions and functions are poetically given in “Shiv sankalpa sukta” of Yajurveda.
The fourth component is Atma. It is described to be all-pervasive and one that enters into a physical body to take the form of a living creature; it is not different from the one that is universal, both are one and the same. This is described in the course of sarvamedha (Su.Yajur.a.32-mantra-11-12.and a.– 40,6-7).
These examples are sufficient to show that the basic concepts of Ayurveda are mentioned in the mantras of Vedas. They were developed in successive phases of Brahmana and Upanishad eras not separately but during discussions on processes of yajna or philosophical topics. However, they were discussed in detail and systematically arranged in the post-Upanishad period or samhita period of Ayurveda. It is categorically mentioned in all samhitas that they are discourses or explanatory notes, the concise text of which is extinct or is found only in the mantras of the Vedas.
The same may be mentioned regarding diseases and drugs.


Yakshma (denotes general diseases and specifically a disease characterized by consumption), Takma (Fevers), Kasa (cough), Harima (Jaundice), Kilasa, Shwitras, sidhma etc. affecting the skin (varieties of Kushtha etc.) are diseases of physique; Unmada, Apriatipada, Amati, Durmati, etc. are diseases of the psyche; asu (vandhya-infertility), Atiskadvari (pradara-excessive discharge red and white), Palikni (grey hairs) vijarjara (laxity of the body tissues) etc., diseases of reproductive organs of women; and kleeba (impotent, the sexual debility in male) etc. disease are referred in a.30 of the Su. Yajurveda.


There is mention of a chapter called Aushadhi sukta (12/75-101).

Vegetable source​

Classification of Udbhid, vanaspati, vriksha, pushpavati, prasoovari etc. is given. There is mention of food grains (Anna) – Yava, Godhuma, Vrihi, Masha, Masure, Mudga, Upavaka (Yavaka), Tila, Priyangu, Shyamaka,Nivara etc.

Animal source​

It is mentioned as the animals inhabiting villages and those inhabiting jungles (gramya and aranya). Those having abode in water (naranya), and those having the sky or air as their abode (Vayavya). Man, horse, cow, sheep and goat are given as examples of village animals, while mayu (kinner), gavaya, sharabha, ushtra are of the aranya group. All these animals are used as foodstuff in Mamsavarga of ahara.

As regards mineral source​

Ashma, sikta, mrittika, hiranya, ayas, loha, shyama, seesa, trapu etc. are mentioned. These were developed in Rasashastra with the processes of shodhana, marana, apunarbhava, rasayana, transformation in later period.

As regards preparations​

Food preparations​

Food preparations denoting culinary art are also found in Vedas. They are – Yoosha, Mamsa pachana, Amiksha, Saktu, Laja, Masara.
Masara – is a combination of powders of Vreehi, Shyamaka, Odana etc., eatables.
Nagnahu – is a combination of the powder of the bark of Sarja and 26 other items.
Shashpa is the name given to sprouted Vreehi. Tokma is the name given to sprouted Yava.

Preparation of medicines​

In the nineteenth Adhyaya of Su. Yajur Samhita in connection with Sautramani Yaga, detailed description of the extraction of Soma Rasa and its fermentation, and the instruments, equipments and utensils to be used, with instructions of measurements and doses of each item and processes to be followed are given.

As for causative factors​

Words Ayakshma and Anameeba are used to denote healthy condition. Mention of Ameeva is found to denote a disease and also as a causative factor of the disease in the form of an infectious germ. Similarly, Rudra, Rakshas, Yatudhana, Arati, Sarpa etc. which are invisible yet attack man are mentioned to cause diseases through Anna, Pana, Patra (food, drinks and utensils) etc. They have their natural abode in environments in the outer world in air, rain water and earth; and they attack human beings with deadly results. Heat of the fire and Sun are also mentioned as capable of destroying them. Anamaya i.e. freedom from disease, of not only individuals but of the whole village with its population and cattle was desired and prayed for.


It is evident from the above that the Vedas are the original sources of the subject matter of Ayurveda. The concepts were occasionally conceived and commented on during casual discussions in Upanishads but they were systematically arranged and propounded during detailed discourses which were sequentially recorded in the Samhitas of Ayurveda; and even in the Ramayana and Mahabharat during narrations of different events. During the pre- and post-Buddha era these concepts were in vogue in the theoretical as well as applied form and were well established in the society. Up to 1000 AD learned commentators and compilers like Vagbhata (old and younger), Chakrapani, Jejjata, Gayadasa and Dallhana kept this flame burning by collecting references and giving exhaustive explanations and sometimes introducing and adding new concepts. Concepts of Avikarini vriddhi and Vikararupa vriddhi, Poshya and Poshaka dhatu or sthayi and asthayi dhatu by Chakrapani and Upachaya Lakshana Ojas and Shakti lakshana Ojas; jeerna Artava and Nava Artava; Stree Ojas and Stree Shukra; along with their different functions respectively by Dallahana are some of the examples. Then the dark period begins. It is necessary to review and revive ancient Indian knowledge in light of modern science.