Acharya Charaka – a wandering monk, an author, editor of the very famous Charaka Samhita, a pioneer of Ancient Ayurveda, aptly called the Father of Indian Medicine – is a highly revered name in the medical field. He laid out the fundamentals of human anatomy, studied the causes of diseases, gave ways to prevent illness and had deep knowledge of drugs that can cure various ailments. He was indeed a great luminary in the field of Ayurveda.
When was Charaka Born?
Charaka was born c.600 BCE in Ancient India. He was a native of Kashmir. According to Gerrit Jan Meulenbeld, who specialized in the history of Indian medicine (Ayurveda) and published many research works, Charaka must have lived between 100 BC and 150-200 AD.
When did Charaka Die?
Charaka is said to have died c.500 CE
Who was Charaka in Indian History?
The term Charaka means ‘wandering scholar/physician’. Charaka was a scholar, physician, and writer, best known for editing Charaka Samhita, an ancient text on Ayurveda that is considered as an encyclopaedia in the medical field. He practiced Ayurveda. As his name implies, he travelled to different parts of India to impart his knowledge and documented his stories along the way.
Among the two educational systems Shaleena and Yayavara, that prevailed in ancient India, Charaka belonged to the Yayavara School, according to which the Guru, along with his students would wander from place to place to spread his knowledge and serve the society.
Charaka was the first physician who presented the concepts of digestion, metabolism, and immunity. He was aware of the basics of genetics and had knowledge about fetal development. He maintained that prevention is better than cure and believed that before treating a disease, a physician should consider all the factors responsible for ill health.
Charaka Samhita, a primary source of knowledge about Ayurveda, was edited by Acharya Charaka. This medical treatise is considered as a standard work on Ayurveda and an important reference in the medical field. It has been translated into different languages and is still looked upon as a guide on health and medicine.
For his knowledge and work in the field of wellness, Charaka is rightly called the Father of Indian Medicine.
What was Charaka’s Contribution to the Medical Field?
The Charaka Samhita, edited by Charaka is considered as his biggest contribution to the medical field. He explored the philosophy and logic behind the Indian medical system. Composed of 120 chapters distributed across 8 books, the Charaka Samhita includes information about causes of diseases, ethics of medical practice, training of physicians, information about human anatomy and embryology, diagnosis and treatment of diseases, as well as hygiene and healthy living.
Charaka studied the human anatomy and according to him, the human body consisted of 360 bones and the heart was its controlling centre, linked to other body parts through 13 channels. Charaka said that these channels facilitated the transfer of nutrients to tissues and the passage of waste products, and that an obstruction in these channels led to disease.
He believed that the human body contains three doshas that are created by the action of elements (dhatus) on the food eaten. He stated that an ailment results from an imbalance in the doshas and that medicines should be prescribed to restore this balance. He stated that there is a link between health, diseases, and seasons and that one’s diet should be in accordance with the season.
He gave a classification of diseases. He believed that one’s lifespan can be increased with effort and that a healthy lifestyle can help prevent disease. He had prescribed a certain concoction of 32 herbs, bark, and fruit to be smoked daily to maintain wellness. He had knowledge about 500 medicinal plants. He studied diet and nutrition and even alcohol consumption, about which he has written in the Charaka Samhita. He thought of Ayurveda as a comprehensive system of health care.
Acharya Charaka, also called Maharshi Charaka, is famous for the medical treatise Charaka Samhita, which serves as the most important text on Ayurveda. This Kashmiri sage was an eclectic who took a rational and broad-minded approach towards health and medicine. He delved into all aspects of wellness and documented his findings in Charaka Samhita, the oldest book on Ayurveda.
Charaka’s life and work is indeed awe-inspiring and he is credited with laying the foundation of Ayurveda. His findings about health and well-being are relevant even today.