The Charaka Samhita or Compendium of Charaka is a Sanskrit text on Ayurveda (Indian traditional medicine).

Along with the Suśruta-saṃhitā, it is one of the two foundational Hindu texts of this field that have survived from ancient India.

The pre-2nd century CE text consists of eight books and one hundred twenty chapters. It describes ancient theories on the human body, etiology, symptomology, and therapeutics for a wide range of diseases.

The Charaka Samhita also includes sections on the importance of diet, hygiene, prevention, medical education, the teamwork of a physician, nurse, and patient necessary for recovery to health.

Dates of the composition of the Charaka Samhita are uncertain.

Meulenbeld’s History of Indian Medical Literature dates it to be between fourth century BCE to the second century CE, with Charaka’s compilation likely between 100 BCE and 200 CE.

The Dṛḍhbala revision and completion, the source of current texts, is dated to the 6th century CE.


In Sanskrit, charak is a term for a wanderer, sannyasi (ascetic), and sometimes used in the context of the ancient tradition of wandering physicians who brought their medical expertise and magico-religious rites from village to village.

Surendranath Dasgupta states that the medical tradition of wandering physicians is traceable to the Atharvaveda, particularly the Caranavaidya shakha – one of the nine known shakha of Atharvaveda-based Vedic schools.

The name of this school literally means “wandering physicians“. Their texts have not survived into the modern era, but manuscripts from two competing schools – Paippalada and Saunakiya, have.

The Atharvaveda contains chapters relating to medicine, surgery and magico-religious rites. This Atharvaveda layer of text was likely compiled contemporaneously with Samaveda and Yajurveda, or about 1200 BCE – 1000 BCE.

Dasgupta and other scholars state that the Atreya-Caraka school and its texts may have emerged from this older tradition, and he cites a series of Atharvaveda hymns to show that almost all organs and nomenclature found in Caraka Samhita is also found in the Vedic hymns.

Physician, nurse, patient, and medicines

The text asserts that there are four important parts of medical practice – the patient, the physician, the nurse, and the medicines.

All four are essential to recovery and return to health, states the text. The physician provides knowledge and coordinates the treatment, he is who can “explore the dark interior of the body with the lamp of knowledge“, according to the text and Valiathan’s a translation.

The physician must express joy and cheer towards those who can respond to treatment, masterfully avoid and save time in cases where the patient suffers from an incurable disease, while compassionate towards all.

The nurse must be knowledgeable, skilled at preparing formulations and dosage, sympathetic towards everyone and clean.

The patient is responsible for being positive, have the ability to describe how he or she feels, remember and respectfully follow the physician instructions.

The Charaka Samhita, states Curtin, was among the earliest texts that set a code of ethics on physicians and nurses, attributing “moral as well as the scientific authority to the healer“.

The text, in chapters 8 and 9 of the Vimana Sthana dedicates numerous verses to discussing the code. It mandates that the physician must seek consent before entering a patient’s quarters, must be accompanied by a male member of the family if he is attending a woman or minor, must inform and gain consent from patient or the guardians if the patient is a minor, must never resort to extortion for his service, never involve himself in any other activities with the patient or patient’s family (such as negotiating loans, arranging marriage, buying or selling property), speak with soft words and never use cruel words, only do “what is calculated to do good to the patient“, and maintain the patient’s privacy.

There is no end in the knowledge of medical science, claims verse 3.8.12 of the Charaka Samhita, and the physician must constantly learn and devote himself to it.

The text asserts that a physician should discuss his findings and questions with other physicians because “when one discusses with another that is possessed of a knowledge of the same science, such discussion leads to increase of knowledge and happiness“.

The verses that follow the outline that discussions can be hostile or peaceful, the former are unproductive, the latter useful; even if one faces hostile criticism, one must persuade with gentle words and manner, asserts the text.

Religious ideas

The Charaka Samhita, like many ancient Hindu works of literature, reveres and attributes Hindu gods as the ultimate source of its knowledge.

The Charaka Samhita mentions Bharadvaja learning from god Indra, after pleading that “poor health was disrupting the ability of human beings from pursuing their spiritual journey“, and then Indra provides both the method and specifics of medical knowledge.

The method asserts the text, revolves around three principles – etiology, symptomology, and therapeutics. Thus, states Glucklich, the text presumes proper goals to include both spiritual and physical health.

The Charaka Samhita, in addition to initial recitations, uses the foundational assumptions and values embedded in various layers of the Vedas.

These assumptions include the Vedic doctrine that a human being is a microcosmic replica of the universe, and the ancient Hindu theory of six elements (five Prakriti and one Brahman), three humors (Vayu, Pitta, Kapha), three Guṇas (Sattva, Rajas and Tamas) as constituent forces innate in a human body, and others.

The Charaka Samhita is premised on the Hindu assumption that Atman (soul) exists, it is immutable, and thereafter the text defines physical and mental diseases as caused by a lack of correlation and imbalance in body, or mind, or both, because of external factors (Prakriti, objects of senses), age or a want of correlation (appropriate harmony, equilibrium) between the three humors or the three Gunas.

The Sushruta Samhita and Caraka Samhita have religious ideas throughout, states Steven Engler, who then concludes “Vedic elements are too central to be discounted as marginal“.

These ideas appear, for example, in the theoretical foundations and Vedic metaphors used in these texts. In addition, states Engler, the text includes another layer of ideas, where empirical rational ideas flourish in competition or cooperation with religious ideas, as well as the evidence of later additions of some Brahminic ideas.

There is a close relationship between the philosophic presuppositions and the approach to medicine in Charaka Samhita.

Ancient pharmacy

Numerous chapters in the Charaka Samhita are dedicated to identifying and classifying seeds, roots, flowers, fruits, stems, aromatic leaves, barks of different trees, plants juices, mountain herbs, animal products ranging from their milk to their excretory waste after the animals eat a certain diet or grasses, different types of honey, stones, salts, and others.

The text also describes numerous recipes, detailing how a particular formulation should be prepared. A typical recipe appears in the Chikitsa Sthana book of the Charaka Samhita as follows:

Anu Taila recipe

Take a measure of sesame seeds.
Macerate them in goat’s milk.
Then pound them in goat’s milk.
Place the pounded product on a piece of clean cloth.
Place the product and cloth over a vessel filled with goat’s milk.
Apply mild heat to the vessel. Let vapors from heated milk slightly boil the sesame paste.
Mix the boiled paste with pulverized liquorice, adding an equal measure of goat’s milk.
Press the oil out of the mixed product.
Add this oil to the (standard) decoction of ten roots in the ratio of one to four.
To this oil mix, add paste of Rasna, Madhuka and Saindhava salt in the ratio of four to one.
Boil all these together. Filter. Extract and collect the oil.
Repeat the root-paste-salt-oil combining and boiling process ten times.
The resulting oil is called Anu-taila. — Charaka Samhita 6.XXVI

The text, thereafter, asserts that this Anu-taila is to be used as a rubbing oil and as nasal drop for a certain class of ailments. Glucklich mentions other medical texts from ancient India which include the use of Anu-taila in skin therapy.

Sexual health

The Charaka Samhita discusses sexual diseases as well as its theory of treatment of sexual dysfunctions and virility (Vajikarana). The text emphasizes methods of body cleansing, sexual health-promoting conduct, behavior, and diet.

Certain herb and mineral combinations are part of its regimen. The text asserts that obesity and a lifestyle lacking exercise is linked to sexual dysfunctions, dedicating many verses on it.

The text, states Arnold, contains a great number of verses relating to women’s sexual health, suggesting “great antiquity of certain methods and therapeutic agents used in the treatment of gynecological cases“, for example, the cautery, pessaries, and astringent washes.

Medical education

Chapter VIII of the Charaka Samhita’s Vimana Sthana book includes a section for the student aiming to become a physician.

The text asserts that any intelligent man who knows the challenge and patience necessary to become a physician must first decide his Guru (teacher) and the books he must study.

The Charaka Samhita claims, according to Kaviratna and Sharma translation, that “diverse treatises on medicine are in circulation“, and the student must select one by reputed scholar is known for his wisdom, is free from tautology, ascribed to a Rishi, well compiled and has bhasya (commentaries), which treats nothing but the professed subject, is devoid of slangs and unfamiliar words, explain its inferences, is non-contradictory, and is well illustrated.

The teacher for apprenticeship should be one who knows the field, has experience gained from successfully treating diseases, who is compassionate towards who approach him, who lives a life of inner and outer Shaucha, is well equipped, who knows the characteristics of health and disease, one who is without malice towards anyone, is free of anger, who respects privacy and pain of his patients, is willing to teach, and is a good communicator.

When one finds such a teacher, asserts the Charaka Samhita, the student must revere the teacher like a deity or one’s own father because it is from his grace that one gets educated.

When the teacher accepts a student as his apprentice, asserts the Charaka Samhita, he should in the presence of fire initiate the student with the following mandates during the period of apprenticeship

“Thou shalt be a Brahmacharin, wear beard and mustache, thou shalt be always truthful, abstain from meat and unclean diet, never harbor envy, never bear weapons, thou shalt do anything I say except if that may lead to another person’s death or to great harm or to a sin, thou shalt behave like my son, never be impatient, always be attentive, behave with humility, act after reflection, and always seek whether sitting or standing the good of all living creatures”

Comparison with Sushruta Samhita

The Charaka Samhita is among the most important ancient medical treatises. It is one of the foundational texts of the medical tradition in India, alongside the Susruta Saṃhitā, the Bheḷa-Saṃhitā, and the medical portions of the Bower Manuscript.

The Charaka Samhita is the oldest known Hindu text on Ayurveda (life sciences), and it was followed by the Sushruta Samhita. Except for some topics and their emphasis, both discuss many similar subjects such as General Principles, Pathology, Diagnosis, Anatomy, Sensorial Prognosis, Therapeutics, Pharmaceutics, and Toxicology.

The Sushruta and Charaka texts differ in one major aspect, with Sushruta Samhita providing the foundation of surgery, while Charaka Samhita being primarily a foundation of medicine.


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