Divisions of Ayurveda – Ashtang Ayurveda

Ayurveda is the oldest healing science of the world. It is believed to be divine science which was brought to earth by our sages for helping the mankind suffering from diseases. Ashtang Ayurveda has three words in it i.e ASHTA (Eight) + ANGA (Parts) + AYURVEDA meaning Ayurveda and its eight parts. Ayurveda is a very vast science which was divided into eight parts giving the term Ashtang Ayurveda.

The knowledge of Ayurveda handed over by Lord Indra to Rishi Bhardwaj (The great sage) was in nutshell and had three aspects i.e Cause (Hetu), symptomatology (Linga) and treatment of various diseases. This type of knowledge could be gained and utilized only by Gods and a few sages of ancient India who, by virtue of their penance had a long life and incomparable wisdom. For normal human beings this knowledge was too vast to be learnt in one life span.

According to Susruta Samhita Ayurveda is a sub branch (Up-Veda) of Athrava Veda(One of the four Vedas) and has eight Parts. The Creator of this universe, Lord Brahma authored the first text of Ayurveda, and it was called Brahma Samhita. Brahma Samhita contained One Lakh verses arranged in 1000 Chapters. Later on, in the view of short life span and reduced intellect of human beings, Ayurveda was divided into eight branches so as to enable human beings to learn and master this science of life.

The Eight parts of Ayurveda are

Kaya Chikitsa (Ayurveda medicine)

Shalya Tantra (Surgery)

Shalakya (Eye, ENT and Dentistry)

Bal roga (Pediatrics and Obstetrics)

Grha Chikitsa (Psychiatry and astromedicine)

Visha Chikitsa (toxicology)

Rasayan (Preventive and promotive health)

Vajikaran (Sexual medicine).

There are references in various texts of Ayurveda that there were different texts on all of these eight parts of Ayurveda but unfortunately most of these were lost. Presently we have mainly Charak Samhitathe text by Sage Charaka, dealing with Internal medicine (Kaya Chikitsa) mainly, Susruta Samhita – The text by Sage Susruta, dealing mainly with surgery, A part of Kashyap Samhita – the text by Kashyap dealing with Bal Roga (Pediatrics). Bhela Samhita and Harita Samhita are also available.

In the Sixth  century AD Vagbhatta wrote Ashtang Samgraha i.e a text having the essence of all the Eight parts of Ayurveda. This text is available presently and is widely used. The text mainly used all the available old texts and compiled the useful material regarding all the eight parts of Ayurveda, but even this text has main emphasis on Kaya Chikitsa (Internal medicine).

The definitions and scope of these eight branches as are as follows

  1. Kaya Chikitsa: It is the branch of Ayurveda dealing with diseases of body like fever, bleeding disorders, Tuberculosis, skin diseases etc along with psychosomatic diseases. The most important text of Kaya chikitsa available today is Charak Samhita. Portions of Bhela samhita and a copy of Harita samhita is also available.
  2. Shalya Tantra or Surgery deals with extraction or removal of foreign body, cesarean section (removal of fetus by surgery), drainage of abscess along with the methods for using surgical instruments and para surgical processes like Kshar (Use of alkalis in treating diseases), Agni (Cauterization and use of heat in curing some diseases). Use of leech in treatment is also a topic of surgery. The only old text of surgery available today is Susruta Samhita.
  3. Shalakya Tantra  deals with diseases of the body parts above the neck i.e the diseases concerning Ear, eyes, oral cavity, nose, throat and head. Nimi Tantra, a text by Nimi (Another Sage) thought to be available at the time of Vaghbhatta, was the text of shalakya tantra. At present it is not available but Susruta Samhita contains some good description of Shalakya. Charak Samhita also contains some description of shalakya but it is very brief.
  4. Graha chikitsa or Bhoot Vidhya deals with the effects and treatment of people afflicted by super natural powers. Some authors of modern day are of opinion that Bhoot of the past may be co related to invisible causes of diseases like microbes. Ayurveda is not only a medical science but it is the philosophy of life also. It is deeply related to Dharma or religion. So Bhoot vidhya is the branch which deals with spiritual aspect of diseases. No separate text for this is available and even in Charak and Susruta samhita references to Grahas, Dev, Asur etc which are thought to affect human beings are scattered here n there. A text on bhoot Vidhya was authored by Sidhsen which is not available presently. This branch of medicine has been the most neglected part of Ayurveda. It is also gaining some popularity as Astro medicine these days.
  5. Bal Roga or Kumar Bhritya (Pediatrics) deals with the bringing up of a child till he attains youth. This branch of Ayurveda also includes the treatment of diseases of the child and nursing mother and the diseases arising in the child due to intake of impure milk. Kashyap samhita is the text related to this branch. Though only a part of it is available presently. This branch also includes obstetrics.
  6. Agad tantra or Visha Chikitsa deals with the details and treatment of various poisons, combination of poisons, animal bite, snake bite, and bite of spider or other insects etc. No separate text is available for this branch of Ayurveda but description of this is found in Charka and Susruta Samhita. There are some references indicating that there were separate texts on this branch, to name a few are Sanak Samhita, Vridha Kashyap samhita, Brihaspati samhita etc.
  7. Rasayan Tantra deals with the methods and drugs to maintain youth and vitality. It also deals with the ways to increase intellect, physical power and prevention of various diseases. It is the unique branch of Ayurveda but unfortunately today there is no ancient text which is devoted to this branch. Charak Samhita  and Susruta samhita contain detailed description of this branch.
  8. Vajikarana Tantra deals with the cause and treatment of infertility and impotence etc. It contains treatment of various anomalies of semen like low quantity, low motility etc and ways to increase the production of semen. In fact it is the branch which aims at making every person capable of producing healthy progeny. For this branch also there is no specific text available presently except Charka and Susruta Samhita which contain some topics of this branch. Kuchumar Tantra was the text on this branch in ancient times.
    With the passage of time some of these branches progressed and their literature grew but some other like Bhoot Vidhya or Graha Chikita and Vish chikitsa or Agad tantra could not grow like others. Majority of the literature present today is on Kaya Chikitsa as this is the most important branch of Ayurveda and maximum ancient literature available today is also about this branch only. Shalya Tantra or surgery was growing very well but during the time of rise of Buddhism, the practice of surgery started declining because of many social, political and religious reasons.

There were few additions to this ashtang Ayurveda like Ras Satra (Scinece of minerals and metals) later on. A few new works like various Nighantus (Collection of names and description of various plants and minerals of medicinal value) Madhav Nidan (A text on Pathology) and so on. All these were extension of the eight parts of Ayurveda mentioned under Ashtang Ayurveda but this addition to the literature of Ayurveda tried to make up for the loss of ancient texts.

The legacy of Ayurveda which started as Tri Sutra (Having 3 principle aspects) and developed to Ashtang Ayurveda (Having Eight Parts) is getting richer day by day by addition of new texts based on the basics laid down in ancient texts.

Author Name:

Dr Kalpna Gupta Soni

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