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A History of Hindu Chemistry Vol 1/Introduction/Chapter 3

< A History of Hindu Chemistry Vol 1


The Transitional Period

Circa 800—1100 A. D.

Vrinda and Chakrapani

We now come upon a period which determines the parting of ways in the progress of Hindu medicine. Hitherto we have been chiefly concerned with herbs and simples and a few readily available products of the mineral kingdom. About the year 1050 A. D. Chakrapáni Datta, himself a learned commentator of both the Charaka and Susruta, wrote the celebrated medical treatise which bears his name. Since the days of Vagbhata, metallic preparations had begun slowly to creep into use, and at the time of Chakrapáni and his predecessor Vrinda, they had so fully established their claims that they could no longer be ignored. Thus we find from the tenth century and downward every medical work more or less recommending compounds of metals which can only be synthetically prepared.

It should not, however, be forgotten that Susruta at times shows a knowledge of pharmacy, unsurpassed in the later Hindu medicine.

Although Chakrapáni belonged to the Brahmanical creed, his writings show a decided leaning towards Buddhism. Thus Maghadha itself is named महाबोधिप्रदेश or the country of the Mahábodhi; we have also such expressions as बोधिसत्त्वेनभाषितं, सुखावती वर्त्ति, सौगतमञ्जनम्। This might well be expected, for Chakrapáni's father was physician to king Nayapála, the successor of Mahipála, who ascended the throne about 1040 A.D.[1]

Both Vrinda and Chakrapáni mention Nágárjuna as an authority, and they follow closely in the footsteps of Charaka, Susruta and Vágbhata; but at the same time they are amenable to the influences brought to bear upon medicine by the Tantras.

Indeed, they go so far as to recommend the uttering of the cabalistic interjections of the votaries of the Tantric cult with a view to increase the efficacy of some of their preparations.[2] (see ante p. i.)

Dr. Hoernle observes: "it would be satisfactory to be able to discover what the sources were on which Chakrapáni drew for his compilation; they are not specified anywhere, I believe, in his work."[3] It is not easy to account for the above remarks, seeing that Chakrapáni distinctly mentions that he has modelled his work on the Siddhayoga of Vrinda,[4] and that he draws largely upon the Charaka, the Susruta and the Vágbhata, all of. whom he quotes verbatim and at length.

The religion of Sákyamuni inculcates the alleviation of distress and suffering, both moral and physical, as one of the essential articles of faith, and hence we find throughout Buddhistic India hospitals attached to the numerous monasteries for the treatment of man and beast alike.[5] It would also appear that inscriptions were engraved on rock pillars giving recipes for the treatment of diseases. Thus both Vrinda and Chakrapáni speak of a formula for a collyrium as inscribed on a stone pillar by Nágárjuna at Pátaliputra: नागार्ज्जुनेन लिखिता स्तम्भे पाटलिपुत्त्रके।

Probable date of Vrinda.Chakrapáni bases his work on that of Vrinda, who again follows closely the order and the pathology of the Nidána of Mádhavkara.[6] It necessarily follows that Vrinda was a recognised authority at least one or two centuries before the time of Chakrapáni and that the former was preceded by the Nidána by at least as many centuries and thus we have internal evidence of the existence of the Nidána in the eighth century as the lowermost limit—a date which is further corroborated by the fact that the Nidána was one of the medical treatises translated by order of the Caliphs.

Alchemy in the eleventh century.As regards alchemy in India in the XIth century, we cannot do better than quote in extenso Albérúní, who was well versed in Arabic and Greek astronomy, chemistry etc.

"The Hindus do not pay particular attention to alchemy, but no nation is entirely free from it, and one nation has more bias for it than another, which must not be construed as proving intelligence or ignorance; for we find that many intelligent people are entirely given to alchemy, whilst ignorant people ridicule the art and its adepts. Those intelligent people, though exulting boisterously over their make-believe science, are not to be blamed for occupying themselves with alchemy, for their motive is simply excessive eagerness for acquiring fortune and for avoiding misfortune. Once a sage was asked why scholars always flock to the doors of the rich, whilst the rich are not inclined to call at the doors of scholars. 'The scholars,' he answered, 'are well aware of the use of money, but the rich are ignorant of the nobility of science.' On the other hand, ignorant people are not to be praised, although they behave quite quietly, simply because they abstain from alchemy, for their motives are objectionable ones, rather practical result of innate ignorance and stupidity than anything else.

"The adepts in this art try to keep it concealed, and shrink back from intercourse with those who do not belong to them. Therefore, I have not been able to learn from the Hindus which methods they follow in this science and what element they principally use, whether a mineral or an animal or a vegetable one. I only heard them speaking of the process of sublimation, of calcination, of analysis, and of the waxing of talc, which they call in their language "tālaka," and so I guess that they incline towards the minerological method of alchemy.

"They have a science similar to alchemy which is quite peculiar to them. They call it Rasāyana, a word composed with rasa i.e. gold.[7] It means an art which is restricted to certain operations, drugs, and compound medicines, most of which are taken from plants. Its principles restore the health of those who were ill beyond hope, and give back youth to fading old age, so that people become again what they were in the age near puberty; white hair becomes black again, the keenness of the senses is restored as well as the capacity for juvenile agility, and even for cohabitation, and the life of the people in this world is even extended to a long period. And why not? Have we not already mentioned on the authority of Patañjali that one of the methods leading to liberation is Rasāyana? What man would hear this, being inclined to take it for truth, and not dart off into foolish joy and not honour the master of such a wonderful art by popping the choicest bit of this meal into his mouth?"

Sachau's Trans. Vol. I. pp. 187-88.


  1. The author, fortunately for future historians, has given an account of himself in a colophon:—

    नारायणस्य तनयः सुनयोऽन्तरङ्गात्।

    भानोरनु प्रथितलोध्रबली कुलीनः
    श्रीचक्रपाणिरिह कर्त्तृपदाधिकारी॥

    "The author of this work is Sri C. P., who belongs to the family of Lodhrávali and who is younger brother of Bhánu and the son of Náráyana, the superintendent of the kitchen of the King of Gour." Regarding the date of Nayapála, vide Cunningham's "Archaeological Survey of India," III. p. 119, also Journ. As. Soc. LX. Pt. 1. p., 46, Life of Atisa by S. C. Dása.
  2. अयं मन्त्रः प्रयोक्तव्यो भिषजा चाभिमन्त्रणे॥
    ओँ नमो विनायकाय अमृतं रक्ष रक्ष मम फलसिद्धिं
    देहि देहि रुद्रवचनेन स्वाहा। १७ वृन्दरसायनाधिकारः।

    Poona ed. p. 518.

    "इदमिह दृष्टोपकरणमेतद्दृष्टन्तु मन्त्रेण।
    स्वाहान्तेन विमर्द्दो भवति फड़न्तेन लौहबलरक्षा।
    सनमस्कारेण बलिर्भक्षणमयसो हूमन्तेन॥
    "ओं अमृतोद्भवाय स्वाहा।" "ओं अमृते हूं फट्।"
    "ओं नमश्चण्डवज्रपाणये महायक्षसेनाधिपतये सुरगुरुविद्यामहाबलाय स्वाहा।"
    "ओं अमृते हूं। इति चक्रपाणिरसायनाधिकारः।
  3. Journ. As. Soc. Beng. LX. pt. 1. p. 150.
  4. यः सिद्धयोगलिखिताधिकसिद्धयोगानत्रैव निक्षिपति केवलमुद्धरेहा।
  5. "Everywhere the King Piyadasi, beloved of the Gods, has provided medicines of two sorts, medicines for men and meidicines for animals." Edict II. of Asoka.
  6. Vrinda himself admits this:
    वृन्देन * * * संलिख्यते गदविनिश्चयजक्रमेण॥
  7. See, however, p. 79, for the meaning of the term "rasa".