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अष्टाङ्गशारीरम्: Ashtanga Shariram


Ayurveda has been globally accepted as a scientific discipline. This was not the case a century ago. It was on the verge of extinction at that time. There were many reasons for the decline. The most important among them was the official apathy of the colonial rulers. In their enthusiasm to promote allopathy they condemned everything indigenous as fake and fraud. Another reason was the nonavailability of quality medicines. Patients has to prepare the medicines themselves which led to many spurious practices. The third reason for the decline was the lack of proper training for the physicians. Many practitioners did not have the requisite qualification or experience.

The struggle for independence brought a new awakening in the Indian psyche. Indians became conscious of their identity. This led to a search for their roots. They began to bring back the lost traditions. The first decade of the last century saw the efforts for the revitalization of Ayurveda all through the country. The All India Ayurvedic Congress was established in 1907 in the city of Nasik. Several institutions came up during this period. It was the dawn of renaisance of Ayurveda.

Vaidyaratnam P.S. Varier led this movement in the South. He established the Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala in 1902, which made available to the patients readymade medicines in Ayurveda as in allopathy. He started the first medical journal in Malayalam, Dhanvantari, in 1903 to pouplarize Ayurveda. He also organized the physicians and founded the Aryavaidyasamajam. All these efforts gave a new lease of life to the declining popularity of Ayurveda.

His highest concern was the quality of education. He attempts to introduce a scientific system of education for Ayurveda and to achieve this, he started an Ayurvedapathasala in 1917. He prepared, with the help of his fellow physicians, a scheme and syllabus which provided ample space for new ideas. It was then that he felt the inadequacy of proper text books in Ayurveda. He found that anatomy was a weak spot in the spot in the classical texts. To meet this challenge he started writing a scientific text-book. He has three aims in writing a new book.


A thorough knowledge of the human body is the foundation for Ayurveda. Says Charaka:

But almost all competent Ayurvedic physicians of the present day are unanimously of opinion that the existing Ayurvedic treatises are both deficient and defective in the treatment of this subject. It is not, therefore, necessary to dwell on that point here at any length. It must be nevertheless emphasized that the first duty of a physician who desires to rejuvenate the Ayurvedic system is to improve the anatomical and physiological side of it. This book is the result of efforts inspired by these ideas.

I have always held that a mere translation of some of the English works on Anatomy and Physiology would not satisfy the requirements. My idea was that these branches of knowledge as already comprised in Ayurveda should be revised on the same lines and should be augmented with modern knowledge wherever necessary and without repugnance to the Ayurvedic system.

The need for this work has been increasingly felt since the establishment of the Arya Vaidya Pata Sala at Calicut in 1917. At first an English book on Anatomy was translated, to a considerable extent, into Malayalam. As it was found that many portions of it were not in consonance with the Ayurvedic principles , an attempt was made to harmonise the two systems as far as possible, and I began writing a book in Sanskrit entitled “Brihat Sareeram” about four years ago. I finished Histology, Osteology and Syndesmology. Meanwhile, the work had already covered a very large volume, and several friends began to complain that, unless the Government or any other authority made it compulsory, it might never be patiently read by the students or the Vaidyas who were not even aware of the inadequacy of the treatment of Anatomy in the Ayurvedic system. Having been convinced of the reasonableness of this criticism, I decided last year to compress that work and complete it for publication in the present shape.

In order to facilitate the Indian’s traditional habit of committing it to memory and to secure conciseness at the same time, this work has been rendered into verse. I believe that it is not anywhere more difficult than prose. Wherever the meaning of the text is not clear or is doubtful, a commentary entitled ‘Goodharthabodhini’ is given and the English equivalent to the Sanskrit word is also supplied in the footnote. I trust, therefore, that there is little chance of misunderstanding a Sanskrit it word which may have more than one meaning.

Innumerable technical terms are used in the English or Allopathic science of medicine which have no equivalents in Sanskrit. Even the available Sanskrit terms do not convey the required sense. Therefore it has been necessary to coin a large number of new words and to define the meaning of the old words, for our purpose. Unless such words were coined and adapted before undertaking a work of this kind, there might be confusion and contradiction of terms in the course of the work.

Owing to such preliminary settlement of all the terms used in this book, some of these terms may differ from those found in other books on this subject. Space does not permit here a discussion on the appropriateness of the several words.

As this book is composed in a new method, many errors may have possibly crept into it, and differences of opinion may also arise. I earnestly request all learned physicians to scrutinize the work and inform me of all such errors and differences so that a conference may be held to discuss and correct the errors in the second edition. Further, if in any section the treatment of the subject is found inadequate, it shall be more elaborately treated in the next edition.

Some printing mistakes have occurred on account of inexperience. A list of corrections relating to the text and to certain illustrations is given at the beginning of the book. There are perhaps a large number of spelling mistakes and typographical errors in the commentary. The learned readers are requested to read those portions correctly with reference to the context and to the glossary.

Several persons have helped me in bringing out this book. Special mention must be made of Vaidya Visarada P.K. Ramnnni Menon, Vaidya Vichakshana M. K. Varier and Pandit P. K. Krishna Menon. But for the help rendered by Mr. Krishna Menon, I believe this book might have bristled with more errors and could not have been so neatly got up. I am grateful to these gentlemen and others who have assisted me in this enterprise. I am no less indebted to Mr. K. V. Achyuthan Nair, the Proprietor of the Norman Printing Bureau, Calicut, and his workmen. Although he had not much experience in printing Sanskrit books, he devoted his special attention to this work, and without calculating profit and loss, courageously undertook and completed the work, and made also the required blocks in time. I thank him most heartily. My thanks are also due to Messrs. Krishna & Co. of Trichur and others who have assisted me by supplying blocks.

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