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Rasashastra (Part - 1)

Insights and Lessons from Indian Knowledge Systems by Maatrushree

The utilization of Ayurvedic remedies for treating a variety of ailments is steadily gaining popularity day by day. Ayurveda, often referred to as the "Science of Life," originated, evolved, and flourished in India and the Indian subcontinent. However, during the period of British rule in India and with significant advancements in sciences such as Physics and Chemistry, Modern Medicine emerged as the primary healthcare system in the country. Currently, it appears that Ayurveda is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, both within India and overseas, for various reasons.

The acceptance and preference for any medicinal discipline depend on several factors, including its effectiveness, safety, affordability, and the availability of the prescribed treatments. Among these factors, the effectiveness of the treatment is of paramount importance. 'Rasaushadhi,' which are drugs prepared in accordance with the principles of Rasashatra, were prescribed by Ayurveda vaidyas. It can be asserted that Rasashastra has played a pivotal role in promoting the widespread adoption of Ayurveda among the general population.

The term "Rasashastra" comprises two distinct elements, namely, "Rasa" and "Shastra." The term "Shastra" signifies an extensive and systematic examination or study. On the other hand, in the context of this field, the term "Rasa" primarily refers to Mercury. Therefore, in its literal sense, "Rasashastra" can be understood as the thorough and scientific exploration of Mercury. In the Sanskrit language, the word "Rasa" carries various meanings, which can be outlined as follows: "Liquid", "Taste.", "One of the seven constituents of the human body," as per Ayurvedic principles.

It is used in the classification of emotions, expressions in literature or speech such as feelings like joy, sorrow, anger, fear, and more. However, here it is being used in the context of Mercury.

In the definition of Rasashastra, it is described as a scientific discipline that elucidates the art of crafting medicinal substances from Mercury, alongside other minerals and metals. In the classical Ayurvedic texts such as Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita, numerous minerals and metals are referenced as therapeutic agents. However, in most instances, their utilization was primarily limited to external applications. For instance, substances like Sulphur (known as Gandhaka), Chalcopyrite (referred to as Makshika), Arsenic oxide (identified as Somal), Arsenic trisulfide (referred to as Haratal), Ferric oxide (known as Gairik), Blue Vitriol (CusO4•5H2O), Green Vitriol (FeSO4•7H2O), lead compounds, and even Mercury itself were mentioned for the treatment of various medical conditions.

It can be inferred from these references that minerals, metals, and Mercury, which serve as the foundation of Rasashastra, were indeed put into practical use during the 'Samhita' period.

Let's delve into the internal layout of the production unit, a configuration common to ancient Rasayanashastra texts with minor variations. In this arrangement, the deity Rasabhairav is positioned in the eastern direction, while processes requiring heat are conducted in the southeastern area known as "agneya." Activities involving breaking and powdering occur in the southern section, while all metalwork is reserved for the southwestern part. The western portion serves for washing procedures, and the northwestern area is designated for drying purposes. To the north, a specific area is dedicated to the "Vedhan" process, and the northeastern section is designated as the storage room. These principles guide the internal organization of the production unit as outlined in various ancient Rasayanashastra texts.

The ancient Rasashastra texts provide highly detailed and intricate descriptions of the instruments and machinery employed in drug production. However, it would be inaccurate to claim that these same instruments and machines are still in use today. The evolution in this field, parallel to advancements in disciplines like Physics and Electronics, has been so remarkable that new machinery emerges regularly, rendering the older ones obsolete. Nevertheless, upon reviewing the list of instruments, it becomes evident that contemporary iterations of these instruments and machines are currently employed in the field. Some of the instruments include:

  • A variety of routinely used machines, including the Dola yantra, and others.

  • Different types of scales for precise measurement of substances.

  • Metal furnaces in various sizes.

  • Pairs of tongs and scissors, available in different sizes.

  • Containers made of glass, wood, and mud, coming in various sizes.

  • Various mortars and pestles, crafted from both metals and stones, and available in different sizes.

  • Cleaning instruments and related equipment.

  • Containers with lids, offered in various sizes.

  • Supplies of various types of fodder like cow dung cakes, wood, and coal.

  • Sifters with different sizes and mesh configurations.

To be continued...

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