Thursday, April 23, 2009

Charaka - Father of medicine

Charaka, sometimes spelled Caraka, born c. 300 BC in a Maga Brahmin family was one of the principal contributors to the ancient art and science of Ayurveda, a system of medicine and lifestyle thought to be developed about 5000 years ago in Ancient India. Acharya Charak has been crowned as the Father of Medicine

According to Charaka's translations health and disease are not predetermined and life may be prolonged by human effort and attention to lifestyle.

The following statements are attributed to Charaka: A physician who fails to enter the body of a patient with the lamp of knowledge and understanding can never treat diseases. He should first study all the factors, including environment, which influence a patient's disease, and then prescribe treatment. It is more important to prevent the occurrence of disease than to seek a cure.

These remarks appear obvious today, though they are often not heeded, and were made by Charaka, in his famous Ayurvedic treatise Charaka Samhita. The treatise contains many such remarks which are held in reverence even today. Some of them are in the fields of physiology, etiology and embryology. Charaka was translated into Persian and Arabic in the eighth century, and is still used today. Most of what is known about Indian medical science derives from this text and two others, the Susruta Samhita and the Ashtangahridaya Samhita.

Charaka was the first physician to present the concept of digestion, metabolism and immunity. According to him a body functions because it contains three dosha or humours, namely, bile, phlegm and wind. These dosha are produced when dhatus, namely, blood, flesh and marrow, act upon the food eaten.

For the same quantity of food eaten, one body, however, produce dosha in an amount different from another body. That is why one body is different from another. For instance, it is weightier, stronger, and more energetic.

Further, illness is caused when the balance among the three dosha in a human body is disturbed. To restore the balance he prescribed medicinal drugs. Although he was aware of germs in the body, he did not give them any importance.

Charaka also knew the fundamentals of genetics. For instance, he knew the factors determining the sex of a child. Agenetic defect in a child, like lameness or blindness, he said, was not due to any defect in the mother or the father, but in the ovum or sperm of the parents -an accepted fact today.

Charaka Samhita regarded disease as originating either inside the body or from outside. It also covers bodily structure and function, the cause, symptoms, and prognosis of disease, and the effect of disease on the body. Charaka describes more than 600 drugs of animal, plant, and mineral origin, along with formulas for medicines and instructions for making them.

Charaka also studied the anatomy of the human body and various organs. He gave 360 as the total number of bones, including teeth, present in the body. He wrongly believed that the heart had one cavity, but he was right when he considered it to be a controlling centre. He claimed that the heart was connected to the entire body through 13 main channels. Apart from these channels, there were countless other ones, some big and some small, which supplied not only nutrients to various tissues but also provided passage to waste products. He also claimed that any obstruction in the main channels led to a disease or deformity in the body.

However, there is nothing known about Charaka as a person. It is said that he was the son of a sage who travelled from place to place on foot to cure the suffering masses.

Related Article : Sushruta---Father of Surgery

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