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History Of Rasas`haastra

Dr. V. A. Dole
M.D. (Ayurved) Rasashastra

Rasas`haastra is the science and art of preparation of drugs from various minerals and metals. Many plant, animal, and oceanic products are also used for preparation of such drugs at various stages. Mercury, in most of such drugs is the main ingredient, but not necessarily a compulsory constituent.

Even though this science has now completely merged with that of Ayurveda, originally it was conceived, formed and developed as a separate science.

Medicinal use of various mineral substances such as Chalkapyrite, (Maakshika) Orpiment Arsenic Trisulphide, (Harataala) Realgar(Arsenic disulphide, (Manahs`hilaa), metals such as gold, copper, silver, Iron etc were known and described in compendium of Charaka whose period is supposed to be 2000 years BC. Mercury, the principal metal described in Rasas`haastra is also mentioned there. However, their dosage-forms and indications appear to be very limited. Hence it can be stated that roots of Rasas`haastra can be traced back to the period of Charaka or even further back.

Before postulating when the Rasas`haastra originated, it will be interesting to note why it originated and how. To understand this, one needs to have knowledge of few concepts:

  1. There are many instincts inherent in human beings. To live, to live happily for which money is to be collected and one should have a good life after death. The oldest compendium, CharakaSamhitaa states this fact. The terms are Praan`eshan`aaDhan`eshan`a and Paralokeshn`aa
  2. Rasa i.e. Mercury has originated from Lord Shiva; who is supposed to be destroyer of the whole world. This mythological concept was very popular and happens to be the base of this science.
  3. Precious metals like silver and gold were considered as measures of wealth since historic period.
  4. Mercury is the only metal, which is shining white in color and which is in liquid state even at room temperature. It was a strong belief in the minds of researchers of that period that it could be converted in to silver, once its liquid is changed in to the solid state

Now to gain the objectives mentioned in the form of three instincts above, Mercury was the Matter of Choice, naturally. It was experimented upon over a period of hundreds of years. During this period results (both agreeable and harmful) were noted and corrected with new experiments. The nature of these experiments consisted of mixing, triturating, heating, boiling, distillation. Mercury with various metals minerals, plants and oceanic products.

Regarding the objectives of origin of this science, there are two schools of thought. The western schools of thought consider that converting non-precious metals into precious metals, and thereby gaining enormous wealth, was the main objective.

The other school of thought, which prevails in eastern countries, considers mercury, a product from Lord Shiva as a means to achieve longevity, to be utilized for service of God by which one can attain the ultimate bliss, Moksha. The part of converting non-precious metal in to precious metals (Lohavedha) was a sort of test to see whether the mercury had gained adequate power to produce the required longevity and disease free condition of the human body.

Where exactly did this science originate? Again there are two different opinions. As per one, it began in the mid-eastern part of the world. The limited knowledge gained was exported to the Indian subcontinent through various series of military operations and campaigns. Such campaign is usually followed by exodus of knowledge and cultural exchanges. The evidences, which are available, substantiate this fact. In fact it is believed that the modern science of chemistry evolved from there. The name of the place was Chemia & hence the word chemist.

The second opinion is exactly the opposite. It postulates that the science of Rasas`haastra originated and developed in India and then was exported to other countries. A single point of debate, which goes against this theory, is to be noted here. Geographically & geologically, there are not any mines of Mercury ores in either the Himalayan mountain range or in the Indian subcontinent. Then how come a science, which has mercury as a single most important drug, could be developed in India. But other evidences, which are freely available, clearly indicate that this science was conceived and developed in the subcontinent and then spread elsewhere. As per such evidences mercury and mercurial products were brought in India by road through various passes in the Himalayan mountain range. This theory can be conceived from circumstantial evidences available in various books and compendias. The approximate period of these books can be inferred.

In the Charaka Samhitaa, which dates back at least 2000 year BC. Medicinal use of Mercury is mentioned (C.7.71). The use of metals as internal medicine was limited to a dosage forms known as Ayaskriti. The other two important compendias viz. Sus`hruta Samhitaa (1000 yr BC) Ast`aanga Hridaya, which was written hundreds of years later mention the medicinal use of Mercury in an increasing order. But this is as far as use of Mercury in Ayurveda is concerned; however as stated in the beginning the science of Rasas`haastra was developed as a totally independent science. This fact can be deduced from a Treatise written by Chaan`akya viz. Kout`ileeya Arthas`haastra in 3rd century BC while the book is basically written as a collection of Guidelines for proper administration, certain factual information is revealed through its chapters. Thus while describing classification and types of Gold, Rasavedhaja gold is also mentioned. Meaning of the word Rasavedhaja is that Gold which is converted from non-precious metals with the help of Mercury. This was supposed to be the ultimate test to prove that such Mercury is able to give longevity and disease free life span to individuals.

The Rasas`haastra as is known today has two definite parts. The part which is concerned with conversion of non-precious metals into precious metals with the help of specially treated Mercury was popularly known as Rasas`haastra and the other part in which properties and dosage forms and usages of Mercury and many other metals and minerals are described by which cure of many diseased conditions was possible in a small dose, was popularly known as Rasaayanas`haastra. The first was to treat Mercury so it could convert other metals into gold in progress throughout India. The researchers and scholars were mostly from different cults of Hindu and Buddhist religions like S`haaktaKaapaalikaMahaayaana etc. Strict secrecy and documentation, if at all it is there is found in code languages and fear imprinted on the minds of common people, these and many other factors are responsible for very little knowledge about its development. Presently we know that primary and basic knowledge of Mercury was known but how and when and where further development took place is not known. In the 3rd century BC Chaan`akya in his treatise Arthas`haastra mentions Rasavedhaja type of Gold. This clearly indicates that the science Rasas`haastra was fully and practically developed at that time.

The second part VizRasaayanas`haastra which deals with methods of preparations of various drugs using metals, minerals, few animal products poisons and semi-poisons, precious and semiprecious Gemstones, oceanic products etc. started developing approximately from 1st century AD Naagaarjuna is supposed to be the fore-founder of this part History documents the existence of different persons as Naagaarjuna, who were born in 1st, 2nd 4th & 8th centuries respectively. All of them contributed towards the development of Rasaayanas`haastra. It seems that after 1st century AD both these sciences viz. Rasas`haastra and Rasaayanas`haastra existed together and books containing descriptions of both were written. New dosage forms were invented, tried and documented. Medicinal properties of not only Mercury but other minerals and metallic compounds, with their types were also discovered compound drugs with minerals but without mercury were invented, tried and documented. Somewhere along these developments the science Rasaayanas`haastra was linked with the science of Ayurveda. This was inevitable as terminologies to describe various ailments, their symptomatoglogies& types etc. had to be Ayurvedic as that was the only discipline of Health sciences in existence. And therefore one hardly finds mention of Dosha or their types, as well as other Rasa, VeeryaGun`aPrabhaava etc which are supposed to be the basic principles of Ayurveda.

Gradually the science of Rasas`haastra i.e. Science of preparation of precious metals from non-precious metals, receded as the sphere of secrecy, code language and other such factors became more and more obfuscated to such an extent that it became virtually impossible to gain true and proper knowledge. The name Rasas`haastra however continued. Rasaayanas`haastra too continued to be developed up to the 10th century but the name Rasaayanas`haastra, it appears, was forgotten and that of Rasas`haastra continued.

Since the 17th century onwards the whole world witnessed the advent of Modern materialistic sciences like Physics, Chemistry etc that definitely had an impact on Rasas`haastra. Availability, Purity, Knowledge of matter to be used for preparation of drugs based on these modern sciences, clarity about the plant products due to development of pharmacognosyetc. these and other such factors definitely change the outlook of this science.

In the recent past I.e. in the 20th century great scholars like Kaviraaja Sadaananda Sharmaa, Vaidyaraaja Yaadavjietc. even used the knowledge of modern chemistry for reclassification of drugs. Sulphuricacid, nitric acid, citric acid etc are even advocated for preparation of different drugs. Metals, which were not known, which were not discovered in the past, like Aluminum, Platinum etc. are used for preparation of Bhasma. Presently, Rasas`haastra appears to be an integrated conglomeration of AyurvedaRasaayanas`haastra, Chemistry including its different branches etc. All these allied modern and materialistic sciences are essential for standardizations of Rasaushadhi_s, which is of utmost importance from the point of view of documentation and research.

Dr. V. A. Dole
H.O.D, Department of Rasashastra,
Tilak Ayurved Mahavidyalaya, Pune.

Last updated on February 26th, 2021 at 07:10 am

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