Category Archives: g. Other Vedic Literature

The Vedangas

The word Vedangas in Sanskrit means “limbs of the Vedas” which is appropriate because it is a collection/genre that is an appendage of the Vedas. The origin of the Vedangas can date back to as early as 1200 BC but some speculate on an even earlier date of 1800 BC. The jyotisa collection for instance refers to the beginning of the Vedangas during a winter solstice, which may have occurred closer to 1800 instead or 1200 BC (Achar 173).  The Vedangas consist of six appendages: siksa, chandas, vyakarna, nirukta, jyotisa [oldest in Hindu history], and kalpa. The first four of the appendages are considered exegetical, meaning they are used as aids to help understand the Vedas. The last two appendages are regarded as ritual because they deal with rites and laws as well as the proper time and place to perform the appendages (Bhat 10).


The first appendage of the Vedangas is siksa, which is the category related to correct pronunciation and accentuation. Siksa is proper pronunciation and in order to have proper phonics, there have to be rules. A major rule under this category pertains to the sound of syllables because being off pitch by even a slight degree would alter the result and therefore the effect of the word trying to be pronounced (Tiwari 1).  There are four main pratisakhya; which deals with the phoenics of the Sanskrit language. Pratisakhya also falls under siksa: Rgveda-Pratisakhya of Rgveda, Taittiriya-Pratisakhya of Krishna Yajurveda, Vajasaneyi Pratisakhya of Shukla Yajurveda, and Atharvaveda-Pratisakhya of Atharvaveda. These pratisakhya are responsible for determining the relationship between Samhita; the most ancient layer of text in the Vedas, consisting of mantras, hymns, prayers, litanies and benedictions, to Padapathas; which are recitation styles designed to complete and memorize a text,  and also vice versa. They are also important for the interpretation of the Vedas (Bhat 11).


The second appendage of the Vedangas is kalpa, which is the category related to Vedic rituals. If the Vedas were imagined as a person (Purusa), this section would be known as the arms. Rules referring to sacrifice, excluding things that are not directly connected to the ceremony are found in the Kalpa-sutras [contents directly connected to the Brahmanas and Aranyakas] (Tiwari 1). The Kalpa-sutras is broken down into three categories (1) the Srauta-sutras, (2) the Grhya-sutras, and (3) the Dharma-sutras. The Srauta-sutras consist of great sacrificial rites, where the most priests were employed. The Grhya-sutras consist of household rituals that do not need a priest’s assistance. The Dharma-sutras consist of customary law prevalent at the time (Bhat 13).


The third appendage of the Vedangas is vyakaraṇa, which is the category related to Vedic grammar. Parts of this section have been lost over time because of pratisakhya, which also connects to grammar but has surpassed Vyakarana (Bhat 11). However, one major figure when Vyakarana is being discussed is Panini, primarily because he was one of the most, if not the most significant grammarian alive. His book the Astadhyayi is possibly the reason Panini surpassed all other grammarians of the period. Vyakarana is called the mouth of the Veda Purusha and is also seen as crucial for understanding the Vedas (Tiwari 1).


The fourth appendage of the Vedangas is nirukta, which is the category related to why certain words are used. This section is known as the ears of the Veda Purusa. Under this category, there has only been one text that is based on “etymology” that has survived known as the Nirukta of Yaska. In this text, it explains words found in the Vedas are explained and then assigned to one of three sections based on the type of word. The first category are words that were collected under main categories, the second category are more difficult words found, and the third category are words based on the three regions (earth, sky, and heaven) and the classification of deities (Tiwari 1). These three categories are known as the Naighantuka-kanda, Naigama-kanda, and the Daivata-kanda. The Vedangas put lots of emphasis towards this category for increase growth in the grammatical science in India (Bhat 12).


The fifth appendage of the Vedangas is chandas, which is the category related to meter, which covers the sense of the Mantra. Even though there has been no exclusive Vedic meter that survived there is the Chandas-shastras (book by Pingala). This section is often referred to as the feet of the Veda Purusha. This is because the Vedas are known as the body, which relies on the chandas [feet]. The use of this appendage is so reading and reciting is done properly (Tiwari 1). The chandas discuss the number of syllables in texts and poems which is linked to meter. This category is connected to the Brahmanas, which created the syllable and verse, however research could not find a meter in it. There are also two different types of meters based on the Rg Veda and the Yajur Veda based on the recessions (Bhat 12).


The sixth appendage of the Vedangas is jyotisa, which is the class related to the knowledge of astronomy. This section is the oldest text about astronomy in Hindu literature and dates back to around 1300 BC (Abhyankar 61). Since this category was supposedly created during a winter solstice when the sun and the moon were aligned, the date of 1820 BC has been proposed and is said that astronomy started shortly after (Achar 177). Jyotisa is known as the eye of the Veda Purusha. Jyotisa is not the teaching of astronomy, but the use of astronomy to fix the appropriate time [days and hours] for sacrifices (Tiwari 1). The most substantial sources of knowledge on astronomy can be found early in the Brahmanas. Jyotisa is especially useful because it can give positions of the moon and sun for solstices as well as other useful information (Bhat 13).


Since the Vedangas are appendages of the Vedas they can be seen as equally important in the studying and learning of the Hindu culture. Siksa provides the phonics of the Sanskrit, and without it speaking and understanding would be near impossible. Kalpa provides the proper steps towards performing rituals and when to do them. Vyakaraṇa is similar to the phonics but provides proper grammar for words that are used in the Vedas. Nirukta contains etymology (ie. meaning of usage). Chandas provide the meters in Vedic hymns to help proper reading. Jyotisa is the knowledge of astronomy to help with dating events in Hindu history and other useful information. The origins of the Vedangas can also be traced to the Brahmanas, which are a collection of ancient commentaries based on the Vedas. This connection can be made because the Brahmanas also have discussions on grammar, meter, etymology etc. (Bhat 10).


References and Further Readings

Abhyankar, K. D (1998) “Antiquity of the Vedic Calendar.” Bulletin of the Astronomical Society of India, Vol. 26, 61-66.

Achar, B.N (2000) “A Case For Revising The Date or Vedanga Jyotiṣa” Indian Journal of History of Science, Vol. 35, No. 1: 173-183.

Arnold, E.V (1905) Vedic metre in its historical development: Cambridge, UP.

Bhat, M. S (1987) Vedic Tantrism: A Study of R̥gvidhāna of Śaunaka with Text and Translation: Critically Edited in the Original Sanskrit with an Introductory Study and Translated with Critical and Exegetical Notes. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Brockington, J. L (1989) “Review of Literature in the Vedic Age.” The Brāhmaṇas, Āraṇyakas, Upaniṣads and Vedāṅga Sūtras. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 52(3), 569–570.

Tiwari, Sashi (2014) “The Vedangas – Vedic Heritage.” The Vedangas – Vedic Heritage. Delhi: Delhi University.


Related Topics for Further Investigation





Nirukta of Yaksa




Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Ryan Loman (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Spiritual Healing Practices in Hinduism

In western culture, different forms of possession, mental illness, and spiritual disorders are often categorized as pathological and abnormal; these pathologies are usually treated with psychoanalysis, psychiatry and mass amounts of medication with less frequent attention paid to spiritual treatment. In the east, and more specifically, in the Hindu tradition, spiritual abnormalities and anomalies are oftentimes treated using various religious practices and spiritual healing techniques that date back to the time of the Vedas (Frawley 1997).

Many forms of spiritual healing exist in the Hindu tradition, from the time of the Vedas to Hinduism in its contemporary form, and this article will only scratch the surface. Historically, the Ayurveda—which is an ancient, five thousand year old Vedic system of medicine known as the “Science of Life” (Frawley 1997; Jones and Ryan 2007)—placed emphasis on the pure self (Atman) and true consciousness and its relation to the universe (Brahman). Essentially, the Ayurveda gave Hinduism a guide for medical and spiritual healing and enlightenment (Frawley 1997; Jones and Ryan 2007). Furthermore, exorcisms have always played a fundamental role in cleansing and ridding the soul of unwanted negative possession (Sax 2011; Crapanzano 1987), and gemstones, Soma, sacred ash, and healing amulets also serve a symbolic healing purpose with respect to protecting the soul from demonic and ghostly entities (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2009).

The Ayurveda is the oldest of traditional healing guides that Hinduism has to offer us. “Diet, herbs, water, minerals, and other treatments are [typically] used for cures” (Jones and Ryan 58) in this system of healing. Traditionally, yoga (which has presently become popularized in the west) was therapeutically used as a part of Ayurvedic practices to delve into the actualization of the true self (atman) and the nature of reality (Brahman). Spiritually speaking, the Ayurveda and the practice of yoga ultimately seek to liberate the soul (jiva) from the cycles of rebirth (samsara) and the tremendous constraining moral principle that is karma (Frawley 1997).

To understand spirituality and spiritual healing in Hinduism one must first understand the ultimate goal in Hindu philosophy, which is to free oneself from the cyclical nature of existence. This liberation is termed moksa—which is essentially the same ultimate goal in the practice of yoga, termed kaivalya. Techniques such as mantras and meditations used in yoga, which have been adopted from the Ayurveda, attempt to spiritually link the self and consciousness to the natural world that surrounds it (Frawley 1997). This broad look at the spiritual focus of Hindu philosophies to maintain the well being of the self is linked to the spiritual healing that accompanies anomalies in one’s spirit, such as spiritual possession.

Possession can be understood as an altered, unusual or extraordinary state of mind due to the controlling power of a spirit, god, goddess, or demon over an individual’s consciousness (Crapanzano 1987). Spirit possession can be distinguished into two broad categories: positive possession and negative possession (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2009; Sax 2011). Positive possession is when the individual is spiritually possessed by a deity, a god or a goddess (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). Negative possession, on the other hand, is when the individual is spiritually possessed by a devil, a demon or a ghost-like figure (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). When an individual’s spirit is possessed, the individual will display behaviours that are uncharacteristic of it; this is due to the fact that the body is possessed by some other entity—one that is no longer the normal self (Sax 2011). The possessed body may actually experience pain and various symptoms of disease and illness while under possession (Crapanzano 1987). In the Hindu tradition, spiritual healing (with regards to curing these aversive mental and physical symptoms) comes in many practices, objects and materials, including but not limited to: exorcisms, temples, healing amulets (tabiz), healing ash (vibhuti), gemstones, and Soma (Crapanzano 1987; Jones and Ryan 2007; Sax 2009; Sax 2011).

Healing, in the form of an exorcism, can be a one-on-one ritual (puja) between the patient and the exorcist, or it can be a pubic affair, involving the whole community (Crapanzano 1987; Sax 2011). In William Sax’s chapter “A Himalayan Exorcism” in Studying Hinduism in Practice (Sax 2011) he outlines a specific instance of fieldwork in which he witnessed, and contributed to, a communal exorcism. Possession is an uncommon phenomenon in the west and in Europe, but in India, possession is a relatively frequent occurrence, and as such, exorcisms are often a site of public gathering (Sax 2011). Holistically, Sax describes his fieldwork as “psychologically demanding […] because the rituals were so exciting and dramatic: the drumming and singing, the ecstatic dancing of possessed people, the awesome appearance of fearsome deities, and the ghosts from the past, wailing and shrieking in a stuffy, crowded room” (Sax 154). In general, musical sounds, singing, and dancing are important ritual components in the process of exorcizing an unwanted spirit from a body (Crapanzano 1987). There are three important roles in the musical background of the Himalayan exorcism as studied by Sax: (1) the huraki, which is an unusual sounding drum that effectively invokes spiritual awakening; (2) the thakalyor, “who plays a metal platter with two wooden drumsticks” as a background beat (Sax 150); and (3) the bhamvar, who sings the final lines of each verse of the exorcism song—the bhamvar is known in English as “the bumblebee” (Sax 2011).

In the exorcism that Sax describes, multiple spirits uncontrollably possesses multiple people; these possessions are often observable via shrieks, screams, unconsciousness, odd bodily positioning and violence (Sax 2011).  This state of mind, this altered state of consciousness, can be best described as a trance; that is: “[t]he subject experiences a detachment from the structured frames of reference that support his usual interpretation and understanding of the world [around] him” (Crapanzano 8688). These altered states of consciousness are not only healable with drums, chants, songs and dancing, as is found in the practice of exorcism, but spirit possession can be cured via other spiritual methods as well.

Essentially, the goal of spiritual healing in Hindu philosophy seeks to protect the soul from demonic spiritual powers; the influence of this negative spiritual energy can be, and should be, warded off. Negative spiritual possession can be counteracted by the use of Soma, which is an intoxicating, mind-altering, hallucinogenic drink that is perceived as divine and therefore connects the spirit of the ingesting person to higher understanding and consciousness (Crapanzano 1987). Negative influences on the mind and spirit in general have been understood as celestially caused; the inauspiciousness that is associated with the universe at certain times is counteracted by the wearing of specific gemstones that repel negative spirits from interacting with the body (Sax 2009). Along the same lines as the wearing of gemstones, the protection from evil spirits is also sought in other objects such as sacred healing ash (vibhuti/bhasman/bhabhut), and healing amulets (tabiz). Vibhuti is ash derived from the cremation of humans or from the excretion of a sacred animal in the Hindu tradition—the cow (Sax 2009). The sacred ash is not only seen as protection from evil spirits but also as rejuvenation and revitalization of the material and spiritual aspects of one’s life (Sax 2009). Rituals that invoke the use of vibhuti essentially serve as a purification of the mind and the spirit. Tabiz, on the other hand are lockets in which sacred Vedic or other Hindu textual verses are held, they are usually made of copper, brass or iron, similar to the ta’wiz in the Islamic tradition (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). Interestingly, the sacred healing ash (vibhuti) to which I made reference above is oftentimes placed inside the amulet for the same spiritual protection purposes (Dwyer 2003). Most importantly, the amulets serve as a force that diverts evil, malevolent and harmful spiritual entities (Sax 2009). Tabiz and vibhuti are both ritual symbols that are commonly used in exorcisms (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). As we discussed earlier, exorcisms can take place privately, but they are just as likely to be performed publically—sometimes at a shrine (Crapanzano 1987).

There are many shrines in India that are dedicated solely to the curing of the spirit and the mind. A famous symbolic site that is renowned for spiritual healing in the Hindu tradition is the Balaji Mandir—this temple is located in Rajasthan, a north Indian state near the village of Mehandipur (Sax 2009). The shrine is dedicated to the Hindu god Hanuman, who is a mythical destroyer of demons and Pretraj, who is the “King of Ghosts” (Sax 2009; Dwyer 2003). Demonic and ghostly possession, trances and exorcisms are all commonplace at the Balaji temple—the temple is notorious for the healing of mental illness (Sax 2009). Daily, thousands of pilgrims, devotees and spiritually suffering persons visit the shrine in the hopes of having their soul cured from any negative spiritual possession (Sax 2009).

Contemporarily, exorcisms, gemstones, intoxicating substances and yoga still play important spiritual healing roles not only in India but in the west as well. Mindfulness, spiritual awareness and yoga are implicated in contemporary western conceptions of spiritual well being (Srivastava and Barmola 2013). The present psychological healing that Hindu rituals have on positive thinking and spirituality worldwide shows that spiritual healing should not be underestimated as a powerful tool in curing mental illness (Srivastava and Barmola 2013). The most vital aspect to understanding our own consciousness is to understand how the spirit can be healed and refurbished with guidance from the spiritual healing practices of the Hindu tradition.



Crapanzano, Vincent (1987) “Spirit Possession: An Overview” in Encyclopedia of Religion. Jones, Lindsay (ed.). United States: Thomas Gale. pp. 8688-8694.

Dwyer, Graham (2003) The Divine and the Demonic: Supernatural Affliction and Its Treatment in North India. London: Routledge.

Frawley, David (1997) Ayurveda and the Mind: The Healing of Consciousness. Wisconsin: Lotus Press.

Jones, Constance A. and James D. Ryan (2007) “Ayurveda” in Encyclopedia of Hinduism. J. Gordon Melton (ed.). New York: Facts on File Publishing. pp. 58.

Sax, William (2009) “Healers” in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Jacobsen, Knut, A. (ed.)  Leiden: Brill.

Sax, William (2011) “A Himalayan Exorcism” in Studying Hinduism in Practice. Hillary P. Rodrigues (ed.). New York: Routledge. pp. 146-157.

Srivastava, Kailash Chandra and K. C. Barmola (2013) “Rituals in Hinduism as related to spirituality.” Indian Journal of Positive Psychology 4.1:87-95.


Related Topics for Further Investigation










Pretaraj (King of Ghosts)





Mehandipur Balaji Temple




Spiritual Healing





Huraki drum



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic


Article written by: Tanner Layton (March 2016) who is solely responsible for its content.

Navagrahas: The Nine Planetary System

The worship of nine planetary gods, the navagraha, is widespread among Hindu sects.  Nava is translated as “nine” and graha as “planets,” although it etymologically means ‘one which is seized’ (Yano 381).  The concept of graha as a heavenly body has evolved into the current nine planetary system, the navagrahas.  First, a demon which eclipses the Sun and Moon was recognized, which was later given the name Rahu and his truncating tail, Ketu, was considered separately.  Next, five planets were included in this system followed by incorporating the Sun and Moon which brought the count of celestial bodies to nine.

Navagraha (Nine Heavenly Forces) Temple, Assam

The nine “planets” in the system followed, in order by the days of the week, are the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn, with Rahu and Ketu added as influential bodies but not lords over a weekday.  The order of the planets aligning with the days of the week is thought to have originated during the third century and became widespread amongst Hindus during the following century (Yano 383).  Most Sanskrit texts describing the planets in the weekday order, therefore, should be dated past the third century.  By this time, it became a general, widespread and unbreakable rule that the planets were to be named in accordance with their corresponding days of the week (Pingree 251).  Before this, many arranged the planets by how advantageous they were beginning with the most positive as Venus and Jupiter, the neutral planet of Mercury next, and then the unfavourable Mars and Saturn (Pingree 251).  The study of the heavens (astronomy) at this point in time in India was thought of as sacrosanct among the educated classes.  The celestial beings were thought of as gods and the worship of them is reflected in the Vedas (Das 197).

Navagraha (Nine Celestial Forces) Shrine, Veerammakaliamman Temple, Singapore

The nine grahas worshipped by the Hindus are seen as heavenly bodies that bring fortune or misfortune to people’s lives (Coleman 128).  The Hindus who worship these celestial bodies are mainly those who believe in astrological influences over their lives (Pingree 249).  Within Sanskrit texts, descriptions and characters of the nine planets are given in such a way so they can be applied to the lives of those born under the planets influence (Pingree 250).

The most powerful is the Sun known as Surya or Ravi.  Surya is seen as the personification of the orb of light and heat and is portrayed with a golden complexion and rays of glory surrounding his head.  He will sometimes be seen as having two or four arms and holds a lotus in one hand.  Some have even termed him “the lord of the lotus” (Coleman 128).  Surya is complex as he is believed to be tri-form; Brahma or creation in the morning (east), Visnu or preservation at noon and Siva or destruction in the evening (west) (Coleman 129).

The next graha is the moon known as Candra or Soma.  Candra is depicted as a young, beautiful male who has two arms, one holding a club and the other a lotus, and is generally riding an antelope drawn cart.  Occasionally, the moon is depicted as a female and is then known as Candri.  Candra is of the warrior caste and presides over Monday.  It is believed that those born under Candra will have many friends, high distinctions and an enjoyable life (Coleman 131).  The daily positions of the moon are considered the twenty-eight lunar mansions in the zodiac called naksatra.  They are thought to be invented by Daksa and are the personification of the daughters of Daksa and the mythological wives of Candra (Coleman 131).

Mangala, or Mars, presides over Tuesday.  This planet is also believed to be of the warrior caste and produced from “the sweat of Siva’s brow” (Coleman 132).  Mangala is represented as red of flame-coloured with four arms, holding a trident, club, lotus and spear, while riding on a ram (Coleman 132).  The disposition of Mangala is said to be fierce and those born under him are thought to undergo great misfortunes and losses.  However, to battle under him is considered to be fortunate.

Mercury is the next graha known by the Hindus as Budha, and rules over Wednesday.  He is thought to be the son of Candra/Soma and Rohini and thus the firstborn of the Candrabans which are considered to be the “lunar race of the sovereigns” (Coleman 133).  He is represented in many different ways including on a carpet, on an eagle, cart drawn by lions, mounted on a lion or mounted on a winged lion.  In some depictions he is holding a sceptre and lotus and in others a scimitar, club and shield.  Budha is the god of merchandise and the protector of merchants and being born under him is considered fortunate.

The regent of the planet Jupiter and preceptor of the gods, called their guru, is Brhaspati.  He is of the Brahmin caste and rules Thursday.  He is depicted in a golden or deep yellow hue, sitting on a horse holding a stick, lotus and his beads (Coleman 133).  Hindus are in strict worship of him and believe it is fortunate to be born under him.

The planet Venus and the god Sukra, comes next.  He is Brahmin as well and is the preceptor or guru of the ‘giants’ and is held in great esteem within Hinduism (Coleman 134).  Sukra presides over Friday and is thought to be the son or grandson of Brghu.  He is depicted as middle aged with a white complexion and is mounted in a variety of ways including on a camel or an animal resembling a rat or a horse and is holding a large ring, stick, beads, lotus or sometimes a bow and arrows (Coleman 134).  Being born under Sukra is said to bring great fortunes such as the gift of the power of omniscience and blessings of life which include many wives.

Sani, the planet Saturn, presides over Saturday.  He is of the Sudra caste and is depicted as a dark, old, ugly and lame with long hair, nails and teeth and an evil disposition.  He is usually clothed in black, mounted on a black vulture, raven or elephant holding a sword, arrows and two daggers in his hands (Coleman 134).  To be born under him is considered unfortunate as the tribulations of life are attributed to Sani’s influence and wickedness (Coleman 134).  Ceremonies held in worship of him are often just to appease him so no bad will come to those partaking in the ceremony.

Varuna, the planet Neptune, is the Hindu god of waters and regent of the west side of Earth.  He is illustrated as a four armed light skinned man riding a sea animal with a rope in one hand and a club in another (Coleman 135).  He is worshipped daily as one of the regents of the earth, especially by those who fish the lakes in Bengal before they go out.  People also often repeat his name in times of drought to obtain rain (Coleman 135).  It is believed that his heaven was formed by Viswakarma and is 800 miles in circumference.  Varuna and his wife, Varuni, are said to reside there seated on a throne of diamonds while they are attended by others (Coleman 135).

The next, and last of the navagrahas are Rahu and Ketu.  Rahu is thought to be the son or grandson of Kasyapa and is the planet of the “ascending node” (Coleman 134).  He is often worshipped to avert evil spirits, nasty diseases, earthquakes and other unfortunate events, and especially during an eclipse (Coleman 135).  He is portrayed in numerous ways including being mounted on a lion, flying dragon, an owl and a tortoise and sometimes with a spear in his hand.  As well, Rahu is generally portrayed without a head as it is thought to belong to the other part of him, Ketu.  Ketu is the planet of “descending node” (Coleman 135) and is described as sitting on a vulture or as a head on the back of a frog.  Ketu is thought to be Rahu’s tail by some while others believe Ketu to be comets (Yano 383).

Woman appeasing Rahu (Navagraha temple, Assam)

The navagrahas represent more than just a system of astrology within Hinduism, but a belief system that alters how the believers live from the moment of birth.  With the seven planets of varying fortune residing over each weekday, the timing of events is essential.  Within this study of the heavens has come a deeper understanding of the surrounding universe early on in Indian culture, as can be seen through further research, such as in Das’ Scope and Development of Indian Astronomy as well as in articles by Pingree (such as Representation of the Planets in Indian Astronomy and Indian Planetary Images and the Tradition of Astral Magic).  The magnitude of worship of the grahas is certainly rooted deep within Hindu practices as people strive to achieve the ultimate fortunes that each day offers in this life.


Coleman, Charles (1995) The Mythology of the Hindus. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

Das, Sukumar Ranjan (1936) “Scope and Development of Indian Astronomy.” Osiris. Vol. 2. pp. 197-219.

Pingree, David (1965) “Representation of the Planets in Indian Astrology.” Indo-Iranian Journal. Vol. 8. pp. 249-267.

_____ (1989) “Indian Planetary Images and the Tradition of Astral Magic.”  Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. Vol. 52. pp. 1-13.

Yano, Michio (2005) “Calendar, Astrology, and Astronomy.” In The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Gavin Flood (ed.). Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 376-392.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Brishput or Vrihuspati
Shuni or Sani
Brahman Caste
Sudra Caste
Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Samantha Ludwig (2010) who is solely responsible for its content.

Hindu Astrology

Symbols are part of every culture and an essential part of astrology. Those who practice Hinduism believe that symbols reveal the relationship individuals have or should have with the universe. According to Hindu beliefs the “seers” [semi-Divine beings] created astrology, and believed that the purpose of astrological symbols was to understand everyone’s role in the cosmic order of things (Behari 21). They believed that symbols represented the various Divine beings and provided a way for the world to relate to one’s soul (Behari 21). Symbolism also allows for consistency among different time eras. A modern male on his way to becoming a renouncer will still learn the same concepts through symbols as a male in ancient times. As males and females advance to different stages in their own lives (sacred thread or a renouncer), symbols reveal more profound and significant meanings (Behari 22). Some symbols conceal their true meaning, and individuals can spend their entire life unveiling one meaning after another (Behari 23).

The cross, circle, and arrow are commonly used symbols (Behari 22). While they convey similar meanings, different cultures add their own values and beliefs to their representations. The Hindu cross symbolizes humanity. Its North, East, South, and West points represent birth, life, death, and immortality. The vertical line represents eternal matter and the male gender, Purusha, while the horizontal line represents one’s eternal spirit and the female gender, Prakriti (Behari 28). The horizontal line contains manifestation elements in a golden egg called Hiranyagarbha (Behari 28). Hiranyagarbha consist of the five sensory qualities know as Tanmantras, five sense organs known as Indriyas, five elements known as Bhutras, and three prime qualities known as Trigunas (Behari 28). All these aspects provide the potential to either undergo moksa [self realization and liberation] or hide one’s pure nature due to the illusion created by maya [ignorance] (Behari 28). The horizontal line represents an individual’s destiny ready to be fulfilled. The vertical line on the cross represents positive potential and commitment to fulfill cosmic duties (Behari 28). To achieve cosmic goals, sacrifices must be made and discipline must be followed. Manifestations of the vertical line consist of the Absolute dividing itself into two, Mula Prakriti (matter), and Daivi Prakriti (spirit) (Behari 28). Both the positive potential and destiny of an individual can only be met once the vertical and horizontal elements of the cross have intersected. The cross is significant across Hindu society. Brahmatma, a chief of Hindu priests, wore a head dress with two keys arranged as a cross, indicating its religious and spiritual value (Behari 26). It has also been noted that the ancient temples of Ellora, Elephanta, Varanasi and Mathura in India are all cross-shaped (Behari 26). The circle is another symbol that the Hindus believe represents the cosmos. It stands for unity and harmonious movements (Behari 30). The circle is where the sexless become female or male, and parts become whole. In Hindu astrology the circle also stands for polarity, and is demonstrated in the God Siva. In some myths, Siva shares his body with the Goddess Shakti. Male and female divine beings represent the polarity of the circle – also known as Ardha Nariswara (Behari 31). Lastly, the arrow also has a cosmic meaning with regards to direction and movement. The arrow is dynamic and similar to nature, always moving and always changing. In the Upanisads, the arrow is meant to be shot in the direction of one’s Atman [Divine Self] because reaching your Atman is the ultimate goal of Upanisadic life (Behari 34). The arrow represents the spiritual efforts and instrument in achieving liberation (Behari 34).

In the Hindu tradition, almost all symbols are representative of a god or goddess. Gods and goddesses can also be considered as symbols for the one supreme God Brahman (Gibson 28). The objects that the gods carry and the animals with which they associate, carry significant meanings as well. A symbol commonly linked with divine beings is the Swastika. This symbol means ‘well-being”, is supposed to bring good luck (Gibson 28). It is drawn on floors during festivals or ceremonies of importance. Its four arms stand for space, the four Vedas, the four stages of life, and time (Gibson 29). Om is another very important and significant symbol to Hindus, as it means “sound of creation” (Gibson 28) It is believed to be the first sound ever made, and the basis for which all other sounds are made. It is used in meditation and chants. The lotus flower represents purity, another central value of Hindus. The flower grows in mud, but flourishes into a beautiful pure blossom. Gods and goddesses are shown sitting or stand on this flower to display the idea that evil has no hold on them (Gibson 29). Ash represents an individual’s everlasting soul. The body deteriorates but one’s Atman is eternal. Lastly, water is seen as a source of purification and life. It is often sprinkled on the ground to eliminate evil (Gibson 31). These common symbols pertain to beliefs and traditions within the Hindu society. Specific rituals and ceremonies can sometimes be centered around these astrological symbols.

Astronomy plays a large part in Hindu astrology. In Hinduism, constellations and planets have religious significance, and exercise influence over mundane affairs. The belief is that all divine spirits move around the earth in the circular formation known as the zodiac (Charak 10). The zodiac serves as a border or boundary within which gods, goddesses, constellations and planets can move. There are 27 groups of stars in Vedic astrology known as the Naksatras which stand for “a means of worship” (Harness xv). The Naksatras are thought to be static divine beings that arc east to west on the zodiac. The moon is said to have divided the zodiac into these 27 Naksatras (Harness xiii). According to myth, the moon god Soma was given 27 wives by the god Prajapati (creator god) (Harness xxiv). Each wife is tied to Soma, and this symbolizes the connection that the moon has with each mansion or division of the stars (Harness xxiv). According to Hindu belief, the moon passes through each mansion at some point during a month. The Naksatras store and transfer karma for individuals, and represent the consequences of their actions on earth (Harness xvi). Hindu rituals and ceremonies such as weddings are only carried out if the Naksatras indicate an appropriate time. When an individual is making predictions for upcoming events, there are characteristics of the 27 groups of stars that should be taken into account. In Hinduism each Naksatra has certain powers related to a particular god or planet. Some groups of Naksatras are male oriented, while others are female (Harness xxiv). Lastly, the Naksatras represent the three qualities of life, Sattva (harmony), Rajas (high energy) and Tamas (dullness and darkness) (Harness xxiv). The combination of these characteristics helps decide what is to come. In addition to these static groups of Hindu divine beings, it is also believed there are also gods and goddess in constant motion around the zodiac. These beings are referred to as Grahas (Charak 10). They are thought to move west to east along the zodiac. There are nine of them: the Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu, and Ketu (Charak 10). The Sun and the Moon serve as the most significant and powerful planets, while Rahu and Ketu are simply particular points on the zodiac.

In Hindu astrology the Naksatras and Grahas are strongly connected with 12 signs or Rashi along the zodiac, which represent existence (Charak 11). Throughout the day, six signs will rise above the eastern horizon and the other six will rise at night along the western horizon (Charak 19). Each sign is called a house, and is supposed to represents an aspect of existence. For example, the first house, also known as lagna, signifies the Sun and one’s own character – the way an individual chooses to live their life (Charak 84). Other house include materialism, family, education, karma, obstacles in life, desires, status of a women, religious wisdom, professionalism, acquisition, and loss (Charak 84-86). In Hindu astrology individuals read these houses to understand how they should conduct their everyday lives, rituals and religious ceremonies.

The Sun and Moon are two of the most significant forces in Hindu astrology. Both are associated with extremely powerful gods and are believed to hold great influence over the universe. The Sun is often referred to as Atman (Divine self), and is represented by the god Surya (Behari 40). According to the Vedas, the Sun was granted the power to create and destroy life. The name Loka Chakshu, “the Eye of the World” is given to the Sun because it watches all activity in the universe (Behari 39). According to Hindu belief it creates matter, and nurtures it while being a part of it. In today’s Hindu culture, spiritual healing rituals are centered on the power of the sun. As well, an individual’s experiences are directly affected by their relationship with the Sun. In Hindu mythology the Sun God, Surya symbolizes success and power. His relationship with women is vast, and represents cosmic expansion (Behari 43). He and his wife Sanja have many children; however he also conceives many illegitimate children. He creates many gods including, Yama, the god of death, which essentially brings about the end of life (Behari 43). The horoscope connected with the sun has to do with quality of life and the cosmic energy that flows through an individual (Behari 48). Hindus believe that the Sun is the motivating factor to match your internal desires with your external life (Behari 48).

According to Hindu astrology the Moon is a mysterious and complex Grahas. It is known as the “cosmic mother” and is represented by the goddess Chandrama (Behari 50). The moon is thought to influence emotions and provides goals that are to be achieved. The rays of light emitted by the moon are important to the lotus flower, a significant symbol in Hindu culture. They are able to guide the flower out of the mud and allow it to flourish. This symbolizes the moon’s ability to guide individuals down a path of purity and liberation (Behari 51). The phases of the moon are found within everyday life as well. The different phases have relevance to a woman’s body cycle as well as sexual impulses of both males and females (Behari 53). Meditation and rituals are connected with each phase of the moon (Behari 53). It serves as the creator of goals and emotions.

Hindu astrology is quite complex and detailed. The universe is always in motion, and individual lives are constantly changing. Unlike western cultures, horoscopes and astronomy readings are taken seriously when planning events and rituals. Hindu symbols are significant both in ritual teachings and everyday life.


Behari, Bepin (2003) Myths & Symbols of Vedic Astrology. Bangalore: Lotus Press

Harness, Dennis (1999) The Nakshatras: The Lunar Mansion of Vedic Astrology. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press

Charak, K.S. (2002) Elements of Vedic Astrology. Unknown city: Institute of Vedic Astrology

Gibson, Lynne (2002) Hinduism. Unknown City: Heinemann

Related Topics for Further Investigation


















Yoni Kuta Table



Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by Stefanie Brown (March 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ayurvedic Concepts of Health and Illness

Ayurveda, or “the science of life,” is heavily influenced by the Sankhya school of philosophy, most notably through the concepts of purusa (pure consciousness) and prakrti (nature or materiality) (Mishra 482; Rodrigues 123). In this model, prakrti creates all materiality out of her three qualities, or gunas (Gopinath 105; Rodrigues 123):

  • Sattva, which is bright and pure,
  • Rajas, which is mobile and stimulating,
  • Tamas, which is heavy and dull.

The gunas recombine in various proportions to form the 23 elements that make up the manifest universe (Rodrigues 123). Important to concepts of physiology in Ayurveda are the five gross elements (mahabhutas), which combine to form the body’s 7 dhatus (tissues) and 3 dosas (humors) (Prioreschi 238; Rodrigues 124). It is the equilibrium between the dhatus, dosas, and their waste products, malas, which determines good health, while stress to this equilibrium causes disease.


Dated back to the Vedas, the pancabhuta (five elements) theory suggests that all matter is composed of the five mahabhutasprthvi, ap, tejas, vayu, and akasa (Prioreschi 238; Subbarayappa 12). Although often understood in terms of the Greek elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether, respectively, to do so is to diminish the meaning of the Sanskrit word (Subbarayappa 12):

  • Prthvi gives mass, roughness, inertia and density, and is associated with smell and the nose.
  • Ap gives fluidity, viscosity, coldness and softness, and is associated with taste and the tongue.
  • Tejas gives hotness, dryness, sharpness, and courage, and is associated with colour and the eyes.
  • Vayu gives movement, pulsations, and the sense of lightness, and is associated with touch and the skin.
  • Akasa, which should not be equated with Ether, is an omnipresent element giving space. It is mainly associated with sound and the ears.

Interestingly, even at their most pure, each element also has the others present in it, but in smaller proportions. The interaction between these elements is the basis for the formation of the physical and physiological body (Gopinath 99 – 100).


The 7 permanent tissues (dhatus) that make up an organism are each composed of all five mahabhutas, but in different proportions. The dhatus include rasa (the essence of digested food, basically lymph and chyle), rakta (blood, which is rasa coloured red), mamsa (flesh), meda (fat), asthi (bone), majja (bone marrow), and sukra (reproductive essence, or sperm) (I.P. Singh 121; Prioreschi 256; Vir 414).


While the physical body is composed of the 7 dhatus, its physiological functioning depends on the 3 dosas, or troubles (Prioreschi 259). Each person has two sources of dosas. The first is inherited, and is termed dosa prakrti (R.H. Singh, 131). This represents the individual’s normal proportion of the dosas, which also determines the physical, physiological and mental characteristics of that person (Gopinath 80; I.P. Singh 120). Physical characteristics include strength, eating and bowel habits, and skin, hair and eye colour (Gopinath 80). While dosa prakrti does not change over time, the dosas obtained from food do fluctuate, depending on the type of food ingested, as well as the climate, geography, age and emotional state of the individual (I. P. Singh, 120). The three dosas are vata (wind), pitta (bile), and kapha (phlegm), but again, our translations do not carry the full meaning of these words, and a more descriptive explanation is necessary (Subbarayappa 17).

Vata has a high proportion of vayu and akasa, and is regarded as the regulatory dosa, governing all metabolic activity and the movement of the other two dosa (Gopinath 100, 104; I.P. Singh 120). It is responsible for excretion, voluntary actions, all mental and motor activity, respiration, circulation, and enthusiasm (Subbarayappa 17; Gopinath 104; Mishra 484). The mental characteristics associated with vata include cowardliness, grief, ungratefulness and humbleness (Gopinath 80). A decrease in vata results in sluggish movements and speech, while an increase results in twitches, pain, and sleep loss (Susruta 159, 163). Diseases resulting from irregular vata, which is aggravated by excessive exercise, bitter tastes, and the cold, include dwarfism, insomnia and paralysis (Govindan 31). There are five forms of vata: prana, udana, samana, vyana, and apana (Prioreschi 259; Susruta 156-7).

Pitta is mainly composed of tejas/agni and is regarded as the excitatory dosa, responsible for catabolism (breaking things down) and producing heat (Gopinath 104; I.P. Singh 120). It is thus responsible for digestion, tissue metabolism and vision, as well as boldness, arrogance, energy, and forbearance (Subbarayappa 17; Gopinath 80, 104; Mishra 484). A decrease in pitta is felt in low body temperature and digestion, while an increase results in a liking for cold, loss of strength, and fainting (Susruta 159, 163). Pitta is aggravated by anger, heat and pungent, sour or hot foods, while diseases include fever, jaundice, herpes and bad breath (Govindan 33). Again, there are five forms: aloca, karanjaka, sadhaka, bhrajaka, and pacaka (Prioreschi 250; Susruta 156-7).

Kapha has a high proportion of ap and prthvi (Gopinath 100). Contrary to pitta, it is an inhibitory dosa, responsible for anabolic activity and the maintenance of cellular and intracellular structures and the body’s internal environment (I.P. Singh 120; Gopinath 104; Mishra 484). In essence, it is responsible for strength and stability of the body as well as the mental states associated with strength, such as courage, knowledge, vitality and zest, but also devotion, faithfulness and forgiveness (Subbarayappa 17; Gopinath 80; Mishra 484). Symptoms of decreased kapha include thirst and loss of sleep, while the opposite results in coldness, drowsiness and stiffness (Susruta 159, 163). Diseases include anorexia, obesity, goiter, and lethargy, which stem from laziness, sweet and sour foods, and wheat products (Govindan 34). The five forms are kledaka, avalambaka, tarpaka, bodhaka, and slesmaka.


Mala, or excreta, are those elements that are formed from the different dhatus. While these include more obvious excretions such as urine and sweat, the dosas are also produced as byproducts of certain tissues (I.P. Singh 121).

Relationship between the dosas, dhatus and malas

Each of the 7 dhatus, except for semen, has three components – its own essence, a mala, and the essence of the next, more pure substance:

  • Rakta is purified from rasa, whose mala is kapha.
  • Mamsa is purified from rakta, whose mala is pitta.
  • Meda is purified from mamsa, whose malas are excretions of the orifices.
  • Asthi is purified from meda, whose mala is sweat.
  • Majji is purified from asthi, whose malas are hair and nails.
  • Sukra is purified from majji, whose malas are feces and skin.
  • Sukra is the purest of the dhatus; it produces no malas and no other dhatu is purified from it.

It should be noted that both pitta and kapha are formed as waste products, but there is no mention of vata production. It is actually formed based on the proportion of food to agni (digestive agent). There also seems to be a grey area between dosa, dhatu and mala. In essence, dhatus are substances that help in the normal functioning of the body, dosas are those that disturb the normal functioning, and malas are those that cause imbalance in the normal state. This means that a dhatu can become a dosa or a mala when in an abnormal state, and a dosa or a mala is a dhatu in its normal state (I.P. Singh 122).


Dosas and malas are transported through the body by a system of channels, or nadi (R.H. Singh 149). If these channels become blocked by an excess or stagnation of malas, the elements cannot flow freely, causing further stagnation and disease (R.H. Singh 149). Thus, early diagnosis and intervention is a fundamental philosophy in Ayurveda. There are six stages to the pathogenesis of disease (satkriyakala), each of which mark opportune times for intervention (R.H. Singh 135):

  • Sancaya is the buildup of dosas in their normal sites – vata in the bones, pitta in the blood, kapha in the lymph and muscles (Gopinath 104). Symptoms felt at this stage are those of the increased dosa, not of any disease.
  • Prakopa is aggravation (usually called vitiation) of the dosas. At this point the dosas become abnormal, but the damage is still reversible.
  • Prasara is the spread of the vitiated dosas outside their normal sites. Unless the causative agent is removed immediately, this is usually the point where pathogenesis becomes irreversible.
  • Sthanasamsraya is the localization of the vitiated dosas to a weak site in the body. This allows the vitiated dosa to interact with the surrounding dhatus, which produces symptoms of a disease for the first time.
  • Vyakti is the stage where the disease manifests itself fully. The exact disease depends upon which dosa is vitiated, with which dhatu it is interacting, and to what extent they are mixing.
  • Bheda is the final stage of disease progression, where the disease is mostly diagnosed by its complications. Treatment of this chronic disease includes dealing with both the main disease and its complications.

There are a variety of different ways to relieve symptoms of disease. These include bloodletting, the use of drugs, and eating foods that either increase or decrease the vitiated dosa (Susruta 134, 355) [See R.H. Singh pages 148-155, Susruta, and Govindan for information about treatments].

References and Related Readings

Gopinath, B.G. (2001) “Foundational Ideas of Ayurveda.” In Subbarayappa, B. V. (Ed) History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization (Vol IV Part 2) (pp 59-107). New Delhi: Bhuvan Chandel.

Govindan, S.V. (2003) Fundamental Maxims of Ayurveda. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

Mishra, S.K. (2001) “Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha Systems: An Overview and their Present Status.” In Subbarayappa, B. V. (Ed) History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization (Vol. IV Part 2) (pp 479-516). New Delhi: Bhuvan Chandel.

Prioreschi, Plinio (1991) A History of Medicine: Volume 1 Primitive and Ancient Medicine. Queenston: The Edwin Mellen Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2006) Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge.

Singh, I.P. (2001) “The Concept of Sarira (Human Body).” In Subbarayappa, B. V. (Ed) History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization (Vol. IV Part 2) (pp 108-125). New Delhi: Bhuvan Chandel.

Singh, R.H. (2001) “Kayacikitsa (Internal Medicine).” In Subbarayappa, B. V. (Ed) History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization (Vol. IV Part 2) (pp 128-156). New Delhi: Bhuvan Chandel.

Subbarayappa, B. V. (2001) “A Perspective.” In Subbarayappa, B. V. (Ed) History of Science, Philosophy and Culture in Indian Civilization (Vol. IV Part 2) (pp 1-38). New Delhi: Bhuvan Chandel.

Sustra (1999) Susruta Samhita (Vol. 1) (Priya Vrat Sharma, Trans. and Ed.). Varanasi: Chaukhambha Visvabharati.

Vir, Kaviraj Dharam (2000) “Utility of Ayurveda in the Programme of Health for All After 2000 AD.” In Vaidya Banwari Lal Guar and Vaidya Santosh Kumar Sharma (Eds) Researches in Ayurveda: Past & Present (pp. 413-420). Jaipur: Sheetal Offset Printers.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Caraka Samhita
Dasa Vidha Pariksa (tenfold examination)
Karma in Ayurveda
Susruta Samhita
Therepeutic approaches
Vedic medicine

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Written by LeeAnna Tavernini (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Ayurveda: The Ancient Hindu Science of Health and Medicine

Some time ago, around the fifth century AD, a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Fa Hsien visited the city of Pataliputra. It was here, in this ancient northern Indian city, that he discovered an organized system of medical provisions that eventually became known as Ayurveda (Wujastyk 2). Ayurveda, which literally means “the knowledge of science for longevity” is said to have materialized at the beginning of time when life itself was created. It is therefore thought to have no concrete beginning and will thus continue until the end of creation (Sharma 719). Ayurveda is an all encompassing system of medical practices that includes both preventative and prescriptive measures, advice on exercise, diet, morality as well as specific medical teachings for the professional physician, focusing on aspects of diagnosis and therapy (Wujastyk 3). There are two Ayurvedic classics, the Carakasamhita and Susruta’s Compendium. Both of these texts describe diagnoses, pharmaceuticals, human body and treatment among other things, however, the Carakasamhita is the text in which the roots of Indian medicine originate (Wujastyk 31). These texts, as well as Ayurveda’s other teachings and doctrines, suggest that this could have been the world’s first organized medical system and have thus laid the foundation for the medical procedures that are practiced today.

Ayurveda’s exact roots are difficult to trace as its practices go back to prehistory around the time when people started to become conscious of their health and became aware that they had to take measures to improve and preserve their lives (Sharma 719). While it is hard to set a concrete time when actual Ayurvedic practices came about, by the time of the Indus Valley Civilization, Ayurveda was well developed and the attitude of people towards health practices was advanced (Sharma 719). The ancient cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro were intricately planned to include drainage systems, public wells and waste removal structures indicating their appreciation of proper sanitation (Sharma 720). Excavations of these cities found stag-horn and cuttlefish bone suggesting that vegetables, animals and minerals were used as sources for drugs (Sharma 720).The ash of Stag-horn and the cuttlefish bone were useful in treating cardiac pain, respiratory disorders and diseases of the ear and, interestingly, many of these ancient remedies are still used today (Sharma 720). In addition to the use of certain drugs, Indus peoples placed great emphasis on personal hygiene and cosmetics use including the use of collyrium for preventing and curing eye diseases (Wujastyk 184). With their intricate techniques and insightful knowledge into therapeutics, the Indus Valley Civilization played a vital role in the development of Ayurveda. Today, Ayurveda is a living system of medicine in India. In 1970, the Indian Parliament set up a Central Council for Ayurveda recognizing its integral role in Indian Medicine (Wujastyk 9). This counsel provides accredited colleges, standardized qualifications and professional training in Ayurveda. By 1983, there were approximately 100 accredited Ayurvedic training colleges in India (Wujastyk 9). It is clear that the ancient practice of Ayurveda continues to prevail in the medicinal practices of today. The treatments, practices and therapies of Ayurveda revolve around a central concept: the body. The pancha-bhuta theory asserts living creatures are formed from the five forms of matter: earth, fire, wind, water and akasa and therefore the body is in a perpetual state of flux just as nature is (Kakar, 231). The central process of the body is digestion and is seen as “cooking” and known as “fire in the belly” (Kakar 232). When food enters the belly it is cooked by the digestive fire and turns into the first of several body tissues quickly becoming flesh and eventually reaching the highest bodily essence: semen (Wujastyk 5). Networks of tubes carry the fluids of the body from place to place, and interestingly, blockage of these tubes is vital in Ayurveda’s explanation of insanity (Wujastyk 6).

In keeping the bodily elements in balance, the consumption of environmental matter in the right form, proportion and combination must be taken into consideration (Kakar 231). Therefore, diet is essential to Ayurveda emphasizing that any food used for medicinal purposes should be avoided to maintain physical well being (Kakar 231). A pure, bland diet is recommended, emphasizing Ayurveda’s belief in the mutual relationship between food and the “mind” (Kakar 269). Different foods are believed to have different qualities that each affected the body in a variety of ways. It was believed that sour foods increased promiscuity while red chilies and pepper activated a person’s urge to dominate others; even water at different temperatures had diverse effects (Govindan 23). Certain types of mind prefer certain types of food and therefore, one of the first questions that a physician asked their patient pertained to what foods the individual had consumed (Kakar 269).

The Carakasamhita, or “Caraka’s Compendium,” is the text in which classical Indian medicine really begins and the text that sheds the light on real medical practices (Wujastyk 39). The present-day Carakasamhita, the oldest Samhita of Ayurveda available today, was not the work of a single author but has three distinct authors: Atreya-Agnivesa in the pre-Buddhist period (1000BC), Caraka in the post-Buddhist period (2-3rd century BC) and Drdhabala in the classical period (4-5th century AD) (Sharma 728). The compendium consists of 120 chapters divided into eight parts: Sutra – on pharmacology, food, diet, etc.; Nidana – on causes of eight diseases; Vimana – topics such as taste and nourishment; Sarira – on philosophy, anatomy and embryology; Indriya – on diagnosis and prognosis; Cikitsa – on therapy; Kalpa – on pharmacy and Siddhi – on further general therapy (Wujastyk 41). Included in the Vimana section is a chapter on epidemics. Mosquitoes, rats, earthquakes and bad water are all recognized as possible causes of epidemics highlighting the exceptional thinking of these people in recognizing disease vectors and carriers. In addition, the chapter reflects on the classification of diseased patients into three categories: those who can be cured, those who cannot be cured but can be improved and those who are incurable (Wujastyk 49). The Carakasamhita recommends that physicians do not get involved with patients of the incurable type. Natural urges are highlighted in another chapter of the Carakasamhita. This chapter emphasizes the urges which should be suppressed and those that should not (Wujastyk 53). It was stated that a wise man was not to suppress the urges of urine or feces, sneezing, yawning or the urging of hunger and thirst. However, the urges of fury, pride, envy and excessive passion should be suppressed (Wujastyk 54). The Carakasamhita highlights many vital aspects of Ayurveda and plays an important role in the interpretation of Ayurvedic theory.

Similar to Caraka’s Compendium, Susruta’s Compendium also consists of sections relating to Ayurvedic practices (Larson 108). One section, Nidana, highlights surgery. While Caraka goes into brief descriptions, Susruta goes into great detail about all aspects of surgery (Wujastyk 106). It emphasizes that a good surgeon will be one who has witnessed operations and developed practical experience. He should be clean, keep his nails and hair short and dress in a white garment (Wujastyk 130). Knives, integral parts of surgeon’s equipment, are also discussed and include: types, sizes, proper handling and sharpening techniques (Wujastyk 124). Also included is how a surgeon must be able to diagnose the ailments by either the five senses or interrogation and, after this, how he is to treat the problem through various surgical techniques included in the Compendium (Wujastyk 131).

In addition to surgery, some of the most fundamental components of Ayurveda treatments are the use of drugs. Physicians had to be well acquainted with the identification of drugs as well as their properties and actions (Sharma 722). Drugs were used by external application, internal administration and, as well, the use of natural remedies such as sun-rays, fire, water and air were recognized as having important therapeutic qualities (Sharma 722). Essential components of drugs were plants as they were often a main source of which drugs came from. The osadhi-sukta of the Rg Veda is a document on the knowledge about plants in that age with soma being recognized as the king of herbs (Sharma 724). Some of the plants were cultivated while others grew in the wild (Sharma 724). Sometimes, herbs were combined for medicinal purposes and since a physician was to have complete knowledge of the plants, when administered, desired results were often observed (Sharma 724).

Ayurveda encompasses many different aspects of Indian medicine and is widely regarded as the world’s first organized medical system (Wujastyk 5). Both the Carakasamhita and the Susrutasutra are integral in the interpretation of Ayurvedic theory and provide insight into the forward thinking of the people of this time (Larson 108). They also provided a trustworthy reference for teachings in Ayurveda which furthered the development of the medical system and preservation of both the mind and body (Wujastyk 31). As well, they formed a basis in which many therapies originate today. While the body, drugs, surgeons and classics have all been discussed, Ayurveda includes many more essential components that have not been included here. However, all of Ayurveda’s components are equally important; these are just the ones I have chosen to highlight. With its intricate techniques, exceptional treatments and brilliant procedures, Ayurveda has undoubtedly played an enormous role in ancient medical practices as well as in laying the foundation for the medical practices seen today.

References and Further Recommended Readings

Gaur, Banwari and Santosh Sharma, eds. (2000) Researches in Ayurveda Past and Present. Jaipur: Publication Scheme.

Govindan, S.V. (2003) Fundamental Maxims of Ayurveda. New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.

Kakar, Suhir (1982) Shamans, Mystics and Doctors. New York: Random House.

Kumar, Deepak ed. (2001) Disease and Medicine in India. New Delhi: Tulika Books.

Larson, Gerald “Ayurveda and the Hindu philosophical systems” (1993) Self as Body in Asian Theory and Practice. Ed. Thomas P. Kasulis. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Selvester, Joseph (1997) Ayurveda: 5000-Year Old Medical Science for the Next Millenium. Total Health. 19(5), 56.

Sharma, P.V. “Development of Ayurveda from Antiquity to AD 300” (1999) The Dawn of Indian Civilization (up to c. 600 BC). Ed. G.C. Pande. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Wujastyk, Dominik (1998) The Roots Of Ayurveda. New Delhi: Penguin Books.

Related topics for Further Investigation

Fa Hsien
Central Council for Ayurveda
Pancha-bhuta theory

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Article written by: Carlie Boras (March 2006) who is solely responsible for content

Demons in Vedic Literature

In Hinduism, demons are often considered to be anthropomorphic. They can be classed into four basic categories; these are abstract, celestial, atmospheric, and terrestrial demons. Although demons may be classed in these groups the divisions between categories are not clearly delineated. They are often named by their appearance or activity (see Bhattacharyya 35) and it is thought that some groups of demons, such as the Dasas and Dasyus, may have been based on indigenous peoples that were in opposition to the Aryans (Bhattacharyya 44). There are a few demons of divine lineage. While, for the most part, these spirits were considered to be forces of evil there are some terrestrial spirits that were thought to be helpful at harvest, or in battle. Arbudi is an example of one such demon who was thought to assist tribesmen in times of war by causing fear in the enemy (see Bhattacharyya 35). The abstract demons are not often conceived as having a physical form. Rather they are usually thought of in a more impersonal way as hostile powers that fly about in the air. They are intangible substances that cause disease, problems in childbirth, and guilt. One of the primary tasks of sorcery was to deflect these demons (Bhattacharyya 35). The Aratis are abstract demons of illiberality mentioned in the Rg Veda (Bhattacharyya 36). They are always conceived as feminine. Nirriti is another example of an abstract demon thought of as the antithesis of Rta (Bhattacharyya 36). Another group of injurious spirits mentioned in the Rg Veda are the Druhs (Bhattacharyya 36). In the Atharva Veda fever is conceived as being a demon (Bhattacharyya 40). Although not necessarily considered as demons, disembodied spirits also may be considered hostile forces. The most common forms of such spirits are Bhutas, Pretas, and Pisacas. Bhutas are hostile spirits and although modern usage of the word denotes a malevolent spirit of the dead that is most likely not its early meaning (Bhattacharyya 36). The Preta are thought of as souls in waiting and are not necessarily evil or malignant (Bhattacharyya 38). The third group, the Pisacas, are described as being in opposition to the Pitrs in the later Samhitas (Bhattacharyya 39). (A common feature of different classes or groups of demons is that they are typically conceived as being in opposition to another specific class or group of beings. So the Pisacas are enemies of the Pitrs, the Asura enemies of the gods and so on.) The Pisacas are often referred to as kavyad, which means “eaters of raw flesh,” and are thought of as infesting homes and villages. There are many incantations against them (Bhattacharyya 39). Agni is often invoked to restore the sick whose flesh is eaten by the Pisacas (MacDonell 238). Examples of celestial demons are the Asura. They are considered to be the primary adversaries of the gods. They only appear as the enemies of men on rare occasion (MacDonell 226). In the Brahmanas the Asura are associated with darkness, thus the days belong to the gods and the nights to the Asura (Bhattacharyya 46). However, the term asura did not always mean demon. In early hymns in the Rg Veda the word appears to have been translated as lord, denoting a leader who is respected and commands some kind of fighting force. Those beings called asura may also have been believed to wield a kind of magical power called maya (Wash 52). It is not until the Atharva Veda and the Brahmanas that the term comes to mean demon exclusively (Wash 114, 170). The Asura are also described as the offspring of Prajapati and in many of the passages in the Brahamanas are represented as superior to the gods in the arts of civilized life. They are sometimes thought of as being the elder brothers of the gods (Bhattacharyya 47). The gods and the Asura are often fighting with each other and during fights between the two groups the gods are often repeatedly defeated by the Asura due to a lack of leadership (Bhattacharyya 47). However, ultimately the gods win the conflicts (O’Flaherty 58). The Asura are said to be defeated because they do not follow the correct method of sacrifice. The main contest between the gods and Asura is over immortality (Bhattacharyya 48). There is one legend where the gods and Asura collaborate and churn the ocean to produce an elixir of immortality. The gods then trick the Asura out of their share of the elixir (O’Flaherty 61). Counted among the atmospheric demons are the Panis. They are primarily considered to be enemies of Indra, although they are also enemies of Agni, Soma, Brhaspati, and Angirases. They are often mentioned as a group and are known for their cows and great wealth (MacDonell 227). One hymn in the Rg Veda describes how Indra steals the cattle belonging to the Panis (Bhattacharyya 43). Among the individual atmospheric demons mentioned, one of the most important is Vrtra. His name is derived from the root vr meaning “to cover” or “encompass”. Thus he is said to encompass the waters and rivers. He is conceived to be a serpent in form and references are made to his head, jaws, and hissing. He is also described as being without hands or feet. Vrtra is said to have powers over lightning, mist, hail, and thunder. His mother is Danu. His chief adversary is Indra. It is said that Indra was born to slay him. He is believed to have a hidden home where he escaped the waters that Indra released. Some scholars believe that Vrtra is possibly a demon of drought while others propose that he was originally a frost and winter demon (Bhattacharyya 43,44). In the Brahmanas Vrtra is interpreted as the moon and is believed to be swallowed by the sun (representing Indra) at the new moon (MacDonell 231). The Dasas and Dasyu are classed as either atmospheric (MacDonell 228,229) or terrestrial demons (Bhattacharyya 35). Both groups are considered to be enemies of Indra. The Dasas are mentioned in the Samhitas and Brahmanas and their name means “slave” or “servant”(Wash 161,162). Susna is a Dasas mentioned in the Rg Veda. He is described as a horned serpent and is thought to be a demon of drought. He shares some of the characteristics of Vrtra (Bhattacharyya 45). The Dasas are similar to the Dasyu. The Dasyu are described as vowless (avrata), and possessing tricks. They are not to be trusted. The Dasyu are said to seek to scale heaven and are defeated by Indra (Wash 146-150). The Raksasas are terrestrial demons. The term is often used as a generic name for all terrestrial demons. They are the enemies of mankind (Bhattacharyya 41). In the Rg Veda they are always said to be evil and are something to be rid of (Wash 140,144). They have the forms of vultures, dogs, owls, and other birds. As birds they are often thought of as flying around at night (MacDonell 236). They are also capable of taking human form. In human form they molest women, and hurt children (Bhattacharyya 41). They are considered dangerous during pregnancy and childbirth and at weddings. During a wedding little staves are shot in the air with the purpose of injuring Raksasas in the eye. They are believed to be able to enter a person through the mouth and cause disease, madness, and destroy the powers of speech (MacDonell 236). They are dominant in the evening and at night. Raksasas are described as dancing around houses in the evening making loud noises and drinking out of skullcaps. They hate prayer and often attack sacrifices (Bhattacharyya 41). Spells can be found in the Atharva Veda for nullifying the sacrifices of an enemy by using Raksasas to disrupt the sacrifice (MacDonell 237). The Rg Veda mentions people known as raksoyuj (yoker of Raksasas) who are believed to be capable of invoking a Raksasa to injure others (Bhattacharyya 42). When in human form, Raksasas typically have some gross deformity such as being three headed, two mouthed, bear necked, horned, five footed, or four eyed. They can be male or female and are often associated with the colors blue, yellow, or green. They can also have families and kingdoms and are considered to be mortal (MacDonell 236). In two hymns in the Rg Veda the Raksasas are more clearly defined as being either yatus or yatudhanas. Yatus are responsible for creating confusion at sacrifices and yatudhanas are eaters of the flesh of horses and men, and drink cow’s milk. Raksasas are considered to have no power in the east as the rays of the rising sun disperse them. A falling meteor was considered to be the embodiment of a Raksasa. Agni is the god most often invoked to oppose them by burning them (Bhattacharyya 42). The pantheon of demons is indeed varied and interesting. There are many different groups of demons each having unique roles in the world of myth and stories presented in the Vedic literature.


Bhattacharyya, N. N. (2000) Indian Demonology. Delhi: Manohar Publishers. MacDonell, A. (2004) History of Vedic Mythology. New Delhi: Sanjay Prakashan. O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger (1976) The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Wash, Edward Hale (1986) Asura in Early Vedic Religion. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Indra Agni Soma Demons in the epics Demons in Puranic literature

Rg Veda

Brahmanas Atharva Veda


Prajapati Vrtra Incantations against demons


Wedding rituals Rituals surrounding pregnancy and childbirth Battles between gods and asura Pitrs Maya

Noteworthy Websites Article written by Jerrah Sawatsky (April 2006) who is solely responsible for its content.