By Nithin Sridhar
Ayurveda is among the greatest contributions of India to the world. It is not only a system of medicine, but is also a system of holistic living that imparts physical, mental, and spiritual health of an individual.
The Ayurvedic tradition has been passed on from teachers to students for many thousand years now. The tradition holds that Ayurveda was revealed by Lord Dhanvantari who is considered as the physician of the Devas (gods) and the father of Ayurveda.
Today, i.e. Trayodashi that falls before Deepavali, is the birth anniversary of Lord Dhanvantari. This birth anniversary is celebrated across the world by Ayurveda practitioners, as well as other Hindus as ‘Dhanvantari Trayodashi’.
Dhanvantari: The incarnation of Lord Vishnu
According to Puranas, when Devas (gods) and Asuras (demons) churned the ocean for Amrita (nectar of immortality), it was Lord Dhanvantari who came out of the ocean with a pot of Amrita. Thus, Dhanvantari is clearly a lord who grants long life and immortality. Bhagavata Purana (2.7.21) calls Dhanvantari as God himself, who is a curer of diseases, who has imparted to the world the knowledge of long life i.e. Ayurveda.
He is often represented as a God with four hands (similar to Vishnu) carrying Shankha (conch), Chakra (disc), leech, and a pot containing Amrita. Leeches play an important role in Ayurvedic treatment.
Therefore, in Hindu tradition Lord Dhanvantari represents twin aspects of curer of diseases and a granter of long life and immortality. Thus, he is clearly identified with all aspects of health, medicine, and holistic living.
Dhanvantari: The Father of Ayurveda
Apart from Lord Dhanvantari who is the personification of health itself, the Bhagavata Purana and Ayurvedic tradition speak about at least two other Dhanvantari who lived and practiced Ayurveda at different periods. Bhagavata Purana (9.17.4) speaks about a Dhanvantari (also Adi-Dhanvantari) who was the son of Dhirgatama in the Pururava dynasty. It describes this person as an incarnation of Vishnu and as the inaugurator of the knowledge of Ayurveda.
This Adi Dhanvantari is believed to have divided Ayurveda into eight divisions: Kayacikitsa (Internal Medicine), Kaumarabhrtya (Pediatrics), Bhutavidya (Psychiatry), Salakyatantra (Otto-Rhino-Laryngology & Ophthalmology), Salyatantra (Surgery), (vi) Visatantra (Toxicology), (vii) Rasayanatantra (Geriatrics), (viii) Vajikaranatantra (The therapy for male sterility)
Another person who is identified as Dhanvantari is Divodasa, the great-grand son of Adi-Dhanvantari (the son of Dhirgatama). He is believed to have been living around 3000 BC, according to some scholars. Divodasa Dhanvantari was the teacher of Susruta, the famous Ayurvedic physician and is prominently mentioned in the Susruta-Samhita.
Divodasa Dhanvantari has made enormous contributions to Ayurveda. Though he has not written any Ayurvedic treatise, his teachings could be seen through Susruta-Samhita. He was responsible for the division of Ayurvedic surgery into two main branches: Salyatantra and Salakyatantra. He has given extensive lectures on methodology and intricacies of surgery, which has been recorded by Susruta.
Regarding surgery, Divodasa Dhanvantari instructed Susruta thus: “Hear me discourse on the science of surgery (Salyatantra) which is the oldest of all the branches of Ayurveda… All hold this tantra to be the most important of all the branches of Ayurveda inasmuch as instantaneous effects can be produced with the help of such measures as surgical operations, external application of Ksaras (alkalies/caustics), cauterisation, etc., and inasmuch as it contains all that can be found in other branches of Ayurveda as well.” Agnivesasamhita also makes several references to the views of Divodasa Dhanvantari.
The festival is an auspicious time to remember Dhanvantari and worship him. The festival is both about worshipping Lord Vishnu who as Lord Dhanvantari sustains the health of all creatures, and worshipping Dhanvantaris– the human teachers of Ayurveda who transmitted the knowledge of Ayurveda for the good of the world.
Bhagavata Purana (9.17.4) says that one who remembers Dhanvantari will be made free from all diseases. Thus, people should remember and worship Dhanvantari on this sacred day and try to inculcate the life practices taught by those teachers for attaining health and happiness.
- Bhagavata Purana
- Does Ayurveda Begin With Dhanvantari, The Ancient Physician By D.P. Agrawal