Based on a collation of several Nepalese manuscripts of the Suśrutasaṃhitā, a provisional critical edition of the first chapter will be important evidence for future scholarly appraisals of this medical classic. The so-called Nepalese version of the Suśrutasaṃhitā is older and more rudimentary than the rendering of the text in modern printed editions, such as those of Trivikramji Acharya and others . In many instances, the printed editions have additional words and phrases that appear to have been added to a simpler version of the work, like the one preserved by the Nepalese manuscripts. This observation is consistent with the main conclusions of published studies on this early version by Wujastyk , Harimoto () and Klebanov ().
Generally speaking, the standard vulgate edition of the Suśrutasaṃhitā by Yādavaśarma Trivikrama Ācārya presents the version of the work that was commented on by Ḍalhaṇa, a Brahmin physician who is generally ascribed to the twelfth century CE . As Wujastyk notes :
Yet, for all its shortcomings, like many vulgates, Ācārya’s edition is enormously valuable, and represents what almost all scholars since 1915 have treated as the text of this classic work.
A striking feature of Ḍalhaṇa’s commentary is that he notes many variant readings of the Suśrutasaṃhitā that were known to him at the time. If Ḍalhaṇa was active in the latter part of the twelfth century, he lived at least several centuries after the composition of the early version of the Suśrutasaṃhitā in the Nepalese manuscripts, because one of these manuscripts (MS Kathmandu KL 699) is dated to the ninth century . Therefore, it is worth asking whether Ḍalhaṇa knew of this early ‘Nepalese’ version of the Suśrutasaṃhitā.
There are enough clues in Ḍalhaṇa’s commentary on the first chapter of the Suśrutasaṃhitā’s first part, called the Ślokasthāna, to provide a preliminary answer. Several of his comments strongly suggest that he knew a rendering that was similar to, but probably not the same as, the version preserved by the Nepalese manuscripts in question. I shall discuss four of these clues.
One interesting point of difference between the text on which Ḍalhaṇa commented and that of the Nepalese manuscripts is the names of the principal sages who ask Lord Divodāsa, the best of the gods, to teach them Āyurveda. According to the version of the text adopted by Ḍalhaṇa (1.1.3), the sages were Aupadhenava, Vaitaraṇa, Aurabhra, Pauṣkalāvata, Karavīrya, Gopurarakṣita, Suśruta and others. However, in the Nepalese version, their names are Aupadhenava, Vaitaraṇa, Aurabhra, Puṣkalāvata, Karavīra, Gopurarakṣita, Bhoja, Suśruta and others.
Authorities of the Suśrutasaṃhitā
The significant difference between both lists is the inclusion of Bhoja in the latter, a sage whose teachings on medicine were recorded in a lost text called the Bhojasaṃhitā . However, Ḍalhaṇa was aware that Bhoja was among these sages, even though Bhoja’s name is absent in the version on which he commented. For Ḍalhaṇa says, ‘by the word “others”, Bhoja and so on [is meant].’
In other words, Ḍalhaṇa believed that Bhoja was also present among the sages who asked Divodāsa to teach Āyurveda, which suggests that he had probably read a version of the Suśrutasaṃhitā that, like Nepalese one, included Bhoja’s name in this list.
Variant reading 1
Among the many variations between the vulgate and Nepalese version, there are two instances in the first chapter where Ḍalhaṇa notes variant readings that occur in the Nepalese version. In 1.1.21cd, he comments on the sentence, ‘I (i.e., Divodāsa) returned to earth to teach the section about surgery along with the other sections [of Āyurveda].’
However, when commenting on this passage, Ḍalhaṇa notes a significantly different rendering of this statement that so happens to be the same as the Nepalese version: ‘Having understood surgery, the best of the great knowledge systems, I (i.e., Divodāsa) returned to earth to teach it here.’
Variant reading 2
Also, in 1.1.22, Ḍalhaṇa comments on the phrase ‘in this treatise’ (asmin śāstre) but notes the alternative reading, ‘here, in this treatise’ (tatrāsmin śāstre). The second reading is the same as that of the Nepalese version.
Sixty methods or definitions
The last example demonstrates that Ḍalhaṇa knew a rendering of the Suśrutasaṃhitā that was similar but not exactly the same as the early Nepalese version. In fact, it appears that he knew a version which had been modified by someone in an effort to make sense of an enigmatic remark in the Nepalese text.
The remark in question occurs in the following definition of surgery in the Nepalese version:
Among [the components of medicine], the one called surgery has the goal of extracting various grasses, wood, stone, dust, iron, soil, bone, hair, nails, discharge of pus, malignant wounds and foreign bodies inside the womb, and of determining the application of surgical instruments, knives, caustics and fire by means of sixty definitions.
The version of the Suśrutasaṃhitā on which Ḍalhaṇa comments does not mention the ‘sixty definitions.’ However, Ḍalhaṇa notes the variant reading ‘by sixty methods’ (ṣaṣṭyā vidhānaiḥ), which follows the words ‘the goal of extracting’ (uddharaṇārtha) and which he understands as referring to a group of sixty treatments for two kinds of sores (dvivraṇīya). These sixty treatments are listed and discussed in the first chapter of Suśruta’s section on general medicine (cikitsāsthāna). Ḍalhaṇa notes that the list begins with the reduction of food intake (apatarpaṇa) and ends with protective measures (rakṣāvidhāna).
The Nepalese version of the Suśrutasaṃhitā reads, ‘by sixty definitions’ (ṣaṣṭyābhidhānaiḥ), instead of ‘by sixty methods,’ and it follows the words, ‘the goal of determining’ (viniścayārtha), instead of ‘the goal of extracting’ (uddharaṇārtha). As far as I am aware, a list of sixty definitions of surgical instruments, knives, caustics and fire is not clearly seen or indicated elsewhere in the Suśrutasaṃhitā. The absence of such a list of definitions probably prompted someone to change the word ‘definitions’ (abhidhāna) to ‘methods’ (vidhāna), and to reposition the phrase so that it could be construed with ‘malignant wounds’ (duṣṭavrāṇa) in the compound ending with the ‘the goal of extracting’.
Since the Nepalese manuscripts read ‘by sixty definitions’ (ṣaṣṭyābhidhānaiḥ), it seems likely that this reading was original, and was later changed to ‘by sixty methods’ (ṣaṣṭyā vidhānaiḥ) by someone who was unaware of the sixty definitions. It seems that this change was made before the time of Ḍalhaṇa, and he may not have known the reading ‘by sixty definitions’ (ṣaṣṭyābhidhānaiḥ). Therefore, he had access to a rendering of the Suśrutasaṃhitā that was very similar to, but not the same as, the version preserved by the Nepalese manuscripts.
The likelihood that Ḍalhaṇa knew a version of the Suśrutasaṃhitā that was similar to the Nepalese one raises further questions. Why did he choose to prefer and comment on another version of the text? Was the Nepalese version less prevalent than other versions in the twelfth century or in the region he inhabited, or did he comment on the version taught to him by his guru? Or did he prefer an augmented version of the Suśrutasaṃhitā, or is his rendering of the text his own compilation of several different versions, which included one similar to the Nepalese? Perhaps further research on Ḍalhaṇa’s commentary and the complex history of the Suśrutasaṃhitā’s transmission will answer these questions.
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