by Jason Birch and the Suśruta researchersThis post was written by Jason Birch and its findings are the result of a discussion by participants at a reading session of the first chapter of the Kalpasthāna, which was led by Dominik Wujastyk … Continue reading
One of the most salient differences between the Nepalese version and the printed editions of the Suśrutasaṃhitā is the frame story of the narration. The Nepalese version casts Divodāsa, the King of Kāśī, as the first to expound this system of medicine to Suśruta whereas more recent renditions of the text assert that it was the ancient sage Dhanvantari. In other words, more recent versions of the Suśrutasaṃhitā have reframed the narrative and the origin of its teachings
In the printed editions, each chapter begins with the phrase ‘as the sage Dhanvantari declared’ (yathovāca bhagavān dhanvantariḥ). This phrase is absent in the Nepalese manuscripts, except at the beginning of the first chapter of the fifth book called the Kalpasthāna, which attributes guidelines for safeguarding food and drink to Dhanvantari. As Andrey Klebanov has noted, by the time of the medieval commentators Cakrapāṇidatta (10th c.) and Ḍalhaṇa (12th c.), this phrase had been moved to the beginning of the first book, thus casting Dhanvantari as the progenitor of Suśruta’s medicine .
Klebanov concludes that the change in the frame story suggests that the less structured state of the Nepalese version is most likely to be original .
Yet, the question remains as to why Dhanvantari appears for a fleeting moment at the beginning of the fifth book in the Nepalese version of the Suśrutasaṃhitā. A recent research seminar of the Suśruta Project may have uncovered the origin of this attribution and a possible pathway to its diffusion throughout the entire work.
A careful reading of the introductory passage of the fifth book reveals that the phrase ‘as the sage Dhanvantari declared’ was probably not authorial. In other words, the phrase was likely added sometime after this passage was initially composed because the narrative immediately reverts to Divodāsa, the king who here teaches Suśruta the art of protecting a king from poison:
And now I shall explain the procedures for safeguarding food and drink, as the sage Dhanvantari declared. Divodāsa, the king of the earth, was the foremost supporter of religious discipline and virtue. With unblemished instruction he taught his students, of whom Suśruta was the foremost.Suśrutasaṃhitā, Kaplasthāna (Provisional edition of the Nepalese version) 5.1–3: athāto’nnapānarakṣākalpaṃ vyākhyāsyāmaḥ || yathovāca bhagavān dhanvantariḥ || … Continue reading
The above reference to Dhanvantari seems somewhat out of place because this passage is followed by sections on the threat of poison to the king and the type of physician a king should employ, before eventually addressing the problem of poisoned food and drink. It is more likely that the author intended the fifth book to begin with the verse on Divodāsa, thus affirming the frame story established in the first book as follows:
Now, as is well-known, Aupadhenava, Vaitaraṇa, Aurabhra, Puṣkalāvata, Karavīra, Gopurarakṣita, Bhoja, Suśruta and others addressed Lord Divodāsa, king of Kāśi, the best of the immortals, who was in his ashram surrounded by an entourage of sages. ‘[…] We have come to you in pupillage.’Suśrutasaṃhitā, Ślokasthāna (Provisional edition of the Nepalese version) 1.2: atha khalu bhagavantam amaravaram ṛṣigaṇaparivṛttam āśramasthaṃ kāśirājaṃ divodāsam … Continue reading
Therefore, it is possible that after the fifth book was composed someone decided to change the text to attribute its content to Dhanvantari rather than Divodāsa.
A clue to the origins of this attribution to Dhanvantari is provided by the scribe of one of the more recent manuscripts of the Nepalese version (MS Kathmandu NAK 5-333), which has the following remark added in the folio’s top margin:
‘Now, as is well-known, Vatsa Suśruta [said]’MS Kathmandu NAK 5-333, 324r, top margin: atha khalu vatsa suśrutaḥ |
The scribe of MS Kathmandu NAK 5-333 appears to have recognised that the comment on Dhanvantari at the beginning of the fifth book derives from a chapter in the first book in which Dhanvantari does indeed teach Suśruta guidelines for food and drink (annapānavidhi). This passage appears in the Nepalese version as follows:
Now, we will teach the chapter on guidelines for food and drink. Having formally greeted Dhanvantari, Suśruta said, ‘Lord, it was said earlier that the root of [all] beings is food […] therefore, please teach me the guidelines on food and drink.’
Spoken to thus, the Lord Dhanvantari said, ‘Now, my dear Suśruta, as is well-known, […]’NAK 5-333, 98v line 6 – 99r line 3–4 athāto ‘nnapānavidhim adhyāyam vyākhyāsyāmaḥ || dhanvantarim abhivādya suśruta uvāca || bhagavan prāgabhihitam prāṇināṃ mūlam āhāro … Continue reading
The above passage may have inspired someone to change the beginning of the fifth book by reasserting that Dhanvantari was responsible for the teachings on food and drink.
Therefore, this passage may have been the kernel, so to speak, of an attribution to Dhanvantari that eventually spread throughout the Suśrutasaṃhitā. From the forty-sixth chapter of the first book, the attribution spread to the beginning of the fifth book, then to the beginning of first book in Cakrapāṇidatta and Ḍalhaṇa’s recensions and finally, as seen in current printed editions, to all six books.
The inclusion of Dhanvantari at the beginning of Suśruta’s fifth book in the Nepalese version points to the rise of this sage’s status within Suśruta’s tradition during the ninth century, from what appears to have been an initial role as the progenitor of teachings on food and drink to ultimately the founder of its entire medical system. Dhanvantari’s growing status is also foreshadowed at this time by the beginning of the Sauśrutanighaṇṭu, a lexicon of technical terms in the Suśrutasaṃhitā, which is appended to the oldest Nepalese manuscript of this work, MS Kathmandu KL 699 . This lexicon begins with a narrative in which Suśruta asks Dhanvantari to explain the various names of medicines:
The medical students, the foremost of whom was Suśruta, formally asked Dhanvantari, who emerged with nectar [from the churning of the ocean] and was the very best of the supporters of religion.Sauśrutanighaṇṭu 2cd–3ab: dhanvantariṃ dharmabhṛtāṃ variṣṭham amṛtodbhavam || suśrutapramukhāḥ śiṣyāḥ papracchur bhiṣajo bhṛśam |
|↑1||This post was written by Jason Birch and its findings are the result of a discussion by participants at a reading session of the first chapter of the Kalpasthāna, which was led by Dominik Wujastyk and attended by (in alphabetical order) Harshal Bhatt, Jason Birch, Deepro Chakaborty, Andrey Klebanov, Madhu Parameswaran, Madhusudan Rimal and Devyani Shenoy.|
|↑2||Suśrutasaṃhitā, Kaplasthāna (Provisional edition of the Nepalese version) 5.1–3: athāto’nnapānarakṣākalpaṃ vyākhyāsyāmaḥ || yathovāca bhagavān dhanvantariḥ || divodāsakṣitipatis tapodharmabhṛtāṃ varaḥ | suśrutapramukhāñ chiṣyāñ śaśāsāhataśāsanaḥ |||
|↑3||Suśrutasaṃhitā, Ślokasthāna (Provisional edition of the Nepalese version) 1.2: atha khalu bhagavantam amaravaram ṛṣigaṇaparivṛttam āśramasthaṃ kāśirājaṃ divodāsam aupadhenavavaitaraṇaurabhrapuṣkalāvatakaravīragopurarakṣitabhojasuśrutaprabhṛtaya ūcuḥ || […] bhagavantam upasannāḥ smaḥ śiṣyatveneti |||
|↑4||MS Kathmandu NAK 5-333, 324r, top margin: atha khalu vatsa suśrutaḥ ||
|↑5||NAK 5-333, 98v line 6 – 99r line 3–4 athāto ‘nnapānavidhim adhyāyam vyākhyāsyāmaḥ || dhanvantarim abhivādya suśruta uvāca || bhagavan prāgabhihitam prāṇināṃ mūlam āhāro […] tasmād annapānavidhim upadiśatu me bhagavān ity uktaḥ provāca bhagavān dhanvantariḥ || atha khalu vatsa suśruta || Cf. Ācārya 1938: 214: athāto ‘nnapānavidhim adhyāyaṃ vyākhyāsyāmaḥ ||1|| yathovāca bhagavān dhanvantariḥ ||2|| dhanvantarim abhivādya suśruta uvāca – prāgabhihitaḥ ‘prāṇināṃ punar mūlam āhāro […] tasmād annapānavidhim upadiśatu me bhagavān ity uktaḥ provāca bhagavān dhanvantariḥ – atha khalu vatsa suśruta! yathāpraśnam ucyamānam upadhārayasva ||3|||
|↑6||Sauśrutanighaṇṭu 2cd–3ab: dhanvantariṃ dharmabhṛtāṃ variṣṭham amṛtodbhavam || suśrutapramukhāḥ śiṣyāḥ papracchur bhiṣajo bhṛśam ||