Rasashastra (रसशास्त्रम्)

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Rasashastra (Samskrit रसशास्त्रम्) is one of the most popular pharmaceutical branch of Ayurveda medicine which deals with preparation of medicinal formulations containing mineral and animal sourced substances. It is also called as Iatrochemistry of Ayurveda. The branch of Rasashastra offers knowledge on methods of design, preparation, purification of these substances, their formulation methods and ways to make them bio-compatible, safe and effective as medicines. The term 'Rasa-shastra' literally means “Science of Mercury” since the purified and extensively processed mercury is one of the majorly used substance in Rasashastra. Entire science of Rasaashastra deals with use of processing techniques and methods to modify the bio-chemical and physical properties of the metal, mineral or animal origin substances. These alchemy methods make Rasashastra exclusive pharmaceutical branch and attract many people towards it. The medicinal substances obtained in classical way as described in Rasashastra have extensive therapeutic utility, safety and instantaneous efficacy even with smaller dosage.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

Medicines used in Ayurveda are sourced from plants, metals, minerals or animals. As per the principles of Ayurveda, there is not a single substance in the Universe which does not have a potential to be used as a drug, provided it is used judiciously by the learned vaidya (वैद्यः) at right place. The most valued classical treatises of Ayurveda the Brihatrayee (बृहत्रयी) and Laghutrayee (लघुत्रयी) mainly focus on use of plant derived medicines. However, some instances of use of medicinal substances derived from metals and animals are found at places. Development of Rasashastra (रसशास्त्रम्) took place in later times and use of metal, mineral and animal derived substances then became popular part in Ayurveda's pharmacotherapeutics.

द्रव्यप्रकाराः॥Medicines used in Ayurveda

Ayurveda makes use of 3 types of medicinal substances classified as below on the basis of their source.[1]

  1. औद्भिद Audbhid : Plant derived substances e.g. leaves, barks, roots, stems, fruits, seeds, shoots etc. of herbs
  2. जाङ्‍गम Jangama : Animal derived substances e.g. milk, meat, blood, urine
  3. पार्थिव Parthiva : Metals and minerals derived substances e.g. Mercury, Sulfur, Iron, gold, silver, Arsenic etc.

Although the raw material from preparation of various medicinal formulations is obtained from these varied resources, it is used in medicines only after these undergo rigorous processing methods known as 'Samskaras' to remove their undesired and hazardous effects and enhance the organic nature to make them bio-compatible.[2]

रसशास्त्रस्य इतिहास History of Rasashstra

Emergence of Ayurveda, its descent to earth and transfer of this knowledge through oral tradition are known to be the events from 'Vaidika era'. This was the time when all other classical treatises and mainly Vedas were developing. During this time, emphasis was given on strengthening and maintenance of the health by eliminating the harmful components from lifestyle to regain the original state of health and well-being. The objective of this system was to facilitate smooth passage of an individual towards ‘Moksha’. This was followed by the era of ‘Samhitas’, recognized by the works of great scholars of ‘Ayurveda’ like ‘Maharshi Punarvasu Atreya’ and his disciples ‘Agnivesha’, ‘Bhela’, 'Jatukarna', 'Parashara', 'Harita' etc. These ancient scholars although stressed the importance of maintenance of health like their predecessors, also expanded their vision to pharmaco-therapeutics. The therapeutic use of herbs, animal products and metals was extensively described in their works. However, more emphasis was given on the use of herbs and their variety of formulations while describing treatment for illness. Use of herbs as medicine was more popular since herbs being more familiar and assimilable in the human body. Animal products like milk and urine were primarily used while making formulations and also as an adjuvants for the medicine. Minerals and metals were also used but their use was not as extensive as herbs. Metals and minerals were considered difficult for absorption and assimilation and thus, they were purified, processed and their formulations were prepared along-with the the herbs. Intensive processing of metals and minerals ensured safety, bio-compatibility and efficacy.Cite error: The opening <ref> tag is malformed or has a bad name

It was from the time of the great Buddhist Sage Nagarjuna that, Rasashastra evolved as the specialized branch of Ayurveda medicine. Nagarjuna is considered as ‘Father of Rasashaastra’. He is known for his extraordinary efforts in experimenting with Mercury for its alchemic as well as therapeutic use. Ancient scholars, sages and seers in Bharatavarsha were not merely interested in using Mercury for alchemy but the main objective was to attain stability of the physical body. In order to attain Moksha one needs to follow the strenuous path of proposed by dharma. Having healthy and strong physical body free from diseases is the preliminary requirement for this. In an attempt to achieve this ancient scholars started experimenting with metals and minerals after realizing their stability on earth which was the desired outcome on their use. In today’s scientific parlance ‘Rasashastra’ can be equated with ‘Iatrochemistry’. Mercury is that miraculous mineral which attracted the attention of scholars even in the ancient times. Experimenting with this most unstable mineral was started to make it stable and keep it under control. Numerous processing techniques were developed to make it suitable for use in alchemy and also in medicine. In this way, with the advent of Mercury, known as 'Rasa' in samskrit, a new class of drugs termed as ‘Rasaushadhi’ (Rasa-aushadhi) with a new shastram termed as ‘Rasashastra’ appeared on the horizon of ‘Ayurvedic system of medicine’.Cite error: The opening <ref> tag is malformed or has a bad name

Development of Rasashastra as a part of Ayurveda medicine

‘Rasashastra’ comprises study of minerals and metals with reference to their identification, processing and formulations methods for their use as medicinal substances. This segment of Ayurveda is termed after name of 'Rasa' i.e. mercury since it is the most extensively discussed substance among all the mineral and metallic substances used in Rasashastra. Other substances studied under Rasashstra include sulfur, mica, arsenic, gems like pearls, metals like gold, silver, copper and many other substances. Treatment of minerals with herbs, animal products and other minerals or metals was carried out to make them suitable for use in alchemy and pharmaco-therapeutics. In ancient times, this knowledge was predominantly practiced by 'Tantra' sampradaya (community) who were the followers and devotees of 'Shiva'.[citation needed] Later the physicians started use of ‘Rasaushadhi’ in the management of disease and such physicians were became popular as ‘Rasa-vaidya’ (Vaidyas using chiefly Rasa-aushadhis). Cite error: The opening <ref> tag is malformed or has a bad name

रसोपरसाः॥ Medicinal substances used in Rasashastra

The mineral and metallic substances used in Rasashastra as medicinal substances are classified in different ways. Generally they are grouped in to four distinct classes as below,

  1. रसाः Rasa : The class of ‘Rasa’ is predominantly possessing ‘Rasayana’ (adaptogenic effect) effect.
  2. धातवः Dhaatu : Dhatus are grouped together on account of their capacity to provide structural strength to the body.
  3. रत्नानि Ratna : The minerals possessing gem quality are grouped as Ratna
  4. विषाणि Visha : Inherently highly poisonous plants are grouped as Visha.

Metals and Minerals

Following are the metallic and mineral substances used in Rasashstra medicines.Cite error: The opening <ref> tag is malformed or has a bad name Ancient Rasavaidyas and Ayurveda scholars were successful in purifying and transforming all these substances into safe derivatives which could be administered easily in an oral dosage form. All of these are subjected to specific sanskaras before using them in medicinal formulations.

Sr No Class of drugs Metals or minerals included in class
1 Rasa (रसाः) The chief substance used in Rasashastra medicines. Rasa means Mercury. It is subjected to step-wise 8 different sanskaras before using in the medicinal formulation.
2 Maharasa (महारसाः) This groups consists of Abhraka (Mica), Vaikranta (Tourmaline), Makshika (Copper Pyrite), Vimala (Iron Pyrite), Shilajit (Asphalt), Sasyaka (Blue Vitriol), Chapala (Bismuth), Rasaka (Calamine - Zinc ore)
3 Uparasa (उपरसाः) Gandhaka (Sulphur), Gairika (Haematite), Kaasis (Green Vitriol), Kankshi (Alum), Haritala (Orpiment), Manasila (Realgar), Anjana (Stibnite's), Kamkusta (Gum exudates of Garcinia cambogia (Gaertn.) Desr)
4 Sadharana Rasa (साधारण रसाः) Kampillaka (Glands and hairs of Mallotus philippinensis), Somala (Arsenic), Navasagara (Ammonium Chloride), Kapardika (Cowri), Agnijara (Amber), Girisindoora (Red Oxide of Mercury), Hingula (Cinnabar), Muddarashringa (Litharge)
5 Dhatu (धातवः) Suvarna (Gold), Raupya (Silver), Tamra (Copper), Loha (Iron), Naga (Lead), Vanga (Tin), Yashada (Zinc)
6 Upadhatu (उपधातवः) Suvarna Makshika (Copper Pyrite), Raupya Makshika (Iron Pyrite), Sasyaka (Blue Vitriol), Mandura (Iron Slag), Sindura (Red Lead Oxide), Rasaka (Calamine), Kamkusta (Gum exudates of Gambose tree)
7 Ratna (रत्नानि) Manikya (Ruby), Mukta (Pearl), Prawala (Coral), Tarkshya (Emerald), Pusparaga (Topaz), Hiraka (Diamond), Neela (Sapphire), Gomeda (Zircon), Waidurya (Cat's Eye).
8 Uparatna (उपरत्नानि) Vaikrant (Tourmaline), Suryakant (Sun stone), Candrakant (Moon stone), Rajawarta (Lapis Lazuli), Peroja (Turquoise) etc.
9 Vishas and Upavishas (विषोपविषाणि) Vatsanabha (Aconite or Aconitum ferox), Arka (Calatropis procera), Snuhi (Euphorbia neriifolia) , Dhatura (Datura stramonium), Langali (Gloriosa superba), Karaveera (Neerium indicum), Gunja (Abrus precatorioius), Ahiphena (Papaver somniferum) etc.

जाङ्‍गम द्रव्याणि ॥ Animal origin substances

Use of animal derived substances like milk, urine, meat, hairs and many other parts is done at many places in Ayurveda. Animal derived substances are used as food as well as medicine. When used as food they are suggested to be used on the basis of their properties which have been extensively described in classical treatises. Most of the times, purification or specific processing of food items is required. however, few animal derived substances which are widely used in Ayurveda as medicine are required to undergo specific processing methods in order to eliminate their harmful or undesired properties and make them safe, bio-compatible and effective as medicines.

Rasashastra offers knowledge of methods to purify and transform these substances into such forms in which these could be used as medicines safely and efficiently. Some substance have animal and mineral origin. Few animal derived substances used in Ayurveda medicine are listed below,

  1. Ajasthi - Goat's bones
  2. Kukkutandatwak - Hen's egg-shells
  3. Mrigashringa - Deer antlers
  4. Kurmaprishtha- Turtle shell

Apart from these exclusively animal derived substances, few substances which have animal as well as mineral origin like Shankha (Conch shell), Pravala (Coral), Mukta (Pearl), Mukta shukti (Pearl oyster shell) are also widely discussed and commonly used in practice of Ayurvediya medicine. Many of these substances have calcium as compound in form of salt thus they have been grouped together. This class of substances is known as 'Sudha varga' in Rasashstra. [3]

रसशास्त्रे संस्काराः॥ Samskaras in Rasashastra

In the context of pharmacology in Ayurveda, Samskaras refer to the processing methods employed to transform the properties of the substances. Such samskaras are performed specifically to remove undesired properties and enhance desirable qualities of the raw drugs used in formulations. Thus, samskaras represent one of the extremely important aspects in pharmacology of Ayurveda since this step facilitates safe and simple administration, metabolism, absorption and assimilation of even those inorganic metals, minerals or poisonous substances in the body which work as medicines.

In treatises on Rasashastra, various samskaras are described for purification of Mercury and other metals or minerals. It is believed that, metals have natural impurities called as ‘ Doshas’. Here, doshas literally mean fault/defect/harmful elements in the substance. Therefore, it becomes necessary to remove doshas of metals and minerals before their oral administration. In order to address these concerns most of the Rasashastra advise 2 common sanskaras (processes) to be conducted on all these inorganic substances used in medicines. These are Shodhana and Marana. Shodhana sanskara is primarily employed for purification or cleansing of the material while Marana sanskara is carried out using heat or fire after shodhana to make the purified substances suitable for oral consumption.

  1. Shodhana- Purification/cleansing and
  2. Marana- process by which metals and minerals are grinded with liquids and then dried and made into fine ash using heat/ Incineration process

देहवादः तथा धातुवादः॥ Dehavada and Dhatuvada

Mercury is utilized in Medicine and Alchemy.

Method of putting Mercury to medicinal use is known as ‘Deha vaada’ (Deha- Body, Vaada- science/knowledge).

Use of mercury in Alchemy is termed as ‘Dhaatu vaada’ (Dhatu-metals and minerals).

In medicine mercury is used (a) as a general medicine in diseased states and (b) as a ‘Rasayana’ (Rejuvenator) drug.

Dhatuvada is also known as Loha vedha. Loha vedha is known as the science exclusively in Rasashastra to convert lower metals to higher metals. Cite error: The opening <ref> tag is malformed or has a bad name

Dehavada is also known as Deha vedha. Deha vedha is the science that helps in making body strong like metal by using various Rasaushadhis (medicines prepared from metals and minerals) so as to make it capable to withstand all adversities encountered while achieving 4 types of Purusharthas. Cite error: The opening <ref> tag is malformed or has a bad name

पारद संस्काराः॥ Parada Sanskaras

Purification procedure of mercury depends on its intended use.

Simple procedures such as washing and grinding with plant juices like betel leaf juice, garlic paste and lime water are prescribed when mercury is to be used as a drug in diseased state. However intensive and complex processing is required when mercury is to be used as a ‘Rasayana’ (Rejuvenator medicinal substance) or it is to be used for the purpose of ‘Alchemy’.

Eight and eighteen independent procedures have to be carried out respectively for ‘Rasayana’ and ‘Alchemy’.

These procedures are grouped as ‘Cite error: The opening <ref> tag is malformed or has a bad nameAshtasanskara’ comprising eight and ‘Ashtaadasha sanskara’ comprising eighteen independent procedures.

अष्टसंस्काराः Ashtasanskara : Ashta – 8

अष्टादशसंस्काराः Ashtaadasha sanskara : Ashtadasha- 18

Safety of Rasa-aushasdhi (Rasashastra medicines)

(TBE) In Ayurveda, metals and minerals are used as a medication in the incinerated form which is called as Bhasma. Bhasma of gold contains nanoparticles of gold (56–57 nm).[4] These nanoparticles would reach the target site of action through blood after gastrointestinal uptake.[5] Acute toxicity studies of Swarna bhasma concluded that no mortality was found in mice up to 1 ml/20 g body weight of suspension containing 1 mg of Swarna bhasma. It was also found safe in chronic toxicity study.[6] Bhasma of Loha, Mandura, and Kasisa is comes under the umbrella of iron formulations. Lauha bhasma and Mandura bhasma are found safe at five times therapeutic effective dose in Charles Foster albino rats.[7] Bhasma of metals and minerals is the source of bioaccessible trace aliments. Swarna bhasma is reported to contain Arsenic (As) and Nb as trace elements[8] while Loha bhasma is reported to contain potassium (K), copper (cu), zinc (Zn), manganese (Mn), and magnesium (Mg) in trace amount.[9] Some mercurial formulations such as Rasasindura, Rasakarpura, and Sameerpannagarasa have found safe at acute and chronic toxicity studies.[10] Herein, all the formulations prescribed dose of the gold, iron, and mercurial were too small and within the permissible limit.[11]


  1. Savrikar SS, Ravishankar B. Introduction to 'Rasashaastra' the Iatrochemistry of Ayurveda. Afr J Tradit Complement Altern Med. ;8(5 Suppl):66–82. doi:10.4314/ajtcam.v8i5S.1
  2. Gandhi, Piyush. (2014). Marana-As a Bio-nanotechnology of Ayurveda. Research and Reviews: Journal of Ayurvedic Science, Yoga and Naturopathy. 1. 12-18.
  3. Dasari et al. Therapeutic potentials of Sudha varga Vis a vis Calcium compounds- A review, IRJP 2012; 3 (10)