In Ayurveda, the term Veerya (वीर्यम् / वीर्य्यम्) refers to the energy or potency of a substance specifically a drug or a herb. In general it refers to energy, virility, strength, power or vigour. In the context of human beings veerya also means Shukra (semen) dhatu, which is believed to be responsible for regeneration and reproduction in human body. As per Dravyagunashastram (Pharmacology and materia medica of Ayurveda) Veerya is that property of substance which enables it to perform various actions inside or on contact with human body. At some places, veerya is considered to be the thermal energy of a substance. In today's time, it is roughly equated with the active principle of the herb which is responsible for its specific pharmacological activity.
The term 'Veerya' is derived from the root 'Veera vikrantau' (वीर विक्रान्तौ) which indicates strength or capacity to affect something.
वीरयते विक्रान्तः कर्म समर्थो भवति अनेन इति वीर्यम् | vīrayate vikrāntaḥ karma samartho bhavati anena iti vīryam |
Meaning: The strength or energy which is performing an activity via drug is Veerya (potency) of the drug.
परिभाषा ॥ Definition
In the context of Ayurvedic pharmacology, veerya of a herb or any dravya (द्रव्यम् । substance) is defined as 'the quality of a substance which is responsible for its action'. Acharya Charaka and Sushruta in their treatises have clearly stated the exact meaning of this term as follows,
वीर्यं तु क्रियते येन या क्रिया| (Char. Samh. 26.65) vīryaṁ tu kriyate yena yā kriyā| (Char. Samh. 26.65)
Meaning: Veerya is that through which (a dravya । substance) performs actions.
“येन कुर्वन्ति तद्वीर्यम्” (Sush. Samh. 40) "yena kurvanti tadvīryam" (Sush. Samh. 40)
Meaning: Veerya is that quality/component of a drug/substance through which it performs action.
औषधीनां वीर्यम् ॥ Veerya of medicinal substances
Ayurveda identifies 7 matters of priority in the universe which are known as Sapta-padarthas (सप्तपदार्थाः। 7 objects). Dravya (द्रव्याणि । substance), Guna (गुणाः। attribute), Rasa (रसाः । taste), Veerya (वीर्यम् । potency), Vipaka (विपाकः। final state of transformation), Prabhava (प्रभावः । specificity in action) and Karma (कर्मन् । therapeutic action) are these 7 padarthas. Thus, in Dravya-guna shstra (द्रव्यगुणाशास्त्रम्) i.e. pharmacology of ayurveda, veerya is a matter of priority because it contributes in the action and effect of a substance precisely a herb used as medicine. However, it is not just herb but any substance used as a drug or food that will have a specific veerya which enables that substance to perform some activity on consumption. Without veerya no substance can perform any kind of action. Thus the period for which a drug or medicinal formulation remains potent and possess ability to perform specific action in body is called as 'Sa-veeryata avadhi' (सवीर्यता अवधिः । shelf life) in Ayurveda. This is specifically restricted to medicinal formulation s used in Ayurveda. It can be correlated with the concept of shelf life or expiry date of drugs mentioned in pharmaceutical science. Beyond this period (which is specifically defined for each type of formulation), a drug is believed to loose its potency or efficacy. Therefore, the concept of veerya described in Ayurveda treatises in the frame of reference of pharmacology and pharmaceutics is of tremendous importance
वीर्यभेदाः ॥ Types of veerya
There are 2 opinions about number or types of veerya. Some scholars opine there are only 2 types of veeryas while some scholars describe 8 types of veeryas. Different types of veeryas are described in table below.
|No||Dwividha Veerya (2 types)||Asthavidha Veerya (8 Types)|
|1||Ushna (उष्ण Hot)||Ushna (उष्ण Hot)|
|2||Sheeta (शीत Cold)||Sheeta (शीत Cold)|
|3||Mrdu (मृदु Mild)|
|4||Teekshna (तीक्ष्ण Strong)|
|5||Guru (गुरु Heavy)|
|6||Laghu (लघु Light)|
|7||Snigdha (स्निग्ध Unctuous)|
|8||Ruksha (रुक्ष Dry)|
रसः-वीर्यम् सम्बन्धः॥ Rasa and Veerya
Specific rasas among 6 rasas (षड्ररसाः) have specific veerya. This is considered as a general rule. According to this rule, Katu (कटु Pungent), Amla (अम्लः sour) and Lavan (लवणः salt) taste have hot potency with increasing order respectively. On the other hand, Tikta (तिक्तः bitter), Kashaya (कषाय astringent) and Madhura (मधुरः sweet) taste are cold in potency in the same manner. It simply means that grossly a veerya of a substance can be understood with the help of taste of that substance. With this its possible effect inside the body can be calculated. However, there are some exceptions to the rule also.
सवीर्यता अवधिः ॥ Shelf life of medicinal formulations
The period for which the medicinal formulations retain potency or considerable efficacy and safety is called as Saveeryata avadhi. It is similar to the concept of shelf life of food and medicinal substances. The concept of expiry date of drugs is also the equivalent concept from modern pharmaceutical science. Ayurveda acharyas have specified the period in which different types of medicinal formulations retain the maximum strength and efficacy. Since the strength, power or active energy of substance is identified as it's Veerya, this period is known as Saveeryata avadhi (सवीर्यता अवधिः ॥ Sa-intact, veeryata-strength/potency, avadhi-period). Sharangadhara Samhita (शारङ्गधरसंहिता) from laghutrayee (लघुत्रयी) is the first text/treatise of Ayurveda to mention saveeryata avadhi.
For example The collected raw herb is known to loose its potency in a period of 1 year when stored as it is. Some formulation methods enhance the potency and increase the saveeryata avadhi. Specifically fermented preparations in Ayurveda formulations known as Asavas and arishtas do not loose their potency over years. In fact those are considered to be more effective if stored for long time.
वीर्यस्य प्रयोगः तथा गुर्वर्थत्वम्॥ Significance of Veerya
Since Veerya is believed to be the active principle of a substance it has gained significant importance in the field of pharmacology and even dietetics. The herbs, formulations and even food articles suitable for a specific health condition, achieve some specific wellness targets are chosen largely on the basis of their veerya. However, overall consideration of Rasa, Vipaka, Karma and prabhava along with veerya is necessary for selection of any substance. In spite of involvement of all these factors, it is said that, without veerya no substance can perform any type of action and therefore Veerya of any substance holds significant importance in Ayurveda.
नावीर्यं कुरुते किञ्चित् सर्वा वीर्यकृता क्रिया (Char. Samh. 26.65) nāvīryaṁ kurute kiñcit sarvā vīryakr̥tā kriyā (Char. Samh. 26.65)