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The term Prabhava literally means impact, influence, effect or even some supernatural power of dravya (substance). This term in used in Ayurveda in the study of herbs, their activity and effect on bodily functions. Prabhava is one of the characteristics of a dravya (substance) mentioned in Ayurveda along with rasa, veerya etc. where the term prabhava indicates, action of a certain drug which is irrelative of the other qualities exhibited by a dravya, precisely a herb. A certain factor in a dravya which has overall different pharmacodynamic effect on body is prabhava. Prabhava can also be termed as a special effect of a certain dravya (drug or herb)
The prabhava of a substance is defined in Charaka Samhita as follows,
रसवीर्यविपाकानां सामान्यं यत्र लक्ष्यते| विशेषः कर्मणां चैव प्रभावस्तस्य स स्मृतः|| (Char. Samh. 26.67)
Meaning: When rasa, veerya, vipaka have properties which are relative to the drug but there is a specific quality that the dravya (drug) exhibits which have a certain effect on our body which is irrespective of rasa, veerya etc, that quality and its action in our body is termed as Prabhava.
According to Ayurveda a drug or dravya is composed of Rasa, veerya, vipaka etc and thus it shows its action accordingly in our body. But when the action of the dravya cannot be explained by its natural composition it is known as prabhava. Thus Prabhava of a substance is also popularly known as its special effect.
Determination of Prabhava
Prabhava being a quality present in a dravya (drug) it's determination can only be done by understanding the effects of that dravya in our body. For most of the herbs in Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia prabhava of herb has been already mentioned by ancient Ayurveda scholars. Since prabhava of a substance is not related to its other characteristics, it is difficult to assess and decide prabhava of any herb. Currently the prabhava is understood only with the help of knowledge about that herb given in Nighantu (Materia medica) or samhitas written by ancient Ayurveda scholars. The method by which knowledge about 'Prabhava' of a specific dravya is obtained is known as Aptopadesha pramana' Prabhava is thus belived to be as incomprehensible.
... प्रभावकृतं तेषां प्रभावोऽचिन्त्य उच्यते ॥ (Char. Samh. 26.70-73)
There are various examples mentioned in Ayurveda samhitas to determine prabhava. One such example is, one poison acting as antidote against other poison is due to prabhava effect of that dravya. The action of certain drugs is due to rasa of that dravya, some act according to the veerya, and some according to prabhava. Among all the characteristics, which will be the one to display th efinal effect of a dravya is decided on the basis of the strength of that characteristic. When all these characteristics are of the equal strength, the dravya acts on the basis of its prabhava.
किञ्चिद्रसेन कुरुते कर्म वीर्येण चापरम्| द्रव्यं गुणेन पाकेन प्रभावेण च किञ्चन|
रसं विपाकस्तौ वीर्यं प्रभावस्तानपोहति| बलसाम्ये रसादीनामिति नैसर्गिकं बलम्| (Char. Samh. 26.70-73)
Meaning: Thus, vipaka, veerya and prabhava are explained well. Some drug acts by (means of) rasa, other by veerya and other by guna, vipaka or prabhava. In case of equality of strength, vipaka subdues rasa, veerya subdues both, and prabhava all these three. These are the natural relative degree of strength
Importance Of Prabhava in Ayurvedic Pharmacology
Prabhava as a concept is important in Ayurveda because when it comes to dravya (drug), the rasa etc qualities are the composition of dravya (drug) but prabhava is the inbuilt nature of that dravya(drug). Thus, from the standpoint of ayurvedic pharmacology, prabhava is one such important aspect.
There also is mention of precious stones or gems which when worn according to their properties have shown effects on body, which are stated due to the action of Prabhava.
According to some acharyas when a dravya (drug) acts based on veerya (potency) it counters the dosha imbalance in our body. And when a dravya(drug) acts based on prabhava it directly counters the disease per se. This concept is called as dosha pratyanik and vyadhi pratyanik.
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 26 Sutra 67)
- Charaka Samhita (Sutrasthanam Adhyaya 26 Sutras 70-73)
- Available from Charakasamhitaonline.com