text appeared on the scene, contributing and lesser texts were forgotten. We learn about their existence from stray references in survived texts. As befit a field science, Ayurvedic classics were often redacted. We know only about the final or the latest recension. There is often confusion about names. It is not always possible to distinguish between persons of the same name but belonging to different eras. Many names remain shadowy, even though in their own time they would have been held in high esteem. Lesser authors are known to name their work after past celebrities so as to enhance their own work.


Chronology remains a serious problem made worse by non-rigorous research’s passing off wild guesses as firm dates. It should always be borne in mind that in most cases, it is not possible to assign any date to an author or a text. In some cases, because of reference in texts or authors whose dates are independently known, useful time brackets can be assigned. Some times reference in dated literature from outside India gives a firm upper time limit. In short, it is not possible to construct a connected evolutionary history of Ayurveda.



The two basic texts are Caraka-samhita, dealing with inner medicine or therapeutics (kaya-cikitsa), and Susruta-samhita, dedicated to surgery (salya). We discuss below these and other majorAyurvedic texts. They all essentially deal with botanical Ayurveda. Use of metals as medication along with the philosophy thereof constitutes a special tradition with its own literature.

Caraka-samhita , Susruta-samhita and Vagbhata’sAstanga-samgraha (5th century CE) have been termed Ayurveda’s great triad ( brihat-trayi) or ancient triad (vrddha-trayi), while three later texts , Madhava-nidana (7th / 8th cent. CE), Sarngadhara-samhita (CE 1226) andBhava-prakasa (16th cent. CE) have been called the three minor classics (laghu-trayi).In the following we review some of the influential Ayurvedic texts.


Caraka-samhita(?-? cent. CE).Atreya( son or descendent of Atri) is mentioned as a pioneer in medicine, and Dhanvantari in surgery. Assumed historical , both are of great but uncertain antiquity. Six pupils of Atreya are named :Agnivesa, Jatukarna, Bhela (also spelt Bheda), Harita, Ksirapani ( or Ksarapani) and Parasara). All of them are believed to have composed their own texts based on their Guru’s teachings, but only two have reached us. Bhela-samhita became a dead end, but it is historically valuable because it remains in its original form , unlike Agnivesa-tantra which led to greater things, but lost its own identity in the process. It was redacted by Caraka who, on the basis of his widely accepted association with Kanishka can be place in second century CE.

Even Caraka’s work did not survive in its original form. With time , one third of it was lost and the remainder became inadequate. The missing parts were supplied and the whole redacted by Drdhabala, an inhabitant of Panchanadapura, in Kashmir, at the confluence of Indus and Jhelum, identified with present-day Panjor or Panchpanor( RamachandraRao 1985 I:56). Unfortunately, he cannot be dated with any certainty, except that he cannot be earlier than 4th century CE ( SeeNavanitaka, below). It is his edition that we now know as Caraka-samhita.

Susruta-samhita(?-2 cent. CE). The surgery classic Susruta-samhita follows the same broad pattern as the Caraka-samhita , in the sense that it is also three-layered, but less details are known. The original text was codified by Susruta, of great but uncertain antiquity, on the basis of teachings of Dhanvantari. Devoted exclusively to surgery , it carried the name