What is the chemical nature of the end product, the bhasma? A look through the texts in the Indian Systems of Medicine (ISM) reveals that there is no indication as to the real physicochemical nature of bhasmas, the science of the processes, in-process material compositions, temperatures reached, etc. The present work is a physicist’s attempt to understand the physical and chemical characteristics of the classical metal preparations, resolve the ambiguous nature of some bhasmas, put them in a proper scientific perspective and raise safety issues. We find that the bhasmas are in fact products of classical alchemy - inorganic compounds of certain metals and gems in a very fine powdered form, mostly oxides, made in elaborately described calcination processes perfected several centuries ago. For most of the metals, methods of bhasma preparation as given in the classical texts differ between themselves in terms of accompaniments and process detail. Correspondingly, the processings of a certain metal lead to bhasmas with different colours. The resultants are considered to be the same medicinal substance with the ascribed indications even though these may differ in composition between them and should ideally be addressing different ailments.


We also find that there is a total lack of precise quantitative information on the oxidation kinetics, oxide growth and the chemical composition changes specific to each metal, metal mixtures and alloys, and calcination cycle while one prepares to make a bhasma.A properly made bhasma should neither have any metal remnants, however fine, nor any carbonaceous matter. As temperatures like 1000 degrees C or so are reached, any organic left-over of the herbs or minuscule organic compound the metal may presumably have formed will suffer thermal decomposition as it might not survive the high temperatures. We thus have to contend with the simple inorganic compound form of the metal only whose medicinal value and the attributed pharmacological action is to be scientifically ascertained and its absorption and stay in the body is to be quantitatively determined till it is drained out. Many metal oxides are toxic. Where does one draw the fine dividing line between such a medicine and a toxic substance? A direct implication of an improperly made bhasma is that the vaidyawho makes or the practitioner who administers such a bhasma is unmindful of the identity and quantity of impurity present therein or whether the process had been shortchanged to inadvertently produce a drug intermediate and the pharmacological implications it can lead to. Of these, the most basic but also serious is the implication of likely presence of fine metal particles as residue. We note with a sense of concern that there is no standard bhasma of a metal as such. In view of such ambiguity and the risks attendant to their inconsiderate use, there is an urgent need to bring about a standardization of these preparations - process and the end product, to resolve the respective indications as also to strengthen the regime to monitor the manufacturing, and administration of these preparations. The regulatory machinery interacting with manufacturers needs to be watchful of commercially available medicinal products carrying metal-based preparationsand be periodically refreshed on new developments.


The bhasmas have all along been kept a mystery, as substance and as medicine. While the naturally occurring metal carbonates, sulfates and silicates also have been used in the ISM medicines, the bhasmas have held a tremendous sway on the rasavadins (alchemists) and the practitioners for centuries. The most remarkable thing about the bhasmas of some metals and gems is their incorporation into the Indian medicinal systems as drugs and their having stayed so over the ages firmly. The glory belongs to yester years. So, we ask – mysticism apart, what is their medicinal significance today? The practitioners gained in empirical wisdom and with time the safety aspect of the bhasmas may have been perfected, most of the empirical evidence remains only qualitative in nature or anecdotal. There is a great awareness among the public, keen to try it out. But, instances of doubtful processes, adverse drug reactions and aggressively advertised suspect formulations also have come to light. These need to be checked as these can cause undue distrust in the traditional knowledge. It is heartening to note that the Department of AYUSH is seriously pursuing matters related to metal-based preparations in the Indian Systems of Medicine and there are several national laboratories in India where the bhasmas are being scientifically studied – the substances, processes, therapeutic aspects, toxicology, clinical studies etc. The outcome is encouraging that may settle issues and clear misgivings about the bhasmasin the near future.


The above work is presented in greater details in the form of a research paper:

Kapoor R C 2010 Some observations on the metal-based preparations in the Indian

Systems of Medicine, 2010

Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge (CSIR), Vol((3), p. 562-575;