The Sutra Sthana (Section on fundamental principles) deserves the same place as the head deserves in the human body.[Cha. Chi. 30/45] This important section lays the foundation for the whole Samhita by describing the basic principles. The word Sutra literally means a short sentence which has deep meaning. The name of section suggests that it is a chain of important principles in concise form. Besides the fundamental principles, this section also establishes various technical terms that are used in subsequent sections of the samhita. This helps in providing a base to not just Ayurveda practitioners, but also to teachers, researchers, and scholars.
From the standpoint of its structure, the Sutra Sthana consists of thirty chapters, grouped into eight logical contexts. The first seven Chatushkas (or tetrads, i.e., groups of four), while the last one is a a group of two chapters (sangrahadvaya).
1. Bheshaja Chatushka (four chapters on medicines)
- The first tetrad is also known as Bheshaja or the Aushadha(medicine) Chatushka. This tetrad deals with various medicines to be used in various forms either externally or internally.
- The first chapter Deerghanjiviteeya Adhyaya, explains important concepts such as Tridosha (Vata, Pitta and Kapha), Rasa(taste), Shad padartha siddhanta (six basic principles), etc. which are integral to Ayurveda and used extensively throughout Charak Samhita. Besides these technical terms, the first chapter describes various medicines, like Phalini Dravya (therapeutically useful fruits as drugs), Moolini Dravya(therapeutically useful roots as drugs), Mahasneha (four kinds of fats), Lavana(salts), various types of mutra(urine) and ksheera(milk). The chapter emphasizes on the rational use of medications, since indiscriminate use of even good medicines can cause more harm than good. The chapter then goes on to explain the important concept of Trisutra (three principles of Ayurveda) i.e. hetu (causes), linga(signs and symptoms) and aushadha (medicine).
- The second chapter (Apamarga Tanduliya Adhyaya) deals specifically with herbs and medicines to be used during and after Panchakarma (five methods of bio-purification). Thus, the first two chapters of this tetrad describe various medicines to be used internally.
- The third chapter (Aragvadhiya Adhyaya) advocates the use of topical medications, or medicines to be applied externally, i.e.,lepa etc.
- The fourth chapter (Shadvirechanashatashritiya Adhyaya) provides details of fifty Mahakashaya(or five classes of groups of ten medicines, and six hundred evacuatives) to be used in various diseases. Overall, this Chatushka provides a list of drugs to be used in various forms in a variety of diseases.
2. Swastha Chatushka (four chapters on preservation of health)
- The second tetrad is the Swastha Chatushka that deals with important guidelines to be followed by healthy individuals to maintain their health.
- The first chapter of this tetrad, Matrashiteeya, deals with the daily regimen to be followed by healthy individuals to maintain their health.
- The second chapter, Tasyashiteeya, recommends changes one should make in his/her daily habits and lifestyle i.e. clothing, food habits, exercise etc., depending upon the season, to stay healthy.
- The third chapter, Naveganadharaniya, explains the importance of suppressible and non-suppressible urges in the human body, diseases due to non-suppressible urges and their treatment.
- Indriyopakramaniya, the last chapter, deals with sadvritta (general code of conduct). Besides maintaining his own health, sadvritta also helps the individual in maintaining healthy relations with other individuals, thus helping maintain harmony in the society at large.
3. Nirdesha Chatushka (four chapters on guidelines for healthcare management)
- The third tetrad, Nirdesha Chatushka, is about instructions to health care providers.
- The first chapter Khuddakachatushpada, deals with four aspects of therapeutics) – vaidya (physician), dravya (medicine), upasthata (nurse) and rogi(patient). Four qualities of each of these aspects and prime importance of the physician among all of them.
- The next chapter, Mahachatushpada, explains the classification of diseases on the basis of prognosis. It is recommended in this chapter that the treatment should only be initiated after thorough diagnosis and identification of the disease, and the physician should refrain himself from treating the incurable diseases.
- The third chapter, (Tistraishaniya) deals with topics such as the three types of desires, strength, causes of diseases, diseases themselves, paths, physicians, and therapies.
- The last chapter , (Vatakalakaliya) deals with the good and bad qualities/functions of vata, pitta, and kapha. A physician should have a thorough knowledge of the guidelines provided in this tetrad to succeed in his field.
4. Kalpana Chatushka (four chapters on therapeutic purification procedures)
- The next tetrad, Kalpanachatushka, deals with the application of medicines in the form of various therapeutic purification procedures either in healthy or in diseased individuals. Shodhana (bio-purification procedures) is an important concept of Ayurveda prescribed for removal of toxic wastes from the body. To prepare the patient for bio-purification, he has to go through specific pre-shodhana procedures, such as snehana(internal application of sneha (fat)) and swedana(sweating), to mobilize toxic wastes within the body and excrete them out of the body.
- The first chapter, Snehadhyaya, provides the guidelines for proper use of sneha(lipids) either for shodhana or for shamana (to appease/palliation) purposes. A patient who has successfully completed the snehana procedure is now subjected to swedana procedure.
- The next chapter, Swedadhyaya, explains the various types of swedana(fomentation) recommended for various diseases. Snehana and swedana help the toxins to move towards the gut from where they will be expelled out of the body either through vamana(therapeutic emesis) or virechana(therapeutic purgation).
- The next chapter, Upakalpaniya, emphasizes on how a physician should be well equipped before administering any shodhana procedure to any of the patients. This chapter provides the outline for a fully equipped hospital and standard vamana and virechana procedures.
- The last chapter of this tetrad, Chikitsaprabhritiya, depicts the importance of shodhana over shamana therapy. The details of properly / improperly administered shodhana procedures are discussed here. Important concepts like shuddha chikitsa (pure form of treatment)and svabhavoparamavada(theory of natural destruction) etc. have also been described in this chapter.
5. Roga Chatushka (four chapters on classification of diseases)
- The fifth Chatushka is about roga (disease). As the name suggests, this tetrad provides a (brief) list of diseases that are extensively mentioned throughout Charak Samhita.
- The first chapter Kiyanta Shiraseeya, provides the details of diseases like shiroroga(diseases of the head), hridroga(cardiac diseases), eighteen types of kshaya(loss of body tissues), vidradhi (abscess) and madhumeha(a clinical condition similar to diabetes mellitus).
- The next chapter, Trishothiya, elucidates various types of edema.
- The third chapter, Ashtodariya, reveals the types of about 48 diseases that are caused by a combination of doshas.
- The last chapter, Maharoga, is exclusively dedicated to the diseases caused by single doshas(vata, pitta, or kapha).
6. Yojana Chatushka (four chapters on guidelines for management of diseases)
- The sixth Chatushka, Yojanachatushka, deals with aspects of treatment of various diseases.
- The first chapter of this tetrad, Ashtauninditiya, describes eight types of people who are marginalized (or ridiculed) in the society due to their physical features. Out of these eight, only two i.e. atisthoola (morbidly obese) and atikrisha (emaciated) are described in detail because of their clinical significance along with their symptomatology and treatment.
- The next chapter, Langhanabrimhaniya, describes six types of treatment i.e. langhana(fasting), brimhana(nourishing therapy), snehana, svedana, rukshana(medical treatment for reducing fat) and stambhana(astringent therapy) – primarily for managing atisthoola or atikrisha conditions, but also indicated for various other conditions described later in the Samhita. Out of these six, mainly two therapies i.e. langhana and brimhana have been described in greater detail.
- The third chapter, Santarpaniya, deals with diseases caused due to over-nourishment or under-nourishment along with their treatment.
- The last chapter of this Chatushka, Vidhishonitiya, deals with diseases that are not cured by any of the above-mentioned therapies and termed as diseases due to vitiation of rakta (blood). Such diseases, along with their etiology, symptomatology and treatment have been described in this chapter. Overall this tetrad deals with all types of treatment modalities that find extensive reference across the Samhita.
7. Annapana Chatushka (four chapters on food and beverages)
- The last Chatushka is Annapana Chatushka.
- The first chapter, Yajjah Purushiya, brings forth the important perspective of the origin of human beings and the origin of diseases. This chapter also describes 155 entities (Agrya,or entities considered best in their category of drugs, food articles, bio-purification procedures, etc.)that are important for healthy as well as diseased individuals.
- The next chapter Atreyabhadrakapyiya, describes in detail the concept of Ayurvedic pharmacology in the form of rasa (taste), veerya(drug potency), and vipaka(final conversion of food/drug after the action of jatharagni(digestive power) and prabhava(specific action of a drug). This chapter also throws light on the important concept of viruddha ahara(incompatible diet) which seems to be the primary cause of many diseases even today.
- The third chapter, Annapanavidhi Adhyaya, provides details of Ayurvedic dietetics. This chapter details a wide variety of food and beverages, along with their medicinal values.
- The last chapter, Vividhashitapitiya, deals with important concepts such as formation of body tissues from the diet consumed, immunity and immune-compromised individuals, diseases originated from various body tissues, and migration of dosha from shakha(periphery or the tissue elements) to koshtha(central part of the body or alimentary tract)and vice versa.
8. Sangraha Adhyaya (two chapters on brief summary)
- The last two chapters are termed as Sangrahadvaya.
- The first of these two chapters, Dashapranayataneeya, deals with the ten locations in the human body where Prana(life) resides. Besides this important concept, the chapter also details the attributes of a pranabhisaravaidya(a physician who protects the life) and a rogabhisaravaidya (a physician who aggravates the disease and takes away the life of the patient).
- The last chapter, Arthedashmahamooliya, deals with a variety of subjects such as the importance of Arth (hridaya-heart), ten major blood vessels or channels from the heart, the definition of ayu (combination of four entities i.e. body, mind, soul and senses) and its four types, Ayurveda, the aim of Ayurvedic science,and its method of study etc.
Logical format of section
- The name of each chapter of Sutra Sthana has its own significance. It either describes the main content of the chapter, the first topic described in that chapter, or the first word of that chapter. All the chapters are written in the same prose and poetry format. Each chapter ends with a summarizing verse or Tatrashloka(chapter summary). In some places, the prose is followed by poetry describing the same topic, such as Bhavati Cha Atra(the topic first described in prose is then described in poetry format). Various parameters have been used while constructing the shlokas, denoting the command of the author over Sanskrit. The chapters are written in various styles, including as a dialogue (or a question-answer session) between the sage Atreya and his disciple, Agnivesha, or discussions among an assembly of sages. In fact, on reading the Charak Samhita, one can find four type of sutras – Guru sutras (by the sage Atreya), Shishyasutras (by Agnivesha, the disciple or shishya of Atreya), Pratisankartu sutras (by Charak), and Ekiyasutras(anonymous).
- Like in most sections, the Sutra Sthana also reads as a free-flow text, with each chapter linked logically with the preceding and succeeding chapters in some way.