Ancient India has contributed a long array of authors in various fields of human endeavors. One such is Vagbhata, a magnificent writer on health and health care, and sickness and its treatment. He is considered to be a member of the most famous writer-trinities of India’s ancient medical world, the Ayurveda, the other two being Sushruta, one of the earliest surgeons in history and Charaka, the great medical genius. In the hierarchical order of importance he is the third. He lived in Sindh (now in modern Pakistan), according to general belief among scholars.
What made Vaagbhata so important in the pantheon of Ayurveda’s greats? He was the author of Ashtanga Hrudaya and Ashtanga Samgraha, two great classics in Ayurveda. Ashtanga in Sanskrit means ‘eight limbs’ to indicate the eight sections of Ayurveda. And these sections include Kaayam (Internal Medicine for body treatment), Salyam (surgery), Bala (Gynaecology and Pediatrics), Rasaayana (Rejuvenation therapy), Vajikaran (Aphrodisiac therapy), Damshtram (Therapy for snake bite), Toxicology etc. Vaagbhata combined the surgical brilliance of Sushruta (600 BC) and the medicinal authority of Charaka by interpreting the texts of both the predecessors. Vaagbhata is also believed to have written Neminirvanam which depicts the stories of a great Jain monk, Neminatha, and Vaagbhataalankaram, which is on the extinct language of Prakrit. There are two more works credited to him – Ashtanga Nighandu and Ashtangaavathaaram.
According to some scholars, Vaagbhata was the son of Simhagupta and Avalokita, a Buddhist, his grandfather. But there has been no unanimity on it, as in the case of many famous men in the distant past. There is however agreement in that he was a Buddhist, as his preface to Ashtanga Hrudaya makes a direct reference to the Buddha. His sons, grandsons, and disciples were all Buddhists.
There was another Vagbhata who is believed to have lived in the 12th century. (Some experts put it as 15th century.) This second one was also a celebrated author. Kaavyaanusaasanam, a work on poetics, and Rishabhadevacharitam, a long narrative poem in the epic style are also credited to him.