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M.D. (Ayu.), Ph.D., D.A.F.E.,

Professor & HOD, Dept. of Dravyaguna, Dr. N.R.S. Govt. Ayurvedic College, Vijayawada – 520 002.

Chowkamba Sanskrit Series Office,



Basic concepts of Ayurvedic pharmacology



DEDICATION My beloved father Dr. K. S. Sharma (Peruru Sharma) Basic concepts of Ayurvedic pharmacology 2

My beloved father

Dr. K. S. Sharma (Peruru Sharma)

Basic concepts of Ayurvedic pharmacology



Herbs occupy the important place in the Ayurvedic Materia Medica

and therapeutics. Though the drugs that are employed in the management of



preparations. The modern scientists of phytochemistry have identified the following important pharmacologically active principles in medicinal plants viz.








and mineral in origin, the






a. Alkaloids (Basic substances containing cyclic nitrogen, which are insoluble in water but combine with acids to form water soluble salts)

b. Glycosides (Ether like combinations of sugars with other organic structures)

c. Glucosides (Yields glucose on acid hydrolysis)

d. Oils (Fixed oils, volatile oils and mineral oil)

e. Resins (insoluble in water and soluble in alcohol)

f. Oleoresins (mixtures of volatile oils and resins)

g. Gums (secretory products of plants and are dispersible in water)

h. Tannins (Non-nitrogenous plants constituents and precipitate proteins of cells)

i. Antibacterial substances fungi and moulds.

In the current modern therapeutics the majority of the drugs that are used belong to synthetic in nature.

In the modern pharmacology the drug action is quite often correlated with its chemical structure or active principle. But in Ayurvedic pharmacology the drug action is attributed to certain principles/attributes

Basic concepts of Ayurvedic pharmacology


namely Rasa, Guna, Virya, Vipaka and Prabhava of the active principles of the drug. Rasa or taste of the drug indicates the general behaviour or effect of the drug on bodily or cellular components like Dosha (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), Dhatus (seven types of tissue components), Mala (metabolic debris), Srotas (channels/vessels) and Agni (energy useful to carryout digestion and metabolism of foods & drugs). In the modern pharmacology the modus operandi of the drug is explained through its drug molecule whereas Ayurveda attributes the mode of action of the drug to the five principles (Rasapanchaka). Majority of the times these Gunas (attributes) may not be measurable but inferred through their pharmacological actions. The study of the biological and therapeutic effects of the drugs (what drug does to the body) are explained by these principles which can be identified as pharmacodynamic principles of Ayurvedic pharmacology. These pharmacodynamic principles also influence the pharmaco-kinetics (study of the absorption, metabolism and excretion of drugs and their relationship to the pharmacological response) of the drugs.

Routes of drug administration play an important role in the elucidation of drug action. A drug may exert different effects when given by different routes. Thus, oral magnesium sulphate acts as saline purgative. When injected, it is a depressant of central nervous system and acts as an anti-convulsant. On the other hand, hypertonic magnesium sulfate, given as a retention enema, can be used to reduce intracranial tension. Madanaphala when given orally acts as emetic and if administered with Vasti Dravays (ingredients of enema) facilitates for its quicker transportation in the colon by its Urdwabhagahara property and acts as a synergistic for toning up the nervous system or relieving intracranial tension.

Basic concepts of Ayurvedic pharmacology


Absorption &Bio-availability of a drug:

The route of administration largely determines the latent period between administration and onset of action. Poor absorption of the drug, inactivation in the gut or degradation of the drug during the first passage through the liver can be prevented by administration of Anupanas like honey, pepper, betel leaf juice etc. The particle size of the drug also affects the absorption. Fine powders of the herb quickly get absorbed than coarse particled Churna. Metals in Bhasma (incinerated fine powder) form absorb quickly than coarse powder of metals or minerals. Acid drugs (Amalaki, Nimbu, Amlavetasa etc.) are rapidly absorbed from the stomach. Basic drugs (containing Ksharas) are not absorbed until they reach alkaline environment of the small intestine (Eg. Apamarga, Aswagandha, Sourjakshara, Shank Bhasma etc.) The alakaline environment, in which the major component of the drug exists in an unionised form, facilitates its absorption.


The study of the influence of formulation on the therapeutic activity of drugs is known as “Biopharmaceutics” and Ayurveda dealt the subject under Panchavidha Kashaya Kalpana i.e., Swasa (fresh juice), Kalka (pounded fresh drug), Kashaya (decoction), Phanta (hot infusion – processed in boiling water) and Hima (cold infusion). The juice of the drug administered having Guruguna (Heaviness) may absorb slowly when compared to the decoction or hot infusion. A faulty formulation process can render a useful drug totally useless therapeutically. A drug having volatile oil / substances processed by Kwatha Kalpana (process of decoction) may loose its major portion of volatile active principles resulting in poor therapeutic response. The drugs that are absorbed in lipid media are suggested to be processed in oil or ghee medium (Eg. Aswagandha). The active principles

Basic concepts of Ayurvedic pharmacology


soluble in alcohol are available by Asava Sandhana Kalpana but not by Arista Sandhana Kalpana. It is evident that the various Kalpanas (pharmaceutical procedures) were evolved in the light of principles of biopharmaceutics.

Biological lag:

The time between the administration of a drug and the development of response is known as the biological lag. Rasoushadhis (mercurial preparation) show a quicker response with less biological lag when compared to herbal formulations.

Bioavailability of drugs:

Bio-availability of a drug (availability of biologically active drug) is defined as the amount or percentage of drug that is absorbed from a given dosage form and reaches the systemic circulation following non-vascular administration. When the drug is given I.V., the bio-availability is 100%. This may not be so after oral administration. Acharyas of Ayurveda preached and practiced the oral route of administration for majority of drugs. ‘Anupana’ (substance administered either with the drug or after its administration) facilitates for better absorption of the drug and helps in achieving higher percentage of bio-availability of the drug.

1. Drugs are metabolised by the enzymes.

2. Drugs could change spontaneously into other substance without intervention of enzymes.

3. Drug could be excreted unchanged.

Basic concepts of Ayurvedic pharmacology


The alteration of drug’s form and modification of action are well elucidated in Ayurveda in terms of Pratyayarbadhata i.e. Samana and Vichitra Pratyayarabdhata. It may be interpreted that Samana Pratyayarbdhi Dravya may be excreted unchanged while Vichitra Pratyyarabdha Dravya may change into other substances.

A careful review of principles of Ayurvedic physiology and pharmacology indicates that Ahara (food substances) and Oushadha (drugs) Dravyas undergo digestion and metabolism synthesises nutritive and active principles along with Kitta formation. The substances like Mutra, Purisha, Sweda are the bi-products of drug metabolism and drug metabolites are excreted through them. The metabolism of drug usually tends to make the less polar, lipid soluble substances (Guru Guna Dravyas) as more polar and water soluble (Laghu) thus facilitating their excretion by kidneys. If a drug is already highly polar and water soluble, then it may not get metabolised and may get excreted as such. Excretion of each and every herb was not studied and reported so far.

The important channels of drug excretion are

1. Kidneys

2. Lungs

3. Skin

4. Bile

5. Intestines

6. Milk and

7. Saliva.

Basic concepts of Ayurvedic pharmacology


Some fraction of the administered drug disappears (eliminated) from the body and is reflected in the rate of lowering of its plasma concentration (plasma half-life or biological half life). It is very difficult to calculate biological half-life for herbs as the plant contains many active principles and research to assess the concentration of the particular active principle by analysing blood/plasma has not been so far developed. To study the total pharmaco-kinetics of the herb one has to administer it with radioisotopes and plot the journey of the drug which may facilitate also to identify the route of excretion of the drug.

Site of Drug Action:

The site of drug action (Adhikarana) and mechanism of drug action (Dravya Prabhava & Guna Prabhava), are the two most fundamental and yet most complex problems in pharmacodynamics.

Generalising about the site of drug action (Dosha-Dhatu-Mala-Agni- Sutas) is easy, but the precise determination of specific site and the mechanism of action of the drug is difficult and often impossible.

A drug may act

at the point of application (Nipata)

during transportation in the body (Adhivasa)

by reflex effects through nerves

by reaching a definite concentration in a particular tissue.

Drugs that act only at the site of application are said to have local or topical action (through Nipata by Rasa & virya) while those that act after

Basic concepts of Ayurvedic pharmacology


absorption are said to have a systemic or general actions (through Nishtakarma & Adhivasa by Vipaka & Virya)

Modern pharmacology attributes the activity of a drug to its chemical structure and Ayurveda explains it by the drug’s Panchabhautic configuration and the profile of Panchabhautic ratio is inferred with the general principles like Rasa, Guna, Virya and Vipaka.

The ability of a drug to get bound to a receptor is termed as the affinity of the drug for the receptor. The ability of the drug to elicit a pharmacological response after its interaction with the receptor is termed as the intrinsic activity of the drug or efficacy of the drug. A drug which initiates a pharmacological action after combining with the receptors is termed as an agonist. Drugs which bind to the receptors but are not capable of eliciting a pharmacological response are termed as antagonists. An antagonist, therefore, has the affinity as the agonist for the receptor but its intrinsic activity is poor.

Facilitation of a pharmacological response by the concomitant use of two or more drugs is called synergism. This combination usually results in a total effect greater than the sum of their independent actions. By combining Tulya Virya (similar potency) drugs the formulation acts by synergism. The phenomenon of opposing actions of two drugs on the same physiological system is termed as drug antagonism. The best example is administration of Viruddha (opposite) Virya drugs. Eg. The combination of Rasna (Vathara drug) with Jambu (Vatakara drug)

Basic concepts of Ayurvedic pharmacology


Though the term potentiation is not acceptable to modern pharmacology Charaka has explicitly promulgated the concept of potentiation of drug efficacy by triturating the drug with its own juice (Swarasa Bhavana). Drug incompatability is similar to the concept of Virudhatwa described in Ayurveda. Ayurveda has also recorded adverse drug reaction with certain herbs like Bhallataka (marking nut) etc.

It was my preveilage to work under late Prof. Shivcharan Dhyani, H.O.D. Dept. of Dravyaguna, I.P.G.T & R, Gujarat Ayurved University, Jamnagar, who was a fountain source of inspiration and rendered his ablest guidance during my Post-Graduate studies. The research work carried out under his guidance on the concept of Virya was published already in some of the standard Ayurvedic Journals. For the benefit of students of Ayurveda and academicians, I have reproduced some of the salient concepts of Ayurvedic Pharmacology along with the summary of Research Studies carried out by me on Virya – one of the fundamental principles of Drug action. I believe the readers will find the study of this book rewarding and satisfying. I specially acknowledge M/S Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series, Varanasi for publishing this work.

Date: 22-5-2007 K. NISHTESWAR











The subject of usage of herbs and herbo-mineral drugs is as old as disease. Illness has been human beings heritage from the beginning of the existence of life and the search for remedies to combat it is perhaps is equally old.

The herbs and other things were in use as medicine to a limited extent from the very Vedic period. Over and above these medicinal plants, metals like gold, lead, tin, copper etc. were known to the Vedic Rishis, but there is no evidence to show that they were put to any medicinal use in those days. Their medicinal use receives more attention during the Samhita period. Due to great influence of Atharvan more importance was attributed to divine

therapy (Daivavyapasraya medicine) viz. incantations, gems or magical stones, herbal amulets and sacred water etc. This was just an incipient gleam of knowledge of therapeutics. The object of such reference to the drugs of the Vedic times is to show that there was no definite theory to explain the actions of drugs in those days and even if there was one, we have no means of knowing it.

Gradually, the floating ideas of Vedic times received more thinking and more criticism till they were put together to form a comprehensive theory regarding the pharmacology of drugs. In this course of development, the fundamentals must have faced great controversies and after long scientific discussions only, they could have attained their stability as we find such illustrations in Charaka and Sushruta Samhitas. On account of incessant intellectual activities and numerous observations by several workers, the number of drugs enormously increased during the Samhita period. Not only this but the old empiricism had disappeared, giving place to a definite theory, known as a theory of Rasa, Guna, Veerya, Vipaka and Prabhava. With this effect the herbal therapy went on progressing as a rational (Yuktivyapasraya) school of medicine.

Ayurveda is mainly concerned with prescribing drugs to balance the vitiated doshas. It’s pathology is concerned with doshas, dhatus and malas. So, any action of the drug is to be explained only on this basis.

Modern Pharmacology being interested in studying the actions of the drug on different systems or parts of the body describes all drugs on the basis of Karma, they perform. In Ayurveda, in relation to pharmaco dynamics, the

properties of drugs have been described in terms of Rasa, Vipaka, Guna, Virya and Prabhava.

Drayva i.e., substance (food or drug) acts by its innate qualities (Gunas) such as Rasa, Guna, Virya, Vipaka and Prabhava or through its own Prabhava.

Panchamaha Bhutas act as contributing factors for the formation of a dravya as well as its Gunas. The elementary substances (Panchamula Bhutas) with which every substance is constituted are the Karana or the cause and hence they are called as Karana Dravyas. Whereas Rasa, Guna, Virya, Vipaka and Prabhava of the substances which arise out of the permutations & combinations of the 5 elementary substances in various modes and patterns are really the effects or Karyas. Substances arise out of the various modes of permutations and combinations of the five elementary substances are described as Karya Dravyas.

The properties which exist in the causative factors (Panchamaha Bhutas) are present in the resultant factors (Karya Dravyas). These properties become actualized in the effect or Karya; which are described in terms of Rasa, Guna, Virya, Vipaka and Prabhava. Rasadi Panchaka are the modes of Gunas of Panchamaha Bhutas and stated in terms of recent trends in the modern physics – “The initial state of a system wholly determines its subsequent states.” The Dravyas arise on the substrate of Prithvi.










(Rasapanchaka) of drug action is mandatory to understand the rationality of

modus operandi of Ayurvedic drugs.


It is an important quality manifested at the level of tongue and is the only principle or quality which can be directly perceivable. The Rasa or taste which is cognized first (by impact with the tongue) is considered as Rasa (Primary taste) and the Rasas which are less apparent or cognizable are called Anurasas (Secondary Taste).

Scholar of Dravya Guna of Modern Ayurveda namely Acharya Priya Vrat Sharma has discussed concept of Rasa basing on the Physico-Chemical constitution of substances as follows:



Sugar, Fat and Amino Acids









Essential Oils, Phenols etc.,



Certain Alkaloids and Glycosides




According to his hypothesis “carbohydrates and proteins are present in Madhua Rasa Dravyas. All the Amla Rasa Dravyas have shown Acidic Reaction and all the Dravyas in Lavana Varga are containing Sodium Chloride. All the Dravyas of Katu Varga are containing essential oil while 50% of Katu Dravyas contain alkaloids or glycoside or phenols. All the Tikta Drayvas contain alkaloids and only 10% of Dravyas contain Glycosides. Many of the Kashaya Rasa Dravyas contain tannin”. Professor Dwarakanath has attempted to evolve a method known as “Taste Threshold” for quantitative determination of Rasa in a given substance. The test is meant for

evaluating the intensity or degree of the taste which finally depends on the tongue only and not with any other laboratory instruments. The taste perception and taste sensibility are complex Bio-Physical and Psychological events and translation of Rasa cannot be exactly evaluated without the help of tongue.

Rasa & Guna Panchabhoutic combination and primary physical qualities or Gunas of different Rasas are mentioned in the Ayurvedic Classics. Though it appears that Gunas are intimately related to Rasas it is a fact that both are separate principles co-existent in the Dravya. This statement reflects that Rasa acts by its own Prabhava independent of the Gunas attributed to it. “Of the six Rasas Katu, Amla and Lavana possess consecutively Ushna Virya in progressively increasing degrees. Likewise, Tikta, Kashaya and Madhura Rasas possess consecutively Sita Virya in progressively increasing order”. According to this reference the six Rasas finally exercise their general actions by two principles or gunas namely Sita & Ushna and specific action on malas by another pair of Gunas namely Ruksha (Badda Mala – Binding of waste products) and Snigdha (Srishtamaltwa – Proper elimination of waste products). Another pair of Gunas namely Guru and Laghu are attributed to six Rasas. Lavana, Kshaya and Madhura Rasas possess Guru Gunas in progressively increasing degree (relatively superior) and similarly Amla, Katu, Tikta relatively attributed with Laghu Guna. Brimhana and Langhana are the actions of Guru and Laghu Gunas and the specific action of Rasas on Dhatus can be interpreted with Guru and Laghu Gunas. In a nut shell, the Shad Rasas (six tastes) are bestowed with the ability to participate in Shad Upakarmas (six therapeutic measures) with the

help of six Gunas namely Ushna-Sheeta, Sringdha-Ruksha and Guru-Laghu.






Katu, Amla, Lavana



Tikta Kashaya, Madhura



Lavana, Amla, Madhura



Tikta, Katu, Kashaya



Lavana, Kashaya, Madhura



Amla, Katu, Tikta

The above table clearly indicates that Dravya exercises its action through Gunas only and the individual Rasas of Dravyas help to infer the inherent Gunas of respective Dravyas. Virya-Vipaka:

Next to the concept of Rasa, Acharyas have the concepts of Virya and Vipaka which are directly related to Bio-Physical and Bio-Chemical events of food substances and drugs. Ahara or food and Oushadha or medicinal substances are subjected to physiochemical reactions or Pakas at Gastro- intestinal and tissue levels.

Charaka defined that Virya as the power that performs work. All actions takes place only because of Virya and there is no action which is not due to Virya. According to this definition the principles like Rasa, Gurvadi Guna, Vipaka and Prabhava which could be causative factor for the action is generally identified as Virya. But, Sushruta, Vagbhata and their followers did not agree with the views of Charaka and applied the term Virya to the eight primary qualities of elementary substances viz., Mridu-Teekshana, Guru Laghu, Snigdha-Ruksha, Ushna-Sita. Commenting on the concept of

Dwividha Viryas Hemadri quotes “Although the eight Gunas of Dravyas become actualized in the process of their Paka by kayagni, they (the Gunas eight or twenty) are ultimately transformed to Ushna and Sita due to the greater exaltation of these two Gunas (i.e., Ushna and Sheeta) which obscure or supercede the other Gunas.”

Classification of twenty Gunas

Anna or Shoma or Sita Virya or Potential Energy

Prana or Agni or Ushna Virya or Kinetic Energy





















Eight gunas with Virya status

Anna or Shoma or Sita Virya or Potential Energy

Prana or Agni or Ushna Virya or Kinetic Energy









Shivadas classified Virya as Sahaja (natural) and Kritrima (artificial)
























Katu or Amla


Viryas of Rasas:



Katu, Amla, Lavana


Tikta, Kashaya, Madhura


Properties of different Viryas

Name of the Virya

Action/Effect produced


Bhrama (giddiness) Trishna (Thirst) Glani (Bodily fatigue or exhaustion) Sweda (Sweating) Daha (Burning sensation) Asupakita (Accelerates digestion or biochemical reaction) Vata-Kaphahara


Hladana (cheerfulness or pleasure of mind) Jivana (Surtains life) Stambhana (Binding or preventing secretions) Raktapitta Prasadana (cleanses Rakta & Pitta)





Brimhana (increases the body weight) Vatahara


Langhana (reduces the body weight) Kaphahara















Pitta Prasamana Raktamamsa Prasadana Slathana








Assessment of Rasa, Vipaka and Virya:

The Rasa (taste) of a Dravya (substance) is felt at the commencement only i.e. when the Dravya comes in contact with the tongue (Nipata) and Vipaka is inferred only after perceiving the final effects of digestion and metabolism is produced (Karma Nishta) while Virya is identified throughout the stay of the substance in the body (Adhivasa) and also at the beginning through the contact with the tongue. (Nipata)

Sushruta suggests the following assessment criteria for eight Virya:

Name of the Virya

Method of assessment

Mridhu, Sheeta, Ushna

Sparshagrahya (Tacticle Perception)

Pichchila, Visada

Chakshu Sparshagraha (Visual & Tactile Perception)

Snigdha, Ruksha, Tikshna

Chakshu grahya (Visual perception)


Mukhadukhodpana (Irritating the buccal mucosa)

Though Sushruta considers that Virya by Pratyaksha Pramana, Charaka opines that Virya of the dravya is identified through inference (Anumana) according to its stay in the body while Virya of certain drug can be assessed by Pratyaksha Pramana (direct perception) after its contact with the tongue. Hemadri while commenting on the evaluation of Guna attributed specific actions to certain Gunas which are given Virya status viz.,


- Brimhana


- Langhana


- Sthambhana


- Swedana


- Kledana


- Soshana


- Slathana


- Sodhana

An attempt to evaluate the attributed Karmas at biological level either in animal or by human experiments may provide scientificity to the concept of Virya.

Professor Dwarakanath explains the concept of Virya in the light of Modern definition of energy “the energy of a body is its capacity for doing work; the measure of energy is work; when chemical changes take place energy is liberated or absorbed; usually as heat but occasionally as light, electricity or work. A reaction which liberates heat energy is said to be exothermic (Ushna Virya) and one which absorbes heat energy is said to be endothermic (Seeta Virya). Energy may be kinetic or potential. The energy locked up in substances especially food is known as chemical potential energy (Seeta Virya). The energy that is released for work by oxidation is known as kinetic energy (Ushna Virya). For transformation of energy from one form to another Paka Karma (Vipaka) in Dhatus or tissues is highly essential.


synthesis (Anabolic), involving the release and locking up of energy respectively are together known as Paka Bhedas.








From the above discussion it can be concluded that various energy forms are the modalities of Virya and reactions for the release or conservation of energy are the various forms of Vipaka. Gunas or physical

qualities or physical properties of substances are modes (or different manifestations) of Virya or energy. All the twenty Gunas comprising ten each of the opposites can be classified broadly under two Virya modes viz., Ushna and Sheeta corresponding to kinetic and potential energies respectively. Out of twenty Gunas, considerable significance has been attached to eight Gunas otherwise known as Asta Viryas as they are deemed to be effective in the performance of actions.


The Rasas of substances ingested being acted upon by Jatharagni are changed to different other tastes after attaining Pakva. It is this transformation of Rasas that is spoken of as Vipaka. A substance which is Madhura (sweet) in taste and Vipaka, is Sita Virya, that which is Amla Rasa and Vipaka, is Ushna in Virya. Similarly, that which is Katu in Rasa and Vipaka is Ushna in Virya. Various Vipakas represent highly specialized reaction to synthesise ultimate metabolic products.

Regarding the number of Vipakas different scholars held different views. Some hold that there are as many Vipakas as there are Rasas.

According to Charaka Vipakas are three viz., Madhura, Amla and Katu.

According to Sushruta, Vipakas are only two viz., Madhua and Katu.

Parashara has advanced another view that Tikta and Kashaya Rasas undergo Madhura Paka.

In the view of some of the authorities quoted by Sushruta, there are as many Vipakas as there are Rasas.

In the opinion of Ayurveda Sutra – substances that possess Katu Rasa may undergo Lavana Paka, Tikta Rasa may undergo Madhura Vipaka

and Kashaya Rasa may undergo Amla Vipaka.

Some interpret Vipakas as the specific mode of Pancha Bhoutic structure of the elemental units of the ultimate metabolic products. According to Hemadri “that evokes taste perception is Rasa and all the rest are Gunas. Particular or distinct Visishta Rasa or taste that occur as the result of Kayagnipaka is Vipaka and generated Guna at this stage is known as Virya”.

The substances are identified by two varieties of tastes i.e., Rasa (general) of a Dravya at tongue level (Shad Rasas) and Rasa (specific or Visishta) of a Dravya which has undergone Paka and specially named as Vipaka. Rasa and Vipaka are the two forms for the identifying the actions of substances either by direct perception at tongue level (Nipata) and by inference assessed through final action (Nishta Paka).

The final action achieved by Dravya continues as long as the bodily contact with engendered Guna or Virya through Vipaka maintains (Adhivasa). The action ceases when Virya (Virya Yukta Dravya i.e., Drug Molecule) is excreted or expelled out of the body.

The action attributed to Rasa, Virya and Vipaka are explained in terms of Guna only. Charaka has tried to explain regarding the identification or recognition of these Gunas at various contact points in the body during the journey of the drug such as Gunas identification at tongue level with the help of Rasa (Nipatat) by direct perception and through inference at Dhatu (tissue) level; with the terms such as Vipaka (Nishtapaka) and Virya (Adhivasa)


Prabhava has been defined as the special property of a substance which produces actions different from and contrary to those ascribed to Rasa, Guna, Virya and Vipaka.

The concept of Prabhava appears to be generally resembling the concept of isomerism and isomerides of modern physical compositions and yet exhibit different properties. The chemical composition which largely determines the secondary qualities of a Dravya such as Rasa, Guna, Virya and Vipaka does not determine a chemical compound. The Rasa, Guna, Virya and Vipaka of Danti and Chitraka being apparently identical, the former produces purgation, whereas the latter does not produce this action and the specific purgative action of Danti is attributed to its Prabhava (inexplicable nature).

It is easy to evaluate or assess different Karmas (pharmacological actions) of drugs through various experimental models but it is a tough task to evolve objective methodology for demonstration or identification of principles of drug action. Acharyas of Ayurveda clearly mentioned that Gunas are inferred by their Karmas or actions which are perceivable.

In order to test the medicinal value of any drug, three methods i.e. (i) Clinical, (ii) Pharmacological and (iii Experimental are in practice from a time immemorial. In those days the experimental trial was in rudimentary stage and the clinical evaluation was very common. Now a days, though more stress is being given on animal experimentation. But this does

not help to that extent, in order to declare the utility of a drug, as is confirmed after clinical testings. Moreover, the results obtained in experimental animal are often found to be different to that of human beings. Thus, it becomes evident that the ancient drugs having clear cut indications, ascribed in the texts should not be ignored or accepted only on experimental basis, until they are tested clinically both with active principles (isolates) as well as total drug.


The Ayurvedic Science delineated important three principles (Trisutra) viz., etiology (Hetujnana), symptomatology (Lingjnana) and therapeutics (Oushadhajnana). Etiology includes the immediate and distant cause of diseases. Similarly the symptomatology includes the entire signs and symptoms of diseases and health and the therapeutics include wholesome diet along with the treatment of diseases. Ayurvedic concepts of pharmacology are included under Oushadhajnana.

Correct Application of the drug is essential:

The goatherds, shepherds, cowherds and other forest dwellers know the drugs by name and form. No one can know the principles governing correct application of drugs simply by knowing their names and forms. A physician, even ignorant of their forms can be said to be a knower of the essence [of science] if he is acquainted with the principles governing the correct application of drugs, let alone the one who knows drugs in their entirety. One who knows the principals governing their correct application in consonance with the place, time and individual variation, should be regarded as the best physician. Of course, the best physician is he who is well acquainted with the drugs in their entirety.

One has to establish the correct identification of drug prior to its collection. Sushruta suggests that the knowledge of identification of herbs can be obtained by contact with cow-herds, herds, hermits, hunters and others who roam in jungles and take root (of plants) as food.

A drug not known is likened to poison, weapon, fire and thunderbolt

while the one known, to the nectar. A drug known in respect of its name, form and properties or even if known, improperly administered, leads to bad consequences.

Proper application of drugs depends upon their proper knowledge. Unless the physician knows the drugs properly he cannot cure a patient; his prescription would rather kill his patient. The drug unknown, might act as poison which kills after bringing about unconsciousness or as a weapon which kills after piercing through the vital organs, or like fire which kills by causing boils, etc. or as a thunderbolt which kills instantaneously. It is only when a physician knows all the three aspects, viz., name, form and properties of drugs. The physician can treat the patients successfully.

Even an acute poison can become an excellent drug if it is properly administered. On the other hand even a drug, if not properly administered, becomes an acute poison. So a wise patient desirous of longevity and health should not accept any medicine prescribed by a physician ignorant of the principles governing its application. Some times, one might escape (death) even when thunderbolt of Indra has fallen on his head, but one can never survive if he takes medicine prescribed by a physician ignorant of the application.

To sum up, neither the patient should take medicine prescribed by pseudo-physicians, nor a physician, without being proficient in the principles governing the application of drugs.

It is

only he who can relieve his patients of their ailments is the best physician.

Only that, which can bring about a cure, is a correct medicine.

For the purpose of the Science of medicine, it is necessary to explain the qualities of correct medicine and a good physician. It is only that which possesses the requisite curative values is to be treated as a correct medicine. As regards physician, he should first of all know the principles underlying the correct application of medicines. Unless he knows it, he will not be able to relieve his patients of their ailments. Even if per chance, medicines selected by him at random succeed in alleviating ailments, the credit is considered as accidental one.

Classification of Dravya:

Akasa etc., (Prithvi, Ap, Tejas, Vayu and Akasa), soul, mind, time and space constitute matter. Matter having sense organs is sentient while the one devoid of them is insentient.

Chakrapani Dutta interprets that “This definition applies also to the vegetable kingdom; that is to say the vegetable kingdom is also sentient. Many examples can be cited to prove this. The Suryabhakta (Helianthms annus Linn.) moves according to the movement of the sun. The Lavali (Gicea acida Merrill) gets fruits just on hearing the sound of the thunder. The Bijapuraka (Citrus medica Linn.) tree produces fruits only by the smell of the fat of jackals etc., similarly Amra (Mangifera indica Linn.) trees when irrigated with the fat of fish, produces fruits in plenty. Ashoka tree (Saraca indica Linn.) hit with the sole of the feet of a lady begets flowers. The above example clearly indicates the presence of the various sense organs in the vegetable kingdom as well. This is also attested from scriptures. “If a Brahmin does not give blessings in response to salutations, he is born in a cemetery as a tree surrounded by vultures and Kankas.” “Trees, shrubs and other varieties of grass are covered with darkness arising out of their sinful

acts but they all have consciousness full of happiness and miseries. The extent of creation beginning with Brahma is up to vegetable kingdom.” Thus, the members of the vegetable kingdom have got life as well as consciousness. So they belong to category of sentient matter”. Vedic lorwe clearly indicated that plants do have life and modern scientists like Jagadish Chandra Bose have tried to revalidate these concepts through scientific experiments.

Drugs are of three categories, some alleviate Doshas, some vitiate Dhatus and some are good for the maintenance of positive health.

This three-fold classification of drugs also includes other type of drugs which are responsible for elimination and suppression of Doshas. Elixirs and aphrodisiac drugs come under the third category which are responsible for the maintenance of positive health.

The use of the term “Dosha” and “Dhatu” in the first and second category of classification is quite significant. “Doshas” include “Dhatus” and Vice-Versa. So the drugs that are designated as alleviators of the Doshas also alleviate Dhatus. Similarly, the drugs that have been designated as vitiators of the Dhatus do as well vitiate Doshas. The drugs under the third category are those which have potentialities to maintain the positive health. Apparently it also means that the drugs have got potentialities to prevent the diseases.

According to another classification, Dravyas are of three kinds viz., those of animal origin, those of vegetable origin and metals including


Different types of honey, products of cow milk, bile, fats of

muscle tissue, marrow, blood, flesh, faeces, urine, skin, semen, bone, ligament, horn, nail, hoof, hair, Lomana, (hair of the body excluding those of the head and face), Rochana (purified Ox bile) - are some of the drugs of animal origin used in medicine.

Gold, five Lohas (copper, silver, tin, lead, and iron) along with their byeproducts (different types of bitumen), calcites along with silica, red arsenic, yellow arsenic, gems, salt, red chalk, collyrium – are in brief the metals and minerals used in medicine.

The drugs of vegetable origin are of four types viz. Vanaspati, Vaanaspatya, Virudh, and Oshadhi. Vanaspati is the one having fruits only (without flower). Vaanaspati has flowers as well as fruits. The drugs belonging to the class of Virudh are those which spread with branches. Oshadhis are those which die out when their fruits mature. The root, bark, Sara (aqueous extract), secretions, fibre, juice, tender leaves, alkali preparations, latex, fruits, flowers, ashes, oils, thorns, matured leaves, adventitious roots, rhizomes, sprouts are belonging to the group of drugs of vegetable origin.

In another classification the drugs are classified according to part used viz., Moolini (Root) and Phalini (fruits). The Mula (Root), Twak (bark), Sara (heartwood), Niryasa (Secretions/gums), Nala (fibre), Swarasa (juice), Pallava (tender leaf), Kshara (Alkali), Ksheera (latex), Phala (fruit), Bhasma (Ash), Taila (oil), Kantaka (Thorn), Patra (leaf), Sunga (adventitious roots), Kanda (rhizome), Praroha (sprouts) are the useful parts of the drugs of vegetable origin. Charaka also describes the plant with useful parts like roots

and fruits which are indicated in Panchakarma measures. He further explains about the drugs that are useful for various elimination (sodhana) therapies in Apamarga Tanduliyaka (Dehusked seeds of Apamarga) chapter. Drugs are of two kinds – one variety of drugs is used for internal cleaning (Abhyantara Parimarjana) and the other for external cleaning (Bahi Parimarjana). The drugs related to later category are described under Aragwadhiyam chapter.

In the chapter entitled ‘Satvirechana Satashritiyam’ the drugs useful both for internal as well as external cleansing are being explained. In this chapter fifty groups consisting of ten drugs each on the basis of pharmacological actions as well as therapeutic utility are introduced by Charaka which are popularly known as Dasaemani. In total five hundred drugs are listed among fifty groups and the same drug is repeatedly quoted in a number of groups of decoctives. After elaborative descriptions about the drugs of different groups Charaka humbly states that “the description of 500 decoctives (Mahakashaya) is neither too exhaustive nor too brief. Physicians of lower intelligence will, of course, find this list useful enough in the treatment of various diseases but those possessing high intellectual caliber need not confine themselves to this list. Physician may exercise his own imaginative power in finding out other similar drugs as well, according to the principles laid down in Ayurveda and keeping in view the requirements of the patient.

Dravya Pradhanya – (Importance of the substance):

Dravya (substance) is the chief (most important) among Rasa (tastes) and others qualities; because all of them (qualities) are residing in it (substance).

It (substance) is Panchabhutatmaka (composed of, born from the five elements), it has Ksma (Prithvi Bhuta) as its substratum (mass, support), it takes origin from Ambu (Apbhuta), Agni (Tejas Bhuta), Pavana (Vayu Bhuta) and Nabhas (Akasa Bhuta), with their intimate (inseparable) combination making for its formation and specify (of each substance). Its identification/designation is by preponderance (predominance, of the Bhuta present in it).

Nothing is Non – Medicinal There is nothing in this universe, which is non-medicinal, which cannot be made use of for many purposes and by many modes. Origin of substance takes place by combination of Prithvi, Ap, Tejas, Vayu and Akasa. Only predominance of one of them creates distinctions such as this is Parthiva, this is Apya, this is Taijasa, this is Vayavya and this is Akasiya.

Parthiva Dravya Lakshana (Qualities of Parthiva substances) The substance which possesses qualities such as Guru (heaviness), Sthula (bulky), Sthira (stable) and predominant in Gandha (smell) is Parthiva (earthy); it bestows heaviness, stability, compactness and growth.

Apya Dravya Lakshana (Qualities of Apya substances) The substance which possesses qualities such as Drava (liquidity), Sita (cold), Guru (heaviness), Snigdha (unctuousness, moisture, oiliness), Manda (dull), Sandra (thickness, dense) and predominant in Rasa (taste) is Apya (watery); it confers lubrication (moistness), secretion (moisture, production), Kleda (keeping wet), satiation (contentment, satisfaction) and cohesion (binding, holding together).

Agneya Dravya Lakshana (Qualities of Agneya substances) The substance which possesses qualities such as Ruksha (dry), Tikshna (penetrating, sharp), Ushna (hot), Vishada (non-slimy), Sukshma (minute) and predominant in Rupa (appearance, showing, from); it causes burning sensation, lustre, expression of colour and digestion (process of transformation, putrefaction etc.)

Vayaviya Dravya Lakshana – (Qualities of Vayaviya Substances) Vayaviya substance possesses qualities such as Ruksha (dry), Vishada (non-slimy), Laghu (lightness) and predominant in Sparsa (touch tactile sensation), it produces dryness, lightness, transparency, movements (different kinds of activities) and exhaustion.

Nabhasa Dravya Lakshana – (Qualities of Nabhasa Substance) Nabhasa (Akasiya) substance possess qualities such as Sukshma (minuteness), Visada (transparence, clearness), Laghu (lightness) and predominant in Sabda (sound, hearing); it produces cavitation (hollowness) and lightness (weightlessness).

Purgative drugs are predominant in qualities of Prithvi and Ap which are heavy and as such move downwards, hence, by inference, purgative is predominant in qualities of down-moving elements eg. Prithvi and Ap; emetic drugs are predominant in qualities of Agni and Vayu which are light and as such move upwards, hence emetic is predominant in qualities of up- moving elements e.g. Agni and Vayu. That acting in both ways in predominant in qualities of both the above two; pacifying drug is predominant in qualities of Akasa; astringent drug is predominant in qualities

of Vayu because of its drying nature; Dipana (stimulating digestive fire) is predominant in qualities of Agni because of its similarity; Lekhana (decreasing body-weight) is predominant in qualities of Vayu and Agni; Brimhana (increasing body-weight) is predominant in qualities of Prithvi and Ap. In this way, action of drugs may be interpreted by inference.

Here heaviness and lightness should be taken as governed by specific potency situated in Trivrit, Madana etc. and not in the ordinary sense otherwise fish, floury food, lentils etc. would be purgatives and grey partridge, quail etc. might come into the emetic group; Lekhana – decreasing body-weight, by depleting Kapha and fat.

Vayu is pacified by substances composed of Prithvi, Tejas and Ap; Pitta is pacified by those composed of Prithvi, Ap and Vayu while Kapha is pacified by substances composed of Akasa, Tejas and Vayu. (On the contrary), Vayu is increased by substances composed of Akasa and Vayu, substance which is igneous in nature increases Pitta while Kapha is increased by those composed of Prithvi and Ap.

In this way, in every substance, the predominance of qualities should be observed and, considering its effect on two or more Doshas, that should be applied in case of aggravated Doshas.

Drug classification according to Rasa (According to Sushruta):

Substances in reference to all are enumerated such as Kakolyadi group, milk, ghee, muscle-fat, marrow, Sali and Sastika rice, barley, wheat, blackgram, Sringataka, Kaseruka, Trapusa, Ervaruka, Karkaruka, Alabu, Kalinda, Kataka, Gilodya, Priyala, Pushkarabija, Kashmarya, Madhuka,

Draksha, Kharjura, Rajadana, Tala, Narikela, products of Ikshu (sugarcane), Bala, Atibala, Kapikacchu, Vidari, Payaysa, Gokshura, Kshiramorata, Madhulika, Kushmanda etc. are included in the sweet group.

Dadima, Amalaka, Matulunga, Amrataka, Kapittha, Karamarda, Badara, Kola, Prachinamalaka, Tintidika, Koamra, Bhavya, Paravata, Vetraphala, Lakucha, Amlavetasa, Dantasatha, curd, buttermilk, Sura (alcoholic beverage made of barley), vinegar, different types of sour gruel etc. are included in the sour group.

Saindhava, Sauvarchala, Vida, Pakya, Romaka, Samudraka, Paktrima, Yavakshara, that obtained from desert, Suvarchika etc. are briefly, the members of the salty group.

Pippalyadi, Surasadi, Sigru, Madhusigru, Mulaka, Lasuna, Sumukha, Sitasiva, Kustha, Devadaru, Harenuka, Bakuchiphala, Chanda, Guggulu, Musta, Langali, Sukanasa, Pilu etc. and mostly Salasaradi group come in the pungent group.

Aragvadhadi, Guduchyadi, Mandukaparni, sprouts of Vetra, two types of Haridra, Indrayava, Varuna, Vikankata, Saptaparna, two types of Brihati, Sankhini, Dravanti, Trivrit, Kritavedhana, Karkotaka, Karavellaka, Vartaka, Karira, Karavira, Jati, Sankhapushpi, Apamarga, Trayamana, Katuka, Vaijayanti (Tarkari), Suvarchala, Punarnava, Vrischikali, Jyotismati etc. briefly, come in the bitter group.

Nyagrodhadi, Ambasthadi, Priyangvadi, Rodhradi, Triphala; fruits of










Pasanabheda, mostly Salasaradi group, Kuruvaka, Kovidara, Jivanti, Chilli, Palankya, Sunisannaka etc. and Varaka, Mudga etc. are included in the astringent group.


It is not that the various drugs and diets act only by virtue of their

qualities. In fact they act by virtue of their own nature or qualities or both on

a proper occasion, in a given location, in appropriate condition and

situations; the effect so produced is considered to be their action (Karma);

the factor responsible for the manifestation of the effect is known as Virya; where they act is the Adhisthana (location); when they act is the time, how they act is the Upaya or mode of action; what they accomplish is the achievement or therapeutic effect. (Charaka Smhita) Chkrapani Dutta further explains that some drugs act by virtue of their own nature; e.g. Danti (Baliospermum montanum Muell-Arg.) is purgative and precious stones are antitoxic. Some other drugs act by virtue

of their qualities; e.g. fever is cured by drugs having bitter taste and coldness

by the heat of the fire. Some other drugs act by virtue of their own nature as well as their qualities; e.g. cow milk boiled with a gold ring is considered to be aphrodisiac – Rcf. Chikitsa2:3:11, by virtue of the very nature of gold as well as its circularity.

When errhines are administered they eliminate Doshas from the head

– that is their action. The factor like heat which is responsible for this action

is Virya (potency) relating either to the drug or its quality. The site where

the elimination takes place i.e.is the Adhikarana (location); errhines do not act when administered elsewhere. The spring season or the time when the

head is heavy is the appropriate time or Kala for the administration of this therapy. This therapy is not effective in other seasons or occasions. This therapy is to be administered in accordance with the prescribed procedure. Pradhamana and Avapidana are to be administered while the patient lies on a bed covered with a bed sheet; his head is projected out of the bed and his

eyes are closed. This is Upaya or mode of administration.

By the

administration of this therapy, heaviness and pain etc., of the head are cured. This is Phala or the object of treatment.

The modern investigations on the action of drugs are carried out by observing the effects when these are -

1. Administrated to living animals – healthy or diseased.

2. Applied on the isolated organs or other tissues of certain animals & also on various infecting organisms.

3. Investigated through radio-activate isotopes and by electron microscope.

4. Also administered to a human being in healthy and in diseased states

for therapeutic purpose. While explaining the drug action two points deserve attention (1) where a drug acts and (2) How a drug acts?

Where a drug acts A drug may act locally, exactly on the tissues it comes in intimate contact with, either on the superficial epithelia of the skin, mouth, upper respiratory tract or other parts of the body where the drug can have direct access (also called direct or topical actions). A drug may act on certain particular tissues or organs having selective affinity by the absorption into the circulation. This is known as specific selective or systematic action of

the drug.

Recent conceptions of drug action Whatever may be the mode of administration of a drug and its distribution in the body, it acts only when it reaches certain specific tissue cell either its surface or its interior. This is known as receptor theory. Highly potent drugs probably act on the tissue through certain receptors which are speculated to be localized on the surface of the cells or are parts of an enzyme system. These fitting like keys in the locks. Cell theory was described by Charak as “Sharira Avayavasthu Paramanu Bhedana Aprisanakyaya Bhavanti’. The action is achieved depending upon localization of receptors and the concentration of drug to which the receptor is exposed. If a drug acts by interaction with relatively non-specialized receptor, that is a receptor that serves functions common to most cells, its effects will be wide spread (Doshapratyanika action). If a drug interacts with specialized receptors its effects are more specific (Vyadhipratyanika action). Sometimes same drug may exercise different actions in the body by interaction with different Adhikaranas.

Enzymes The enzymes play an important part in the body activity and many drugs probably act through the enzymes. These are known as pitta modalities which take part in the drug metabolism.

How a drug acts Some of the drugs act purely by physical means. Oils applied externally to skin (Abhyanga) and internally (Ghritapan )act in this manner.

Drug may act chemically by its chemical affinity it fixes up to certain tissues, or produces a new active substances at the nerve ends where it acts or it combines with some other substance in the blood or tissue and acts. Special action A drug may have well marked selective action on a particular part of the body even in minute doses. Most of the alkaloids act in this way. A drug may either increase (Vriddhi) or diminish the altered physiological functions of a particular type of tissue in disease and the result is either stimulation or depression of its function. Rasas have mostly local and some general effects till the digestion is completed. The Rasa, in the final form circulates through Rasa Dhatu all over the body and influences the doshas and metabolic processes. When it comes in contact with Doshas it increases or decreases them according to similar or dissimilar properties. Rasa, Guna and sometimes Virya have local action, while Vipaka and Virya have systematic action and Prabhava has got specific action. External administration (Bahiparimarjanam) of drugs are mostly directed towards local action while internal administration (Antah Parimarjam) towards systematic action.












absorption. distribution, metabolism and excretion of drugs. Absorption and bio-availability of drugs play an important role in pharmacokinetics. Bio- availability of a drug is decided by the rate of appearance and the total amount of the active drug in the systemic circulation. The changes that a drug undergoes in the body and its ultimate excretion are considered as the fate of the drug. Alteration of a drug within a living organism is known as

Bio-transformation. Charaka has envisaged the concept about the pharmaco- kinetics of drugs in the Kalpasthana as follows. The drugs that are Ushna (hot), Tikshna (acute), Sukshma (subtle),Vyavayi (diffuse and antispasmodic) reaching the heart by virtue of their potency and circulating through the large and small blood vessels, pervade the entire body. They liquefy the accumulated morbid matter therein by virtue of their quality and break up their acuteness (ch. Kal.l). In this verse the drug absorption, systematic circulation of the drug throughout the body with certain qualities and specific actions on Malas was described. This gives generalized picture about the pharmaco-kinetics of drugs described in Ayurved. Charaka has put in his observation in Sutrasthana about the excretion of malas with the action of drugs or certain pre-operative process for Sodhana karma as – After a person has taken the oleation he should be under observation for muhurta (48minutes). One should recognize the liquefaction of morbid humor by the appearance of perspiration of the body, the dislodgement of morbid humors from their seats by horripilation; it’s reaching the stomach by the distension of the belly, its separation and upward course by belching and salivation


Virya is a fundamental principle of drug action which dominates all the other principles such as Rasa, Guna and Vipakas. The action of drug is determined mostly by Virya. In view of Charaka, any principle which is responsible for action is Virya has been grouped in to two as Sita and Ushna which represent the primordial factors of Soma and Agni – initiators of creation of living world. Virya has been classified into two and eight types. Eight Gunas out of twenty have deemed to be potent enough and they were conferred by the Virya status. They are Laghu, Guru, Sita, Ushna, Snigdh, Ruksha, Mrudu, and Tikshna. These eight viryas play an important role in

the pharmacokinetics of every drug. Snigdha and Ruksha Viryas invariably influence the digestion of drugs in the gastrointestinal tract. The out come after these chemical reaction by snigdha and Ruksha Virya is absorbed and conveyed into the systematic circulation with the influence of Sita and Ushna Viryas and pervaded to all the cells. Drug acts either on the cell wall or intracellular substance and exercises it’s final action by Guru and Laghu Viryas. End product of entire reactions in excreted through Malas which are conveyed to certain excretory organs by Shita and Ushna Viryas. In fact all the 8 Viryas can be incorporated into two groups only.

Shita Group – Snigdha, Guru, Mrudu. Ushna Group – Ruksha, Laghu, Tikshna. Any ingested drug is subjected to Jatharagnipaka, Bhutagnipaka and Dhatwagnipaka. The so called Paka Kriya is Agneya Pradhana. So Ushna Virya plays a main role in the drug metabolism, while Shita Virya also having equal, opposite and most important role in pharmacokinetics.

One can admit without hesitation that Virya occupies an important place in explaining the pharmacokinetics of Ayurvedic drugs. But most scientific approach is imperative for the comprehension of the exact role of Virya.


The Gunas are of three types – (i) those constituting the distinctive features of the five elements, (ii) those common to five elements and (iii) those relating to the soul.

The Gunas of the first category are sound (Sabda), touch (Sparsa), vision (Rupa), taste (Rasa) and smell (Gandha) constituting the distinctive features of Akasa, Vayu, Agni, Ap, and Prithvi respectively.

Those of the second category are heaviness (Guru), lightness (Laghu), coldness (Sita), heat (Ushna), unctuousness (Snigdha), roughness (Ruksa), dullness (Manda), sharpness (Tikshna), immobility (Sthira), mobility (Sara), softness (Mridu), hardness (Kathina), non-slimness (Visada), sliminess (Picchila), smoothness (Slaksana) and liquidity (Drava).

The Gunas of the third category are intellect (Budhi) including memory (Smriti), consciousness (Chetana), patience (Dhriti) and ego (Ahamkara) etc., desire (Iccha), hatred (Dvesa), happiness (Sukha), misery (Duhkha), efforts (Prayatna) predominance (Para), subordination (Apara), propriety (Yukti), number (Samkhya), combination (Samyoga), division (Vibhaga), separation (Prithakiva), measurement (Parimana), transformation (Samskara) and repetition (Abhyasa).

The one which is a substratum of the qualities and actions and which is a concomitant cause is the matter.

By definition, matter happens to be the substratum of qualities and

actions and it is also the concomitant cause of another matter and qualities as well as actions. The capacity to produce something out of its own rests only in the matter. Neither the qualities nor action can produce something out of their own. So the matter and not the qualities or action can constitute concomitant cause.

Guna possesses inseparable concomitance; it is the cause and devoid of efforts. Chakrapani interprets that “Unlike Karma, Guna is devoid of any (curative) efforts. Besides, Guna has also inseparable concomitance as distinct from Akasa, etc. Which though devoid of efforts do not have inseparable concomitance as their substrata. Similarly, Karman is quite distinct from gross matter which forms the substratum for action. Unlike generic concomitance (Samanya), variant factor (Visesa) and inseparable concomitance (Samanya), which do not constitute causes, Guna represents a causative factor as well. However, to say that the Guna is the cause is only partially correct.”


Karma (action) present in the matter is the cause of combination and separation. Karma is the action relating to something to be achieved. It does not require any other factor for its action.

Action is simultaneously the cause of combination and separation. While combination does not cause separation and Vice Versa, the action present in the matter causes both combination as well as separation.

Karman does not require any other subsequent help in the process of causing separation from the previous position as well as combination with

the subsequent position. Although matter is simultaneously a factor for causing combination and separation, still it is so only when it possesses Karma. Karman, on the other hand, does cause combination and separation as soon as it is produced without requiring any other subsequent help except the proximity to the substratum of the combination and separation.

By definition, Karma here implies only the action relating to something to be achieved (like the action of drugs, etc.) and not something like Vamanakarma (emetic therapy) or Adristakarma (invisible past action).

Charaka categories dravyas into three groups i.e. Doshaprasamaka (alleviate doshas), Dhatu pradushana (vitiate dhatus) and Swasthahita (maintenance of positive health). In this classification Doshas include Dhatus and vice-versa. So the drugs that are designated as alleviators of the doshas also alleviate dhatus. Similarly the drugs that are designated as vitiators of the dhatus do as well vitiated doshas. The drugs under third category are those which have potentialities to prevent the diseases. These drugs are useful for maintenance of the equilibrium of the tissue elements so that they are neither aggravated nor decreased and help in the normal functioning of the body.

Charaka has furnished the following pharmacological actions with certain examples.

1. Jeevaniya Varga (Invigorators)

2. Brimhaneeya Varga (Nourishing drugs)

3. Lekhaniya Varga (Reducing corpulency)

4. Bhedhaneeya Varga (Cathertics)


Sandhaneeya Varga (Healers of wound)

6. Deepaniya Varga (Digestive stimulants)

7. Balya Varga (Strength Promoters)

8. Varnya (Complexion Promoters)

9. Kantya Varga (Useful for throat)

10. Hrudya Varga (Cardiac tonics)

11. Tripthighna Varga (Removes the sense of Pseudo contentment)

12. Arshoghna Varga (Anti-haemorroidals)

13. Kushtaghna Varga (Curatives of all skin diseases):

14. Kandooghna Varga (Anti pruritics)

15. Krimighna Varga (Anti- infectives)

16. Vishaghna Varga (Anti-toxics)

17. Sthanyajanana Varga (Galactogogues)

18. Sthanya shodhana Varga (Galacto-purificators)

19. Shukrajanana Varga (Spermatopoitics)

20. Shukra shodhana Varga (Spermato purificators)

21. Snehopaga Varga (Adjuvents of unction)

22. Swedhopaga Varga (Adjuvents of fomentation)

23. Vamanopaga Varga (Adjuvents of emesis)

24. Virechanopaga Varga (Adjuvents of purgation)

25. Asthapanopaga Varga (Adjuvents of decoction enema)

26. Anuvasanopaga Varga (Adjuvents of oil enema)

27. Sirovirechaneeya Varga (Adjuvents of for elimination of Doshas from the head)

28. Chardinigrahana Varga (Anti emetics)

29. Thrusna Nigrahana (Thirst restraining drugs)

30. Hikkanigrahana Varga (Anti- Hiccup)

31. Pureeshasangrahaneeya Varga (Anti – Diarrhoeal)


Pureeshavirajaneeya Varga (Bowel Anti- discoloringagents)

33. Moothra Sangrahaneeya Varga (Anti diuretics)

34. Moothravivarjaneeya Varga (Urinary anti- discoloring agents):

35. Moothravirechaneeya Varga (Diuretics)

36. Kasahara Varga (Antitussives)

37. Swaasahara Varga (Broncho dilators)

38. Swayathuhara Varga (Anti inflammatory / curatives of oedema)

39. Jwarahara Varga (Anti pyretics)

40. Sramahara Varga (Fatigue relievers)

41. Dahaprashamana Varga (Curatives of Burning syndrome)

42. Sheethaprashamana Varga (Curatives of cold)

43. Udardaprashamana Varga (Curatives of urticaria) .

44. Shoolaprashamana Varga (Antispasmodics)

45. Angamardhaprasamana Varga (Bodyache relievers)

46. Sonithastapana Varga (Blood purifiers)

47. Vedanasthapa Varga (Analgesics)

48. Sangnasthapana Varga (Restoratives of conciousness)

49. Prajasthapana Varga (Anti-abortificiants or procreators)

50. Vayahasthapana Varga (Rejuvenators)

Chakrapani has rendered the following interpretation for certain karmas (pharmacological actions) delineated by Charaka.

1. Jivaniya – Drugs conducive to longevity (Ayushyam) are known as Jivaniya.

2. Triptighna – Kapha, when vitiated gives rise to a sense of pseudo- contentment which tells upon normal health. Drugs, which remove that sort of pseudo-contentment are known as Triptighnas.

3. Snehopaga – The drugs that help the process of unction achieved by fats etc., are known as Snehopagas. Such drugs are known as Vamanopagas as they help madanaphala etc. for emesis viz., honey, yashtimadhu etc.

4. Purisha Virajakeeya – such drugs as eliminate the vitiated doshas from faeces are known as purisha virajaneeya.

5. Mutra Virechaniya – Drugs which increase diuresis are known as Mutra Virechaniyas.

6. Udardaprasamana – Udarda in this context is to be taken as Sitapitta (Urticaria) but not the disease described in Maharogadhyaya (Sut.20). Otherwise the prescription of Tinduka etc. for the relief of udarda cannot be justified because these drugs are not useful for vata.

7. Sonitasthapana – Drug which restores blood in its pure form after eliminating its eliminating its vitiating doshas.

8. Vadanasthapana – In the event of physical pain, the class of drugs which eliminates that pain and restores the body to its normal state is known as Vedanasthapana.

9. Samjnasthapana – It is the category of drugs that restores consciousness.

10. Prajasthapana – The drug which eliminate procreational defects and thus restores embryo are known as prajasthapana.

11. Vayasthapana – The drugs useful for restoration of youth are known as vayasthapana.

Sarangadhara has enumerated the following pharmacological actions;

1. Deepana (Appetisers)

2. Pachana ( Digestives)

3. Sodhana (Expungents)


Samana (Palliatives)

5. Anulomana (Aperients)

6. Sramsana (Laxatives)

7. Bhedana (Purgatives)

8. Rechana (Cathartics)

9. Vamana (Emetics)

10. Chedana (Sacrificants)

11. Lekhana (Anti-obese)

12. Grahi (Water absorbants and bowel binders)

13. Sthambhana (Constipative and bowel binder)

14. Rasayana (Rejuvenator)

15. Vajeekarana (Aphrodisiac)

16. Sukrala (Spermagogue)

17. Sukra pravartaka (Semen ejaculator)

18. Sukra Sthambhaka (Semen anti-ejaculator)

19. Sukra Soshaka (Semen dehydrant)

20. Sukshma (Subtle Penetrator)

21. Vyavayi (

22. Vikasi (

23. Madaqkari (Intoxicants)

24. Pramathi (

25. Abhishyandi (Obstructants)

Susruta has introduced certain pharmacological actions of the drugs indicated in various surgical procedures Viz; Romasnjanana (Hair growth promoters), Romasatana (Depilators), Savarnikarana (Inducer of pigmentation), Vranaropana (Wound healers) etc.

Ayurvedic pharmacological science identified certain novel pharmacological actions viz.

Sukrasodhana (Semen purifiers) Sthanyasodhana (Breast milk purifiers) Sonitasthapana (Blood purifiers) Medhyarasayana (Brain tonics / Memory boosters) Vajeekarana (Aphrodisiacs) Rasayana (Rejuvenators) Chakshusya (Eye tonics) Kesya (Hair tonics) Dantya (Tooth and Gum tonics) The scientists of modern pharmacology may take another century to develop the drugs possessing the actions enumerated above. If the blood culture report shows the growth of infective organism and the semen analysis indicates the presence of pus cells one has to accept that blood and semen are not pure and requires drugs which can restore normalcy of these tissues / liquid substances. Modern medical scientists have initially not accepted the claims of Ayurvedic aphrodiacs. After the invention of Viagra they are constrained to accept the pharmacological actions described in the Ayurvedic medical science.


Rasa or taste is the object of gustatory sense organ, and distinct from the objects of the other sense organs. Rasas in a substance and formed by different combinations of Mahabhutas. There are only six types of tastes viz., Madhura (sweet), Amla (sour), Lavana (saline), Katu (pungent), Tikta (bitter) and Kashaya (astringent). The source material for the manifestation of all these tastes is Jalamahabhuta. The qualities of preceding basic elements (Akasa, Vayu, Agni, Ap and Prithvi) are included in the succeeding ones; so the qualities of Ap is automatically included in Prithvi. Ap and Prithvi are the substrata for the manifestation of taste (Rasa). That is to say, taste (Rasa) can manifest itself only through Ap and Prithvi.

Rasa-Anurasa (Primary and secondary tastes) Among tastes present in a substance that which is clearly manifests (perceived, recognised) is designated as Rasa (chief/primary taste) and others which are not clearly manifest or which are understood (recognised) at the end are Anurasa (secondary tastes). Vagbhata further quotes about the gustatory effect of the initial as well as final contact of a dry as well as wet substance with the tongue are known as Rasa or taste. When such an effect is not distinctly perceptible but is inferred only by its actions, it is known as Anurasa (after taste).

Formation of six Rasas:

The moon is the presiding diety of water. The water in the atmosphere (before it falls on the ground) is by nature cold and light, and its Rasa is not manifested at this stage. The moment it starts falling from

atmosphere and after it falls on the ground, it gets impregnated with the qualities of the five Mahabhutas and it nourishes the individuals belonging to the vegetable and animals kingdom. At this stage the six tastes manifest themselves in these individuals.

Of the six tastes, sweet taste abounds in the qualities of Jala Mahabhuta, sour taste of Prithvi and Agni, saline taste of Jala and Agni, pungent taste of Agni and Vayu, bitter taste of Vayu and Akasa and astringent taste of Vayu and Prithvi. So like the individuals belonging to the vegetable and animal kingdom of diverse types, depending upon their colour and shape (owing to the predominance or otherwise of the various Mahabhutas), the Rasas are also six in number due to the predominance or otherwise of the five Mahabhutas in turn depends on the six seasonal variations.

As a mater of fact, all the five Mahabhutas are there in al the six Rasas but the manifestation of the various Rasas depends on the predominance or otherwise of the qualities of one or more of the Mahabhuta, for example, Jala Mahabhuta is the root cause of all the six Rasas but it predominates in sweet taste and as such it constitutes a distinctive causative factor thereof. According to Susruta, saline taste is dominated by the qualities of Prithvi and Agni. This apparently goes against the observation made above. But as a matter of fact there is no contradiction so far as the manifestation of saline taste is concerned. One might ask: if the saline taste is caused by the predominance of Agni and Jala which are hot and cold respectively the resultant substance having saline taste should also have both hot and cold qualities; but how is it that salt is said to be of hot quality? The reply is, it is not that the involved in the composition of substance always

manifest all of their qualities for example, Jala Mahabhutas brings about sweetness and not unctuousness in Makusthaka (Phaseolus aconitifillus Jacq.); similarly even though Agni Mahabhutas predominates in the composition of rock salt, the latter does not possess heating property. The combination of the Mahabhutas in a particular way and the diversity of their manifestation are guided by some imperceptible factors which can only be inferred from the manifested effect of the substance. For example, salt posses heating and sticking properties and so it inferred that Agni and Jala Mahabhutas dominate in its composition. If fact we mortals cannot easily comprehend such combinations and their effects. They can only be ascertained from scriptures. To cite another example, we cannot offer any rational explanation as to how the Mahabhutas in isolation (other than Jala) do not cause any other Rasa. This proves that there is something inherent in the five Mahabhutas themselves which is responsible for their combinations and manifestation of their effects in various ways. The five Mahabutas constitute the efficient cause for the manifestations of the specific types of Rasa like sweetness etc. it is therefore immaterial whether all the Mahabhutas in themselves posses Rasas or not. Agni for example does not posses any Rasa but it is still an efficient cause for the manifestation of a Rasa like sourness.

Inter Relationship of Ritu & Panchamahabhuta:

The seasonal variations result in the predominance or otherwise of the qualities of the five Mahabhutas and bring about the manifestation of the various Rasas thereby. For example, in Hemanta (November-January) the qualities of Jala Mahabuta manifest themselves in excess, resulting in the production of drugs and deits having sweet taste; in Sisira (January-March) Vayu and Akasa predominate, resulting in the manifestation of bitter tastes.

Even day and night and some other imperceptible factors are responsible for

the predominance of the one or the other of the Mahabhutas. Thus it is not

that in the Hemanta (November-January) every drug and diet will always

have sweet taste. There is a possibility of manifestation of other Rasas as

well, depending on the effect of other imperceptible factors. As a matter of

fact the predominance of Mahabhutas is responsible for the seasonal

variations and vice-versa. This inter-dependence may be compared to the

inter-dependence of the seed and the embryo.

Guru (heaviness) and other Gunas (qualities) present in the

Prithvivyadi Dravyas (substances of Prithvi and other Bhuta predominance)

are residing in the Rasas (tastes of those substances); they (Gunas) are

ascribed to (attributed to) the tastes, because of intimate co-existence.

Actions of different Rasas:

Madhura Rasa:

Drugs possessing Madhura Rasa

Wholesome to the body

Add to the growth of seven body tissues

Imparts long life

Soothing to the six sense organs

Promote strength and complexion

Alleviate Pitta, Vata and effects of poison

Relieve thirst and burning sensation

Promote healthy skin, hair, voice and strength

Soothing, invigorating and nourishing

Bring about stability and heal up emaciation and consumption

Soothing to the nose, mouth, throat, lips, tongue and relieve fits.

Much liked by bees and ants.

They are cold, unctuous and heavy.

Amla Rasa:

Drugs possessing Amla Rasa

Add to the deliciousness of food

Stimulate appetite

Nourish and energize the body

Enlighten the mind

Strengthen the sense organs

Promote strength

Alleviate Vata

Nourish the heart

Cause salivation

Help in swallowing, moistening and digestion of food


They are light, hot and unctuous.

Lavana Rasa:

Drugs possessing Lavana Rasa

Help in carmination, production of stickiness, digestion, osnosia, excision and incision

Sharp, mobile, Vikasi and laxative.

Avakasakara (deobstructent)

Alleviate Vata

Cure stiffness, obstruction and accumulation

Nullify the effect of all other tastes

Cause salivation

Liquefy Kapha

Clarify the channels of circulation

Bring about the tenderness of all the bodily organs

Cause deliciousness and essential ingredients of food

They are neither heavy & unctuous nor hot.

Katu Rasa:

Drugs possessing Katu Rasa

Keep the mouth clean

Promote digestion

Help in absorption of food

Cause secretion through nose, lacrimation

Help proper action of sense organs

Cure diseases like Alasaka, Swayadhu, Udarda, Abhishyandi, Kandu, Vrana, Krimi

Allay excessive growth of ulcers

Corrode the muscle tissue

Break blood clot and other obstructions

Clear the passages

They are light, hot and ununctuous.

Tikta Rasa:

Drugs possessing Tikta Rasa

Promote deliciousness

Antitoxic and germicidal

Cure fainting, burning sensation, itching, skin diseases including leprosy, thirst and fever

Promote firmness of skin and muscles

Promote carmination and digestion

Purify milk

Cause dry and help in depletion of moisture, fat, muscle fat, bone marrow, lymph, pus, sweat, urine, stool, Pitta and Kapha

They are ununctuous, cold and light.

Kashaya Rasa:

Drugs possessing Kashaya Rasa

Palliative, constipative and promotive

Produce pressure on the affected part

Cause healing, absorption and stiffness

Alleviate Kapha, Rakta and Pitta

Absorb the body fluid

They are ununctuous, cold and heavy.

Drugs having sweet, sour and saline taste alleviate Vata; those having

astringent, sweet and bitter (tastes) alleviate Pitta and those having

astringent, pungent and bitter (tastes) alleviate Kapha.

The relative superiority or inferiority of the tastes of drugs of various categories is as below.





























Determination of Virya – Vipaka according to Rasa:

The drugs and diets which are sweet in Rasa (taste) and Vipaka (taste

after digestion) are of Sitavirya (that is potentially cold); those with sour or

pungent taste and Vipaka are of Ushnavirya (that is potentially hot).

Only such of the drugs and diets which are sweet in taste as well as

Vipaka are of Sitavirya. One cannot determine Sitavirya (or potential

coldness) of drugs and diets only on the basis of sweet taste. The same

principals is applicable to the drugs and diets of Ushna type as well.

The properties of such of the drugs and diets as possess Virya and

Vipaka in conformity with Rasa are explained here only in terms of Rasas

concerned. Thus the physician may explain the properties of milk, ghee,

Cavya (Piper Chaba Hunter) and Chitraka (Plumbazo Zeylanic Linn.) on the

basis of their tastes.

Drugs and diets having sweet taste and sweet Vipaka are generally of

Sitavirya (potentially cold). Similarly those of sour and pungent taste and

pungent Vipaka are Ushna Virya (potentially hot). In the case of such of the

drugs and diets where Virya and Vipaka are in conformity with Rasa, their

properties are explained in terms of Rasa only. As for example the

properties of milk and ghee both of which are sweet in taste and Vipaka and Sitavirya can be ascertained in terms of their taste only. The above principle does not apply in the cases of such of the drugs and diets where Virya (potency) is not in conformity with Rasa.

Some drugs having sweet taste are of Ushnavirya (potentially hot) e. g. the meat of aquatic and marshy animals. Some drugs having astringent and bitter tastes are also of Ushnavirya (potentially hot) e.g. drugs belonging to Mahat Panchamula group (Aegle mamelous Corr.), Oroxylum indicum Vent., Gmelina arboria Linn, (Stereospermum suaveloens Dc., Clerodendrum phlomidis Linn. f.), Arka (Calotropis gigantean R.Br.), Aguru (Aguilaria agalocha Roxb.) and Guduchi (Tinospora cordiofolia Miers) – all the latter three having bitter taste. Similarly rock salt having sour taste is not of Ushna Virya (potentially hot).

Some drugs having sour taste are costive, e.g. Kapittha (Feronia limonia Swingle); some are laxative, e.g. Amalaka (Emblica officinalis Gaertn). Even though drugs having pungent taste are generally non- aphrodisiac, still Pippali (Piper longum Linn.) and Sunthi (Zingiber officinale Rosc) having pungent taste are generally non-aphrodisiac, still Pippali (paper Longum Linn.) and Sunthi (Zingiber Offcinale Rosc.) having such taste are aphrodisiac. Similarly drugs having astringent taste are generally of Sitavirya and costive but Haritaki (Terminalia chebula Linn.) is an exception to – it is Ushnavirya and laxative. Thus it is not possible to explain the properties of all the drugs and diets simply in terms of Rasa because individual drugs having identical tastes vary in relation to their properties.



The ingested food or drug gets digested by the Jatharagni (digestive enzymes). The properties that emerge thereafter are known as Vipaka. It is not the taste, but the drugs having different tastes which undergo transformation in the form of Vipaka. Vipaka of drugs and diets having pungent, bitter and astringent tastes is pungent that of sour taste is sour and that of sweet and saline tastes is sweet.

Pungent Vipaka aggravates Vata, reduces semen and obstructs the passage of stool and urine. Sweet Vipaka aggravates Kapha, promotes semen and helps in the proper elimination of stool and urine. Similarly sour Vipaka aggravates Pitta, reduces semen and helps in the proper elimination of stool and urine. Sweet Vipaka is heavy; pungent and sour are light.

The relative superiority or inferiority of various types of Vipaka can be determined on the basis of the relative superiority and inferiority of the various properties of different drugs and diets.

Views of different commentators about the types of Vipaka:

Some commentators are of the view that every Rasa has its own Vipaka. Accordingly, there are six Vipakas corresponding to the Rasas. Some others say that if there are more than one Rasa, only the strongest of them predominates. So the Vipaka cannot be correctly predicted. Susruta on other hand does not agree with any of the two views enunciated above about the unpredictability of Vipaka. In his opinion there are two Vipakas viz,

sweet and pungent in such of the drugs and diets where Prithvi and Jala Mahabhutas are dominant, the Vipaka is sweet; where the lighter Mahabhutas like Tejas, Vayu and Akasa are dominant, the Vipaka is pungent-cf. Susruta: Surta 40: 11-12. It is true that according to the theory which admits of one corresponding Vipaka for each of the Rasas and also according to the theory which establishes the fact that only the strongest Rasa predominates in the Vipaka stage, the drugs and diets do not undergo any change in the Vipaka stage. That is to say the properties of their Rasas continue to be the same even in Vipaka stage. Thus the stand taken by Susruta in disregarding these two views is quite justified. The only flaw in Susruta’s view point is that he does not accept the third Vipaka which is sour. If this sour Vipaka is not accepted, Vrihi (a type of paddy) and Kulattha (Dolichos biflorus Linn.) which are of sweet and astringent taste respectively but whose Vipaka is sour will remain unexplained and the statement regarding their action viz. the aggravation of Pitta would not hold good. It is not correct to say that will remain unexplained and the statement regarding but whose Vipaka is sour will remain unexplained and the statement regarding their action viz. the aggravation of Pitta would not hold good. It is not correct to say that Vrihi etc., cause the aggravation of Pitta due to their hot potency. Even if it is accepted that Vrihi is of hot potency, this potentiality would rather get superceded by the sweetness in its taste as well as its Vipaka. Moreover, the Pitta aggravated by Vrihi etc., abounds in sour taste. Had it been due to the hot potency of Vrihi, it would have rather abounded in pungent taste which is not corroborated by actual experience. For the eructation after the intake of Vrihi etc. is always of sour taste. Besides according to Susruta, sweet Vipaka is caused by the predominance of Prithvi and or Jala Mahabhutas and pungent Vipaka by the predominance of the rest. Now the question arises what would be the Vipaka if there is

overlapping in the combination of the Mahabhutas? The resultant Vipaka cannot be either sweet or pungent but a third one which as mentioned above, can only be the sour Vipaka. Or better we may leave out the discount as to whether there is a sour Vipaka or not. What Charaka characterizes as sour Vipaka, Susruta as of hot potency. There is in fact no contradiction whatsoever about the properties of the various drugs and diets in either of the theories. Susruta would have, however, done well not to point our any flaw (vide Susruta: Susruta 40:10) in the sour Vipaka theory enunciated by Charaka.

Saline taste results in sweet Vipaka, and bitter and astringent tastes in pungent Vipaka. But how is it that drugs and diets having saline taste cause aggravation of Pitta and Rakta, and those with bitter and astringent taste alleviate Pitta? Even if the saline taste results in sweet Vipaka, its not potency is responsible for the aggravation of Pitta and Rakta. Normally, sweet Vipaka is responsible for the aggravation both Pitta and Rakta but being over powered by the hot potency it is ineffective. Sweet Vipaka of such drugs and diets however manifests ineffective. Sweet Vipaka of such drugs and diets however manifests itself in the form of the proper elimination of stool and urine etc. Thus sweet Vipaka may not be effective in so far as the aggravation of Pitta and Vata is concerned but it is effective with regard to the therapeutic aspects. Similarly, the pungent Vipaka of drugs and diets having bitter and astringent tastes cannot be explained.

Some commentators have tried to explain it in a slightly different manner. They connect the clause ‘Lavanastatha’ with ‘Amlam’ and so they interpret it to mean that Vipaka of saline taste is also sour rather than sweet and as such they find it more convenient to explain the correlation between

saline taste and aggravation of Pitta and Rakta. But Jatukarna is very clear in his statement about three-fold classification of Vipakas as follows: The Vipaka of pungent, astringent and bitter tastes is pungent, that of sour taste as sour and that of sweet and saline tastes, as sweet.

Why cannot we accept six Vipakas corresponding to the six tastes? We cannot. Because the three-fold classification of Vipakas depends on the real process of transformation of the five Mahabhutas which cannot be questioned.

As stated above, there is apparently no difference between the Rasa and Vipaka of drugs and diets having sweet, sour and pungent tastes. It may now be argued that such of the Vipakas where there is some variation from the original taste (viz. sweet Vipaka for saline taste or pungent Vipaka for bitter and astringent tastes) could well be explained in order to avoid confusion. But what was the necessity of explaining the Vipakas of identical taste? It was necessary to recognize the two distinct levels as the original Rasa and Vipaka (that is the taste after the substance is digested). That is why the original pungent taste of Pippali (Piper longum Linn.) is therapeutically useful for the elimination of phlegm from the throat and purification of mouth. But its sweet Vipaka renders it aphrodisiac action in its final effect.

One thing is however clear. Where the original taste and Vipaka are identical, the properties of drugs and diets are more effective. They are not so in the cases where there is variation between the original taste and Vipaka.

The three-fold classification of Vipaka as described above is different

from the three Avasthapakas described in the fifteenth chapter of Charaka

Chikitsasthana. While the latter confines itself to the various stages of

digestion, the former is specific to individual drugs and diets. All drugs and

diets having various tastes undergo the three Avasthapakas but Vipaka varies

from individual to individual.

Actions of Vipaka

Susruta quotes - Guru Vipaka alleviates Vata and Pitta while Laghu

Vipaka is Kapha-alleviating; amongst them, soft, cold and hot are perceived

by touch; slimy and non-slimy by vision and touch; unctuous and non-

unctuous by vision and sharp by producing pain in mouth. Guru Vipaka by

eliminating faeces and urine and aggravation of Kapha while Laghu Vipaka

by retaining faeces and urine and aggravation of Vata.

According to Charaka

Katu (Pungent) Vipaka aggravates Vata, reduces semen and obstructs the passage of stool and urine.

Madhura (Sweet) Vipaka aggravates Kapha, promotes semen and helps in proper elimination of stool and urine.

Similarly Amla (Sour) Vipaka aggravates Pitta, reduces semen and helps in proper elimination of stool and urine.

Madhura Vipaka is heavy; Katu and Amla Vipaka are light.

Panchamahabhutas in the formation of Vipaka:

Madhura Paka emerges when qualities of Ap and Prithvi appear

predominantly while Dravyas are being digested; (on the contrary) when

qualities of Tejas, Vayu and Akasa are predominant during digestion of

Dravyas, Katu Paka emerges.


Etymon of word Virya:

According to the various Sanskrit dictionaries and Koshas, it is apparent that the word Virya is derived from the Root Veer or Vri meaning “Vikranti” or specific power to express Vigour etc.

Different meanings of Virya in various literatures:

According to Vedic literature and the commentary of Sayana there on “Virya” means, the special capacity (Samardhya) not only necessary for physical and mental activity but also that which is necessary for worldly capacity to possess different kinds of wealth, like Pasu, Putra, Dhana etc. The word Virya is used simply for physical capacity of a human being and references are available from Manusmruti, Vedas and Bhagavata Puranam. Amarkosha has mentioned the meaning of Virya as “Utsaha”. The ordinary Utsaha is not known as Virya but such an overwhelming exertion requires extraordinary vitality and for such purpose the required amount of vitality is produced by Virya. In the ancient Sanskrit literature the meaning of word Virya is ascribed to Sukra Dhatu as well as for male genital organ. In the Ayurvedic literature the Virya is used for Shakti or energy through which drug acts in the body.

Source Material of Virya:

Different concepts of Virya are described in different texts. Mainly 3 concepts are mentioned namely (i) Shakti Viryavada (ii) Guna Viryavada or Paribhashika Virya Vada consisting of Dwividha and Ashta Vidha Viryas (iii) Karma Viryavada.

Charakian system has delineated Virya as Shakti and defined it I its own verses as “Ena Kurvanti Tat Viryam”. Chakrapani Datta has implied the term in general for Rasa, Guna, Vipaka and Prabhava. So this Vata named as Shakti Virya Vada or general concept of Virya. Charak has also mentioned contemporary view of Ashta Vidha Viryas while describing Diwvidha Viryas-ushna & sheeta. Gangadhar in his “Jalpakalpataru” has taken Virya as the instrument or tool (Upakaranas)of the drug to perform its action. Yogendranath Sen a commentator on Charaik Samhita issued a statement that “Vryantu Kriyantu Yena Ya Kriya” was the Charaka’s original as well as accepted concept where as Ashtavidha Virya Veda were not accepted by him. But frankly speaking this is incorrect as no other contradictory statement was written about the number of Viryas.

Shusruta has denoted the Virya as the generator of any drug action. Acharya Sushruta put forth the Ashtavidha Viryavada taking eight Gunas out of twenty Gunas which are having Utkrishtata. But Visada, Pichchila were mentioned in the place of Guru and Laghu. The eight Gunas are – Snigdha, Ruksha, Sheeta, Ushna, Mrudu, Tikshna, Visada and Pichchila. He has also stated the Dwividha Virya Vada known as Ushna-Sheeta. Dalhana commenting on Sushruta’s Verse stated Achintya and Chintya Viryas. The former was denoted as Prabhava. Vagbhata followed the Charka’s school of thought and also Sushruta’s observations. But regarding Ashtavidha Viryas Guru-Laghu were mentioned instead of Visada-Pichchila.

Hemadri has made a reference to the view that “Viryas are many” and observed that “though Virya has been described of two types, it can still be as many as there are actions to be performed. In this view, all actions

regardless of Gunas, are due to Virya and therefore, there can be as many Viryas as there are actions. The other significant clarification offered by Hemadri which have direct bearing on the subject now under study is “that which evokes taste perception is Rasa and all rest are Gunas. Particular or distinct –Vishishta Rasa –or taste that occur as the result of Kayagnipaka is Vipaka and produced Guna at this stage is Virya. Arunadatta has stated that Gunas are only Viryas but not Rasa as the latter cannot withstand the influence of Kayagnipaka and undergo changes. Indu in his “Seshilekha “commentary also supported the concept of multiplicity of Virya.

Among Laghutrayee Bhavamishra has mentioned Virya in terms of Shakti. Sarangadhara has written life span of Virya of different pharmaceutical preparations, eg. Churna will be possessing Virya Up to 2 months.

Badanta Narguna envisaged the Karma Viryavada by furnishing a definition for Virya as “Karmalakshanam Viryam”. Guna Viryavada was subjected to severe criticism by Acharya Nagarjuna. He has described Chardaniya Virya, Anulomana Virya etc. Nimi has mentioned 15 types of Viryas such as Urdhwabhagahara Virya, Adhobhagahara Virya etc.

Shivadas Sen has observed that Virya is a special power. The uniqueness of Virya has been stressed by him as he observes – Shakti is Virya. It alone is capable of performing powerful actions. These actions do not suffer from any limitations due to non–attachment of viryas to Rasas. Virya is intimately correlated to Gunas viz., Ushna, Sheeta erc. Since Virya inheres inseparably in Dravyas, it is considered to be complementary to Rasas. Shivadas Sen propounded a different type of definition of Viryas as

follows-It is not the quality of the substance, but it is the fraction of substances itself, capable of performing a special action, and also derived from the very important part of the Panchabhutic structure of the Dravya itself. He has also mentioned Sahaja and Kritrima Viryas.

Some of the scholar of twentieth century have interpreted Virya as active principles of the drug. Prof C. Dwarka Nath has interpreted Sheeta and Ushna Virya as potential and kinetic energies.

To sum up and summarize, the fundamental principles of drug action Virya has been with in different aspects such as Shakti, Utkrishta Gunas and Karmas. Virya was numerically expressed as Dwividha, Ashtavidha and Bahuvidha. Recent scholars and scientists of present era have interpreted it as active principle and energy modalities such as potential and kinetic energies.

Dwividha Virya vis-à-vis Ashtavidha Viryas:

The term Virya has been described as Shakti or power to perform work of any kind. Both Charka and Susruta have described it as that which performs work and interpreted it into two or eight Gunas. Vagbhata has noted that, in the opinion of some, Viryas are two. They are Ushna and Sheeta. He has added that even though the things of universe as appeared to be diverse and represent a heterogeneity, they can be classified as of two kinds viz., Avyakta (Nominal) and Vyakta (phenomenal), and they never supercede the two most powerful aspects of nature viz., Agni and Shoma. On the other hand Ashtavidha Viryavada was postulated taking eight potent Gunas out of 20 viz., Mrudu-Tikshna, Snigdha –Ruksha, Guru-Laghu and Sheeta Ushna. Vagbhata has referred to authorities of eminence of Charaka,

according to whom these 8 Gunas are relatively more important, in view of their being the essence of the twenty, their potency in action and their importance in the descriptions of the actions of Dravyas as compared to those of the Rasas. The twelve Gunas out of twenty disappear in Kayagnipaka and leave behind 8 Gunas. The eight Gunas on the other hand, are constant and they are generally not mutable. The Ashtavidha Virya Vada incorporates Dwividha Viryas and later included the former. The actions of different Viryas are given in the table 1.




Action On Doshas



Prahladana, Visyandana, Prasadana, Jivana, Sthambhana.





Dahana, Pachana, Murchana, Swedana, Bramatrishna Janana.





Snehana, Brimhana, Sanatarpana




Samgrahana, Pidana, Uparohana





Upalepa, Brimhana, Vajikarana.




Lekhana, Kledachushana








Sangrahi, Avadarana


It is explicitly stated that drugs act not only by virtue of their qualities but in fact they act by virtue of their own nature or qualities or by both. Drug action was described in terms of Rasapanchak. Certain drugs manifest their action by virtue of their Rasa (taste). Some by virtue of their Virya (potency) or other qualities, some by Vipaka and others by their Prabhava

Basic concepts of Ayurvedic pharmacology 68

(causative factor of specific action). In the modern pharmacology the drug action was described in terms of stimulation, depression and irritation of cellular functions which may be interpreted as Vriddhi and Kshaya of physiological activities in Ayurvedic parlance. The Virgin “Tat Tat Adhikaranam Ashadya” also reflects the recent receptor theory of drug action of modern pharmacology. A proper scientific footing to the general principles of drug action of Ayurveda may be conveyed by a comprehensive approach. The comprehensive term Virya is employed to explain lesser or greater potential factors in the drug in relation to different processes and procedures to achieve a desired effect in the body.

Prof. C. Dwarakanath has summarized his views about Virya as follows – It is necessary, at this stage, to refer to the interrelationship that is started to exist between Rasas, Gunas and Viryas, as the suggested relationship between the three has an immediate bearing on the present study. It may be recalled that Ayurveda has described ten Gunas or qualities/properties viz., Guru, Manda, Hima, Snigdha, Shlakshna, Sandra, Mridu, Sthira, Sukshma and Vishada and their opposites viz., Laghu, Tikshna, Ushna, Ruksha, Khara, Drava, Kathina, Sara, Sthula and Pichchila – in twenty. Important, as these Gunas are, Vagbhata has referred to authorities of the eminence of Charaka, according to whom Mridu, Tikshna, Guru, Laghu, Snigdha, Ruksha, Ushna and Shita are relatively more important, in view of their being the essence of the twenty, their potency in action and their importance in the description of the actions of Dravyas as compared those of the Rasas. In regard to the latter, he has noted that the natural tastes of substances can be easily transformed or modified by combining them variously. The eight Gunas, on the other hand, are constant and they are generally not mutable. It is for this reason that they receive

priority of consideration in all descriptions of substances. Since they are powerful in the performance of actions they are also described as Viryas. In this view, the eight, corresponding to the eight Gunas referred to above.


The term Virya, referred to in the foregoing, has been described as Shakti or power to perform work of any kind. Both Charaka and Sushruta have described it as that which performs work Ena kurvantitat viryam. Chakrapani Datta has also described it as Shakti Viryamiti shakti. Though in Sushruta’s view Virya is of two kinds viz., Ushna and Shita, he has however taken note of a contemporary view that Shita, Ushna, Snigdha, Ruksha, Vishada, Pichchila, Mridu and Tikshna represent the eight kinds of Virya. Dalhana has observed that Virya is Shakti, whether it is of two or eight kinds. The view referred to above notwithstanding, Sushruta has held that Ushna and Shita (Gunas)/Viryas transcend and supercede the specific actions ascribed to Rasas and that they act by virtue of their own inherent powers. He has observed that like the Agni and Shoma of the universe, Viryas are also two viz., Ushna and Shita. Vagbhata has noted that in the opinion of some, Viryas are two. They are Ushna and Shita. He has added that, even though things of the universe appear to be diverse and represent a heterogenity, they can be classified as of two kinds viz., Avyakta (nominal) and Vyakta (phenomenal), they never supercede the two most powerful aspects of nature viz., Agni and Shoma. The terms Agni and Shoma are Upanishadic in origin and usage. The former is spoken of as Pranam and the latter, Anna. Anaa or Shoma refers to the things of the universe that are susceptible to decomposition, disintegration or of being cooked Prana or Agni is the force/factor that is held to cause decomposition, disintegration or cooking of Anna or Shoma.

In the Aupanishadic view, Anna or Shoma and Agni or Prana are in a state of mithuna or embrace and are inseparable, The inseparability of the two has been described as Rayi. In this view, all things orf the universe represent the two inseparable and fundamental modes of nature, namely, Agni, or Prana and Shoma or Anna, corresponding to Energy and Matter respectively. In the light of this concept, Ushna and Shita Viryas are, at the microcosmic levels-specially, at the bio-physical and bio-chemical levels-comparable to the two modes of Energy viz., the Kinetic and the potential.

A concept, similar to the one referred to above, marks a more recent development in the field of modern theoretical physics. This has been succinctly described by I. Harris in his thought provoking book entitled “MAN’S PLACE IN THE UNIVERSE” as bellow:-

Energy is a force which makes the universe a working concern. Although it forms the basis of the most materialistic of all sciences – physics – it – is nevertheless, an invisible thing, imponderable, without shape or form. Energy becomes recognizable, as such only by its manifestation. All action and reaction of the living universe is merely an assertion of this all pervading power. Heat, light, chemical, gravitation, energy, all are cosmic forces which shape existence. All forms of energy are interchangable and can be transformed into another. Perhaps, the most significant fact in regarded to energy is that, in accordance with Einstein formula, E = MC 2 , matter can be transformed into energy. The electron, positron, in fact the whole material world is dissolvable into something which in terms of shape and form, are nothing. The visible and perceptible are mortal, finite, transitory, perishable. It is the realms beyond material existence in which we find the only thing which is permanent, eternal–energy.

“Energy is found in two conditions in a latent, dormant, potential state or in a kinetic, that is active state. The potential and kinetic energy are of equal value. One state of energy incessantly passes over into another; incessantly it engenders metamorphosis in different forms-light, heat, life- energy. The whole living universe is simply a manifestation of this energy. Now it is dormant, now it is kinetic. It follows from one object to another but it never weakens, never spends its force. The sum-total of energy is the same now as it ever has been and remain the same for all time”.

Proceeding on the basis of the earlier Ayurvedic concepts of Energy and Matter and, a similar concept developed by modern (theoretical) physics (extracted above), the twenty Gunas-comparing ten each of the opposites- represent the two fundamental modes of Energy. These groups can be broadly classified under two general categories viz., Anna and Parana or Shoma and Agni or Anudbhuta Shakti and Udbuta Shakti or Shita Virya and Ushna Virya and, in the parlance of modern physical-including chemical sciences, - the kinetic and potential energies, as shown in the table below.



Anna or Shoma or Anudbhuta Shita Virya or Potential Energy

Prana or Agni or Udbhuta- Shakti or Ushna Virya or Kinetic Energy