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Atreya Punarvasu in Ayurveda

Who is Atreya Punarvasu in Ayurveda?

According to Charaka, Atreya was a great teacher of Kayachikitsa. He was the son of Atri Maharshi.

He learned the science of life from the Sage Bharadwaja and taught it to his disciples Agnivesa, Bhela, Jatukarna, Harita, Ksharapani, etc.

He is also known as Bhagawan Atreya, Punarvasu Atreya, Krishnatreya, and Chandrabhaga.

*Bhagawan’ means the possessor of the knowledge of creation and dissolution of the world; birth and death of creatures and also both material and spiritual sciences. As Atreya possessed all the above he is known as Bhagawan Atreya’.

The designation ‘Punarvasu’ may be significant because Atreya was born during the dominance of Punarvasu Nakshatra’. The words ‘Atreya’ and ‘Punarvasu’ are used together in the Charka Samhita and also in Kasyapa Samhita.

“Krishnatreya’ seems to be his most popular title. Mahabharata refers to Krishnatreya as the famous teacher of Medicine. In Charaka Samhita, Atreya is often called Krishnatreya, probably because he belongs to Krishna Yajurveda Sakha or for having Krishna Varna.

‘Chandrabhaga”: He was also known as Chandrabhaga, a son of Chandrabhagi, being the resident on the banks of the river Chandrabhagi.
Thus Bhagawan Atreya, Punarvasu Atreya, Krishna Atreya, and Chandrabhaga are the names of one single individual sage who was the teacher of the science of medicine and made his disciples record his teachings.

Bhikshu Atreya was a Buddhist and was a reputed teacher of Jivaka’, who worked as a professor of medicine at the University of Takshasila. He was not the preceptor of Agnivesa, Bhela, etc. In the history of Jivaka also one cannot find any references that Jivaka and Agnivesa studied together. Hence, Bhikshu Atreya and Punarvasu Atreya are not one and the same.

Atreya’s method of teaching:

Punarvasu Atreya was adjudged as the best teacher from the methods he adopted to instruct his students and for his arrangement and subject classification.

Ayurvedavataran

At the beginning of each lesson, Punarvasu Atreya announces the definite subject he proposes to expand. Followed by it Agnivesa, brilliant among his disciplines, puts questions in order to spotlight the salient features of the subject proposed. Afterward, the teacher while expanding these salient points covers the whole field of the proposed subject. Occasionally, there are intelligent in- interjections by Agnivesa asking for clarification on certain points.

Eg: When the teacher, while explaining the types of Vaidyas as Pranabhisara and Rogabhisara, Agnivesa asks the question, “How can we distinguish a real physician from a quack?” Then Atreya delineates the differences between the quack and the real physician in a most impressive manner.

Similarly, after proposing the subject to be expounded, the disciples and other contemporary scholars are invited to offer their individual views. Eg: Discussions on the subject of Vata (12th chapter of Sutrasthana Ch. Samhita) and Rasa (26th chapter) are the best examples of this kind.

After listening to the views of each of the learned persons who participated in the discussion, Atreya summarizes the entire deliberations and announces his final opinion.

Atreya’s method of teaching is somewhat different from the Socratic Method, known as teacher-disciple dialogues. It is in its form more ancient and related to the Brahmanical method of discussion.

In the discussions, there is a true spirit of inquiry and a desire for discovering and accepting the truth on a subject without hostility.

Atreya taught medical science, regarding the drugs methodically and scientifically. The stage of rational medicine began with Atreya. The concepts of Tridosha and Pancha Mahabhutas were fully explained by Atreya. The theory of ‘Rasa’ and its influences on metabolic and physiological functions and its application in therapeutics was propounded.

The concept of Rasa, Guna, Virya, Vipaka, and Prabhava was explained scientifically. With the above concepts medicine passed on from the empirical stage to the scientific stage.

Prior to Atreya, it was believed that insanity may have a religious or demoniac origin. While describing insanity he observes that neither the gods nor the demons had anything to do with it, and it results due to the irregular diet and regimen and must be corrected by suitable remedies. Hippocrates of Greece also opined that the cause of insanity was no longer divine but human.

Hence Atreya can be called the father of scientific medicine and the first preceptor to teach medicine scientifically and methodically.

1 thought on “Atreya Punarvasu in Ayurveda”

  1. Thanks for this great information about our Indian sages who were great in medicine or in any field of life because they always had worked on their higher consciousness . We , people of India are very less familiar with our own rich culture which were much more advanced and successful than todays . We just need to recognise it and implement their knowledge in our practicle life .
    Mahabharta epic also provides great information about tissue culture through which kaurava born and niyoga practice through which ved vyasa born . I have wriiten a detailed article on Niyoga practice and tissue culture in Mahabharata which is of 1300 words .
    You can redirect my article with anchor text Mahabharata . Hope your viewers will have better experience .
    Thanks a lot

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