Charaka Club in New York completes a century.
There are various medical societies, clubs and associations in different parts of the world, each having special objectives in view. Charaka Club was one such formed with select gathering in November 1898 and was simply known as medico-historico-social club that discussed a range of subjects involving fields like medical, medical history, literature and poetry even. This club was founded by a group of four doctors-Charles. L. Dana, Joseph Colleirs, Fedrick Petterson and Barnad Sachs .In the eighth meeting of the club held in January 1900 at the residence of Atpad Gerster, Barnad Sachs presented a paper on Hindu medicine in which he said that Charaka was the oldest medicine man and priest whose works were still extant. Immediately after this statement was made there was a whisper in the group "we have a name for the club ". Since then the nameless happy group began functioning under the name "The Charaka Club". In the meeting of April 1900 the name was officially adopted and in the seal in1901.
The Charaka club started in 1900 at New York is a sure way to respect our ancient seer but it would be much better if we could really understand the principles and practices and adopt some of them today.
Do we need to explore Charka's contributions? Is it worth diving into the depths of this bottomless ocean today as conventional medical system is still groping to find answers? Could we find some questions answered here?
Among the various papers presented in this club by the members few papers read up till April 1944 have been listed below-
Name of the paper Author Date
Hindoo Medicine Dr.Sachs 1900
The Hippocratic doctrine of Dr.Gerster 1899
The ophthalmology of Ancient Greeks Dr.Holden 1899
Charaka and his times Dr.Jelliffe April 6th 1904
Some professional reminiscences Dr.Sharady 1905
Medicine in England in Chaucer's time Dr.Collins 1907
Military and civil surgery among the Romans Dr.Dana _
Eminent physicians statistical study Dr.Dana
The history of the signet ring Bearing the seal of Charaka Club Dr.Camac Feb 18th 1925
Diseases as shown in the dairy of a country parson Dr.Thomas MeCrae Apri1 1932
The first surgical case book of Pennsylvania hospital Dr.Francis Packard Jan 1933
The water hammer pulse Dr.George Dock Jan17th 1934
The manuscript of John Mitchell Dr.Francis Packard April 18th 1934
The Morgue Dr.Samuel W.Lambert Nov17th 1937
A Physician ‘s experience In sanitary commission
during civil war Dr.Walter R.Steiner Feb 16th 1938
The past, present and future
Of the Charaka Club Dr.Josephs Collins Nov21th 1941
What happened to this club - is it still extant? What occurred to the seal and the official ring? You may find answers to these questions but today we need to ponder over—Is Charaka so important that we need to think of him again? Is he just a historical figure or mythological deity created by the fancies of the Hindus? Who is this Charaka? In which era was he living? Should we study Charaka samhita today only as history?
Being a selfless seer Charaka bestowed great boons to alleviate the sufferings of human beings, to free them from the fear of death and diseases. Charka –this term means "one who is on the move " –a mobile holistic medical service, maybe latter people named their children Charaka –to instill, inspire in them the exemplary qualities which are thought provoking, or may be universities gave this as a title for excellence in the field of medicine. Unfortunately not much is known about this versatile genius or about the exact time he lived but fortunately we today have the original textbook written by Ateya redacted by charakaacharya.
But Charaka is legendary –let us just catch a glimpse of some of his great contributions taken from the classical treatise " Charaka samhita. " Charaka samhita to me is an ocean, –knowledge yet to be fathomed, explored and like the exploration of the deep depths is mysterious and fascinating but worth all the trouble- one who dares would be felicitated undoubtedly. Here are some treasures selected –but remember this is only the tip of the iceberg.
1) Charaka first described Multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Myasthenia Gravis, Parkinson’s diseases etc conditions in great precision including the pathology, prognosis and management and even today the medical Science could surely benefit from this classical treatise. These neurological disorders have increased and now the medical fraternity has started research and I would like to state that it is time we seriously considered the contributions of this wizard, which would make the life of many patients better in many ways. Many common chronic conditions like diabetes, tuberculosis, leprosy, heart /kidney problems and prevalent viral diseases, eye/ear/nose/throat diseases have all been explained.
(2) He has described microorganisms as causative factors for leprosy, tuberculosis, influenza, dental caries and some types of fevers and also mentions that microorganisms are present in the intestines, the whole of the alimentary tract and cardiovascular system and diseases manifest when the immunity lowers. Great importance is given to enhance immunity than administering antibiotics.
3) The contributions of Charaka in genetics are worth exploring. Genetic engineering to change the sex of the fetus has also been described. The microscopic structures like genes; chromosomes; DNA and RNA have all been described. What factors other than genes are responsible for unique characteristics have also been expounded. Least explored section in Ayurveda known as Arista lakshana and shareera sthana have statements, which are based on genetics. Charaka has explained many procedures like panchakarma, rasayana, sadvrtha etc, which undoubtedly transform the genes to behave beneficially. Charaka states that Alzheimer’s is passed on to the off spring by the father’s genes.
4) Many hereditary conditions have been discussed; con- sanguine marriages have been discouraged and stated to be the cause for many disorders. Diabetes is among many other conditions listed as hereditary.
5) Preventive aspects have been given so much of importance that Ayurveda has also been thought to be more preventive than curative. Diet and other habits have been analyzed in great detail and categorically stated as to what are to be followed and what are to be avoided and today conventional medical Science has time and again proved all these to be true.
6) Anti aging has been researched very well and many scientific aspects of it have been described in totality-which has today caught the medical world’s fancy and the research in this field has started.
7) Charaka was fully aware of the impact of the environment on the health of living beings so he advises how & why the environment should be maintained in perfect order. (Read article Homa –how scientific?)
8)We find references, which show that referring surgical cases to surgeons was in vogue even during Charka’s time. Dhanwantari was the well-known surgical school of the day then.
9) Statistical approach in Charaka samhita is based on keen observation, scientific analysis conducted for many years on many thousands of individuals, irrespective of religion, region, time, age, stage of diseases, etc factors. Charaka like all other ancient seers believed strongly that –one man’s food is another man’s poison .No two individuals, nor two siblings, or identical twins share similar qualities, similar upbringing or environment or similar genetic pattern nor likes, dislikes, equal appetite, physical features or emotions and how then can one single drug be suitable and how can similar responses be expected? Many factors are considered before planning a treatment strategy for each individual and the present day research, which treats a disease, not an individual fails in the long run and seems very unscientific and immature.
10) Vranagandhagna- vranachintaka,(Vrana is a term for all types of wounds and ulcers and a doctor who contemplates on it, who is proficient in identifying the type, severity etc and decide a suitable management by it’s smell) Shastrakarmagna (a surgeon) Rasveta bhishak, ras chintaka, (a specialist who thought of all aspects of rasa) Ksharatantravidhu, (seems to be a super specialization .A surgeon was to learn the different types of applications of kshara, it’s utility ,advantages ,etc from an experienced surgeon who was also a specialist in the above & after learning ,working under his guidance & then permitted by the ruler of the province-he could be a kshara tantra vidhu.)are some of the specializations mentioned as in vogue during Charka’s period Though Ayurveda is known to be holistic the concept of referring to specialists was prevalent.
11) This ancient seer encouraged unique methods of research, scientific outlook and critical observation before any theory could be accepted by a vaidya (clinician) who is essentially a researcher too and has also given guidelines as to how, when and why it is essential to develop a holistic scientific medical system.
12) Let me quote from Charaka samhita -" The Science of life shall never attain finality. Therefore humility and relentless industry should characterize your endeavor and your approach to knowledge .The entire world consists of teachers for the wise and enemies for the fools. Therefore, knowledge, conducive to health, longevity, fame and excellence, coming from even an unknown source, should be received, assimilated and utilized with earnestness".
And the intention of this article is to draw the attention of scientists to look at the original text book of Charaka not only to appreciate but also to adopt some contributions and that is the best way to honor this seer, who’s life mission was to show us the path to achieve perfect health for all. Let all people be healthy is the motto of our culture.
Einstein said, "Science without religion is lame and religion without Science is blind " Here I would like to say that Ayurveda is a scientific religion and a religious science and can be called the medical system or healthy life style of the new millennium. Ayurveda is for all and forever.
Bulletin of the Indian Institute of History of Medicine Vol: 6,No4,
Genesis of Charaka Club, New York and gleanings related to Hindu Medicine from the proceedings-by K.Raghunathan
Charaka Samhita with Chakrapani & Gayadas commentary.