Viṣavaidyasārasamuccaya

Amṛtavarṣī Garuḍa” by Sri. P. Chandradasan From the cover of the 2006 edition published by Ullannoor Mana Trust.

 

I am pleased to be able to offer an etext of the Viṣavaidyasārasamuccaya, perhaps the most recent Sanskrit composition on the topic of curing poison.   It was written by Cherukulappurath Krishnan Namboodiri from Kerala (1879–1966).  The current edition is enriched by the commentary of his disciple Valloor Sankaran Namboodiri (b.1917) and a translation by Dr. K.P. Madhu.  The translated forward, life sketches, and introductions are a pleasure to read and help the scholar to understand the context of this still living tradition of poison healing, therefore serious students of our topic will want to seek out the printed edition.  I received two copies from Dr. Madhu and have deposited one in the UC Berkeley library.  It should be available for interlibrary loan in the coming months.

The text is primarily a compilation of previous works aiming to give students a unified textbook that covers the basics of viṣavaidya.  It does, however, have some unique features and formulas and is anyhow based on a body of literature that is difficult to come by outside of Kerala.  It is divided into two sections, a purvārdha and an uttarārdha, however the verse numbering restarts part way through the uttarārdha so I label it as sections two and three in the etext.  The introduction by Ashtavaidyan Vaidyamathom Valiya Narayanan Namboodiri (translated from the 1961 Malayalam edition) says that the pūrvārdha treats viṣavijñāna whereas the uttarārdha treats viṣacikitsā.  This is not accurate.  The first half of the pūrvārdha is indeed more theoretical and discusses such classic matters as determining if a case is curable or incurable, questioning the messenger, omens, vital points, levels of envenomation, and types of snakes.  The latter half of the pūrvārdha, however, is focused on treating the bites of the cobras, vipers, and kraits, clearly a matter of viṣacikitsā.  The first part of the uttarārdha (section two in the etext numbering) is about healing the bites/stings of various animals other than snakes: that of rodent, scorpion, spider, rabid dog, mongoose, cat, etc.  We need not be surprised by the non-venomous animals in the list; infection caused by any bite, especially deep punctures, can lead to symptoms effectively similar to envenomation.  The third section in the etext (latter part of the uttarārdha) describes various multi-purpose remedies and first aid measures.

The 2006 edition comes with five useful appendices.  The first gives the recipe for a drug called Kāñcī, synonymous with Dhanyāmla, which is mentioned but not explained in verse 1.103.  Appendix II gives metric equivalents for the weights and measures used in the text and Appendix III is on denaturation of some poisonous ingredients.  Appendix IV is on using the viṣahārilehya to diagnose the type of snake responsible for a bite.  The last appendix lists the medicinal plants mentioned in the text by Sanskrit name, Sanskrit synonyms, Latin name, and Malayalam name.

Posted in Gāruḍam

6 Responses to Viṣavaidyasārasamuccaya

  1. Wavatar elisa freschi says:

    It is interesting to see how you use also contemporary texts as long as they are parts of the same tradition (sorry for the generic term). Is there any innovation in this text due to the impact of Western anatomy?

    elisa

    P.s.: A minor point, which might be due to my lack of IT-expertise: do not you have a unicode version of the text?

  2. Wavatar Michael says:

    The etext is encoded as Unicode. What happened when you tried to open it? You can write to me by email and we’ll try to get it working.

    I haven’t updated the rest of my website in awhile, but yes, my dissertation is covering modern texts and traditions to some extent. I’m probably casting my net too wide, in that I am considering anything related to treating snakebite from the Vedas, Ayurveda, Epics, Puranas, Tantras, and down to the modern day treatments used by both traditional and western medicine.

    This text does not seem to have any modern influence, except perhaps in its choice to exclude the mantra side of the tradition. Otherwise it is very standard. There is a big movement now towards integrated programs of both Western medicine/anatomy and Ayurvedic, but it seems that the result is Western medicine with an Ayurvedic flavor and not any kind of real synthesis.

    On one listserve of Ayurvedic doctors somebody asked if anyone had treated a case of snakebite with Ayurveda. Most of these so-called Ayurvedic doctors had no idea that Ayurveda was (and still is in some areas) used to treat snakebite and that Agadatantra is one of the eight branches of Ayurveda. They said “sorry it is a medical emergency, send to allopathic.” For better or worse, that is what Ayurveda has come to in many places.

  3. Wavatar अश्वमित्रः says:

    Perhaps both for better and worse, as you suggest, depending on your point of view, or the circumstances. I mean, if your kid were bitten by a snake, whom would you call?

  4. Wavatar Michael says:

    I have that question in my mind all the time and I would hope to never be in that situation. Snake venom is nasty stuff—the more I learn about it the more dread I feel. I respect allopathic medicine, but it is not without flaws. Not all antivenom is created equal, for example, and when it is made in a substandard lab it can do more harm than good, and even be deadly. I have yet to see research doctors in this field publish honest studies of the real use and abuse of antivenom. How many are given it when they have not, in fact, been envenomed or haven’t been envenomed by a species of snake that the antivenom is designed for, and how many deaths are incorrectly ascribed to the venom when it was in fact an acute allergic reaction to the antivenom?

    To answer your question more directly, I would probably take my child straight to the nearest hospital, but I would be cautious and involved in decisions to administer or not administer antivenom. If she showed signs of severe envenomation and the snake was known to be one treatable by the antivenom available, I would let them give it to her. If, on the other hand, she was bitten by a snake that the antivenom is not effective against or if she showed no signs of envenomation, I would not let them administer antivenom.

  5. Wavatar Michael says:

    Another point is that if no allopathic care was available I would absolutely try any local medicines offered. I think of a book called “The Snake Charmer: A Life and Death in Pursuit of Knowledge.” It is about a professional herpetologist named Joe Slowinski who was in Burma on a well-funded grant to look for new species deep in the jungle with a large team of researchers. He was bitten by a krait and died the next day. They tried to get antivenom flown in from the nearest post but he wouldn’t have taken it because he previously had a severe allergic reaction to antivenom and knew it would kill him to take it again. The maddening thing about this story is that immediately after he was bitten the local guides and porters said they knew of plant remedies so effective that the locals never died of snakebite, yet he refused to try it. Why? Stubborn hubris in my opinion. No way some illiterate tribal has one up on Mr. big shot California Academy of Sciences herp Slowinski. But a growing body of scientific literature supports the efficacy of some plant remedies so Joe may still be alive if he had given it a shot.

  6. Wavatar अश्वमित्रः says:

    Glad my little comment inspired such a fascinating long double reply.

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