The Charaka Samhita is considered to be one of the oldest and the most important ancient authoritative writings on Ayurveda.
Charaka Samhita was written in Sanskrit. Its style is poetry, with melody. The Charaka Samhita is a monumental work with 120 chapters grouped into eight sections, or sthanas. It presents most of the theoretical edifice of Ayurveda and concentrates on the branch of Ayurveda called kayachikitsa (internal medicine). This is largely the theory of the internal fire of digestion or internal medicine. P.V. Sharma, B. Dash and R.K. Sharma had translated Charaka Samhita in English. All three translators have excellent academic or/and clinical credentials supporting their works.
The Sushruta Samhita gives a complete description of human anatomy, including bones, nerves, blood vessels, and the circulatory system; and it mentions the brain as the center of the senses. It describes various surgical equipment, a classification of abscesses, treatments for burns, fractures, and wounds, as well as instructions for amputation. It also describes anatomical dissection as well as surgery, which was the most advanced in the world at the time. In fact, the plastic surgery (e.g., rhinoplasty) and anal/rectal surgery described in the Susruta Samhita are similar to what is practiced in modern medicine, and they may have served as the model for the development of these procedures. The most comprehensive and frequently quoted definition of health is from Sushruta. His work is unique in that it discusses blood in terms of the fourth doshic principle. This work is the first to enumerate and discuss the pitta sub-doshas and the marmas. With its emphasis on pitta, surgery, and blood, this work best represents the transformational value of life.
Susruta divided Ayurveda into the eight specialties as: Kaya Cikitsa (Internal Medicine),Bala Cikitsa(Pediatrics),Graha Cikitsa(Psychiatry),Shalya(Surgery),Shalakya Tantra(Ophthalmology, otolaryngology),Agada Tantra(Toxicology),Rasayana Tantra (longevity and rejuvenation),Vajikarana Tantra(Eugenics and aphrodisiacs).
P.V. Sharma has translated Sushrut Samhita in Devnagari and English.
Ashtanga Hridayam and Ashtanga Sangraha
These treaties primarily deal with kayachikitsa. The uniqueness of this work is the description of vata, pitta, and kapha with their five sub-types. Its emphasis on treating the physiology of the body and suggested therapeutic use of metals and minerals.These treatise represents the gross, material value of life more than their counterparts Charaka and Sushruta. While Charaka has entire chapters dealing with the Self, these works merely mention that the body is the home for the Self without any elaboration.
Srikantha Murthy's translated these treatises in English.
The Lesser Three Classics of Ayurveda
The Sharngadhara Samhita is a brief description of Ayurvedic principles. This treatise is thought to have originated in the 15th century AD. The Sharngadhara Samhita is credited for its explaination and description of number of pharmacological formulations used in panchakarma and contains the first textual elaboration of pulse diagnosis. Its subject matter is the field of kayachikitsa. Srikantha Murthy has translated this work in Devanagari and English.
Bhava Prakasha is written in the 16th century. It is a well-organized and compact summary of the earlier classics. There are about 10,268 verses of varying matters. It deals with kayachikitsa generally and has a large section entitled Nighantu, which gives the characteristics of many foods, plants, and minerals. Many of it quotations are directly from earlier writers. Srikantha Murthy has translated this work in English.
Madhava Nidanam deals with the classification of diseases. Its representation is slightly different from those given by Charaka, Sushruta, and Vagbhata. This work is dated around 700 AD and is credited for covering a wide range of diseases in the fields of bala (children and women's disorders), shalya, damstra (toxicology), shalakya (ear, nose and throat), and kayachikitsa. While this treatise gives detailed description of disease etiology (disease doctrines), prodroma and cardinal signs and symptoms, it does not give explanation or suggestions for chikitsa (treatment). Srikantha Murthy has translated this work in English.
The English translation of all these classics are published by Chaukhamba Orientalia, Varanasi, India.
Recent Ayurvedic Literature
Indian Materia Medica
Dr. K. M. Nadkarni published a two-volume Indian Materia Medica, a guide to Ayurveda in 1908. It contains information from ancient traditional practices, current Ayurvedic practices, and reports from Europeans (such as analysis of active constituents, pharmacology, and European uses of the same herbs). This Materia medica has several limitations such as it makes no reference to previous works on Indian herbs, does not outline any history of the development of the drugs, and does not indicate when an herb was introduced into practice. It provides occasional references to Charaka, but doesn't otherwise quote earlier authors on Ayurvedic medicine, except for those working right around the time of its publication, mainly R.N. Chopra.
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India has published Ayurvedic Pharmacopoeia of India as well as Ayurvedic Formulary of India as guidelines for the manufacturer and practitioner of Ayurvedic medicines.