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Dhanvantari – The physician of the Devas and the god of Ayurveda

Known as a physician of the Devas, Dhanvantari is a celebrated figure amongst the practitioners of Ayurveda. They celebrate Dhanvantari’s birthday on Dhanteras every year too. In Sanatana-dharma, praying to Dhanvantari is supposed to bring sound health for worshippers.

There are many instances and references to Dhanvantars in the history, all belonging to different eras and different period of time. Thus, the question about who the real Dhanvantars are have always created confusion. Is he just a mythical figure? Or is there any reference to real Dhanvantari who taught Ayurveda to Sushruta? Let’s find out.

All you need to know about Dhanvantari, the pioneer of Indian medical system and physician of the Devas

But before we delve deep, let’s understand the meaning of the word Dhanvantari:

  1. “Dhanus” denotes the science of surgeries and is only indicative. Thus, Dhanvantari is someone who has seen the end of it.
  2. “Dhanvan” also might mean a desert, according to Rigveda – V.36.1. Thus, Dhanvachara means the one who moves in a desert.

According to the sources, there are references to four “major” Dhanvantars:

1. Dhanvantari – the physician of Devas

When Gods and demons churned the ocean for Amrit, Dhanvantari arrived with a jar of elixir on the day of Dhanteras, according to some religious documents.

Source 1:

The mantra in the Veda:

Dhanvan iva prapaasi

Meaning: Oh Lord, you are like the place where water is distributed to travelers in a desert.

Many believe that Dhanvantari is the incarnation of Vishnu, who had come with that pot of nectar in his hand in the desert of worldly existence.

Source 2:

In Ramayana (Balakanda, Sarga 45), Dhanvantari is described as a being who emerged from the milky ocean after a churning of 1000 years. He had a water pitcher, known as kamandalu in Sanskrit, with one hand, and a staff (danda) in the other hand.

2. Sri Dhanvantari – the one who was taught Ayurveda by Sun

Source 1:

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In Brahmavaivartapurana, Brahma separated Ayurveda from the four Vedas while studying them. He is then said to have given the known of Ayurvedic science to Bhaskara (Sun God). After that, Bhaskara wrote his own version of Ayurveda and taught the same to 16 disciples. Among them, one was Dhanvantari. Each of the 16 disciples wrote their own version of Ayurveda.

3. Kasiraja Divodasa, surnamed Dhanvantari – an incarnation of divine Dhanvantari and the one who taught Ayurveda to Sushruta

Source 1:

In Srimad Bhagavata Purana, there is a story about Bhagavan Dhanvatari when he revealed Ayurveda to the world. He is worshiped today as the pioneer of medical science in Hindu dharma. There is a shloka in Srimad Bhagavatam, Chapter 17 of Canto 9:

kasyasya kasis tat-putro
rashtro dirghatamah-pita
dhanvantarir dirghatamasa
ayur-veda-pravartakah
yajna-bhug vasudevamsah
smrita-matrarti-nasanah

Meaning:

The son of Kasya was Kasi, his son was Rashtra, who had a son named Dirghatama. Dirghatama had a son named Dhanvantari, who is the inaugurator of medical science and the incarnation of Vasudeva. When someone remembers the name of Dhanvantari, then s/he shall be released from all disease.

Source 2:

There are references to Kasiraja Divodasa Dhanvantari in the Susrutasmhita, the Agnivesasamhita, the Carakasamhita, the Vishnu Purana and the Harivamsa. Among them, Susrutasmhita talks fully about the contributions of Kasiraja Divodasa Dhanvantari. It says that Susruta was the foremost among the disciple of Kasipati. Acharya Sushruta quotes Kasiraja Divodasa Dhanvantari by saying, “Ayurveda originally formed one of the sub-sections of Arthaveda”.

Source 3:

In Vishnu Purana and Harvamsa, there is a fully credible and consistent genealogical account of Kasiraja Divodasa, telling us to which dynasty he belonged, which is the royal line founded by Pururavas of the lunar dynasty.

According to Harivasma, Kasiraja is said to be in the line of Anena, who was the descendant of Pururavas. Kasya represents the fifteenth generation from Anena, Dhanvantari represents the third from Kasya and Divodasa represents third from Dhanvantari.

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Thus, Dhanvantari, the Senior, was the great-grandfather of Kasiraja Divodasa Dhanvantari.

He is said to have divided the Ayurveda into eight divisions:

  1. Kayacikitsa (Internal Medicine)
  2. Kaumarabhrtya or Balacikitsa (Paediatrics)
  3. Bhutavidya or Grahacikitsa (Psychiatry)
  4. Salakyatantra (Otto-Rhino-Laryngology & Opthalmology)
  5. Salyatantra (Surgery)
  6. Visatantra (Toxicology)
  7. Rasayanatantra (Geriatrics)
  8. Vajikaranatantra (The therapy for male sterility, impotency and the promotion of virility)

4. Sri Dhanvantari – one of the nine jewels that adorned the court of Samrat Vikramaditya

In the court of Samrat Vikramaditya, there is a mention of a Dhanvantari who was one of the nine jewels that adorned the court. He was the author of “Dhanvantarinighantu”, a lexicon on drugs.

Conclusion

There isn’t concrete evidence to prove if Dhanvantari really existed or not. Most evidence show that he did. But one must respect and praise the outstanding authorities of Ayurveda which has been honor throughout the history of medieval and ancient India in the name of Dhanvantari.

He is the progenitor of Ayurveda, and he stands on the top in the hierarchy of medicine in India.

There is a mantra that is taught in Ayurvedic colleges in India:

Om shankham chakram jalaukam
dadhad amruta ghatam charu dorbhi chaturbhih
Sukshma svacch ati hridyam sukha pari vilasanam
maulim ambhoja netram
Kalam bhodojo valangam kati tata vilasan
charu pitam baradhyam
Vande dhanvantarim tam nikhila gada vanam
praudha davagni leelam

Translated to:

We bow to Lord Dhanvantari holding in his graceful four hands a Conch shell, a Wheel, a Leech and a pot of heavenly nectar.

Within whose heart shines the most pure and gentle beautiful blaze of light, which surrounds his head and emanates from his lotus eyes.

On the dark water whose body is luminous and gleaming. Waist and thighs are covered in yellow cloth and by whose mere play. All diseases are vanquished as if by a mighty forest fire.

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