The tradition of vAgbhaTa in the drAviDa and Andhra countries

We had earlier briefly alluded to the living tradition of vAgbhaTa in the chera country, which is practiced by the aShTavaidya-s. We currently believe this might be an early transmission of the great physician’s tradition to the south of the subcontinent that got fixed there (given that the evidence suggests that vAgbhaTa himself lived in the sindhu region, i.e. modern Sindh). We wondered if such a tradition was also transmitted to the Tamil country during the original transmission to the chera country. While we found no direct evidence for this, we learnt of another medical tradition derived from that of vAgbhaTa to have flourished in the Tamil and Telugu countries. We must mention that our investigations cannot be regarded as complete as we have insufficiently examined the relevant texts. The principal text in concern is the parahita-saMhitA (PS) of shrInAtha paNDita. The one printed in the Tamil country has the Sanskrit in the Telugu script with a Telugu translation, so were unable to do anything with this. The one printed in Andhra is only partial, and seems quite full of printing errors which made it quite hard to follow. Then there are several Vijayanagaran inscriptions that are quite enlightening which connected to this story in course of an investigation on the medical traditions amongst my medieval co-ethnics.

The primary transmission of vAgbhaTa’s tradition to the Telugu and Tamil countries appears to have been redacted and recompiled into a comprehensive work known as the parahita-saMhitA. This work was done by a learned brAhmaNa named shrInAtha-paNDita apparently of the Andhra country. The PS has three kANDa-s called the sAdhAraNa, aShTA~Nga and rasa. The rasakANDa is an innovation of shrInAtha-paNDita, but was unavailable the version I examined – hence it is unclear if it actually includes material that was derived from a specialized derivative the kaula tAntrika tradition – the rasAyana. While stressing the fact that we have not systematically studied the text, it appeared to me that the treatment of burns (dagdha chikitsa) and tendonitis were some novel features of this text (of course they could be derived from any of the earlier texts in the vAgbhaTa tradition that we have not examined).

We believe that shrInAtha-paNDita was the founder of the tradition followed by two unrelated but connected families of physicians mentioned in the Andhra inscriptions. The first of these were of an older layer of Telugu smArta-s of the Atreya gotra. The first Atreya inscription mentions the parahita Atreya as being the prANAcharya or court physician of the kamma chieftain si~NgayanAyaka of korukoNDa who was one of the warlords in the alliance that repulsed the army of Islam during the southern thrust of the Tughlaqs. The next inscription of this clan was of parahita Atreya son of kAlanAtha bhaTTa. He was the court physician of the reDDi princess of Rajahmundry, anatalli, the sister of kumAragiri, who gave him the village mentioned in the inscription. The second family of physicians was vaDama smArta-s of the drAviDa country belonging to the kAshyapa gotra. They appear to have settled in the Andhra country in Ponnupalli and their lineage is given as: periyavilla parahita->bhAskarArya->villanArya->si~NganArya. We have inscriptions of bhAskarArya and si~NganArya. Both families mention the founder of the parahita tradition, which is shrInAtha-paNDita, to have been a snake-doctor. He successful treated a snake with a blockage in its alimentary canal and was given the title sarpavyAdhichikitsaka.

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