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Alchemy and Metallic Medicines in Ayurveda

Alchemy and Metallic Medicines in Ayurveda
Item Code: NAL848
Author: Vaidya Bhagwan Dash
Publisher: Concept Publishing Company
Language: English
Edition: 2003
ISBN: 9788170220770
Pages: 236 (22 B/W Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
weight of the book: 425 gms
About the Book

In view of the growing popularity of Ayurveda in India and abroad, there is a growing demand from students, teachers and research workers for books on different aspects of this unique system of Life-Science in a non-technical and easily understandable language, particularly in English. Alchemy (transmutation of ordinary mercury into gold, etc.), Which is considered to be a myth in the West was in practice in this country much before 5th cent. B.C. and it was practically demonstrated in Delhi in the presence of some leading personalities only a few years back. Metals and Minerals which are very toxic when taken internally in unprocessed form, are made absolutely non-toxic and therapeutically very potent. A killer-poison is converted into a healer nectar by special processes and these processed metals and minerals and their preparations are used by Ayurvedic physicians for the treatment of diseases with absolute confidence since thousands of years. Unlike some of the synthetic and so-called wonder drugs of the present day, the Ayurvedic metallic preparations have no undetected slow poisoning effect. Instead of side (toxic) effects, these metallic preparations produce side benefits. While they cure some of the obstinate and otherwise incurable and promote longevity. Thus, these are useful for both patients and healthy persons.

This book describes details of the methods prescribed in texts and followed by manufactures as well as physicians for processing the metals and minerals including gems, jewels and poisonous vegetable products along with the basic Physico-Chemical as well as Philosophical concepts for these students, teachers, scientists and intellectuals.


About the Author

Vaidya Bhagwan Dash had an outstandingly brilliant academic career. He holds a Master’s Degree and a Doctorate from Delhi University in addition to postgraduate qualification in Ayurveda

A Sanskrit scholar he handles the English language with equal felicity. A significant advantage to his propensity for research in Tibetan, German, French and Mongolian. In the course of nearly twenty-five years dedicated to research in and the practice of Ayurveda, Dr. Dash has attended several important conferences and seminars both in India and abroad. He has also contributed innumerable articles to reputed national and international journals in indology, medicine and science.

The author of many important publications covering several aspects of Ayurveda and Tibetan medicines, he has to his credit two volumes of an English translation of Caraka Samhita, The ancient Ayurveda classic. He was recently on a short-term assignment as WHO Consultant in Traditional Medicine to the Government of Bhutan.

He was working as Deputy Adviser (Ayurveda) to the Government of India in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare till 31st May, 1981, when he took voluntary retirement with a view to enable him to devote more time for academic and research work.



Man’s eternal endeavour ha been to discover new things specially in the unexplored fields. It is this human effort which has culminated in the discovery of Alchemical methods and methods for utilisation of metals as well as minerals for therapeutic purpose. The term ‘Alchemy’ has been interpreted variously by different people. Some modern scientists have discredited this term to the extent of suggesting that it is a myth which man has never succeeded to achieve but for which he has always attempted. Alchemy was in practice in different European countries also. Some scholars claim success and others consider them to be false and quackery. It basically revolves round the preparation of noble metals like gold and silver from out of base metals like mercury and copper. Whatever may be the opinion in European countries, in India, it is not considered as a myth.

As early as 6th Century B.C. Canakaya, an authority on statecraft had described in this monumental work Arthasatra, a type of gold which was prepared by vedha (transmutation) of base metals with processed mercury, and he had termed this type of gold as rasa vedha svarna. It is very clear from this description that alchemy was in practice, rather successful practice, in India even before 6th Century B.C. In subsequent works on rasa sastra (Iatro-Chemistry) different methods have been described for processing mercury with a view to making it capable of transmuting base metals into gold and silver. These descriptions are so cryptic that for ordinary scholars, it becomes difficult of comprehension. Different stages of the processing are intentionally kept secret and often some descriptions are made which give different meanings. This is done largely because the propounders and patrons of these methods did not want the Knowledge to go to unscrupulous persons who may amass wealth by the practice of this technique to indulge themselves in antisocial activities.

Alchemy, according to Indian tradition, is not an end in itself. It is only a means. The actual intention of processing mercury is to administer it for the preservation and promotion of positiverites unhindered for a sufficiently long period to achieve jivan mukti i.e. salvation from the bondage of the world while remaining alive. To ascertain the suitability of mercury for administration to an individual, it is tested over raw (unprocessed) mercury and other base metals. If it is capable of transmutation of ordinary mercury into gold then it is considered to be suitable for administration to the individual. This method is still in practice secretly by saints who are adept in this science. In 1949, a saint by name Pt. Krsna Lala Sarma and the fifth chapter of this work is based on these discussions held and notes taken by the author.

In present day medical practice, Ayurvedic physicians profusely use metals, minerals, gems, jewels and animal as well as vegetable products which in raw form are well know to produce toxicity. Intellectulas of India and scientists of abroad naturally question the wisdom of using such toxic drugs for therapeutic purposes. This is largely because of their ignorance about the rationality of the methods of processing of these poisonous drugs before they are actually used in medicines.

In English and in nontechnical language, book on this topic are rare. Some earlier attempts in this connection have unfortunately made this confusion worst confounded because of mistranslation of certain technical terms. Translation of these technical terms into English is, no doubt, a difficult task. In Ayurveda, these terms carry subtle meaning for which equivalents are not available in English. These terms, therefore, need explanation and not mere translation.

As Physics and Chemistry explain the rationality of different drugs used in modern medicines, similarly the appropriateness of the processing followed by Ayurvedic physicians to make metals, etc. free from toxicity and to potentise them to achieve therapeutic excellence is explained by saints in Indian philosophical works.

In the introduction to the work, the utility of metals and minerals for prevention as well as cure of the diseases and preservation as well as promotion of positive health has been explained.

The First chapter deals with the historical background explaining the origin of Rasa sastra and its subsequent development during the Buddhistic and medieval periods. Some important extant texts along with their authors are chronologically described.

The Second chapter explains the physico-chemical and philosophical concepts basic to the rasa sastra. This explains the rationality of various processes like sodhana and marana by which these metals and minerals are made non-toxic, absorbable, assimilable and therapeutically effective. The concept of jivan mukti (salvation while remaining alive) and its significance are explained on the basis of philosophical concepts of Saivaites (one of the sects of the Hindus).

The Third chapter deals with the implications of the term rasa and the procedure to be adopted for the selection of site for the pharmaceutical laboratory, its construction, equipments as well as assistants.

Fourth chapter deals with mercury, its dosas or defects because of which it produces toxicity in unprocessed from, and details of its processing. For the treatment of ordinary diseases, only eight samskaras (stages of processing) are considered to be enough. But to make it more potent for curing obstinate and otherwise incurable disease and to make it more effective for the purpose of rejuvenation (rasayana) which results in longevity leading to salvation while alive (jivan mukti ),mercury should be subjected to eighteen stages which taken together are called astadasa samskaras. Deha-siddhi (perfection of the body and mind of the individual) is the primary aim of using processed mercury. Before it is administered to a person the processed mercury is to be tested on metals. If this mercury could cause transmutation of base metals, like ordinary mercury into noble metals like gold and silver, only then it is considered suitable for deha-siddhi. Examining the processed mercury by the transmutation of base metals into noble metals is called lauha-siddhi ?(perfection in achieving transmutation of metals). As has been suggested before, this chapter, namely fourth is written on the basis of notes collected from one of the disciples of the saint Pt. Krsna Lala Sarma. However, it will be seen from the descriptions in these two chapters that most of them are taken from extant texts on Rasa sastra with, of course, certain modifications.

In the day-to-day practice, Ayurvedic physicians use several mercurial preparations. A few important recipes are described in the Fifth chapter. Normally, mercury is processed according to the eight stages (asta samskaras) before preparing the recipe. Some physicians and drug manufacturers, however, use simple methods for processing by which mercury, no doubt, becomes free from toxicity but this type of mercury is not very effective when used in recipes. In addition to the recipes described in this ayurvedic practice. Generally, purified mercury and purified sulphur along with other metals, minerals and vegetable as well as animal products are add to these recipes. Details of such recipes are not furnished work. Any standard text on Rasa sastra or Bhaisajya kalpana will, however, provide information in this regard to inquisitive readers.

The Sixth chapter deals with other commonly used metals and minerals. Their synonyms , adverse effects when used in unprocessed from, sodhana, marana, properties, therapeutic indication, dose and anupana or vehicle are described. The primary aim of this book is to present before scholars an outline of methods followed by ancient Indian saints for processing mercury and other metals as well as minerals to make them suitable for the prevention and cure of diseases and for the preservation and promotion of positive health. Details are, therefore, avoided. Those interested in acquiring detailed knowledge on this topic can refer to extant texts on the subject. In the Seventh chapter, only the choisest methods of processing metals and minerals are described. In addition, ayurvedic physicians adopt several other methods. Some methods, they claim to be equal, if not better.

Like metals and minerals, gems and jewels are also used for the treatment of obstinate and otherwise insurable diseases. Most of these gems and jewelsare, no doubt, minerals. But because of their specific characteristics, these are described separately in the Seventh chapter. The gems and jewels are, in addition, used astrologically to propitiate planatory bodies. A passing reference to this has been made in this chapter. Detailed information on this topic can had from astrological works and those on Ratna sastra

The process of marana essentially involves exposing the metal, etc. to the effect of heat of fire. In other words this is a process of calcinations. But some of these gems having cooling properties work better and produce potent therapeutic effects when used in the form of pisti which does not involve exposure to heat. To make this gem digestible, absorbable and assimilable it is reduced to a fine power from by grinding with rose- water or sandal-wood oil. Some of these gems and jewels are used in both the forms, viz., pisti and bhasma.

Some animals and vegetable products are toxic by nature. To make them free from toxicity and to make them easily digestible, absorbable and assimilable, these are subjected to the process of sodhana and marana. It is because of this that these vegetable and animal products are included within the scope of rasa sastra. The processing of and vegetable products is described in the 8th and 9th chapters respectively.

Appendix-I elaborates technical terms used in Rasa sastra. Some of these terms are used in this text and others are often used in other texts on this subject. Acquaintance with these is necessary for those interested in further study on this topic.

Appendix-II provides illustrated description of various equipments and implements commonly used in the processing of mercury and other metals as well as minerals.

The author had the good fortune to be a student of Prof. Vasudev M.Dwivedi at the Post Graduate Training Centre in Ayurveda at Jamnagar. Prof. Dwivedi has since retired from service. In spite of his advance age, his mission for service to the suffering humanity through rasa sastra is ceaselessly continuing. His devotion to alleviate the miseries of the suffering humanity inspired the author to undertaken this work. The author is highly indebted to Prof. Dwivedi. For the preparation of this work Vaidya Lalitesh Kashyap, B.I.M.S., Ph.D., Superintendent of the CGHS Ayurvedic Hospital, New Delhi ; Ku. Kanchan Gupta, M.A.(Sanskrit) and Shri Pradipta Kumar Dash were of constant help. Their help is thankfully acknowledged.

This work, I hope, will be useful to the students, teachers and research workers in ayurveda in general and rasa sastra in particular in India and abroad. This provides a vast unexplored field for research to scientists.



Drugs used in Ayurveda can be broadly classified into three categories, viz., (a) vegetable products, (b) animals products, and (c) metals and minerals. In the Vedic literature and in auyurvedic classics, mostly vegetable drugs were prescribed for the treatment of different categories of ailments. Very few animals products and still fewer metals and minerals are described in those texts. Metals described in these works include iron, copper, gold, lead, tin, silver and copper pyrite. They were meant for both external and internal uses. In ayurvedic classics, mercury is also prescribed for external use. Metals for internal use were processed by impregnating with different kinds of decoctions as well as the juice of herbs, and thereafter, by drying in sun or shade. These metals were then reduced to a fine power from by grinding in a mortar and pestle, and administered to the patient either alone or in combination with several other drugs. Making a bhasma or in combination with several other drugs. Marking a bhasma or calcined power of these metals was not very popular among the physicians of those days.

During the fifth century B.C. and thereafter, the important branch of Ayurveda namely salya tantra was viewed as a form of himsa or violence. Ahimsa or non-violence was the cardinal rule of the religion prevalent in those days. The religion which was adopted by the rulers and subjects alike, discouraged the practice of surgery and it was almost legally banned. This created a new problem. Some surgical conditions were, no doubt, amenable to the conventional remedies, mostly of vegetable products which were used in the practice at that time. Some special therapies like panca karma wehich include emetic therapy (vamana karma), purgation therapy (niruha and anuvasana karmas) and inhalation on therapy (nasya karma)took care of some of these obstinate surgical conditions. But the practice of these therapies were also discouraged and later banned in the areas influenced by those religious leaders. At that time, physicians as well as other research workers took upon themselves the responsibility of developing medicines for the treatment of these obstinate surgical conditions and otherwise incurable diseases.

In the forefront of this adventure were the Buddhist monks. Compassion for all living beings was an essential part for their teaching and practice. Medical care was one of their esteemed methods for the propagation of religion. Above all, it is the propounders and followers of Buddhism who banned or discouraged the salya tantra or surgery and the practice of panca karma therapies. Therefore, they endeavoured to find alternatives for curing these obstinate surgical conditions. This provided an impetus to the progress of Rasa sastra or the science dealing with therapeutic use of mercury and other metals. As a by-product, the science dealing with the transmutation of base metals into noble metals like god with the help of processed mercury also received impetus. Nagarjuna, the Buddhist philosopher and propounder of the madhyamika sect of Buddhism was in the forefront of these physicians. Notwithstanding the controversy regarding the identity and period of Nagarjuna, it can be safely stated that metals were processed and extensively used therapeutically in bhasma from prior to 3rd century A.D. Books composed on this subjected by Nagarjuna are mostly not available. Some book, authorship of Descriptive texts, now available o Rasa sastra, were mostly composed during 8th century A.D. and thereafter.

Superiority of Mineral Drugs

In addition to curing obstinate and otherwise incurable conditions, mineral drugs were also used for the treatment of common diseases because of advantages which summarised in the verse given below:

“Mineral remedies are therapeutically effective even when adminstered only in a small dose (unlike vegetable products which are generally required to be administered in a much large dose). These mineral products are not unpalatable (unlike some of the vegetable remedies which are sometimes very unpalatable because of bitter, astringent and pungent tastes ). Mineral products produce their therapeutic effects instantaneously (unlike vegetable products which take longer time because they have pass through the process of digestion and metabolism before they become the therapeutically active)”.

In view of the above, treatment with metallic and mineral preparations was considered to be superior in comparison to treatment with vegetable drugs and surgical therapies. It is said :

“Therapies are of three categories, viz., asuri (demoniac) which includes surgical therapies, (2) manusi (human)which is performed by the use of decoctions, etc. of vegetable drugs, and (3) daivi (divine) which is performed by the administration of metallic and mineral preparations. The succeeding one are superior to be preceding categories of therapies.”

Distinctive Features

Ayurvedic concepts of drug composition and drug action are equally applicable to both the drugs of vegetable origin and metallic as well as mineral drugs. All these ingredients possess rasa (taste), guna (attributes), virya (potency), vipaka (taste which emerges after digestion) and prabhava (specific action). All of them are composed of five mahabhutas, viz. Prthvi, ap, tejas, vayu and akasa. In spite of this, there are several distinctive features because of the five mahabhutas or basic elements in the composition of these drugs. In the ingredients of diet, rasa or taste is exceedingly manifested and the virya is in a latent from. In the vegetable drugs including animal products (notwithstanding exceptions), rasa (taste) is less manifested and virya is exceedingly manifested. In metallic and mineral products, rasa is latent whereas he virya or the protency is exceedingly potent. Therefore, therapeutically, metallic and mineral drugs are more useful than the vegetable and animal products.

Purpose of processing

As has been mentioned before, during the classical age, metals and minerals were impregnated with decoctions, and juice of various types of vegetable drugs, and then reduced to be state of fine particle by grinding. During the later period, this technique of processing metals and minerals reached a very high stage of sophistication and scientific accuracy. For any drug to be therapeutically effective, it is necessary that it should be assimilated specially by the affected tissues. Metals and minerals, according to mahabhautika composition have a different structure than the tissue elements of the body. If these are used in raw form or even in unprocessed powder from, they will not be digested, absorbed, metabolised and assimilated to the tissue cells of the body. Thus, they will be therapeutically ineffective. On the other hand, these heterogeneous drugs are likely to produce serious toxic effects in the body. To make them non-toxic, to make them easily digestible and absorbable, to make them suitable for metabolic changes and assimilable by the tissue cells, and to make them therapeutically potent, several methods for processing have been prescribed. Depending upon the nature of the metal or mineral, they are first of all cleaned of their physical and chemical impurities and them triturated with the juice or decoctions of drugs. This impregnation or trituration loosens the molecular cohesiveness and helps the metal to break into fine particles during the subsequent processing. This also neutralises the toxic effects and makes the metal easily digestible and assimilable. The vegetable drugs which are used in the form of decoction or juice have their own therapeutic effects which are imparted to these metals during processing. Thereafter, the mental is dried and the moisture portion is taken out. These are made into small lumps and kept inside two earthen plates (sarava). The borders of these two earthen plates containing lumps of metallic paste are kept together face to face and sealed with the help of seven layers of mudsmeared cloth. These earthen plates are kept exposed to sun till they are completely dried. These are then kept in a pit covered with the required number of cow-dung-cakes and ignited. Depending upon the heat requirement of each metal, the size of the pit and the number of cow-dung-cakes to used vary. Then it is allowed to cool of its own and the earthen plates are removed from the heap of cow-dung ash. The seal is, thereafter, carefully, removed and metallic lumps are taken out for subsequent processing. Depending upon the nature of the metal and the disease for which they are meant to be used, the process is repeated for several times.

The first part of this processing with decoction, juice, etc. is called sodhana (lit. purification) and the later part of this processing is called, marana (lit. killing) or reducing metal to a fine state of division while changing its physical and chemical nature.

The above mentioned methods vary from one metal to the other. Details of these methods will be described in respective sections.




  List of Plates and Figures 9
  Indo-Romaic Equivalents of Devanagari 10
  Preface 11
  Introducation 17
I. Historical Background Of Rasasastra 25
II. Physico-Chemical And Philosophical Concepts 30
III. Rasa And Rasasala 42
IV. Parada (Mercury) 48
V. Popularly Used Mercurial Preparations 91
VI. Processing Other Metals And Minerals 102
VII. Gems And Jewels 144
VIII. Animal Products And Silajatu 158
IX. Poisonous Vegetable Products 168
Appendix-I Paribhasa Or Glossary Of Technical Terms 178
Appendix-II Equipments And Implements Used In Rasa Sastra 187
  Bibliography 213
  Index 215
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