Shushruta Samahita on Plastic Surgery

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at
Fri Aug 22 11:08:23 UTC 1997

I'm afraid that much of the quotation given on Wed, 20 Aug 1997 by
sudheer birodkar is incorrect. 

> Medical Science was one area where advances had been made in ancient
> times in India. Specifically these advances were in the areas of plastic
> surgery, extraction of catracts, dental surgery, etc. 

Surgery was normally called "salyatantra, not shastrakarma.

Cataracts are not extracted.  The operation is called couching, and
involves piercing the eyeball with a scalpel and detaching the opaque
lense from its muscle mount.  The lens falls to the bottom of the eye
interior, and lies on the bottom of the eye (hence "couching").  The
patient can then see light and shade, and some shape, but cannot focus, of
course.  No anaesthetic was used.
> The practice of surgery has been recorded in India around 800 B.C. 

This date is fanciful.  It it possible that some parts of the ayurvedic
corpus of practice go back as far as the time of the Buddha, but probably
not much earlier than that.  The text of the Susrutasamhita which we have
today is only datable to the early centuries of the common era, probably
about 3rd or 4th century AD.

> Shusruta who lived in Kasi ...  

There is no very strong evidence for this.  Most of the Susrutasamhita is
cast as a dialogue between Susruta and a teacher Divodaasa who is
sometimes called the king of Kasi. 

> Shusruta's forte was rhinoplasty (Plastic surgery)

Rhinoplasty is the name for the specific operation to rebuild a torn or
severed nose. 

> and ophthalmialogy (ejection of cataracts). 
This ophthalmological parts of the Susrutasamhita occur in the last
chapter, the Uttaratantra, which is stated by the tradition to have been
composed by a later author, perhaps called Nagarjuna.

> The above passages are extracted from a free site hosting the web 
> edition of a book on the above subject. Visit it at the address:
> ""

I haven't yet consulted this site, but scholars interested in Indian
medical history would do themselves a favour by looking at books like 
G. J. Meulenbeld, _The Madhavanidana_ (Brill, 1974), which has extremely
useful appendices on authors, plants, dates, etc., and P. V. Sharma,
_History of Medicine in India_ (Indian National Science Academy, 1992).
There are many other trustworthy books.  See the bibliography of my
forthcoming book _Sanskrit Medical Texts_ (Penguin, Delhi).

All the best,

Dominik Wujastyk               Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine
email: d.wujastyk at          183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE, England
<URL:>                    FAX: 44 171 611 8545

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