Susruta Samhita: Ancient Indian Surgical Knowledge

This exhibit shows a glimpse of the ancient Indian knowledge of surgical techniques, especially rhinoplasty.

By National Council of Science Museums

Science City, Kolkata

Manuscript, 18th century, From the collection of: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Show lessRead more

Rigveda and Atharvaveda, the earliest documented ancient Indian knowledge (1500 years B.C.), have references on health and diseases. Āyurveda is a branch of Atharvaveda, the fourth book of Vedic literature.

Caraka Samhita, Susruta Samhita, Astanga Hrdaya are three major classics which enumerate eight different branches or medical knowledge: - surgery, - ear, eye, nose & throat, - mental and super natural diseases, - therapeutics, - paediatrics, - toxicology, - rejuvenation - and vilification.

These texts are the most famous and are still consulted by medical practitioners today.

The Susruta-Samhita or Sahottara-Tantra (A Treatise on Ayurvedic Medicine) The Susruta-Samhita or Sahottara-Tantra (A Treatise on Ayurvedic Medicine)Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Surgical Practices

The Susruta-samhita, in its extant form, in 184 chapters contains descriptions of 1,120 illnesses, 700 medicinal plants, 64 preparations from mineral sources and 57 preparations based on animal sources. 

The text discusses surgical techniques of making incisions, probing, extraction of foreign bodies, alkali and thermal cauterization, tooth extraction, excisions, and trocars for draining abscess, draining hydrocele and ascitic fluid, removal of the prostate gland, urethral stricture dilatation, vesicolithotomy, hernia surgery, caesarian section, management of haemorrhoids, fistulae, laparotomy and management of intestinal obstruction, perforated intestines and accidental perforation of the abdomen with protrusion of omentum and the principles of fracture management, viz., traction, manipulation, apposition and stabilization including some measures of rehabilitation and fitting of prosthetic.

The Susruta-Samhita or Sahottara-Tantra (A Treatise on Ayurvedic Medicine) (Text: 12th-13th century; Images: 18th-19th century) by UnknownLos Angeles County Museum of Art

It enumerates six types of dislocations, twelve varieties of fractures, and classification of the bones and their reaction to the injuries, and gives a classification of eye diseases including cataract surgery.

The book was translated into Arabic in 8th century CE as Kitab-ul-Susrud.

Ancient Indian Surgical PracticeNational Council of Science Museums

In describing the method of Rhinoplasty (Nasikāsandhāna) Sushruta says:

“The portion of the nose to be covered should be first measured with a leaf. Then a piece of skin of the required size should be dissected from the living skin of the cheek, and turned back to cover the nose, keeping a small pedicle attached to the cheek. The part of the nose to which the skin is to be attached should be made raw by cutting the nasal stump with a knife. The physician then should place the skin on the nose and stitch the two parts swiftly, keeping the skin properly elevated by inserting two tubes of eranda (the castor-oil plant) in the position of the nostrils, so that the new nose gets proper shape. The skin thus properly adjusted, it should then be sprinkled with a powder of liquorice, red sandal-wood and barberry plant. Finally, it should be covered with cotton, and clean sesame oil should be constantly applied. When the skin has united and granulated, if the nose is too short or too long, the middle of the flap should be divided and an endeavour made to enlarge or shorten it.”

Susruta's Surgical Instruments, Plate 1, Original Source: Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna
Show lessRead more

This is Plate I of four plates published in the 1907 book, 'An English Translation of the Sushruta Samhita in Three Volumes, (Volume 1)', on page 87 of Introduction section. It represents the following yantra / surgical instruments: 1. Anguli yantra 2. Arsho yantra 3. Ashmaryaharna yantra 4. Basti yantra 5. Bhringamukha yantra 6. Darvyakritishalaka 7. Garbhashanku yantra 8. Jalodar yantra 9. Kakamukha yantra 10. Kankamukha yantra 11. Muchuti yantra 12. Nadi yantra 13. Rikshamukha yantra 14. Sadansha yantra and Vasti yantra

Susruta's Surgical Instruments, Plate 2, Original Source: Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna
Show lessRead more

Some surgical instruments were originally designed in the form of animals and bird’s jaws to obtain the appropriate grips.

“Abundance, effectiveness, variety in pharmaceutical forms and normal composition - these are the four qualities of a drug”. - Caraka Samhitā Su 9/7

Plate II illustrates the following yantra / surgical instruments: 15 Shamipatra yantra 16 Shalaka yantra 17 Sharapunka yantra 18 Sinhamukha yantra 19 Shvanamukh yantra 20 Shanku yantra 21 Snuhi yantra 22 Tala yantra 23 Tarakshumukha 24 Vrikamukha yantra 25 Vrinaprakshalana yantra 26 Vyaghramukha yantra 27 Yugmashanku yantra 28 Yonyavekshana yantra

Susruta's Surgical Instruments, Plate 3, Original Source: Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna
Show lessRead more

Plate III illustrates:

1. Ardhandhara shastra
2. Atimukha shastra
3. Ara shastra
4. Badisha shastra
5. Dantashanku shastra
6. Eshani shastra
7. Karapatra shastra
8. Antarmukha kartarika

Susruta's Surgical Instruments, Plate 4, Original Source: Kaviraj Kunja Lal Bhishagratna
Show lessRead more

And Plate IV illustrates:

9. Kritharika shastra
10. Kushapatra shastra
11. Mandalagra shastra
12. Mudrika shastra
13. Nakha shastra
14. Shararimukha shastra
15. Trikurchaka shastra
16. Utpalapatra shastra
17. Vetaspatra shastra
18. Suchi shastra
19. Vrihimukha shastra
20. Vridhipatra shastra

Credits: Story

This online exhibition is created by Science City, Kolkata, a unit of National Council of Science Museums, India

Virtual Tour from National Science Centre, New Delhi

Other supporting images courtesy respective institutions.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Once Upon a Try
A journey of invention and discovery with CERN, NASA, and more than 100 museums around the world
View theme
Google apps